South Glos Council budget to invest in support for children, cost of living, climate and nature

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South Gloucestershire Council’s budget for the coming year will prioritise investments in children’s services and cost-of-living support for those in financial difficulty, as well as taking action to help combat climate change and protect our natural environment.

Despite continuing challenges facing the authority, with inflation, ever-increasing costs and an ongoing shortfall in the money provided by central Government that is causing pressure on councils across the country, the budget is balanced over the coming three years, assuming the current savings and income generation targets are achieved.

In addition to delivering statutory services, including support for adults in need of care and for schools, the council wants to ensure that those in the greatest need can receive help with the cost of living, which for many has seen costs rising much faster than incomes. The budget also recognises the need for immediate action to help alleviate and to respond to the climate and nature emergencies.

Key investments agreed in the budget include:

• An additional £1,055,000 for Children’s Services to help bed in and build on the progress made that led to the Improvement Notice from Ofsted being lifted.
• Continuing Free School Meal vouchers for one week at Easter and one week of Summer, helping approximately 6,500 young people.
• Funding to provide debt and benefits advice to a further 680 complex cases, which will bring the total helped to approximately 2,000 people. This is anticipated to secure an additional £2.5m in financial outcomes for residents.
• A pilot scheme to help landlords reach the current Minimum Energy Efficiency Standard (MEES) for their properties, protecting both renters and the environment. This measure is designed to help renters save money as well as improving the environmental performance of more homes in the district.
• A pilot scheme to expand youth services, providing additional support to secondary schools and expanding the Education Inclusion Project (EIP).
• Energy efficiency measures such as radiator panels, draught proofing, LED lightbulbs, kettles, and slow cookers for eligible residents, which will again help address the cost of living and climate challenges facing residents across South Gloucestershire.
• Continued support for Community Welcome Spaces, food banks and community pantries, and 1,000 warm packs.

With the government refusing so far to confirm whether it will continue the £2.4m South Gloucestershire receives from the Household Support Fund, the council has decided to use its own budget to ensure key programmes for our poorest residents will continue after March 2024.

The budget will see Council Tax rise by 4.99 per cent, of which 2 per cent will be specifically used to help meet the continued increases in need for adult social care. This means that the South Gloucestershire Council element of a council tax bill for an average Band D property will be £1839.54. Additional precepts are charged by Town and Parish Councils, the Avon and Somerset Police and Crime Commissioner, and the Avon Fire Authority, which are set by those bodies and are itemised separately on the bills that householders will receive from the council.

As described in the draft budget, publicly debated by the Scrutiny Commission and at Cabinet, the council will also introduce a number of measures to generate income to help balance the budget.

In addition to delivering the existing savings programmes, last year’s budget identified a target of £2million that the council needs to bring in to prevent the need to make more cuts to the services people rely on.

Accordingly, a £10 administration charge will be introduced to cover the costs of a three-year Blue Badge for disabled people. The subscription cost for green bin/garden waste collection service will also rise, from £30 to £60, so that it is no longer subsidised by all council taxpayers. Both of these measures will bring South Gloucestershire into line with neighbouring authorities.

Work is also underway to devise a scheme of parking charges in council-owned car parks. Historically South Gloucestershire has been almost unique in not charging to use its car parks. The feedback received through the budget consultation will help inform the development of the scheme because local people were able to raise their concerns about how such measures might affect them. As a result, the scheme will include an element of free parking as well as exploring the potential for business permits by working with local stakeholders.

South Gloucestershire Council Leader, Councillor Claire Young, said: “Our first budget as a new administration obviously comes at a very difficult time financially, but I am pleased that we have been able to make investments into vital services that local people rely upon.

“We want to do more, and we will, but this is the first step towards securing a fairer, greener future for South Gloucestershire.”

Co-Leader of the Council, Councillor Ian Boulton, added: “We are prioritising the issues that local people have told us are important. We are doing everything we can to minimise the impact of reduced funding from Government in real terms and the ongoing challenges that residents are facing through rising costs.”

Full details of the budget are available as part of the papers for the meeting of Full Council on the website: https://council.southglos.gov.uk/ieListDocuments.aspx?CId=143&MId=16516