We will spend almost £216 million on services next year, according to the budget agreed at the meeting of full Council today (Wednesday 14 February). The spending plans also include a further £202 million that will be distributed to schools.
The budget sets out how we will spend £215.902 million in the coming year and includes an increase in Council Tax of 5.99 per cent. This means that a Band D property will be charged £1,441.07. The increase is made up of 2.99 per cent as a general increase and a further 3 per cent, which is the Adult Social Care levy. The approximately £9.7 million raised through this levy will be spent exclusively on services supporting the most vulnerable adults in our community. This only partially covers the additional costs arising in social care from increasing demand and market prices.
The budget papers show that while our finances are projected to remain in balance for the coming three years, this is only by using reserves set aside for this purpose and delivering additional savings. Challenges remain in the medium term, caused by falling government grants and increased costs and demand for services. To help us in planning for the future, the budget makes projections for the next four years, as this also helps to put saving plans into context. We are keen to plan and make contingencies for the long term, to avoid having to make in-year savings due to unforeseen circumstances.
Councillors were told that a significant amount of work is underway to ensure that we can continue to deliver the services people need into the future. Broad service areas have been identified where savings in future years will be sought and more information will be presented to Cabinet before the summer to give further detail.
A range of additional spending commitments are also highlighted in the budget papers, including:
- Additional funding for our Children Adults and Health Department of around £7.7 million, over and above the Adult Social Care levy. This additional funding will help to meet growing demand and particularly continue the investment in improving services for vulnerable children
- Care Leavers are set to benefit from Council Tax relief as well as a programme to promote apprenticeships
- The School Improvement Fund, which pays for interventions in schools to improve educational outcomes, will double, to £100,000
- An additional £25,000 will be made available to support the community voluntary service (CVS South Gloucestershire and the Volunteer Centre Partnership).
The budget also includes funding for a 2 per cent pay increase for staff. This is informed by nationally negotiated agreements, which are yet to be finalised. Pay restraint has meant salaries have been frozen or capped at 1 per cent for the past seven years. This move will cost us £1.9 million in 2018/19, but we want to recognise the excellent work and commitment of our staff in continuing to deliver for the people of South Gloucestershire, while acknowledging that there are ongoing financial constraints on us.
With effect from 1 April 2019, new legislation introduced by the government allows local authorities to charge a 100 per cent premium on council tax for empty properties after two years. The premium is currently at 50 per cent and will remain so until 1 April 2019. The elected members of this authority decided on 14 February 2018 to increase the council tax charge on properties empty after two years from 50 per cent to 100 per cent.
While the budget is projected to be in balance next year, through the use of financial reserves, there will be shortfalls in future years without the delivery of further savings. To meet these challenges, we will undertake further work to make additional savings and bring in additional revenue, particularly in relation to the Environment and Community Services and Chief Executive and Corporate Resources departments. It will also look at whether there are further actions and services we can put in place now, to reduce demand in the future by finding alternative ways to support some of our vulnerable residents.
The Cabinet will consider these options and opportunities in detail when it is available before the summer. Any options that would have significant impacts on access to or delivery of services, or on staff, would be subject to public consultation and scrutiny.
Leader of South Gloucestershire Council, Matthew Riddle, said: “I am determined, for the sake of frontline services, to move forward with a balanced budget. In doing so, we are prioritising our most vulnerable residents with significant increases in funding for services for vulnerable adults and children.
“These are challenging times, but I believe we have and will continue to meet the challenges before us. The plans approved today will mean that the everyday services we all rely upon will continue to be delivered and we have also made some additional commitments to support schools, care leavers and those looking for a home.
“I know that some will feel the squeeze of rising council tax, but while we continue to look for ways to be as efficient and cost effective as possible, we must find ways to replace the funding which used to come from Government and to meet rising demand for services.
“We are committed as a council to making best use of taxpayers’ money. Costs are rising, but we are taking steps to keep them under control.”
The Dedicated Schools Grant (DSG) provided to us by Government for 2018/19 will be £202.446 million. Although on a per pupil basis, we are the lowest funded local authority, through the new National Funding Formula, the Schools Block (accounting for around 75 per cent of the DSG) will increase by £4.3m, which represents an increase that is significantly above the national average increase.