Council budget to invest in children’s services, climate action and cost-of-living support

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A photograph of South Gloucestershire Council's Badminton Road office

South Gloucestershire Council’s updated budget has been published, with additional investments in children’s services and focusing on the twin priorities of cost-of-living support for those in financial difficulty and addressing the climate crisis.

It comes ahead of a series of meetings at which members will approve the final plans to deliver services for the district in 2024/25 and beyond. A balanced budget has been reached for the next three financial years.

The latest plans follow an extensive public consultation process during the Autumn that saw residents and stakeholders submit more than 50,000 comments on the original draft proposals.

The central aim of the budget, which must legally be balanced, is to ensure that residents in the greatest need are supported with the cost of living, while maintaining essential and statutory services and taking action to respond to the climate and nature emergencies.

Headline investments include:

• An additional £1,055,000 for Children’s Services for 2024/25 to maintain and build on the progress made now the Improvement Notice from Ofsted has been lifted.
• Providing Free School Meal vouchers for one week at Easter and one week of Summer, helping approximately 6,500 young people.
• Debt and benefits advice to an additional 680 complex cases, bringing 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 current the Minimum Energy Efficiency Standard (MEES) for their properties, protecting both renters and the environment. This will help renters save money as well as improving the environmental performance of more homes in the district.
• A pilot scheme to expand youth services, namely the Youth Activities Offer (YAO), providing some 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
• Continued support for food banks and community pantries
• 1,000 warm packs.

The council has chosen to prioritise support for those most in need of cost-of-living support because of current uncertainty over whether the Household Support Fund, which is worth £2.8m for South Gloucestershire, will be continued after March 2024. The Fund, and its previous iterations, has been used to provide a significant amount of the Council’s cost-of-living support to date.

The new budget will increase Council Tax by 4.99 per cent, of which 2 per cent will be specifically used to help meet the ever-growing need for adult social care. In balancing the budget last year, a target to raise new revenues was set at around £2 million. Accordingly, the council will introduce a £10 administration charge to apply for a Blue Badge, which are valid for three years, in line with most other councils in England. 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. Again, this will bring South Gloucestershire into line with neighbouring authorities.

The financial settlement provided to the council from central government does mean that in order to meet the £2 million income generation target set out in last year’s budget, a scheme of car parking charges will need to be implemented, in line with most local authorities across the country. The details of this will be worked up over the coming weeks, with a phased implementation plan starting with council owned off-street car parks before progressing to on-street parking.

A scheme will be developed that balances the need for the council to balance the books with the needs of residents and businesses to maintain access to shopping facilities and footfall in local shops, for example.

The specifics of these charges, for example where they will apply and how much they will be, are yet to be determined, but in light of community concerns about the potential impact of this, which was widely expressed in the consultation process, the scheme will include an element of free parking and the introduction of business permits where appropriate.

In order that these measures do not lead to drivers congesting local residential areas, there will also need to be new regulations to street parking in some areas to protect local residents, and a balance will be struck so that parking near to local shops is not blocked by all-day parking commuters.

In order to be as efficient as possible, the council will continue to implement the existing savings programmes, however no new proposals to reduce services are included in this budget. From 2014/15 to 2023/24 the council will have made savings of £84 million and £101 million by 2026/27.

Councillors will begin the formal review of the budget at the Scrutiny Commission meeting on Tuesday 31 January. It will be considered by Cabinet on Monday 5 February and put before the meeting of Full Council on Wednesday 21 February.

Papers for the meeting of the South Gloucestershire Council Scrutiny Commission can be found at: https://council.southglos.gov.uk/ieListDocuments.aspx?CId=484&MId=16526