Residents in Staffordshire face a 4.99 per cent tax hike next year to help plug a council budget gap of more than £30 million.
Staffordshire County Council’s draft budget for 2021/22 includes a 1.99 per cent council tax increase. together with the maximum three per cent social care precept. It equates to an extra £64.67 for a Band D property, or £1.24 a week.
This is expected to generate an additional £18.5 million for the council, helping it address £33 million of spending pressures and achieve a balanced budget.
No major new cuts to services have been announced – thanks in part to extra Government funding and the controversial public sector pay freeze.
But finance officers admit there is a ‘huge level of uncertainty’ in the budget, due to the ongoing pandemic and its impact on council tax and business rates income. It means further Government support may be needed on top of the £80 million previously announced.
Beyond Covid-19, the council is also facing ever increasing demand for social care, with a record £346.2 million set to be spent on services for vulnerable adults and children next year.
Council leader Alan White insists the authority is in a good position to face these challenges due to it being a ‘well-run’ organisation.
But he acknowledged that the council tax hike would be coming at a difficult time for many Staffordshire residents.
Mr White said: “I know that people have been affected by this and it is really hard. Believe me, the last thing I want to do is ask people to stick their hands in their pockets at at time like this.
“But we continue to support our communities. I think many people around the county appreciate the work we’ve done and recognise the investments we’ve made.
“A good example over the last nine months has been our expenditure on PPE. We got that out fast to support businesses, and provided support to the clinically extremely vulnerable.
“I do understand the difficulty. But what we try to do is make sure our services are as efficient as possible. It’s council taxpayers’ money we’re spending here, so we want to make sure that money is really efficiently spent and there is no wastage. So I hope we can give people that sense that we’re not wasting their money.”
Around two-thirds of the council’s budget next year will spent on social care services, which are facing ever increasing demands due to the ageing population.
The Government has increased Staffordshire’s social care support grant by £4.4 million to £25.2 million, as well as allowing authorities to raise more locally through the three per cent council tax precept.
Got something to say about this story? Join the conversation by clicking on the green comments icon at the top of this page or the picture box
But Mr White said he was expecting ministers to come up with a long-term solution to social care funding, as well as the full implementation of the business rates retention scheme.
The budget report, which will go before cabinet in on January 6, acknowledges a variety of risks which may affect council finances in 2021/22, largely due to Covid-19.
In the current year, a number of planned savings have not been delivered, including a review of children’s social care, which was expected to save £6.4 million.
The council has been allocated £16.2 million of additional Covid funding for next year, but the report says that this ‘may not cover all additional costs faced by the county council’.
Mr White added: “The Government support we’ve had has been excellent, and it’s come through in a timely fashion. It’s allowed us to deliver services in the face of the pandemic.
In Your Area gives you the community news you need. Find out about events where you live, the latest news, property for sale and all the local planning and council notices. All the local updates straight to your inbox!
You can sign up here.
“Looking forward, there are some key things we have to continue to deliver – social services, support for business, maintaining our roads. And then there are the unknowns, and those unknowns we deal with as we encounter them, and so does Government.
“There have been critics of Government, but I think they’ve been doing the best they can under the circumstances.
“The Government has said that they’ll make sure we’ve got the money we need to deliver those additional support services as this thing goes on.”
Mr White said the council also planned to continue investing in areas such as roads, schools and broadband in 2021/22. There will also be a scheme to provide free back office support to small businesses for a year.
Previously announced savings proposals, including work to increase the availability of affordable adult care provision and efforts to keep troubled youngsters out of the care system, will continue in 2021/22.