More budget discussions on the way as Council outlines plans for the year ahead
Stockton-on-Tees Borough Council's Leader has promised the Council remains "strong" and "ambitious", despite "never so uncertain" future funding streams.
A report on the Council's budget and Medium Term Financial Plan will be considered by Councillors next Monday (February 12).
Councillor Bob Cook's comments follow on from a vow to "act quickly" as budget discussions got underway in December.
And work has already begun to aim to make savings of £9million across the organisation with the newly-introduced 'Powering our Future' programme.
The report proposes a Council Tax increase of 4.95 per cent, with 2.95 per cent on core Council services and 2 per cent on the Government's adult social care levy - this is in line with the increase that has been assumed in the Government's spending power calculation.
"Whilst there's no need to panic, we know that we do need to make changes to the way we work, which is why our 'Powering our Future' programme of transformation is underway throughout the authority to look at making savings of £9million," said Councillor Cook.
"A key strand of Powering our Future is the ambitious regeneration plans in each of the Borough's town centres, which continues to progress very well and really shows off the Borough as a great place to live, work and play.
"Of course, with our regeneration work attracting more businesses to our area, this will lead to a growth in business rates and help bring more money in.
"As well as work such as the 'Making It Real Board' and ambitious plans to create a care and health zone, 14 transformation reviews are underway across a number of different areas of the authority, including administration and business services, children in our care and fleet management. We expect to see the results of the new ways of working in the next financial year.
"We are not experiencing the sort of financial difficulties seen by other Councils around the country, but with the context of rising demand for services, high levels of inflation and one-year funding settlements, future funding streams have never been so uncertain.
"We're also proposing an empty homes premium, where homes stood empty and substantially unfurnished for one to five years would be charged a 100 per cent Council Tax premium - and this would jump to 200 per cent for five to 10 years and 300 per cent for anything over 10 years. Not only with this be beneficial financially, it also supports our drive to reduce the number of empty homes in the Borough.
"Ultimately, there's no getting away from the fact these are challenging times ahead, but we remain in a strong position and this is backed up by external finance auditors, who did not find any significant weaknesses or recommendations.
"We remain ambitious that despite these challenges, we can offer an improved service for residents by working with our partners and communities to put in place new approaches which will not only save money, but also reshape what we do for the better."
Councillors will ratify the budget proposals in a meeting of Full Council on Wednesday, February 21.
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