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'Give our Borough a fairer deal': Council Leader's plea to Government as budget discussions get under way

15 February 2018

Protecting the areas and people most in need will remain Stockton-on-Tees Borough Council's focus as it tackles ongoing reductions in Government funding.

But the Council's Leader, Councillor Bob Cook, has repeated his plea for a fairer funding deal to ease growing pressure on children's and adults' social care services.

Demand for these services continues to rise, while the funding the Council receives from Government continues to fall.

Those reductions will reach £74million a year by 2019/20, when compared with 2010/11.

The Council's Cabinet meets next week to consider a budget for 2018/19 and Medium Term Financial Plan for the following three years up to 2022.

Councillor Cook said: "I've said it before and I'll say it again - instead of burying its head in the sand, the Government needs to acknowledge the growing social care crisis and give councils a fair and sustainable financial settlement so that we can tackle it.

"It's not just me saying this - council leaders across the country, from Surrey to Northumberland, and across political divides, are calling for a fairer funding deal for their authorities.

"Even national bodies agree that the current system is broken and in need of massive reform. But what do we get? Well, sadly we just get told that we can increase Council Tax, yet this will raise nowhere near enough money to keep pace with growing demand for services.

"As we've seen, councils like Northamptonshire are at the financial cliff-edge. What is needed as a matter of urgency is a sustainable funding model, not buck passing, or tinkering around the edges."

He added: "Here in Stockton-on-Tees the combined cost of providing social care to adults and children continues to rise and now accounts for well over half of our annual spend on services.

"Last year, the amount we spent on looking after children in our care rose above £20million for the first time ever.

"There's no more important responsibility for local authorities than to safeguard vulnerable residents, and as a council that places great emphasis on protecting those most in need we will do whatever it takes to ensure that happens as effectively as possible."

At next week's Cabinet meeting, councillors will consider a proposal to increase Council Tax by 2.9 per cent as well as a proposal to implement the Government's 3 per cent adult social care levy.

But as well as highlighting the mounting pressure of rising social care costs, the budget report also provides updates on a number of the exciting developments taking place across the Borough.

"Even though these are extremely challenging times, we remain very ambitious for the Borough and we are certainly not going to sit back passively and manage decline," said Councillor Cook.

"Instead, we are going to continue to invest in the long-term future of the Borough and our residents with a focus on supporting businesses, stimulating economic growth and creating jobs, facilities and opportunities for future generations.

"We are continuing to put major investment into schools, businesses support, housing regeneration of brownfield sites, road improvements, a new crematorium, and the new Hampton by Hilton hotel.

"We're also pressing ahead with the new library, leisure and customer service centre in lngleby Barwick, which is going to provide local people with fantastic and much-needed facilities including a pool, gym and library.

"And of course, the Globe restoration is progressing really well and continues to be met with overwhelming positivity - there's clearly a lot of love for the Globe among local people, so many of whom have such fond memories of the place.

"It should be remembered that independent external auditors, Mazars, recently praised our careful financial management and that funding for these investments comes from a different budget stream, which cannot be spent on day-to-day services.

"This budget report also outlines plans to make further senior management cost savings of £225,000 per year by 2020/21 on top of the £800,000 in annual savings we've already achieved through a previous review."

The Council's Chief Executive, Neil Schneider, said: "I'd like to thank our staff, who continue to work extremely hard to deliver services during a time of great challenge and uncertainty.

"Over the last seven years we've seen staff numbers reduce by more than 1,160, but thanks to their unwavering dedication and commitment, we continue to deliver exceptional services.

"We never lose sight of the fact that we're here to serve our residents and businesses and last year saw us shortlisted in all three of local government's prestigious 'Council of the Year' awards by our peers."

The Council's 2018/19 budget and Medium Term Financial Plan will be considered by Cabinet on Thursday, February 22.

Cabinet will then make recommendations to full Council, which meets on Wednesday, February 28 to set the budget and agree the Medium Term Financial Plan.