Stockton-on-Tees Borough Council

Big plans, bright future

St. Mark's C of E Primary (including Nursery) will be closed on Friday 15 November 2019 for an ongoing environmental clean and is expected to re-open on Monday 18 November 2019.

Cabinet to consider report on finances

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Stockton Council's Cabinet will this week (16 December) consider the impact of a reduction in Government funding which means it must deliver at least £29 million in savings by 2014 - an expected £16 million of it in the coming year.

The Council has been reviewing all its services since 2008 to achieve greater efficiency and value for money and has already identified where it can save £8 million this year without affecting the quality of services to residents.

However, the scale of the spending cuts announced in the Government's Comprehensive Spending Review last month and this week's confirmation of a revenue support grant cut for Stockton of 12.1 per cent in 2011/12 - well above the national average of 9.9 per cent - makes further significant reductions unavoidable.

As well as further reducing internal costs, the Council will now consider more creative ways of providing services - including working with other councils and voluntary and community groups to provide them - along with charges for some services and events.

Support will continue for voluntary and community organisations, through an investment fund as well as protecting the funding for advice and information services currently provided by the Stockton and District Advice and Information Service.

The Council must also consider the future of a number of services funded by specific Government grants, of which Stockton currently receives £30 million each year. While the Council is still working on the detail of Monday's Government announcement, the settlement did confirm that just over £16 million of these grants will continue, with £9.6 million of them to cease. It still awaits news of a further £3 million.

This means the Council must close projects such as the Working Neighbourhoods Fund, which supports people into jobs, and the Future Jobs Fund.

Stockton has been preparing for the impact of the cuts by reducing the Council workforce over the past year. Of the 375 employees to leave since January, it has only replaced 54, many on a temporary basis.

An estimated 100 posts have been identified to go by 2012 following a review of internal and back-office services and consultation with those staff affected is under way.

To make efficiencies so far, the Council has already reduced management costs, including removing the post of Assistant Chief Executive. It has saved £2.6m a year in supplies purchasing, £240,000 on computer equipment and £800,000 by reviewing travel allowances and charging staff for parking. Installing dimmers is cutting street lighting costs and a review of the planning service has reduced costs by £436,000.

Joint working with other councils is also paying off. Sharing some finance, HR and IT services with Darlington Council is saving £680,000 a year, while councils across the North East are achieving major economies by working together - for example, in the way they buy energy and new library books.

However, more reductions are still needed, much of them in the coming year. To manage this, Stockton Council's cabinet is now considering:

a £2.4 million reduction in administration and other internal costs
reviewing schools crossing patrols and administration of the Blue Badge parking passes, to save £150,000
charging for some festivals, such as parts of the Stockton International Riverside Festival and the Stockton Riverside Fringe Festival
savings of £250,000 in highways maintenance, roads and footways
reducing subsidies for bus routes and bringing the concessionary travel into line with the national scheme, saving £360,000
transferring the museums service to a Tees Valley Museums Trust, saving £150,000 a year with no impact on the service
transferring management of countryside parks at Billingham Beck Valley and Cowpen Bewley to Tees Valley Wildlife Trust and a restructure of the current Countryside Range Service to focus on maintenance of parks rather than educational activities
relocating the Tees Active leisure service to the Tees Barrage, making its current Castlegate Quay base available to a river-related business. Together, with the parks review these would save £616,000
better targeting of youth services
bringing services together under one roof, which could then release buildings or other assets to the community, potentially saving £1 million
To achieve further savings, the Council is to undertake large-scale reviews of its remaining services over the coming months. These are:

Learning disability and mental health
Housing benefits
Care For Your Area (refuse, street cleansing, grounds maintenance, etc)
Community safety and security
Children's social care management
Waste management
School improvement
Legal services
Registration and bereavement
Housing and regeneration
Children's Centres, Sure Start and other early intervention services
Government grant cuts and uncertainty about future grants means 150 grant-funded posts are at risk of redundancy and the Council will formally notify all those affected on 17 December.

Councillor Ken Lupton, Leader of Stockton Borough Council, said: "The settlement grant announced by Government this week is far worse than we have been planning for.

"The way the reductions are applied covers total Government funding, not just our revenue grant. We are still awaiting an announcement on some funding but, from the details we have so far, we are looking at an overall cash reduction of 19.7 per cent for Stockton next year - clearly very substantial.

"What's more, this settlement is only for two years and gives no certainty beyond that.

"Stockton Council has always planned our finances to help avoid the need for large-scale redundancies or service cuts. Over the past two years we have carefully managed our value for money programme and continued providing good, effective services to local people.

"Wherever possible we have shrunk our workforce by natural wastage and freezing vacant posts, with compulsory redundancies very much a last resort.

"Now, faced with such a challenging budget, we can no longer safeguard every service and regrettably this will have an impact on some employees.

"We are strongly committed to working with the trades unions and providing the best support and counselling for all the staff affected."

Neil Schneider, the Council's Chief Executive, said: "As an individual authority, through ANEC regionally and the LGA nationally, we will continue to lobby Government for a fairer, more equitable settlement for Stockton.

"Meanwhile, we owe it to our residents and businesses to make the best of this very difficult position , and to maintain the ambitious approach which has got us this far.

"Unfortunately, the unprecedented nature of public service budget cuts means we have some unavoidable and very difficult decisions to take which will make significant job losses inevitable.

"Of course this is not a position we would like to be in; we have a thoroughly committed and loyal workforce who serve the people of the borough very well.

"Much of what we have achieved has been down to the efforts of staff working right across the Council. In a very challenging year, they have remained focused on delivering our services to residents, as their fantastic efforts in the current severe weather has shown.

"Wherever possible, we will look at innovative ways of continuing and developing our services. For example, our partnership with Tees Active to provide leisure facilities has not only reduced our costs but has also attracted more investment into excellent facilities.

"We will continue to do everything we can to keep job losses to a minimum but, where they do happen, we are making every effort to keep staff informed of developments at the earliest opportunity and providing them with as much support and advice as we can."