PROTECTING the areas and people most in need will remain the priority for Stockton-on-Tees Borough Council as it tackles ongoing reductions in Government funding.
But the Council’s Leader, Councillor Bob Cook, has repeated his longstanding concerns about the “crippling” uncertainty surrounding how local government will be funded in future.
The Council’s Cabinet meets next week to consider a budget for 2019/20 and Medium Term Financial Plan for the following three years up to 2023.
Meanwhile, Government funding to the Council continues to fall – by 2020 the annual Government funding the Council receives will be £73million less than it was in 2010.
“We’re here in February 2019 and yet we still have no clear indication from Government about how councils are going to be funded beyond 2020,” said Councillor Cook. “That kind of uncertainty is crippling.
“It’s unbelievable really. It’s been bad enough having to deal with year upon year of cuts to our funding and there’s a certain irony in the fact we’ve only been able to manage this through careful planning over the medium and long term.
“Yet here we are not knowing how much money we’re going to have in just over a year’s time. How the Government expects councils to plan in this climate of uncertainty I don’t know.
“Their stock response seems to be to tell councils to put up Council Tax – not only is that unfair but it will raise nowhere near enough to keep pace with soaring demands for social care and spiralling energy costs.
“These pressures aren’t going away and in short, this uncertainty has got to end. It’s just not a credible position. We need a fair and sustainable multi-year settlement so that we can plan at the very least.
“It’s no surprise we’re seeing councils reaching a financial cliff edge. And it’s not just me saying it – council leaders across the country and from across the political divides are crying out for a fairer funding deal for our authorities and our communities.”
At next week’s Cabinet meeting, councillors will consider a proposal to increase Council Tax by 2.9 per cent.
But as well as highlighting mounting cost pressures, the budget also includes a £170million investment programme in the Borough’s schools, roads, housing and schemes such as the new crematorium and Ingleby Barwick Leisure Centre.
“We remain very ambitious for the Borough and we’re not standing still,” said Councillor Cook. “We’re making a series of capital investments to make the Borough a better place to live, work and do business both now and for future generations.
“This will see us invest £50million in schools, £13million in Ingleby Barwick leisure centre, £30million across our town centres, and of course the final £2.5million needed for the restoration of the Globe, as was agreed in principle by Cabinet in December.
“In recent years we’ve also taken some innovative and at times controversial decisions to back projects that generate savings and income. One such project, the joint venture with Spark of Genius, is now saving us £800,000 a year, while the new Hampton by Hilton hotel and crematorium will generate income.
“These investments are targeted to make every pound count and remember, while the money for these projects cannot be spent on running services the savings and income they generate can be, which will help us protect the high quality services our residents value.
“If we hadn’t made these investments the impact of the funding cuts we face would have been even worse.
“It’s also worth noting that year on year, external auditors give us a glowing bill of health, praising our financial management and most recently declaring that this council is ‘well placed’ to face financial challenges.”
The Council’s 2018/19 budget and Medium Term Financial Plan will be considered by Cabinet on Thursday, February 21.
Cabinet will then make recommendations to full Council, which meets on Wednesday, February 27 to set the budget and agree the Medium Term Financial Plan.