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Protecting those most in need remains Council's focus

09 February 2017

STOCKTON-on-Tees Borough Council will maintain its focus on protecting the areas and people most in need as it tackles ongoing reductions in Government funding.

The Council has adopted a carefully planned and managed approach as it adapts to annual funding reductions while facing growing demand for adult social care and children's services.

And this will continue as the Council grapples with further reductions that will reach £75million a year by 2019/20, when compared with 2010/11 (a reduction of 62 per cent).

The Council's Cabinet meets next week to consider a budget for 2017/18 and Medium Term Financial Plan for the following three years up to 2021.

Council Leader, Councillor Bob Cook, said: "Our financial position remains a huge challenge, as you'd expect when looking at the scale of the reductions in our funding, but we are getting on with reshaping the Council to deliver the changes needed.

"As an organisation, the Council looks very different to what it did a few years ago. Staff numbers overall have been reduced by more than 1,000 over the last six years and we expect them to fall by a further 200 over the next three years.

"We've had to make some really difficult decisions in the last year and identifying and delivering savings becomes ever more challenging. We continue to review our services in consultation with residents and businesses, while understanding that every one of our services is important to someone.

"We'll be sticking to the principle that we will target services to the areas or people in most need."

But service reviews alone are not enough to meet the budget gap - in addition, a 1.9 per cent Council Tax increase is proposed as well as a proposal to implement the Government's 3 per cent adult social care levy.

Councillor Cook said: "We have a growing elderly population and continue to experience significant costs and demand pressures in delivering adult social care services, which we are doing our best to manage.

"But instead of addressing the funding gap in adult social care nationally, the Government has said councils can add a three per cent increase to Council Tax bills specifically for adult social care. Unfortunately, the money this will raise falls well short of what we need to keep pace with growing demand.

"It will not be an easy decision to increase Council Tax and implement the Government's levy, which will amount to an increase of 87p per week for the majority of residents."

Councillor Cook added: "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.

"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.

"That means investing in projects such as Ingleby Barwick leisure centre and the refurbishment of the Globe, and being ready to invest in new housing schemes, infrastructure and our town centres when opportunities arise, particularly those that can attract match funding from external sources.

"Given the scale of the financial challenge, it also means investing in projects that enable us to generate income or savings - projects like the development of a new Hilton hotel, the Spark of Genius joint venture, street lighting replacement programme, or a new crematorium. And any savings or income these projects generated will be reinvested into other services.

"This shift has been recognised by external auditors too - the annual audit letter reported to Cabinet last month recognised the work we are doing to explore different service models to preserve service delivery and financial stability."

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 real challenge and uncertainty, and are wholly committed to making the Borough a great place to live, work, play and invest."

The Council's 2017/18 budget and Medium Term Financial will be considered by Cabinet on Thursday, February 16.

Cabinet will then make recommendations to full Council, which meets on Wednesday, February 22 to set the budget and agree the Medium Term Financial Plan.