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"Stop dithering!": Council Leader renews calls for Government to bring an end to budget uncertainty

19 February 2020

Stockton-on-Tees Borough Council's Leader has called on the Government to "stop dithering" and tell local councils how they will be funded beyond 2021.

Councillor Bob Cook's calls come as councils still await the outcome of the Government's 'Fair Funding Review', which started in 2017/18.

But protecting the areas and people most in need will remain the Council's priority as this year's budget discussions get under way.

"What we know for certain is that annual Government funding to the Council reduced by £73million between 2010 and 2020," said Councillor Cook.

"The one-off settlement they've given us for this coming year is a bit better than in previous years.

"But what we don't know - in fact we have no idea - is how we'll be funded after 2021, which is making it impossible for councils across the country to plan ahead.

"The Government started its Fair Funding Review some time ago but we're still none the wiser about the outcome.

"We're not asking for special treatment, we just want to be treated fairly.

"And for that to be the case, it's imperative that any future funding model is based on need and takes account of levels of deprivation."

The Council's Cabinet meets tomorrow to consider a budget for 2020/21 and Medium Term Financial Plan for the following three years up to 2024.

They will consider a proposal to increase Council Tax by 1.9 per cent and to implement the Government's 2 per cent Adult Social Care Levy.

"We've worked incredibly hard to protect services as best we can," said Councillor Cook.

"But we continue to see increasing numbers of children in care and cost pressures in a number of other areas.

"In the case of adult social care, the Government has said councils can add a levy on top of Council Tax rather than address the problem nationally.

"Again, this is not a sustainable way of dealing with the problem.

"It means the Government is essentially passing the burden for dealing with a national issue to local councils and local people.

"What's needed is for the Government to grasp the nettle and come up with a national solution.

"They're saying a lot about councils having more spending power but in making that claim they're assuming councils are imposing the maximum Council Tax and Adult Social Care Levy increases.

"These increases will amount to 79p per week for the vast majority of the Borough's residents and it will not be an easy decision to apply them."

But as well as highlighting mounting cost pressures, the budget also includes major investment in the Borough's schools, roads, housing and town centres.

"We're still very ambitious for the Borough and continue to make capital investments to make it a better place for everybody," said Councillor Cook.

"The £52million investment programme in school buildings across the Borough is ongoing, while the new Ingleby Barwick leisure centre is due to open this summer.

"In Stockton, the Globe restoration is coming along very well now and the venue is on track to open in November.

"We're also setting aside £3million for town centres in anticipation of the outcomes of the consultations in Billingham, Ingleby Barwick, Norton, Thornaby and Yarm.

"And despite such challenging financial times, external auditors continue to give us praise for how we are managing our finances."

At tomorrow's meeting, Cabinet will agree recommendations to full Council, which meets next Wednesday (February 26) to set the budget and agree the Medium Term Financial Plan.