Last Wednesday, Cabinet approved the draft Council budget for 2016/17, which we will begin consulting you about from tomorrow, Tuesday 15 December, following the Scrutiny Committee meeting.
The headlines make for challenging reading. We face significant increases in demand for our adult and children’s care services, mostly because of pressure from an expanding and ageing population. These two areas alone take 70% of our money, and it will take even more in years to come. We also have reductions in our government grant.
Doing nothing is simply not an option. Simply rejecting cuts without suggesting practical alternatives is not enough, either.
Over the next few weeks, I will set out the positive things the Council is doing around our Vision, which will secure the Borough’s sustainable economic growth. To do this, we have to propose a number of cuts or changes in how we provide services.
We are proposing to take £4.5m out of our Adult Social care spending, but we will do this without cutting services to the vulnerable. That may mean changes to the specific care packages people receive.
We are changing how we provide the best support for vulnerable children. We are putting our efforts into health visitors, family nurses and the two family centres as these are proving most effective at reaching vulnerable children. The Children’s Centres have not been as successful at doing this, so we are proposing the decommissioning of the remaining buildings to save around £600,000 and protect the funding for health visitors.
We are also looking at how we provide library services. Many of the buildings we own are shut almost all the time. Providing library points, as we do with Stratton Parish Council at the Grange, increases access while allowing us to reduce the cost. We will look for more opportunities like this as the current large number of small branches is unaffordable. Again, our key question will be: how do we provide the service, not keep a building?
Alongside this, we have to consider an increase in Council Tax by 1.94%. By freezing it over five years we have saved the average family over £300 a year, which was the right thing to do given the dire economy the government inherited in 2010. However, now we have to improve our core income.
No company or organisation can fix its prices forever. We may consider increasing the Council Tax by a further 2% to raise money for adult social care costs, but we are still waiting for the Government to clarify all the details following the Chancellor’s statement that we could do this.
With all our budget proposals, if there are alternative ways to make the savings, we would be delighted to hear them. Opposition to this draft budget is only credible if it comes with practical suggestions about what the Council could do differently.