Posted: 13.01.21 at 12:36 by The Editor
'Unfair' cuts in central government grants is forcing Rutland County Council to pass on the cost to residents, say council finance bosses.
The council says it has a multimillion pound funding shortfall this year, forcing it to increase council tax by 2.99 per cent.
After approving a draft budget this week, Rutland County Council has launched a consultation on its latest draft budget, which contains spending plans and Council Tax proposals for the year 2021/22.
The Council publishes a draft budget at the start of every year, explaining how much money is needed to run local services and, importantly, where this funding will come from.
The Council says it is continuing to operate under huge financial pressure, resulting from real-terms funding cuts at a time when demand and spending on key services continues to rise.
The latest Local Government Finance Settlement awarded Rutland less government money than it did in 2020/21, contributing to a £2.6million funding gap for the year ahead.
The way in which local councils are funded by national government places added pressure on Rutland residents. Less funding from central government means that Rutland County Council must rely on Council Tax to fund local services or cut them. As a result, just over 80% of the Council’s funding now comes from Council Tax contributions, compared to a national average of 61% for other councils.
This year, the government has given councils the power to raise Council Tax by as much as 5% (3% of which is for Social Care), to offset further reductions in national funding.
Despite financial pressure and further reductions in funding, Rutland County Council’s draft budget proposes a Council Tax increase of just 2.99% - the smallest increase put forward in any of the past five years.
Instead the Council is proposing to use £2.6m of reserves to bridge its funding gap and balance this year’s budget. To put this in context, the Council used just £10,000 of reserves to balance its last budget.
Coun Gordon Brown, Cabinet Member for Finance,, said: “Rutland County Council is in an extremely difficult position. Government talk of increased spending power does not mean more money for councils. It simply means that councils have been given the ability to increase Council Tax even further, to make up for a lack of central government funding.
"This effectively passes the rising cost of local services on to residents. We feel this is unfair on people in Rutland, particularly when Council Tax is already high here because of the government’s historic approach to funding local councils.
"With the support of our MP, we are lobbying Government to increase the amount of Local Government Settlement given to Rutland, as well as the overall level of funding provided to council’s, nationally.”
Rutland County Council’s draft budget for 2021/22 confirms that the Council needs to spend £41.5million over the next 12 months in order to maintain local services for residents. This is the total yearly cost of everything from road maintenance and bin collections to library services, fostering and adoption, bus travel, school transport and care for older people.
Key spending areas within the 2021/22 draft budget include:
· £13.8million for adult social care services that help people with needs arising from illness, disability, old age or hardship. Services include day care, community care, residential care and adult protection
· £6.3million for Social Care services that support and protect vulnerable children, young people, their families and young carers. This includes fostering, adoption, residential care and support for children with disabilities
· £3.2million to pay for the collection of all household and commercial waste. This also includes recycling and disposal of waste, as well as the cost of running Rutland’s recycling centres
· £1.4million to maintain all roads, car parks, footpaths, bridges and street lighting in the County, together with the cost of winter gritting, traffic management and road safety
· £1.09million for public transport, including subsidising local buses and free travel for residents of pensionable age
· £2.05million to provide free school transport for children, as well as travel assistance for people with special educational needs and disabilities
£1.8million for public protection and the environment, including street cleaning and grounds maintenance services, along with work linked to trading standards, licensing and crime and disorder
In addition to spending plans for the year ahead, the Council’s draft budget includes proposals for a Council Tax rise of 1.99%, plus an Adult Social Care Precept of 1% which would be used specifically to help fund adult social care services. If approved, the average increase in Council Tax for a Band D property in Rutland would be £1.02 per week.
Coun Brown added: “Residents need to understand that Rutland County is an efficient local authority. Compare us to other local councils and you will see that we deliver the same services at a lower cost, and often to a higher standard.
"The cost of delivering local services has increased this year because of inflation and soaring demand – particularly for social care. It is not the result of over-spending. In fact, we have saved almost £12.5million over the past eight years without cutting services.
“We think it’s unfair that government expects the rising cost of services to be passed on to residents. We don’t want to raise Council Tax by 5%, as the government expects, and have instead balanced our draft budget using a significant portion of our reserves. Unfortunately, this is not sustainable in the long term and we face some very difficult decisions if we do not get the funding we need from government very soon.”
Rutland County Council has now launched a public consultation on its draft budget for 2021/22, inviting people to review the proposals and give their feedback.
The consultation runs from Wednesday 13 January until Friday 29 January, with full details online at: www.rutland.gov.uk/budget.
Feedback received as part of the consultation will be reported to Cabinet and Council in February, so that Councillors can consider the comments prior to a final budget being approved.