Council budget plans focus on modernising services


Modernising services will be focus of Plymouth City Council’s plans to deal with a projected £37 million gap in its funding for local services over the next three years.

The plans are set out in a Medium Term Financial Strategy for the next three years that is due to be agreed by the Council’s Cabinet.

The strategy highlights that even after delivering £65 million of savings over the last three years, the Council faces a further funding gap due to funding continuing to reduce as the Government balances the books nationally and the rising costs of providing adult social care services.

Council leader Ian Bowyer says that faced with such a large gap the Council now needs to make big decisions about modernising the way services are provided if it is to avoid a financial crisis that could lead to big cuts to services.

The financial strategy, which will be considered by the Cabinet on 8 November, says the Council has already been successful in transforming services over the last few years by modernising working practices in areas such as customer services, joining up health and social care services with NHS partners and generating income through growing the city by creating jobs and homes.

The Council now needs to continue to deliver these initiatives as well as further savings to address the further funding gap.

These include modernising waste and street services to ensure Plymouth increases its comparatively low recycling rates.

The initiatives also include modernising how the Council charges for services, ensuring it takes a consistent approach designed around the needs of city residents and businesses, as well as making better use of Council buildings and assets, moving out of inefficient properties and co-locating services where possible.

Councillor Bowyer said: “In Plymouth some of our services have not been significantly changed for many years which means some working practices and infrastructure are out-dated and inefficient. We have been ahead of the curve nationally in some areas such as social care but in others we haven’t always kept up with best practice because difficult decisions have not been taken, often because members have felt they were too contentious.

“But when faced with such a stark financial picture we would be doing Plymouth residents a huge disservice if we tried to avoid our responsibility to make decisions that ensure our services are as efficient as they should be and that they reflect the modern standards that our residents deserve.

“For example, in Plymouth we are not recycling as much as we should, which is not only bad for the city’s environment but it costs us more. Seventy-five per cent of other councils across the country have already successfully introduced rubbish and recycling collections on alternate weeks and have increased recycling rates.

“Residents in some of our neighbouring areas are understandably looking at Plymouth and asking ‘what’s the fuss about, we’ve been doing this for years’?

“We have listened to the feedback we received in our Big Decisions budget engagement exercise and will continue to listen to Plymouth residents as we redesign and reshape services to ensure they are better focused on what they need and on the best interests of the city.”

Councillor Ian Darcy, Cabinet member for Finance, said: “Continuing to fund the hundreds of services that Council provides with dwindling income is increasingly difficult. A huge amount of hard work is going into planning deliverable budgets for future years and driving more efficiency out of the organisation and our assets.

“Our Medium Term Financial Strategy aims to ensure we remain absolutely focused on taking the necessary measures to enable us to balance the books and continue providing the best possible services for Plymouth residents.”

FACTS ABOUT PLYMOUTH’S BUDGET

Plymouth has seen a 79 per cent reduction in its grant funding over the last four years.

Providing social care accounts for more around half the Council’s overall budget and budgets are under huge pressure. The combination of a growing and ageing population, more people with long-term conditions, and a challenging economic climate means greater demand on services and more problems for people in accessing care.

The Council has successfully reduced net revenue expenditure by £65m over the last three years through a large and ambitious transformation programme that is changing the way it does things to reduce costs while improving services.

Despite the achievements in reducing our costs and spending, the further reduction of grants and continuation of rising demand means we are projecting a further funding gap of £37m over the next three years.

The Council is involving residents in budget setting plans and carried out a Big Decisions engagement exercise in the summer, which attracted responses from 567 people who gave 9,196 comments. This feedback is being used to guide our decision making on the budget.

Council Tax only pays for 18 per cent of the City Council’s gross revenue spending, but is a vital source of funding. Plymouth residents pay the lowest average council tax in the region.