Council on target to deliver a balanced budget despite pressures

Plymouth City Council is on track to deliver a balanced budget for 2016/17 despite having to deliver £21.2 million savings, its Cabinet member for Finance says.

Councillor Ian Darcy says the Council is committed to balancing the books and so far has identified £19.2 million of savings, leaving £1.9 million to find before a 2017/18 budget is set.

The Council has already delivered £65 million savings over the last three years but reducing Government funding and the rising cost of care service means the Council has to deliver a further £37 million of savings over the next three years.

A report to Cabinet sets out the progress made towards setting the 2017/18 budget. It follows approval of the Council’s three-year medium term financial strategy earlier this month. The strategy outlines how the funding shortfall is being addressed through a range of measures including increasing the savings targets from existing transformation programmes, covering areas such as the integration of health and social care, growing Plymouth’s economy, increasing commercial opportunities, making better use of the Council’s assets and increasing the number of services provided online.

The Council is in the process of modernising a range of service to reduce costs, improve efficiency and make processes easier for customers. For example, the Parking service has been reviewed and proposals made to introduce simplified fee structures and more online services are being considered.

The Council is also committed to increasing recycling in Plymouth to reduce costs and to protect the city’s environment. Plans include bringing Plymouth in line with more than 75 per cent of other local authorities by moving bin collections to an alternate weekly collection scheme – emptying brown bins from homes one week and collecting recycling waste from green bins the next week.

The Cabinet has also recently revised its fees and charges policy to help ensure where possible that fees and charges keep in line with the consumer price index to avoid sudden larger increases.

The report to Cabinet says the medium term financial strategy assumes the Council will continue to use the two per cent ‘precept’ on the Council Tax bills introduced by the Government last year to enable councils to protect some adult social care services. This will raise £1.8 million specifically to support adult social care, which accounts around 40 per cent of the Council’s overall spending – £73.5 million out of the total revenue budget of £182.7 million.

The report says the Council is waiting for details of the local government finance settlement from the Government, which could impact on its budget plans.

No decision has been made yet on Council Tax levels for 2017/18.

Councillor Darcy said: “We have promised to manage the city’s budgets responsibly and we will not put vital services in jeopardy by failing to take the tough decisions that are needed when faced with such a large gap in funding. We would be letting the people of Plymouth down if we buried our heads in the sand and built up even bigger problems that could only end in cuts to services. Our approach is to ensure that reductions in spending goes hand in hand with modernising services, and making services more efficient and accessible to the people who use them.

“We have listened to feedback gathered through the Big Decision budget engagement exercise, carried out in the summer, and we will continue to listen to residents as we look to shape the future of the Council and its services.”

Cllr Darcy added: “We are continuing to address the current financial pressures on the Council’s budgets, which has been compounded further by the legacy of undelivered savings that this administration inherited. That said we remain confident at this stage of the financial year that we will deliver a balanced budget for 2016/17.”