Council has to save £23m to set budget for next year

The biggest Government funding cuts to local services in a generation mean Plymouth City Council has to save over £23 million to set a budget for next year.

The Council’s Cabinet has considered a draft budget which requires a £23 million gap between projected costs and resources to be closed in order to set a budget for next year and to find a further £21 million savings over the following two years – bringing the total to £44 million.

A report to Cabinet outlined how after years of Government cuts and continuing uncertainty over future funding the significant challenges, the Council faces a huge challenge in trying to maintain hundreds of local services that Plymouth residents rely on day-to-day, including keeping vulnerable elderly residents clean, washed and fed and running libraries, street lights, children’s centres, refuse and street cleansing services and road maintenance.

The Council has been proactively addressing these financial challenges through a major programme of transformation, which is focused on delivering services in entirely new ways and raising income by growing Plymouth’s economy.

For example, Plymouth is one of the first areas in the country to fully join up the commissioning and delivery of NHS and social care services.

The council’s workforce has also reduced by 29 per cent over the last three years.

Transformation initiatives and a programme of financial savings by departments has identified more than £20m of savings but the Council still needs to find a remaining £3.4m shortfall for it set a budget of £184.7 million for 2016/17 in February.

The report says a lack of clarity from the Government is making this more difficult as it has still not announced the funding settlement for local government, even though council budget setting processes are well under way.

This means it is not possible yet to make a firm proposal about Council Tax levels. However, the Council is currently modelling a potential council tax freeze for 2016/7.

Councillor Mark Lowry, Cabinet member for Finance, said: “The Government is imposing the biggest cuts to funding for local services in Plymouth in a generation and it is becoming increasingly difficult to continue to provide essential services. We have done everything we can over the last few years to try and minimise the direct impact on the thousands of people who rely on our services day to day. We shouldn’t underestimate what we have been able to achieve so far in delivering savings while protecting these services but these cuts have been going on for years now.  The length and scale of them means it will be impossible to protect some services in the future.

“The Government is doing its best to passport the blame for these cuts to local government and its latest ploy is to allow us to increase the council tax by two per cent to off-set its cuts in social care. Sticking plaster solutions are no substitute for adequate funding. The Chancellor has chosen a very opaque, complicated and messy option. It is a short-sighted response to the growing crisis in social care and will burden unfairly Plymouth local council tax payers.

“The Government is shifting the burden of care for the elderly and vulnerable from Whitehall to local residents.

“While we have yet to receive a settlement in Plymouth we are aware that local government funding will be slashed by 56 per cent over the next five years – the biggest reduction in any government department.”

The local government funding settlement is due to be announced later this month. The Council will review the implications before the draft goes to Scrutiny in early January. A final budget is due to be set by the Council at the end of February.