Stoke-on-Trent City Council faces difficult choices to balance budget to save essential services

Budget proposals have been released to save essential city council services, while tackling huge pressures on the authority’s finances due to the rising demands of social care.

Stoke-on-Trent City Council has launched a consultation to save and protect services that support vulnerable adults and children at a time of record demand from residents. The proposals would see an additional £26.1m invested into social care services to look after the people in our communities who need the most support. This would include a record budgeted investment into adult social care as part of a proposed increase in spend on children’s services, adults’ services and public health to £192.1m. It comes at a time when more than 3,500 vulnerable adults require social care support, and 1,150 children are in the council’s care – one in every 56 children in the city – which is the highest number per head of population in the country.

The authority is consulting on proposals that would save a total of £3.4m, with a further £4.6m to be saved in back office work to transform the way services are delivered without impacting on the frontline. It is proposed that council tax will potentially rise by 4.99% which includes a social care precept of two per cent. The proposed increase is the equivalent of £0.99p a week for the average council taxpayer in the city. This still means the majority of local residents would be paying around £130 less than the average resident in other unitary authorities. It is also proposed that a total of 16.1 net full-time equivalent job losses will be consulted on, although the council is already dealing with 95 full-time equivalent losses through a mix of deleting more than 65 vacancies and voluntary redundancies.

The council is also in detailed talks with government for a package of extra financial support of up to £44.7m over a two-year period – funding that would allow the authority to change the way children’s services operate to help more children and families to thrive.

Council leader Jane Ashworth said: “Times have seldom felt so hard – we know that is the case for many families in the city, and the same can be said for our public services. We have some very difficult choices to make if we are to set a balanced budget for the next financial year. We aren’t the only council in this position. Years of austerity, which have seen £250m taken out of city council budgets over the past 10 years, the enduring impact of the Covid pandemic and the growing pressures of social care are taking its toll right across the country – at least one in five councils are facing the prospect of not being able to set a balanced budget in this or future years.

 “We have been open and transparent since we took office last May that we inherited a legacy of huge budget pressures and predicted overspends.

 “We are taking tough and bold action to address this, so we can continue to invest in services that support vulnerable people and to spend money in the right way on priorities that support the wellbeing of residents and the future of our city.

 “We are still proposing to keep open our libraries, leisure centres and museums, put our largest ever investment into services for vulnerable adults and we have already increased payments for foster carers.

“We can only work through this by a combination of making savings, increasing council tax, reducing pressures by transforming services and receiving extra financial support from government. This is the only way we can balance our budget.

 “Failure to set a balanced budget will probably result in government commissioners running the council, like in other areas across the country, which may result in radical cuts to services that we know local people care deeply about such as potentially closing leisure centres and museums, stopping street cleaning and grass cutting, less highway maintenance and less frequent bin collections.

“We don’t want to see that happen. That’s why we’re facing up to these horrendously difficult decisions head-on. We have already introduced very tight controls on council spend and these measures are working, they have saved over £2m already, and they continue to have a positive impact. But we now need the support of residents in the decisions we have to make. Only by pulling together can we get through this crisis. We ask residents to comment on the proposals and if they have better ideas that are workable and realistic we will give them our every consideration – we are not the controller of good ideas, we are open to listening.”

 

The budget consultation will run to 12 February. Residents can give their views via budgetconsultation@stoke.gov.uk, visiting www.stoke.gov.uk/budget2024, contacting the council on social media via searching for SoTCityCouncil on both Facebook and X, or by writing to Budget 2024, c/o Executive Assistant to the Director of Strategy and Resources, Civic Centre, Glebe Street, Stoke, ST4 1HH.

The budget proposals will be discussed at council scrutiny meetings during January, and will go before the council’s cabinet on 13 February and put before a meeting of the full council on 22 February.

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