Labour led Halton Council met on Wednesday 8th March and agreed the council budget for 2017/2018. Since 2010 Halton has had a funding reduction of £57 million inflicted on our area, first by the Coalition government (Conservatives and Lib Dems) and since 2015 by the Conservative government. Your Labour led council is working tirelessly, under extremely difficult circumstances to keep delivering your services, whilst protecting our elderly, young and vulnerable from these cruel Tory cuts to our area.
The following are Council Deputy Leader Cllr Mike Wharton’s comments on our financial situation. Mike is the Council Executive Board Member with responsibility for finance and resources.
for Halton this will only be £642,000 and is a “one year” grant. Whereas our Adult Social Care funding shortfall is estimated to be around £4m!
To add insult to injury, this supposedly new grant is actually being funded by a national top-slice of the New Homes Bonus grant!
Having recognised that this is not enough, the Government will also allow councils to increase the Social Care precept by a maximum of 3% in each of the next two years, but no more than 6% in total over three years. We are therefore recommending that the Social Care precept for 2017/18 is increased from 2% to the maximum 3%, which will generate an extra £400,000 of additional council tax income.
Whilst it is clearly nothing like enough, it will at least help us to maintain those essential services for some of the most vulnerable within our community. However, we do recognise the additional burden this will place upon our residents, when in reality this funding should all be provided nationally by the Government.
You will recall the recent debacle between the Leader of Surrey County Council and the Secretary of State over their threatened 15% council tax rise. Well this took another turn, with the BBC obtaining a recording of the Leader telling Members of the Surrey Conservative Group that he had reached a “Gentleman’s Agreement” with the Secretary of State over the matter!!
Perhaps the Secretary of State would be willing to offer Halton the same “Gentleman’s Agreement”!
The scale of the national funding crisis and the chaos within Government was also demonstrated, when in his budget speech the Chancellor announced some last minute, additional funding for Adult Social Care. He will provide an additional £2bn over the next 3 years, with £1bn being in 2017/2018. This is of course good news. But we could have done with knowing much earlier, plus we don’t yet know how he’s going to fund it…. and there’s never any “truly” new money! Plus we don’t know the criteria surrounding it, or most importantly how much Halton will actually receive.
Probably the only thing we can be certain of is that it will fall well short of our estimated £4m funding gap.
Given the scale of the financial challenges we are facing, we also recommended a general increase in council tax of 1.9% for 2017/2018.
As you know Halton has a very low tax base with 68% of our properties in bands A and B. Our council tax is currently the fourth lowest in the North West. If we were not to have a general increase in council tax, we would have to find a further £800,000 of budget savings and our tax base would be eroded even further. The total recommended increase in council tax and social care precept is therefore 4.9%.
This will mean an increase for a Band D property of £61.30 or £1.18 per week.
However, for most of Halton’s properties the increase for a Band A property will be £40.87 or 79p per week and for a Band B property will be £47.67 or 92p per week.
I must thank the Trade Unions for their pragmatic approach to dealing with these difficult circumstances.
I must also pay tribute to the council staff who despite the great uncertainty, have continued to deliver excellent, high quality services to the public.
I would like to thank the Leader, Rob Polhill, my colleagues on the Budget Working Group and all Council Members for their hard work over the past year. I would also like to thank Ed Dawson and his team for their support and indeed all the council officers involved in helping to deliver this budget. Unfortunately, there is more hard work to come and even more difficult decisions to make, so I look forward to your help.”
Cllr Mike Wharton