Council tax freeze approved despite £12million cuts
Published on 5th March 2013
Council tax in Sandwell is being frozen for the third year running – despite a £12 million cut in Government cash.
And the borough's finance chief is hailing a budget for the 2013/14 financial year starting in April which:
- avoids 'knee jerk' closures;
- saves millions in efficiency gains; and
- invests in quality developments for the future.
A full meeting of the council this evening (Tuesday) approved a budget for day-to-day spending on services in 2013/14 of £255 million compared with £267 million this year.
It also froze Sandwell's council tax for the year ahead.
Councillor Steve Eling, deputy leader and cabinet member for strategic resources, said the council was taking a one-off Government grant to freeze council tax so as not to penalise the people of the borough.
The alternative would have been to ask people to vote in a referendum for a council tax rise of about 20 per cent, which was clearly unacceptable.
Councillor Eling said the new budget reflected a five per cut in Government cash support of around £12 million - part of estimated cuts for Sandwell of £100 million between 2010 and 2017 - although the council also has to save another £3 million in 2013/14 to meet the costs of inflation.
But he said Sandwell could avoid knee-jerk closures of community facilities like libraries, leisure centres and children's centres.
"We have a rolling three-year financial plan and have been preparing for this year's budget for the last two years," he said.
"We are saving millions by working more efficiently.
"This means things like cutting management and transport costs, operating from fewer offices and energy efficiency measures.
"We are also reviewing the way we run services so, for example, we can continue delivering them to the elderly and disabled - including meals on wheels - at less cost."
Councillor Eling said the council was also finding cash in the new budget for investments in quality projects that would sustain public services in future:
- new leisure centres in Tipton and West Bromwich;
- new housing and business developments supporting the local economy; and
- Green Flag parks.
He added, "We also have plans to generate income to plough into services.
"The scale of cuts facing councils up and down the country, though, is massive and it may well be that some go to the wall in years to come.
"If that does happen, in Sandwell our ambition is to be the last one standing.
"Our medium-term financial planning means we are better able to withstand cuts and stay solvent."
He warned, though, that continuing cuts in Government support - of nine and then 10 per cent in the next two years - would pose increasing challenges.
Some savings - like cutting management costs - could be made only once.
The council would have to look in future at asking people to choose whether they were willing to pay for some services or risk losing them altogether, as had happened in some other councils.He also warned there could be around another 500 job losses by 2017 to add to the estimated 1,000 shed since 2010.
NOTE: Sandwell Council is not increasing council tax in 2013/14. People will pay a little more, however, because the organisations running police and fire services across the West Midlands are putting up the charge they want the council to collect for them. Most Sandwell householders - in Band A and B properties - will pay £5.31 or £6.20 extra over the year.