Medium Term Financial Strategy and Council Tax Budget 2017/18
- Meeting of Cabinet, Thursday, 8th December 2016 6.00 p.m. (Item 71.)
- View the background to item 71.
Councillor Phil Davies, Leader of the Council, said:
“Every year, this Council faces a growing challenge to set a budget which enables us to protect the vulnerable and improve the lives of our residents. To achieve this we have to balance the rising costs and demand for services with the income we raise from Business Rates and Council Tax and the shrinking grants we receive from Central Government.
To deal with these challenges, Councils like Wirral have historically survived by making minor reductions to services, small increases in charges and asking our staff and our partners to do lot more with a lot less. This time, the truth is incremental change will no longer get the job done.
Over the next four years, Wirral Council has to find from increased income or spending reductions £132 million. That’s on top of the huge reductions and cuts we have already had to absorb and includes the requirement to find £45 million just next year.
We have ambitions for Wirral which we will not lower or compromise. We are planning long term, and will design a budget strategy covering the next four years which will allow us to deliver fundamental redesign of how the Council works and the services it provides.
We have spelled out where our priorities lie. The Wirral Plan and our 20 Pledges are our contract with the people of Wirral and we will deliver as promised. In this new age for local government, it is our job to make sure we focus our efforts, our resources and our energy on what is truly important to residents”.
Councillor Phil Davies introduced a report which informed that, over the next four years, the Council was projecting to have a funding gap of £132 million, due in part to the Government’s austerity measures, rising costs and increasing demand for services.
The Cabinet noted that the report presented a Financial Strategy to enable the Council to set a balanced budget for 2017/18 and provide provisional budgets for the subsequent three years to 2020/21.
Over this period, it was reported that the Council would review every service currently provided, developing a range of new delivery arrangements to ensure the right outcomes were achieved for Wirral residents at a sustainable cost. The Cabinet noted that the Transformation Programme was a critical programme of work, which would take time to deliver but would ensure the organisation was able to keep its promises to residents within much reduced financial resources.
Under the Government’s plans it was noted that local authorities would no longer receive the general Revenue Support Grant and would become largely self-reliant, based on income generated from Council Tax, Business Rates and Fees and charges. A major focus in the Financial Strategy was on generating more income to enable the Wirral Plan to be delivered.
Councillor Davies informed the Cabinet that the challenge was the local tax base, as approximately three quarters of the housing stock in Wirral was in Bands A, B and C. He referred to affluent Councils in the South of England who raised much more Council tax and was of the view that Members needed to continue to lobby the Government to revisit the present system.
Councillor Davies reported that the Council would have to find alternative ways to deliver. The Transformation Programme would set them out and proposals would be put forward in the New Year which would mean a cultural change to the way the Council currently operated. It would need to be more commercial and a whole range of efficiencies would be considered and the Council’s reserves would also be put under scrutiny.
Councillors Matthew Patrick, Bernie Mooney and George Davies all concurred with Councillor Davies and reflected on the pain the Government’s savage cuts had inflicted on residents and the Council’s work force. Councillor Davies responded informing that he would continue to consult with the Trade Unions and would try to find ways to mitigate the effects of the savings being made.
(1) the forecast Budget funding gap for 2017/18, currently of £45 million and the projected Budget funding gap for the period 2017/21 of £132 million be noted;
(2) the impact of the Budget reductions and proposals for 2017/18-2020/21 as summarised in Section 3 of the report be noted;
(3) Officers be authorised to complete any consultation and engagement with residents, partners and other stakeholders where required on the budget proposals in advance of Budget decisions being made in February 2017;
(4) the report be presented to the Overview and Scrutiny Committee workshops which will be scheduled during January 2017 so they can consider the proposals in advance of budget decisions to be made in February 2017; and
(5) an updated Budget Report and Medium Term Financial Strategy be presented to the Cabinet at its meeting on 20 February 2017. This will to cover the updated financial projections, including the impact of the Local Government Finance Settlement expected in mid-December 2016, and the outcome from the engagement and consultation undertaken.