Medway Council aiming to protect frontline services in 2016/17 budget

Mdway

Medway Matters

Medway Council is striving to protect frontline services following the provisional local government settlement which sets out funding available for the next financial year.

The budget for 2016/17 will seek to protect all the vital services residents expect and deserve – a task which is becoming increasingly more difficult as government funding continues to decrease.

Several government grants previously received by the authority have, for 2016/17, been rolled into the total Revenue Support Grant (RSG), meaning the council will lose almost £12million in grant support from central government compared to 2015/16 – that’s a 30 per cent drop.

This is in addition to reductions of 11.9 per cent and 8.3 per cent in grant support in 2011/12 and 2012/13 respectively (circa £20million), followed by further reductions in Revenue Support Grant alone of at least £35million since 2013/14.

Despite this, the authority is working on proposals to balance the budget without impacting on important day to day services such as highways, waste collection, libraries and leisure.

The council will keep weekly bin and recycling collections, one of a handful of authorities in the country to do this, and car park fees will not rise – as the authority has pledged to keep these at the same level until 2017.

Medway is also determined to support its libraries and new community hubs which have thrived in recent years and have been key in offering residents a whole host of council services from easily accessible, central town locations.

In order to fund and protect the more than 140 services the council provides for the 270,000 people living in Medway, the budget proposals will seek a basic 1.994 per cent rise in council tax. Then in response to an ageing population and dwindling funding from central government, it is likely that the council will exercise its new power, announced by the Chancellor in his Autumn Statement, to increase council tax by a further 2 per cent to partially fund demographic growth in the social care budget.

If approved before Full Council at the end of February, council tax charges, inclusive of the 2 per cent precept, would equate to £1,234.89 per year for an average Band D home – a rise of 91p a week or £47 a year on last year’s charge.

While Medway Council seeks to be as efficient as possible, council tax needs to increase to ensure a balanced budget – a legal obligation it must meet despite the fact that it is becoming harder to achieve this as government funding continues to decrease.

In fact, the revenue support grant for 2016/17 will reduce to £28million compared to the adjusted 2015/16 figure of £40.1million – an £11.9million loss in government funding that is the principal cause of the near £15million gap against the £316million overall draft budget.

Historically, Medway receives much less in government funding than other similar sized local authorities and this is a continuing feature.

Medway Council’s research shows that the £28 million it will receive works out at £103 per resident.

With funding cuts set to continue in the coming years, the council has to come up with more effective ways of providing services for less.

The authority has embarked on a digital transformation programme which will see services delivered for less online, and in social care there will be a stronger focus on people being supported to maintain their independence and receive care within their own homes.

On-going major regeneration in the area will continue to boost the local economy and George Osborne’s recent announcement of Enterprise Zone status for Rochester Airport as part of The North Kent Innovation Zone, will attract more businesses to the area.

Cllr Alan Jarrett, Leader of Medway Council, said: “Once again it has been an incredibly tough task this year to balance the books. Year on year we receive less money from central government, which is quite frankly backing local authorities into a corner and will inevitably lead to cuts in various areas over the coming years, something we have always strived to avoid.

“In Medway we pride ourselves on protecting frontline services, which we have managed to do again in these draft budget proposals, but in the future, continued cuts to our funding will be damaging to the level of service we are able offer local people.

“The 1.994 per cent rise in council tax and the additional social care precept is unavoidable if we want to maintain the important services that residents rely on and deserve.”

Details of budget proposals will be subject to change up until final decisions are made at the Full Council meeting on 25 February 2016.

The implications of the provisional local government finance settlement are available online at
democracy.medway.gov.uk/mgconvert2pdf.aspx?id=29326

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