Council tax to rise but cuts will continue

Martin Tett: Leader of Buckinghamshire County Council PNL-140627-170830001
Martin Tett: Leader of Buckinghamshire County Council PNL-140627-170830001
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With £31million in cuts needing to be made council leader Martin Tett says that the authority is likely to raise council tax in a bid to bridge the gap.

Bucks County Council does not yet know how much money it will receive from the government next year.

But with George Osborne set to cut funding for social care, a key part of the council’s annual spend’ the county is bracing itself for a significant shortfall.

Mr Tett recently announced that all non-essential council spending has been frozen. This has so far included appeals for white lines outside schools, and repairs to some roads.

The council tax increase for a Band D property would rise by 85p a week, if the council votes to go ahead with the plan.

He said: “We are currently reviewing our budget priorities for 2016/17 and we’d like your views as we face some really difficult decisions.

“Reductions in funding from central government means there is significantly less money available, but at the same time the population is growing and ageing, birth rates and migration are also increasing so there are more and more people who need our help and support.

“We are already an efficient council having saved over £100 million since 2010. We have also cut back on office costs, sold property, introduced new technology, joined services with other councils and increased income. However, in the face of growing demand and increasing costs, more savings are inevitable. In fact, we need to save at least another £31 million next year alone.

“The County Council currently provides over 120 different services to the residents and businesses of Buckinghamshire. These include schools, social care, registrars’ services, country parks, road maintenance, waste disposal and much more.

“But, we simply cannot continue to run all of these services at the same level. For some services we have already reduced opening hours, introduced higher charges, or stopped doing things as often. Our priorities are now focused on keeping the most vulnerable children and the elderly safe and protected, creating opportunity and self-reliance and keeping Buckinghamshire a thriving and attractive place to live.”

He added: “Buckinghamshire is not alone in facing such tough times, but the reality is that we must take action now to address the continuing, long-term pressures on our finances.

“We were originally proposing to increase council tax next year by 1.99%, the maximum the Government normally allows. However, in the recent Spending Review and Autumn Statement, the Chancellor, George Osborne, recognised the extra pressures facing those councils like Buckinghamshire with social care responsibilities.

“These pressures include funding the new National Living Wage to those organisations like care home and home helps who look after our senior citizens. If we do not do so, there is the very real risk that many will simply be unable to continue in business.

“Adult Social Care is also a vital partner of the NHS helping keep people out of hospital and helping them home if they do need to go in. Without effective Social Care the NHS will find it very hard to cope, particularly during the winter months. Therefore, the Chancellor told councils that they can raise up to 2% extra from Council Tax to spend specifically on Adult Social Care. We are planning to accept the Government’s proposal and are therefore now suggesting a 3.99% rise for next year. Instead of being a 43p a week rise for a band D property, that would rise to 85p.”

But Mr Tett said that even with the extra money, the council will still have to make cuts.

He said: “This extra will help, but it’s not enough to cover the entire budget gap and some service reductions will again be necessary. We therefore have some very tough decisions to make about how we prioritise our remaining budgets. We will need to continue looking long and hard at the current services we provide and where we can make savings and changes.

“Before we make any final decisions, we would like your views. 1,700 people have so far completed the questionnaire on our website at www.buckscc.gov.uk/budget but we would like to hear from more of you. Please tell us what is important to you to help us decide the Council’s final budget priorities for 2016/17.”

Mr Tett also said that the council would look to make a salary saving when replacing outgoing chief executive Chris Williams, by reviewing the responsibilities of the role.

Mr Williams, who announced his retirement last week was being paid around £205,000 a year.

He added: “We need to pay the right salary to get the right person for the county.

“But that someone would be paid a lower salary. We need to look at what we have to know how much we need.”

The closing date for responses is 17 December 2015. For those who don’t have access to the internet or a computer, you can still take part at any of the county’s libraries, where staff will help people to complete the survey.