The city council has today (Monday) launched its vision for the next four years.
Alongside budget proposals that aim to bring long-term sustainability to council services, invest in social care to protect vulnerable residents and invest in housing and infrastructure to grow the city.
The proposals aim to save £9.2m during 2020 – 2021 setting out a rise in council tax of 3.99 per cent with proposed job losses of 78*. They will also see £336m in capital investment with ambitious plans to support housing growth and £30m investment in commercial properties.
The proposals respond to a number of financial challenges facing the city council alongside increased demand for children’s services and the next step in improvement for these services. The number of children in care in the city is currently 913 – the highest it’s ever been and considerably higher than for other similar local authorities. The proposals aim to continue to tackle this issue.
The budget proposals build on the redirection of £5.5m of funding to transform children’s services in summer 2019 through a mid-year budget and will mean a record £139.8 million is spent on adult and children’s services in the next 12 months. Adult and children’s services account for 61 per cent of the overall budget of the city council.
The consultation comes as the council continues to face a challenging national background of reducing government funding and an increase nationally in demand for statutory services for children in care, older people and people with learning disabilities. The proposals are based on a one- year settlement from government, while clarity is sought on future settlements.
Government has previously set out the expectation for local authorities to levy a two per cent council tax precept to directly support adult social care. The council’s 3.99 per cent council tax increase breaks down as two per cent directly for adult social care to respond to the additional social care pressures being faced in the city and 1.99 per cent for supporting vulnerable families and people in Stoke-on-Trent. This would mean the majority of residents** for 2020/21 will only pay an additional 67p a week increase, equal to £34.73 for the year.
The financial strategy builds on successful initiatives, including delivering additional funding from more business rates and council tax in the city, with additional rates and housing growth expected to deliver a further £1.4m in 2020/21.
The proposals outline £336m of additional investment in an ambitious capital programme up to 2025. This programme sees the city council build on an already successful house building initiative with more houses built in the city in 2019 on average than in any London borough. A new Community Investment Fund of £2.5m is also proposed to support community groups and initiatives – the previous scheme supported over 140 community projects. Other investments are:
- Smithfield multi-storey car park to support the continued success of the site – £15m
- Fortior Homes second development, with more new homes built and sites regenerated – £28.1m
- Ceramic Valley Enterprise Zone investment, to support more jobs and businesses coming to the city – £12.7m
- Highways investments – £8.3m
- Investment into expansion of the council’s social housing stock and improvements – £125m
- Disabled facilities grant, to support independent living – £2.8m
- City centre regeneration – £1.5m
- Special school for complex needs – £4.6m
- Commercial properties across the city to encourage business growth – £30m
- Clearance of sites in the city to support continued development – £0.2m
- Spode and Stoke Town – £4.4m
Stoke-on-Trent City Council leader Abi Brown said: “We have worked hard for the last four years to deliver a city that is ‘Stronger Together,’ and we believe that it remains the ‘golden thread’ that unites the city. We have been very honest with residents over recent years about the financial challenges we face. Like many other councils, we have been increasing spend on adults and children’s services and this demand continues to increase.
“While we know our Stronger Together strategy is transforming Stoke-on-Trent – we are seeing more homes, more jobs, and more benefits for the local economy – there is still a long way to go and our finances remain challenging. “We spend 61 per cent of our budget on adults and children’s services and this demand continues to increase. We have to support the children in our care – they are our number one priority – and the adults and families that need our services. Funding from government has significantly reduced and at the same time by law we have to balance our budget – we have no choice but to continue to make difficult decisions around our priorities. Costs have gone up as has demand for our services.
“Our capital Investment budget to 2025 is increasing by £336m. This is money that can only be used for fixed assets such as land, buildings or equipment. This is an ambitious programme of investment that shows our brilliant city off to its best and provides the benefits our residents need. It is critical if we are to bring new business to the city and attract residents to grow our tax base, helping us to become more financially independent.
“Highlights of the programme will see us continue with more house building, both for sale and rent, through our Fortior Homes housing company and also our own housing stock. It will also support Ceramic Valley as one of the most successful enterprise zones in the country with 2,000 jobs delivered in the past four years. City centre development will continue through the next exciting stage for Smithfield including a new multi-storey car park and plans for East/West Precinct – one of the largest prime city centre development sites in the Midlands.
“Elsewhere in the city, we are investing to make the best possible use of all the assets we own. We’ll continue with the transformation of our town halls and seek to emphasise the best of our heritage through investment and co-ordinated programmes of activity city-wide.
“Communities will be able to benefit from a £2.5m community investment pot – 142 community groups and projects benefitted from a previous scheme in the city.
“Communities and residents are at the true centre of Stronger Together and I would urge people to tell us their views on our proposals – we want to know what people think and to share with us any ideas for alternative proposals. Feedback in previous consultations has meant changes have been made. We want to listen to residents and know that in extremely difficult circumstances, we are working hard to make sure we do the right things for the city’s residents and taxpayers.”