Council tax frozen, £20.4m cuts: council leader explains budget

BOROUGH councillors this week approved spending cuts of £20.4 million over the coming year as part of a budget which will also see Council Tax frozen. Council leader Roger Stone explains how the budget was drawn up and pledges to put the people of Rotherha

THIS is an important week for the Council, as we share our Budget proposals for the financial year 2012/2013.

Myself and my colleagues in the council’s Cabinet on Wednesday recommended the plans to full council where the final decision will be made at the meeting on March 7.

We believe we have put forward a realistic set of budget proposals designed to protect local communities, particularly the most vulnerable, and to offer a fair deal for all citizens within the constraints of a reduction in funding which is greater than both national and regional averages (around ten per cent and 11 per cent respectively) and more in line with those experienced by smaller Borough Councils that deliver fewer services (11.3 per cent).

These unprecedented financial constraints have been with us for two years now.

Last year, the withdrawal of central Government funding and grant allocations to local councils left us with a gap of £30.3 million here in Rotherham.

On top of that, we will lose a further £20.4 million next year.

Tough times indeed, with tough decisions to be made—decisions we cannot shy away from if we are to meet our legal and financial responsibilities to balance our books.

There is at least some good news for our citizens.

For the second year running, there will be no increase in council tax.

As a result we will qualify for the Government’s Council Tax Freeze Grant—worth around £2.3 million to us here in Rotherham, though this will apply for one year only.

However, it is impossible to tackle budget reductions on the scale Rotherham Borough Council is currently facing and not impact in some way on our communities.

The way in which we choose to approach this, though, remains in our control.

Our strategy has been to adopt a calm and measured approach, rather than knee-jerk reactions that may come back to haunt us in the future, and looking to protect the services which local people value.

To do this, we have ensured our so-called “back-office” functions are as lean as possible, while recognising that we do need a level of skills and expertise to support the delivery of frontline services that are safe and comply with our legal responsibilities.

We are being open and transparent about the way in which we have taken decisions, using a set of clear values and guiding principles.

These include keeping adults and children safe; investing now in preventative and early intervention services that will help us save money in the longer term; supporting local employment, promoting new business start-ups and stimulating the local economy and working with other agencies such as credit unions to ensure people on low incomes are accessing the benefits and services they are entitled to—particularly where people are at risk of losing their homes.

In addition, it is vital that we continue where we can with the capital investment we need for the future, including houses, schools, maintaining the road network, customer services (such as our new one-stop shop at Riverside House) and the ongoing regeneration of the town centre. We must continue to invest in these areas to protect the infrastructure of our Borough for future generations.

As in previous years, we have been helped in our decision-making by Rotherham people who have put forward their ideas about how we should prioritise what we do and how we spend, as part of the annual Money Matters consultation online, at community events and through specially-organised workshops.

One of the messages coming through loud and clear is the need to safeguard vulnerable people and protect frontline services and we are committed to finding the best ways to do that.

People who responded also told us that we should look at alternative ways of providing services—through linking up with other organisations and social enterprises, for example.

Be assured that we are continuing to work very closely with our partners across Rotherham—all of whom are facing their own budget challenges—to ensure we all achieve “more bang for our buck” by pooling ideas, resources and, where appropriate, service delivery.

Rotherham Council is one of the area’s biggest employers and our staff, like many other people around the Borough, are facing a difficult and uncertain time. Despite this, their loyalty and commitment is enabling us to maintain “business as usual” in many services which improve the quality of life for Rotherham people.

We have worked hard to avoid compulsory redundancies in achieving the reductions in our workforce required by our budget constraints.

As well as the impact on their own lives and the lives of their family, such reductions inevitably impact on our wider local community and economy as many of our staff live in Rotherham.

However, in line with legal requirements, we issued formal notice to the Trade Unions in December of a possible 200 redundancies.

However, we hope that the bulk of these—as with the reductions achieved over the last two years—will be achieved through voluntary means.

These are unprecedented times in local government and the last two years have been the most challenging I have personally encountered during my time in public service. 

However, things will get better and the decisions we are making now will enable us here in Rotherham to capitalise on positive opportunities as they begin to emerge.

Our priority as a Council is, and always will be, the people of Rotherham.

Cllr Roger Stone, Leader of the Council.

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