Budget recommendations set to go before Calderdale's full council

Budget proposals will go before councillors in Calderdale
Budget proposals will go before councillors in Calderdale

Cabinet has made its budget recommendations for approval by the full council when it sets Calderdale’s budget later in February.

In 2019-20 the council will spend almost £162 million providing services for the borough’s citizens.

To meet the target of £161,881,699 it will have to find £890,000 of savings and Calderdale Council Cabinet members also recommended where these might be made when it met at Halifax Town Hall this week.

The figure assumes a Council Tax rise to the borough’s residents of three per cent.

Budget Council on Monday, February 25, will make a final decision.

Budgets for 2020-21 and 2021-22 will also be considered but Leader of the Council Coun Tim Swift (Lab, Town) said these were not as detailed as is usual at this stage because of a number of factors which were still unknown.

These include uncertainty about Government’s intentions for local government funding after 2020, in particular the results of its Fair Funding Review, and uncertainty around the effect Brexit will have on the economy and hence public spending as well as the demands it might make on councils.

In his written report Coun Swift said: “Overall there is a gathering consensus that the years of ‘austerity’ have shattered the national framework for Government funding.

“Tragically we see no sign that the national administration either recognises this or has the capacity or will to find a solution,” he said.

In the context of the amount needing to be cut from Calderdale’s budget since 2010 passing £100 million, the current budget process was the most problematic in a decade.

If austerity continued the council was likely to be forced to consider further, major cuts after 2020 and, pending outcomes on issues already stated, Cabinet was proposing this year that instead of a fully-costed three-year budget proposal, spending and saving decisions had only been taken for the first year, 2019-20.

For years 2020-21 and 2021-22 indications had been published and, in the run up to the national spending review later this year, a major public consultation would be held posing fundamental questions about the future structure and management of the council.

Cabinet member for Resources, Performance and Business Change, Coun Jane Scullion (Lab, Luddenden Foot) had reported on some changes to the budget position.

A West Yorkshire Combined Authority levy refund of £30,000 and a re-assessment of the North and West Yorkshire Business Rates Pilot levy meaning Calderdale was getting £363,000 back put a bit more money into the pot.

“Obviously that’s extra funding which will bring our unallocated balances up to £5.7 million, or extra flexibility dealing with budget pressures and future savings,” she said.

She also reported the Government had given unitary authorities, including Calderdale, additional funding to help Brexit preparations of £210,000 over 2019-20 and 2020-21 – cash that would be used for that purpose.

Strategy and Performance Scrutiny Board chair Coun Paul Bellenger (Lib Dem, Greetland and Stainland) reported on a meeting where other scrutiny board chairs had also been invited to comment on proposals.

On the positives, there was the opportunity to take an overview of cross-council finances while on the negative side some board members had felt disenfranchised.

Producing a balanced budget next year and dwindling reserves were some of the issues concerning councillors, and he asked that the council’s scrutiny boards play a full role in both the summer consultation and development of plans going forward.

Councillor Swift said it was prudent councillors did not let balances go below £5 million. He agreed councillors should be involved in the summer consultation process.

Councillor Scullion outlined other places where consultation ahead of formulating the current proposals was held, including meetings and online on the council’s website, and she was heartened by the wish of many voluntary and community sector groups to help the council find solutions.

Cabinet’s recommended £890,000 savings which need to be made to balance the 2019-20 budget include the following.

Chief Executive’s Office: £50,000 reviewing its finance service plan, reshaping it as a more commercial and core offer; and £150,000 by removing the 30-day empty home Council Tax Exemption. Total 2019-20 saving: £200,000.

Adults and Wellbeing Directorate: £50,000 by modernising in-house provision within adult social care services; £100,000 maximising its income from customers; £30,000 by piloting a single-handed approach to reduce demand on home care activity which is commissioned (meaning using technology to allow tasks to be performed by a single person); and £20,000 by reviewing the maximum charge for services and other care charge options. Total 2019-20 saving: £200,000.

Regeneration and Strategy Directorate: £200,000 by recharging further revenue costs to capital (ie using some money earmarked for this purpose from the capital budget). Total 2019-20 saving: £200,000.

Cross-Council: £50,000 by reviewing the council’s sustainable travel, parking permit and overtime payments; £180,000 from an additional rebate forthcoming from the West Yorkshire Combined Authority levy; and £60,000 by reviewing members’ allowances, services and costs of democracy. Total 2019-20 saving: £290,000.