Recommendations made by the ruling Labour group Cabinet to the full Budget Council on February 28 (debate starts at 6pm at Halifax Town Hall) include allocating £150,000 next year to increase pay packages contractor Suez can offer its drivers – alleviating a situation the council says is “acute” in the company losing drivers to better-paid HGV jobs amid an ongoing national shortage.
The “standstill” budget proposals would see the council spending around £177 million and Council Tax rise by 2.99 per cent – 1.99 per cent which the Government allows authorities to raise without recourse to a local referendum and an extra one per cent they can levy specifically for social care.
That would see Council Tax payers in Calderdale’s Band A properties, which are the most numerous homes in the borough, paying around £35 extra for the council services element of the annual bill from April, and around £50 in Band D.
Council Leader Coun Tim Swift (Lab, Town) has said the council’s priority continued to be protecting and supporting residents, communities and businesses as the COVID-19 pandemic continues.
This has meant taking steps “needed to deliver a balanced and robust budget” and at the same time finding small scope for investment in some areas, he said.
Growth proposals include £80,000 to help drive forward projects for North Halifax, and £292,000 for a number of projects, including servicing some prudential borrowing.
Projects include include the proposed new Halifax Leisure Centre and, subject to a successful grant application, a new eco-friendly and more efficient heating system at Todmorden Leisure Centre.
Planning has been a troubled directorate of late with complaints about long delays and Cabinet propose recruiting 6.25 (full or part time) staff costing £300,000 to deal with the problems, plus a one-off £311,000 for IT software which will help planning deal with issues more efficiently.
Around £260,000 is needed to overhaul the council’s cyber security, and three additional staff would be recruited (at £120,000) to man the IT service desk – more services now being delivered digitally, partly driven by the pandemic.
To balance growth items, service cuts or raised charges include a seven per cent rise in the cost of bereavement services, which will save around £90,000.
Maximum care charges will also be increased by £50 per week by 2024-25, saving £22,000 next year.
About £292,000 will be found by reconfiguring some services and losing or redeploying staff.
A good performance has meant a pension saving which will not impact on staff will save around £900,000.
Buffers for variables including potentially large rises in utility bills, for example, have been built into the budget proposals by the council’s Head of Finance, Nigel Broadbent.
Issues scrutiny board members asked Cabinet members and officers questions about ahead of the meeting – including some relating to ongoing effects from last year’s budget – included whether consideration been given to the increased need for mental health services for young people, how proposed savings might affect parents, particularly cuts to wraparound care, and about the budget proposal to support waste service drivers’ salaries.
Other questions were asked about the money for planning, about whether inflation would affect growth proposals, about the ongoing situation with disposal of assets, the impact of proposed savings on some carers and whether there was certainty employers would pass on the increases in pay budgeted for.