Government called for fairer funding as balanced budget proposals set to meet COVID and future needs

10 Feb 2021

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A budget to ensure the future prosperity of West Suffolk, while tackling COVID and further financial challenges, has been supported Cabinet members.

The West Suffolk Council report agreed by Cabinet also said Government must do its bit and help provide fairer funding for councils nationwide for future budgets.

Through strong financial management, West Suffolk Council is able to set a budget for next year which will continue to deliver high quality services following a time of reduced national funding and severe loss of income due to COVID-19. This is all at a time of higher demand for services and council help.

Moving to the new West Suffolk Council, as well as continuous transformation, has saved the council millions. But the £2.6 million impact of COVID and years of reductions nationally in Government funding means the authority has to find £1 million in savings for the 2021-22 budget.

The council has, and continues to play, a vital role in supporting local communities and businesses during the pandemic, but this has an impact financially on the authority and the local income it depends on to run services. The budget means the council will be able to play its role as West Suffolk and the UK recovers from the pandemic despite facing financial challenges.

Cabinet heard how this budget will helped to be balanced and bring benefits to West Suffolk by transforming the way the council works. This included taking advantage of new ways of working, as well as measures, such as not filling some vacancies.

This means the council can continue to deliver high quality services, manage growth and deliver family and community services that have been invaluable during COVID to help the most vulnerable. It also means the authority can continue supporting businesses and the economy with the Economic Development Team that helped local companies access millions of pounds in business grants during the pandemic.

It also means the council will be able to continue to invest in new leisure facilities, such as the Mildenhall Hub and Brandon Leisure Centre, that is revolutionising how public services work for better outcomes for residents. The budget also supports investment in supporting rural communities as well as improving and protecting the environment including tackling climate change.

In addition, councillors will have an increase of £500 each to their locality budgets which are spent on local groups and initiatives in their areas.

At the same time the budget means the council can continue to deliver services such as emptying around 6 million bins a year; grow local markets, carry on planning and help prevent people from becoming homeless. For example, last year 574 households were rehoused, preventing them from becoming homeless. In addition, support local businesses through the pandemic by providing support to hep them open and stay open where guidance allows.

The paper suggest Council Tax remains as planned last year as part of the harmonisation process for the West Suffolk Council (meaning a D band property will pay no more than an extra 22p a week in Council Tax for West Suffolk Council). Council Tax only covers 20% of the cost of services, and Government funding has been reduced with councils expected to raise local taxes and increase income.

The report highlights the need for Government to play its part and make sure Local Government is funded more fairly to support the vital work council do and that has been highlighted during the pandemic.

Councillor John Griffiths, Leader of West Suffolk Council, said: “The budget is much more than numbers in a council report. It underpins how we can do the very best for West Suffolk, delivering high quality services and helping the most vulnerable while continuing to invest to support our businesses, communities and environment to ensure West Suffolk’s future prosperity. I am pleased that these proposals should deliver a balanced budget enabling us to not only continue to deliver much needed services, but invest in areas such as managing growth, health and wellbeing and the recovery locally. The severe impact of COVID-19, together with the need for further national Government funding, of course makes this a serious challenge. However, our strong financial planning and prudent management has meant we are in a relatively strong position even though we have had to find an additional £1 million to balance the budget, and we anticipate that the impacts of COVID and limited national funding will continue for years to come. This is why we continue to lobby Government to help fund local government fairly in recognition of the services, and essential services, councils provide for the people we serve here.”

The council will be making a decision on the budget at its meeting on 23 February.

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