Calls for fairer funding as West Suffolk sets budget to meet COVID and future needs
24 Feb 2021
A budget to ensure the future prosperity of West Suffolk communities and businesses, while tackling COVID and further financial challenges, has been set by councillors.
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 in the financial year 2020/21 and years of reductions nationally in Government funding means the authority has to find a further £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.
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 such as the work it has done in helping 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 help 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 highlighted 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: “I welcome Council’s agreement of this budget which underpins how we can continue, together with our many partners, to ensure the very best for West Suffolk. It supports our delivery of high quality services and help to the most vulnerable while we continue to invest and support our businesses, communities and environment to protect West Suffolk’s future prosperity. During these very challenging times, we have not only delivered a balanced budget but will continue to deliver much needed services, invest in areas to manage growth, protect our health, wellbeing and environment as well as ensuring the swiftest possible recovery locally. The severe impact of COVID-19, together with the need for further and fairer national Government funding, of course, makes this a serious financial challenge. However, forward thinking, 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.
“That said, we anticipate that the severe impact of COVID and limited national funding will continue for years to come. Council Tax only covers 20% of the funding we need deliver the services our communities rightly demand and need for the continued prosperity of our area. Councils are therefore required to find other income to help provide these services, which is why setting a budget is complex, and is why we continue to lobby Government to help fund local government more fairly in recognition of the essential services and support which West Suffolk Council provides for the people we serve here.”
The council made the decision at its meeting, last night, Tuesday, 23 February.