Council tax freeze plan

Last updated: 21/02/2014 18:25:29

Walsall Council have announced proposals for a council tax freeze to help hard-pressed families weather the financial storm.

A series of ring fences have also been thrown around key services as part of budget proposals agreed by cabinet to go before the authority's Full Council for final approval on 27 February 2014. Measures would then come into effect on 1 April 2014.

The Walsall Council coalition have proposed:

*         Zero Council Tax rise
*         Zero libraries to close
*         Zero leisure centres to close
*         Zero children's centres to close
*         Zero museums to close
*         35,000 low income households to carry on getting help funded
by Walsall Council through the council tax reduction scheme which has seen £3 million of council tax discounts awarded in the current financial year.

The pledges come as the largest survey of Walsall people in memory was staged to help shape key budget decisions taken by the authority. More than 1,300 people took part online and face-to-face.

Cuts and efficiencies have been made with the brunt being born well away from frontline services. For a full list of feedback to the original budget proposal visit www.walsall.gov.uk/budget_what_you_said_and_what_we_plan_to_do and for budget proposals view www2.walsall.gov.uk/CMISWebPublic/Binary.ashx?Document=14136.

Savings, cuts and efficiencies of £21 million are set to be made in the next financial year.

Cllr Mike Bird, Walsall Council Leader, paid tribute to residents for responding in numbers for the pleas for people to air their views to help the cabinet shape the budget plans.

"We made a deliberate decision to protect families and households with the lowest incomes in our last budget.

"This has not been easy and some tough decisions have been made.
There's no escaping that. But we've worked to ring fence as much as we can the things that people tell us that they most want us to keep.

"We're very proud to say that there's no library closures, no children's centre and no leisure centre closures.

"We did this when council tax benefit was abolished which left us with a major hit but we stepped in to replace this with money from our own coffers.

"We called this a local council tax reduction scheme and that meant that 35,000 of our most vulnerable households didn't having to pay another £15.64 a week. That works out at more than £800 a year.

"In the next financial year we're proposing we maintain this protection because it is the right and fair thing to do as this support directly helps those who need it most."

Cllr  Ian Shires,  portfolio holder for community engagement and voluntary sector in the Walsall Council coalition, said that he was pleased that the council heeded a call for a major campaign to encourage people to have their say.

He said: "It was important that we encouraged people to come forward and tell us  their views when we were shaping the budget.

"Overall, we made changes to the budget proposals worth around
£700,000 after listening to the views of our residents.

"At one stage we had looked at closing Walsall Museum but In our own detailed survey more than 90 per cent of people were in favour of keeping Walsall Museum open. I'm delighted that we have listened to people and have change our plans.

"Overall, we spend £5,773 per household a year in Walsall and Council Tax nowhere near covers that which is an important point to make."

Cllr Chris Towe, cabinet member for resources in the Walsall Council coalition, said: "We're working hard to make Walsall a better place for people to live and work. As our funding from Government continues to decrease we will have fewer staff therefore we will be able to do less, but we will make sure that we do the best with what we have got.

"Overall, over the last for years we've lost £57.9m of funding but council tax on average has risen for a Walsall household by only £20.71 over that entire period. That's an increase of around a penny a day and yet we are still delivering more than 700 services for people, which is incredible value for money."

Overall, the picture for Walsall Council is a difficult one with £104 million to be saved over the next five years.

Last year the budget at Walsall Council was £634 million and had the authority done nothing this year it would have had to spend £673 million. This is because of inflation, a range of budget pressures such as the number of looked after children rising and the government requiring us to do more things.

The bigger figure has been eased with £15 million of specific government grants which must only be spent on nominated areas such as housing benefit and schools.

To bring it down further the council has had to find £22 million of which £21 million has been found through cuts, savings, efficiencies and higher charges.

The remaining £1 million has been found from general reserves. This leaves an overall budget of £635 million proposed for the financial year which starts in April.

In October last year, Walsall Council estimated that 339 posts may be at risk because of the budget process.  As a result of changing proposals to take account of consultation feedback, this figure reduced to 277.   The authority has deleted all relevant vacant posts and 127 people have taken voluntary redundancy with  13 people have been redeployed into other jobs with the council and five others are currently trying out posts into which they may be redeployed.  As a result of these changes and our work to mitigate redundancies, the number of staff whose future is yet to be resolved is now 85.

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