Walsall Council has approved a council tax freeze for thousands of Walsall residents as part of a budget that calls on local people to play a more active role themselves to help prevent cuts in council services.
The Full Council tonight (Thursday 27 February 2014) approved the budget which comes into force on April 1 and was shaped by more than 1,300 who took part in a major consultation exercise.
In approving the package the authority offered a deal which calls on Walsall people to step forward and play a part to ease the pressure on public spending and help make Walsall a better place.
Walsall Council has less money and fewer people and will be able to do less but is determined to make the best of what they have, the meeting heard.
As part of the deal for Walsall people the council’s budget for next year contains:
• 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.
Walsall Council has gone a step further and called on people to answer six calls to action so they can do their bit to help prevent future cuts in services:
• A call for more volunteers to help dozens of Walsall charities and help to deliver some council services such as libraries.
• A call for more people to consider foster care to provide a stable start in life to a child and reduce the £20m care bill.
• A call to recycle more to help save the £94 it costs to take a tonne of waste to a landfill site.
• A call to be a good neighbour to vulnerable people in the community.
• A call to people to take greater responsibility for their own heath.
• A call to stop littering to reduce the £2.1m spent on street cleansing and collecting waste dropped on the street.
Cllr Mike Bird, Walsall Council Leader, said: “Our message is different from neighbouring authorities. It’s a responsible budget that takes into account what Walsall people told us during the consultation period when we asked them what they’d like to see.
“Our budget is quite literally our deal with Walsall people. We’re telling people how it is. With less money and fewer people the council can’t do it all. The council can do so much but it’s the people that really make a place and there is so much we all can do.
“As part of the deal we are saying that there is six things that we can do over the next 12-months but we need people to do six key things too.
“If someone fosters a child it reduces the financial burden on our looked after children service and the child is raised in a family home which every child should be entitled to.”
Cllr Ian Shires, portfolio holder for community engagement and voluntary sector in the Walsall Council coalition, said that the deal for Walsall people is an important follow on to the council’s campaign to encourage people to have their say.
He said: “We’ve taken on board Walsall people’s views and amended our budget accordingly. The world is changing and council’s across the nation, like Walsall, will have less money and fewer people to deliver local services.
“If someone takes the time to knock on a vulnerable neighbour’s door and ask them if they’re okay and if they need any chores doing, this helps them remain independent a little longer.
“Volunteering in your local community can help keep a service stay open for the public which further down the line might have to be cut by the council.
“We’ve invested £300,000 into the voluntary sector to help build its capacity. Walsall has a vibrant voluntary sector and we’re working with them so they can help take on some of the jobs we’ll be unable to do in the future.”
Cllr Chris Towe, cabinet member for resources in the Walsall Council coalition, said: “We listened to what Walsall people said when they saw our budget proposals and just over £728,000 of our proposed savings they did not support. So we found the savings elsewhere and we will be able to retain these services for the next 12 months from April 1.
“Our deal for Walsall people is a positive call to action. I’ve always said we’re working harder than ever to make Walsall a better place for everyone but with less money and fewer people we’ll be able to do less and that is why we’re asking for Walsall people to help.”
Walsall Council has to save £104 million 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.
Savings, cuts and efficiencies of £21 million are set to be made in this next financial year from 1 April 2014.
On 25 October 2013, we estimated that 339 posts may be at risk. As a result of changing proposals to take account of consultation feedback, this figure reduced to 277. We have deleted all relevant vacant posts; 127 people have taken voluntary redundancy; 13 people have been redeployed and 5 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.
For a full list of savings which the public had a say in changing through the consultation visit http://cms.walsall.gov.uk/budget_what_you_said_and_what_we_plan_to_do
To view the approved budget visit http://www2.walsall.gov.uk/CMISWebPublic/Binary.ashx?Document=14136.
To listen to Cllr Mike Bird’s call for action following Full Council on 27 February 2014, use this link: