St Helens Labour have announced a balanced budget for 2020/21 which includes proposals to:
- Freeze councillor allowances
- Scrap St Helens First magazine
- Support a switch to all out elections, which would not only save money but would provide stability and clarity for longer periods
- Pursue a more commercial approach for the council, finding new ways of generating income that don’t hit residents in the pocket
- Continue to do all we can to protect essential services for vulnerable adults and children, including by reluctantly raising council tax
Council Leader David Baines says: “Freezing councillor allowances, scrapping St Helens First magazine, and supporting a switch to all out elections are among the responsible, sensible measures Labour will be taking in order to achieve a balanced budget and protect adult social care and children’s services from the worst of the government’s continuing austerity.
While Council funding from government has declined in the last ten years, at the same time demand on adult social care and children’s services has massively increased. Providing these services is a statutory duty; doing all we can to properly fund them is a moral one.
As all opposition parties apart from the Tories agreed, we therefore have no choice but to reluctantly raise council tax, and the vast majority of the £3m this raises will go to vulnerable adults and children, whose services account for 71% of council spending.
We will still have the lowest council tax on Merseyside, and the increase will mean less than £1 a week for more than 85% of households.
I would like to be in a position to freeze council tax in future years but without extra government support we will only be able to do that by generating more income through a more commercial approach that doesn’t hit residents in the pocket, and through growing our business rate and council tax base by continuing to attract industry and investment to the borough and building new, quality, and affordable homes. These steps will be among our top priorities in the year ahead.”
Councillor Martin Bond, Cabinet Member for Finance says: “This year has been the most challenging for Local Authority Finance since Austerity began under the Lib Dem Tory Coalition. The last 3 years had funding certainty which allowed longer term planning. This year, after 10 long years of Central Government grant reduction the Settlement was delayed by Brexit and the General Election. A one year settlement, announced late in the day doesn’t assist planning the budget in the medium to long term which in turn benefits strategic approaches to delivery of services.
We are doing all we can to increase our income generation and we’re showing our commitment by creating a new post to look at how we can maximise our opportunities to raise money. Transforming the way we work as a council will also help us not only be more efficient but work better with our partners to provide residents the right kind of support.
We cannot do this alone though and we understand that it is a great ask of residents to pay more in council tax, but we hope they understand that the vast majority of the additional money will be going directly to the vital work that adult social care and children’s services do for those who need it in our borough. Our Council Tax will still be the lowest on Merseyside and the increase will be the equivalent of £1 a week for more than 85% of households. We believe we should do the right thing for those most in need and we will continue to find ways to support them, as we are doing for example by giving council tax discounts for care leavers to the age of 25.”