Investment in school buildings, providing support for children and adults with additional needs, and continuing to regenerate the borough through large-scale transformation and infrastructure projects are just some of the capital schemes which will receive funding from St Helens Borough Council in the next year.
The projects are part of the council’s medium-term financial plan which runs from 2023/24 to 2025/26 and sets out how it will spend both the revenue and capital budgets for the borough in that timeframe.
The way council finances work is that spending on certain projects like Parkside and the Earlestown and St Helens transformation is funded from a pot of money called capital funding, which comes predominantly from grants and borrowing. Day-to-day services like social care, waste collection and street cleansing are delivered through revenue funding, which comes mainly from Council Tax, business rates and central-government grants.
But with a funding gap of over £22m for the next three years in the forecast for the revenue budget, the council must take tough decisions to plug the gap. To this end, a range of savings options have been developed. After extensive public consultation, which saw almost 1,000 people respond to what they valued, some of these suggested savings have been removed from the programme this year, including the rationalising of Children’s Centres and Early Help Services.
That survey also showed that 56 per cent of those who took part agreed or strongly agreed to Council Tax rising by 2.99 per cent with a 2 per cent social care precept added, to make Council Tax increase by 4.99 per cent.
Councillor Martin Bond, Cabinet Member for Finance and Governance, said: “We know this particular year most of us are encountering difficulties, especially with the impact of high inflation. This is the case in homes and businesses across the borough. Sadly, the council is not immune to those pressures, alongside the financial issues faced in supporting our most vulnerable, both young and old. This means we have to find ways that deliver vital care one way or another, despite rising energy, food and wage costs.
“This year to plug some of the gap we have in funding, we will be using reserves, which are the council’s savings. This isn’t, of course, a sustainable approach, but with the tail-end of the pandemic and the cost-of-living crisis set alongside ongoing extreme pressures on some services like children’s services, there really is no choice. This is necessary to ensure the delivery of a balanced budget, which is a legal obligation year on year.
“To boost financial resilience, we need to make sure we’re investing too in the borough’s future, which is why we will be using capital funding of nearly £35 million in the Parkside Link Road to unlock the full potential of the Freeport site. This could bring in millions of pounds in much needed Business Rates and other revenue. We’ll also be investing more than £2.3 million to deliver schemes that will support our schools, including a new SEND hub at De La Salle High School. More than £5 million will go on our grants and adaptations programme, which supports people to live in their own homes using technology to make their lives easier.
“Our commitment to transforming our borough will cost money, but the benefits that will bring in the long run make it worthwhile. The results of the investment in our borough will mean that residents can have pride in where they live, will create quality jobs for future generations, while providing the care that our most vulnerable residents need.”