The Budget for 2023/24 was agreed at Full Council this week, featuring significant investment of capital funding in regeneration projects and investment in children’s and adult social care services – but featuring some unavoidable cuts to some services in order to set a balanced revenue budget.
No opposition councillors presented any alternatives or even made any suggestions.
Council Leader David Baines says: “Councils are legally required to set a balanced budget, and this task gets harder every year because of rising demand for statutory services and less funding from government. Setting the budget for 2023/24 has been the most difficult yet.
Government gave St Helens £127m in 2010, but we’re getting just £11m this year. It’s a huge levelling down. And like everyone, on top of 13 years of austerity right now the council is affected by rising energy costs and inflation.
All this leaves us with a revenue budget gap of around £7m for the year ahead and some tough choices to be made, with one of the most difficult decisions being to increase council tax in order to raise around £4m for essential services.
56% of respondents to the budget consultation agreed with the increase, but it will always be something councils do reluctantly. Services should be properly funded by central government, not by council tax which raises less funding in the areas that need it the most.
While we have no choice but to make some cuts and raise council tax to balance the budget, in spite of these challenges we are determined to continue to provide statutory services as effectively and as efficiently as possible, as well as investing capital funding in regeneration projects to create new jobs, skills and opportunities.
Investing in children and young people is our top priority. In addition to almost £30m for Children Looked After, we’re committing almost £2m to children’s centres and early help, more than £2m to supporting children with SEND, and £1.5m to support for disabled children. We’re also investing more than £12m in school building improvements, with more funding confirmed for projects including a new SEND Hub at De La Salle.
In other areas, we’re committing £14m for physical support for the frail and elderly, £24m for learning disability support, and more than £3m for mental health support. And we’ll be investing more than £2m in parks and open spaces, more than £2m for sports and recreation, £9m in highways maintenance, £1.7m in street cleaning, and plenty more besides.
We may not have the funding we would like, but with what we do have we’re protecting our most vulnerable residents, supporting communities as best we can, and working to attract growth and investment.”