This year we have aimed to set a budget which is sustainable for the longer term rather than a short term fix, that balances the need for providing local services with the government’s disproportionate budget reductions.
But a significant achievement in my view is that we will now be supporting our lowest paid families even more with the introduction of the living wage – something which I hope will be adopted by other employers across Kirklees.
By now, many people will be aware that we have set the council tax for the next 12 months at just under 2% – or an additional £1.50 a month for most of our residents who live in Band A homes.
The challenge is increasingly difficult. Coping with meeting the government’s budget reductions of £152 million by 2018 while ensuring we deliver services to our most vulnerable residents and also plan and deliver a council fit for future purpose is almost impossible.
However, even in the most difficult times, it is important that we stick to our principles and ensure we act in the fairest possible way.
There are some service changes where technology has changed or the demographics will change meaning that we should be doing things differently – these would have had to happen whether we received cuts in our grant or not. However some are forced on us by government, and we are now really feeling the impact of the reductions being handed to us.
In the last 12 months, we have involved thousands of people in our budget setting process, and the majority who took part in our consultation said they would be happy with a 2% increase to protect some vital services. The 2% would add around £2.7 million to our funds, but we have to remember only 16% of our funding is from Council Tax.
All services will receive some cuts, but some of the funding is to be reinvested as part of the New Council plan, aimed at doing things differently. This is where I believe we must focus – savings will be reinvested where possible to ensure that we turn off the demand tap in the future by having better early prevention, and by investing in our local economy.
Without a thriving local economy, with enough decent jobs and decent homes, we will continue to struggle.
Part of this is why I am committed to Kirklees becoming a fair employment area, where employers pay the living wage. A report on the living wage, which will pay £7.88 per hour, will be brought to the full council meeting in March and then taken to Personnel Committee for final agreement.
There are just over 2,000 people working in the council who will benefit from the introduction of the living wage. We will monitor the impact of introducing the living wage both in terms of benefits to the individual and the organisation.
We are leading the way in Kirklees introducing the living wage and hope by demonstrating this leadership will encourage other employers in the district to follow our path.