The spending plans, which were agreed at a meeting of the full council, are our response to swingeing cuts in funding from central government.
There’s no doubt that the cuts have hit us disproportionately here in Kirklees – especially when you compare our local figures with parts of southern England. In turn, this has already led to us making major reductions.
Inevitably, however, we are now forced to cut even deeper and the effects will be felt widely across the district. Unfortunately, while it’s impossible to know how many posts will be lost, this impact will include losing some jobs across the council. Nobody, least of all local councillors like myself, wants to be faced with these very tough financial decisions affecting so many residents and communities. But it’s important to remember the harsh reality we are facing: we can only plan a budget with the money available, not with the amount we would like to have.
Most of the groundwork for this year’s budget was done in 2015 when councillors voted on a three-year plan. The picture was later changed by another government announcement which made our situation worse, but we are bridging the extra shortfall by using reserves.
Even with the savings we have already made, which add up to more than £106 million to date and a further £29 million planned over the next few years, we still face a budget gap of £38 million in 2019/20. The gap would have been bigger, but we started preparing for these problems a long time ago – and the work already undertaken has put us in a stronger position to cope.
It’s important that we concentrate on big priorities. This means investing in areas which help people to do more for themselves, keeping a focus on things that only the council can do and supporting vulnerable people to stay in control of their own lives.
I’ve talked before about ‘New Council’ and stepping in as early as possible to deal with issues affecting people and communities. This way, we can reduce the risk of problems escalating and becoming more expensive further down the line. This is vital to our approach – investing now to save money in the future.
The budget meeting included an agreement that Council Tax will rise by 3.95%, of which 2% will be spent on the rising costs of adult social care. The different political groups on the council all included this rise in their budget proposals, so it was a decision with cross-party support. The different groups also put forward very similar revenue budgets, highlighting that the council’s options are limited when trying to meet priorities and protect vulnerable people.
As well as Council Tax, we will continue to bridge the funding gap by selling buildings we don’t need or, in some cases, transfering them to communities. Changes to the way we manage the local environment have already been made and we will continue reviewing the way we deliver a wide range of services.
These are extremely difficult times, but we are doing everything we can to ensure fairness for all.