City of Wolverhampton Council’s Cabinet is set to agree to a public consultation on cuts of £13.5 million for 2017-18 as it continues to manage Central Government funding reductions.
The Cabinet is expected to give the go-ahead to launching a consultation on 32 proposals which are a combination of cuts, more efficient ways of working and plans to generate additional income.
The consultation proposals include a council tax increase of 3.99% which incorporates the Government’s charge of 2% to cover the rising cost of adult social care.
If agreed by Cabinet when it meets on Wednesday 19 October, the consultation would run for 12 weeks. Residents will be able to have their say online or at a series of public meetings.
The results of the consultation would then be considered and proposals reviewed before any final decisions are made on the 2017-18 budget in the Spring.
The council has already made cuts of £175 million over the past six years and, based on current calculations, still needs to make £54.6 million of new budget reductions by 2019-20. This is in addition to delivering cuts of £37 million previously agreed.
Councillor Andrew Johnson, the City of Wolverhampton Council’s Cabinet Member for Resources, said that the council was now several years into a planned strategy to manage the challenging financial circumstances caused by “massive” Government budget cuts.
He added: “We’ve been very open about the way we are managing these massive Government cuts to Wolverhampton. We have always balanced the books despite years of Government austerity, but such is the scale of the Government cuts that doing so requires very difficult decisions to be taken.
“As usual, we will consult with the public to get their views about where the money can be saved, but the bottom line is that these very difficult decisions need to be made.
“We would rather not propose to raise council tax by the maximum amount of 3.99%, but we really have no option. People must understand that the 3.99% includes the Government’s 2% charge to pay for adult social care.
“This is something the Government assumes all councils will impose on residents to deal with issues caused by their funding reductions and the Prime Minister was on television just last week saying exactly that.
“Not raising council tax would inevitably mean more cuts to services.”
As well as raising council tax, among the proposals the Cabinet are due to agree to consult on include:
- Significant changes to household waste and recycling services that could save up to £2.4 million a year
- Managing the capacity of car parks in district centres by potentially introducing maximum waiting times or charges after several hours stay at some locations to prevent people leaving their vehicles all day in what is intended to be parking for shoppers and other business users.
- A comprehensive review of all environmental service functions including parking services, highway maintenance, pest control, parks activities and bereavement services in order to identify ways to save money. It is not proposed to reduce the frequency of street cleansing or grounds maintenance.
However, the council is not only looking at reducing services to manage the financial challenge. It is seeking more efficient ways of working and the commercialisation of services as other ways to save money and raise income.
For example, it is proposed to continue the commercialisation of WV Active – the council’s leisure brand – which by offering better facilities and simple, great value membership packages has already reduced the taxpayer subsidy required to run it by £1.5 million. It is proposed to reduce the subsidy by a further £500,000.
Other income generation proposals include increased commercialisation of cultural services – building on work already done which saw Wolverhampton Art Gallery host its first ever paid for exhibition earlier this year. Charging a small amount for entry enabled the gallery to host a world class wildlife photography exhibition in partnership with the Natural History Museum.
The council is also able to make savings of £10 million in the light of changed economic circumstances by making changes to financial transactions and base budget reductions which will have little or no minimum impact on the public and do not require consultation.
Councillor Johnson added “Having already made savings of £175 million, based on current information we still need to find £54.6 million of new savings.
“We don’t simply want to manage decline. We continue to invest in our priorities of creating a stronger economy, community and council – the on-going regeneration of the city is testament to that. I believe we are managing as well as we can through what continues to be the most challenging financial times in our history.
“We’ve delivered a balanced budget for two years running without having to use our contingency reserves. A recent review of our financial processes which we asked for from peers at the Local Government Association praised the council for its financial management and innovations.
“There are still more difficult times ahead, but there will be a full public consultation before any decisions are taken on future cuts.”
Details of how people can take part in the budget consultation will be released after next week’s Cabinet meeting.