The Cabinet is expected to agree to set a balanced budget without the need to use contingency reserves for the third year running as the council sticks to its robust plan to manage Central Government cuts at the same time as a growing demand for services.
Cabinet are also set to propose a council tax rise of 3.99% which includes the Government’s 2% precept to fund adult social care and is the figure the council put out for consultation. The rise is staying at this level despite the Government announcement midway through the consultation that councils could increase council tax to fund adult social care by up to 4.99% without triggering a referendum.
The council intends to put additional money into adult social care and children’s services after prudent financial management meant this was possible without raising council tax as high as the Government have sanctioned.
During the three-month consultation held between October and January, the public were largely supportive of cuts and income-raising proposals totalling £13.5 million to balance the books as the council continues to manage huge Central Government cuts.
Cllr Andrew Johnson, cabinet member for resources, said people were particularly supportive of ideas to redesign services to run them more efficiently and generate income to help balance the books.
He said: “People understand that the council has no choice but to make cuts and implement difficult decisions due to the enormous cuts Central Government continue to impose on local government.
“It is encouraging to see that our residents are largely supportive of the way we are managing the enormous financial challenges we face here in Wolverhampton.
“We would rather not have to reduce services or raise council tax, but the Government has cut our funding by more than half in real terms and we must cut our cloth accordingly. Some councils will be raising council tax by almost 5%, but we will be recommending a lower increase in Wolverhampton of 3.99% which includes the Government’s 2% levy to fund adult social care.”
The council has listened and responded to the views expressed in the consultation. For example, people were asked whether they would support fortnightly or three-weekly waste collections if they had the option of having a bigger bin. Most people (55%) supported fortnightly waste collections, but 86% were opposed to three-weekly. It is therefore proposed to implement fortnightly collections.
Similarly, people were asked if they would support the introduction of enforced waiting times to ensure spaces for shoppers and visitors to outlying district car parks in the city. A clear majority, 62%, expressed a preference for a three-hour time limit and this will be taken into account when car park usage is reviewed.
Some residents and local groups expressed concerns about cuts to adult social care. The council is introducing a concept of a minimum funding level for adult social care and proposes to provide funding over and above that minimum level for the next two years to transform the service.
A full list of all the cuts proposals and income generation proposals Cabinet is expected to agree next week can be viewed here.
Despite the difficult financial circumstances facing the council, it continues to invest in its priorities of creating a stronger economy and stronger communities.
The way the council is managing its finances has been praised by a recent independent review by senior colleagues from the Local Government Association. It concluded: “The council has made major progress in its aim to achieve financial stability. There is strong leadership, prudent financial management and clear evidence of innovation.”
Councillor Roger Lawrence, leader of the council, said: “We are several years down the road of implementing our strategy to manage Government cuts. Things remain very challenging, but we are undoubtedly in a better position than other councils due to the early action we took to plan over the medium term and avoid knee-jerk decisions.
“There is a real feeling of positivity and momentum in Wolverhampton with £3.7 billion of investment and regeneration already on site or in the pipeline. Schemes such as the new railway station and the Westside leisure development are due to commence this year and these will really benefit our residents and visitors to the city.”
Cabinet’s recommended draft budget will go before all 60 city councillors for a final vote and decision when they meet on March 1.