Councillors in Bath & North East Somerset Council have approved budget proposals that will ensure the Council continues to live within its means, whilst at the same time protecting the majority of front-line services and continuing to invest in the priorities of residents.
In total, the Council needs to find £49 million of savings to balance the budget over the four years from 2016/17 as a result of reducing Government funding and complex challenges such as the growth in the number of vulnerable and older people needing social care support.
Out of £14.5 million in savings required for 2017/18, £13.2 million will be delivered through increased efficiency and new and innovative ways to generate income, with £1.3 million to be achieved through changing the way some local services are delivered.
The budget has been set following a stringent and comprehensive review of all spending carried out over the past year, aimed at finding new ways to increase efficiency and grow income in order to protect priority front-line services as far as possible.
This has meant the Council has been able to keep the Council Tax rise at 3.5%, which is expected to be among the lowest in the country. It has also enabled the Council to continue investing in local priorities such as affordable housing, transport improvements and economic growth to create good local jobs.
Councillor Charles Gerrish (Conservative, Keynsham North), Cabinet Member for Finance & Efficiency, said: “We are currently dealing with the biggest financial challenge in the Council’s history, with £49 million of savings needing to be found by 2020.
“To meet this challenge, over the past year we have undertaken a thorough root-and-branch review of all Council spending and income. As a result of this work, the vast majority of the savings we are making are being achieved through either increased efficiency or by generating new income. This includes new capital investments that produce a good return for taxpayers and will provide a long-term income for the Council.
“At the same time we need to be honest with residents about the changes that will be required in some services to make them sustainable for the future. The approach we are taking aims to find new ways to deliver services such as libraries and children’s centres, rather than axing or closing them entirely.
“As a result, we have been able to protect the majority of frontline services, with increased funding for social care, whilst at the same time keeping our level of Council Tax as low as possible.”
These savings will be implemented over the next three years to ensure the Council can become more self-sufficient and less reliant on core Government grants which are reducing to almost nothing by 2020.
Councillor Tim Warren (Conservative, Mendip), Leader of Bath & North East Somerset Council, said: “By taking the difficult decisions needed to reform local services and ensure the Council lives within its means, we are able to continue delivering investment in important local priorities such as housing, transport and economic growth.
“This includes £3.5 million to support affordable housing schemes across the district, £7 million of highway and transport improvements, and £18.3 million for new and expanded Primary School provision, part-funded through developer contributions and central government grants.
“With the budget plans now approved, over the coming months we will be working closely with local communities, parishes and public sector partners to deliver services in new and cost-effective ways that ensures we provide the high-quality services residents rightly demand.”
Some of the main investments and one-off expenditure items within the budget include:
- £4.7 million for highway maintenance and improvements, including additional Government grant as a result of the devolution agreement.
- £2.2 million for transport and safety initiatives, ranging from new bus shelters to Safer Routes to School schemes, including £500k to improve traffic at the A39 Two Headed Man junction.
- £15k for a home to school transport study looking at ways to reduce ‘school run’ traffic.
- Public Realm improvements to Keynsham High Street and Kingsmead Square.
- £3.5 million for identified affordable housing schemes, plus £3 million more available for schemes as they come forward.
- Funding to continue with gull control measures, including the gull-nest removal programme.
- £18.3m of Government funding and developer contributions for new and expanded Primary School provision.
- Up to £30m to support the Bath Quays regeneration.
- A new £92,000 Community Empowerment Fund to support local communities and parishes as they take on a greater role in the provision of local services.
- £1.1m a year for Disabled Facilities Grants.
- £3.6 million for Keynsham Leisure Centre – funded through additional income from the improved facilities.
Some of the main savings included within the budget plans include:
- £2.2 million from new acquisitions to supplement commercial estate income and new income from the local housing and development company
- £2 million by raising additional income from heritage and wider economic growth as well as greater efficiencies in housing services
- £2.5 million earned from the Business Rates retention pilot
- £2.7 million saved from changing the way we make provision to repay borrowings on capital items
- £550,000 saved from departmental underspends and back office efficiencies
- £500,000 secured from lower interest rates and capital savings
- £600,000 by a review of the organisational management and support arrangements
- £500,000 saving by encouraging and enabling local community groups to offer supplementary services for young people
- £100,000 earned in income by introducing a local energy tariff that also reduces residents’ and businesses’ energy bills
- £800,000 saved through modernising the library service
- £2.8 million saving through Customer services/digital transformation improving efficiency
- £5.6 million of cost increases avoided as part of increased efficiency and redesigning services to maximise people’s independence as part of implementing new tailored community health and care arrangements developed through the Your Care Your Way project
- £1.5 million by redesigning transport options for how people get from A to B. This includes moving to more personalised budgets in relation to SEN transport options.
- £500,000 through more efficient services for children and young people – such as ensuring we adapt as legislation transfers some of our traditional responsibilities to academies and others.
- £400,000 saving by consolidation of destination management services.
- £120,000 through increase in bereavement services charges
- £100,000 by the transfer of some Children’s Centre buildings to community organisations who can make better use of them.
These savings will be implemented over the next 3 years to ensure the Council can become more self-sufficient and less reliant on core Government grants which are reducing to almost nothing by 2020.
To put the required savings into context, the Council’s gross revenue spend for 2016/17 is £246.6 million (excluding schools expenditure).