Trafford Council has published its draft budget proposals for the next financial year, which aims to close a funding gap of £37m while also protecting essential front-line services.
Coronavirus has severely impacted the Council’s finances, causing a massive increase in spending which included funding the provision of support to some of the most vulnerable people in the borough, while at the same time having a devastating impact on revenue.
The draft budget forms part of a three year budget strategy for the period 2021/22 to 2023/24 and is being proposed in the face of unprecedented financial uncertainty. The medium and longer term effects of COVID-19 on the borough’s economy are not yet known while the Council currently has no indication of the funding package or COVID-19 support from the Government for 2021/22 and beyond. This lack of clarity has added to the stress in the system from the pandemic and is making this the most difficult budget to set for many years.
To balance the books, the Council is proposing using some of its reserves, increasing Council Tax and making savings.
Since 2010, the Council has achieved savings of £218m and the draft budget outlines how the Council is having to make up a further budget shortfall of £37m, with more than £15m of that due to direct pressures caused by the coronavirus. It is planned to bridge the gap with use of reserves up to £15m and planned savings and income of £14m with the Council’s investment strategy estimated to make net returns of £7m in 2021/22.
The budget also proposes a general increase of Council Tax by 1.99% alongside a 2% increase for the adult social care precept. Overall, that would mean an increase in Council Tax of 3.99% – the same as last year.
The proposals include a current vacancy freeze at the Council and flexible working options including a voluntary severance scheme alongside other planned savings such as:
- Modernising and redesigning services to work differently including a greater use of online facilities to maximise service delivery
- Increasing car parking charges and ensuring alignment of tariffs across the borough
- Maximising use of the Council’s land and buildings
- Reshaping the One Trafford Partnership Contract
- Generating savings on contracts by pursuing alternative arrangements with suppliers and reviewing the tendering of contracts
Even with all the proposals, a further £4.71m still needs to be found by February 2021 in order to balance the overall budget.
Cllr Tom Ross, Executive Member for Finance and Investment, said:
This has been the most challenging budget round we have ever encountered but we have been guided throughout the process by our vision of building the best future for everyone in Trafford. We have done the right thing by spending money helping out our residents and businesses through the difficult lockdown caused by the coronavirus – and we will continue to do so.
“At the same time, our income from things such as car parking, registrar services, licensing and school catering have all been hit. We are now having to use reserves to fund some of our shortfall but this is why we keep reserves, so that it can be used at times like this so we can protect our front-line services.”
The draft budget report also includes schemes, reviews and strategies so the Council can better serve its communities.
Cllr Ross added:
Times are tough economically but our residents deserve a focussed and modernising Council that can enable sustainable growth while supporting those in need. We are determined to continue all of our programmes to ensure we deliver excellent services to our residents, businesses and partners.”
Coronavirus spending has included:
- Setting up our community hubs that helped 6,000 vulnerable residents with access to food, prescriptions and financial support.
- Setting up a hotline that enabled 8,000 callers to get help. The Council also provided PPE to care homes to ensure staff and residents could be protected.
- Helping out with government initiatives to provide £48m to local businesses, while also enabling more people to have 100% of relief on their Council Tax.
Forward plans include:
- Continuing the borough’s recovery plan. By working with partners, businesses, communities and voluntary groups, the Council can help lead the Trafford recovery from coronavirus.
- Bringing forward action plans for the Civic Quarter and Stretford town centre to continue regeneration of the areas.
- In adult services, work will continue with plans to provide support so people can continue to live independent lives in their own homes, as well as supporting residents so they have access to the services they need at the right time.
- A review of libraries and cultural provision to ensure what the Council provides remains relevant to the communities it serves.
- Development of the Council’s digital strategy, ensuring more services can be delivered on line and that more residents are able to go on line safely and confidently.
A link to the draft budget report will be in the Agenda papers for the next meeting of the Council’s Executive, on Monday 12 October.
Posted on Friday 2nd October 2020