Balancing the budget in the face of massive government cuts ‘like moving the deck chairs around on the Titanic’ says Stevenage council leader

Cllr Sharon Taylor

Cllr Sharon Taylor - Credit: Archant

Stevenage Borough Council has managed to find budget savings to meet scything government cuts, but council leader Sharon Taylor says it’s a bit like moving deckchairs on the Titanic.

Robin Parker
Liberal Democrat Borough Councillor for Manor Ward and Leader of the Liberal Democra

Robin Parker Liberal Democrat Borough Councillor for Manor Ward and Leader of the Liberal Democrat Group on Stevenage Borough Council and Liberal Democrat County Councillor for Chells Division on Hertfordshire County Council - Credit: Archant

By 2020 all councils across the UK will have had 80 per cent of their government grants cut, and while this will to some extent be made up for by gains in business rates, these will not be as extensive as might first appear.

SBC has had to find £226,000 savings from its overall £9.4 million budget for 2017 to 2018.

This means its government grants will have been cut by £4.43m since 2011 and the authority expects to face another £550,000 in cuts by 2020.

Ms Taylor said: “It’s a bit like moving chairs around on the Titanic.

“Our fantastic staff have worked really hard to find the savings we need and protect our services to the people of Stevenage, but there’s only so long you can keeping cutting budgets before it starts to affect the service offered, and the government needs to realise it cannot expect councils to keep providing services with such huge funding cuts.”

The budget for the coming year was approved unanimously at a meeting on Tuesday.

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Liberal Democrat group leader Robin Parker said his party ‘sympathised’ with the council’s position in have to deal with swinging government cuts. He said: “It all stems from the fact that the economy got completely out of control in the last years of the Labour government, when they were borrowing an extra £5,000 per second.”

He said a finance group attended by all party leaders throughout the year has helped work on the budget.

The council says it has managed to protect all of its services and has found the savings from making efficiencies, redesigning services and from an increase in income. There has been one compulsory redundancy as part of a management restructure.

Ms Taylor says the council in theory should get more money from the reorganisation of business rates, which means councils get to keep a bigger percentage of them.

However, the way the new system is organised means in 2017 the council only stands to get £2.4m. This is because its share of business rates – worth an estimated £16m – will be reduced by a £14m tariff, based on an assessment of need done by the government.

The only other option open to councils is to raise council tax, but this is controlled by government caps and is always an unpopular move.

SBC will this year raise its share of the council tax bill by 2.58 percent – which works out at £198.52 for every band D household each year, or 54p each day.

The greatest portion – 78 per cent of the council tax bill – goes to Herts County Council, which has this year increased its share by five per cent. The remainder goes to the police.

Also at Tuesday’s meeting, the council voted to spend £5,000 on a memorial to late borough and county councillor Sherma Batson, who died suddenly in January. She will also be given a posthumous award.

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