Bath and North East Somerset Council is looking to have to take some tough decisions if it is to balance its budget for the years ahead – as it faces the biggest squeeze in years on its financial resources
The authority has published a series of proposals to achieve the £49 million of savings needed to balance income and expenditure over the four years from 2016/17. This is in addition to the £33 million saved since 2012.
The proposed savings come as the Council faces continued reductions in Government funding and complex challenges such as the rapid growth in the number of vulnerable and older people needing social care support.
The Cabinet’s proposals result from 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.
The Cabinet has identified £41 million worth of potential savings so far; including £12 million already being delivered in the current financial year despite pressures in the priority area of Children’s Services.
However even after driving out all these savings, more is still required and the Council will have to take some tough decisions to balance its budget.
Councillor Tim Warren (Conservative, Mendip), Leader of Bath & North East Somerset Council, said: “This is an unprecedented challenge for the Council, with £49 million of savings needed by 2019/20 – by which time the Council will need to be almost self-sufficient.
“Funding to local government has been falling since 2010, while the cost of delivering services continues to rise. Demand for a range of services is also rising quickly as our population grows and changes and this puts pressure on resources.
“Our savings proposals will ensure that the Council continues to live within its means, whilst protecting frontline services as far as possible and continuing to invest in important local priorities such as affordable housing, transport improvements and economic growth to create good local jobs.”
The scale of the financial challenge means that it will not be possible to deliver all the savings required through efficiency and income alone – meaning some fundamental changes will be required to the way in which a range of services are delivered.
For example, the Council is:
· Moving towards commissioning the right services – in a more cost effective way – to protect where possible frontline services – examples are “Your Care Your Way” and looking for independent partners to operate two early years nurseries currently run by the Council
· Generating additional income by investing in new commercial property and other innovative projects such as the Council’s new housing company which will deliver additional local homes and a new local energy tariff that will also reduce energy bills for local people.
· Responding to Government policy changes such as receiving a further £2.5 million as a result of the Government’s pilot Business Rate retention scheme and £500,000 from the Government’s New Homes Bonus scheme which rewards councils for increased house-building.
· Proposing to continue a 2% council tax precept for Adult Social Care, which will raise an additional £1.5 million a year to help fund unavoidable demographic and inflationary cost pressures such as more elderly people needing care and an increase in the National Living Wage. This will protect services to elderly and vulnerable residents.
· Working in partnership with local people and businesses to help them continue to play an important role in their local communities and deliver services in new ways.
Councillor Charles Gerrish (Conservative, Keynsham North), Cabinet Member for Finance & Efficiency, said: “Over the past year, we have undertaken a thorough root-and-branch review of all spending in order to meet the biggest financial challenge in the Council’s history.
We have left no stone unturned in our efforts to increase efficiency, find new income streams and ensure the organisation is as lean as it can be.
“As a result of this work, and the Council’s robust financial management, we are in a better position than many other councils to protect the important frontline services that are valued by residents and which vulnerable people most rely upon.
However, we won’t be able to avoid some very difficult decisions over the level of funding for some services, and there will need to be a fundamental re-shaping of the way some services are delivered to ensure the Council balances its books and lives within its means.
Wherever possible we will be seeking to work with local communities, parish councils, public sector partners and other local organisations to deliver services in new and cost-effective ways.”
Over the coming weeks, the individual Directorate Plans, including the savings proposals, will be presented to the Council’s Policy Development and Scrutiny Panels.
The proposed budget will be considered Council’s Cabinet on Wednesday 1st February. The Council’s final budget will then be considered by Councillors at a Full Council meeting on Tuesday 14th February.
The Directorate Plans, including the full list of savings proposals, can be found at: https://democracy.bathnes.gov.uk/ecCatDisplay.aspx?sch=doc&cat=13506
Some of the proposals put forward by the Cabinet 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.
· £100,000 through a Parks review and how we deliver services.
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).