A sustainable budget, with investment that supports people’s wellbeing and vibrant communities – that is the focus for BCP Council’s proposed 2020/21 budget, due for consideration by Cabinet on 12 February.
Leader of the Council, Cllr Vikki Slade sets the scene: “Having involved stakeholders in shaping our vision and our priorities, we are now demonstrating our commitment to delivering on these priorities by setting a budget that is built on our adopted guiding principles of wellbeing, investment and sustainability.
“That’s why we are investing in the services that our most vulnerable residents need in order to have fulfilled lives, in our regeneration commitments and climate emergency actions, and on addressing inequalities in service provision legacies that were inherited from the three preceding councils.” Cllr Slade added, “This proposed budget is a sustainable one, with the quality of life of our residents and communities at its very heart.”
She continued, “Let’s not forget that local government reorganisation has not been undertaken on this scale or within such a rapid timescale for more than 45 years. But we have risen to that challenge, already saving £11.2million in 2019/20 from the creation of BCP Council. In proposing this 2020/21 budget, we are on track to deliver a further £9.4million of savings next year, from reorganisation alone. This is before our full transformation programme, which will revolutionise the way we work, engage with our residents and deliver services.”
Cllr David Brown, cabinet member for Finance, sets out some details of the proposed budget. “We have committed to achieving equal council tax across the BCP area by April 2021. Alongside this, we are focusing efforts to achieve consistent service levels across our area, as much as possible.
“This budget allows us to set a council tax that makes a single charging structure possible from April 2021. In progressing this, we have been able to keep council tax rises within the government’s 3.99% increase threshold, something I am particularly proud of, given the unrelenting impacts of over a decade of central government austerity.”
Currently, residents of Bournemouth, Christchurch and Poole pay different levels of council tax, with Poole residents paying the least at £1,441 for an average band D, compared to £1,598 in Christchurch, where residents pay the most. If agreed, in 2020/21 residents of Bournemouth and Poole will receive a 3.99% increase in council tax, adjusted to take account of Charter Trustee precepts which fund the town’s respective Mayoralties. This means that the BCP Council element of the precept will rise by 3.84% for Bournemouth residents and 3.83% for Poole residents. In Christchurch, BCP Council’s council tax would reduce by 3.55%. These charges include a 2% adult social care precept.
Council Tax changes 2019/20 to 2020/21
This paves the way for all households to be billed at the same council tax levels from April 2021.
Cllr Brown continues, “One key issue to address is the historical maintenance of the road network in Christchurch. Bournemouth and Poole councils were spending around £4,000 per km on highways, whereas Dorset County Council was spending £1,000 per km in Christchurch. Therefore we are making available an additional £540,000 to ensure the same standards of highway maintenance and street cleansing can be applied all across our conurbation.”
The budget also tackles some significant pressures in Adults and Children’s services, with an additional £14million being made available. This will mean the right levels of support can continue for children in care, as well as provide enough funding for home-to-school transport for children with Special Educational Needs and Disabilities and making sure that young people previously in care can access additional council tax discounts when living independently.
This £14m includes £11m for adult social care in 2020/21, allowing the council to address rising costs associated with the residential care for older people with complex needs, those with learning disabilities, and adults living with long-term conditions, as well as the cost pressures brought about by the 6.2% increase in the national living wage.
There are also significant pressures in the budget to fund specialist services for children and young people with high needs, for example those with education, health and care plans (EHCPs) or children who have been excluded. Cllr Brown explains, “We have a predicted budget requirement of £49.9million in this budget. With government funding of £42.9m expected and thanks to inherited deficits from the preceding councils, we are entering 2020/21 with a £5.5m shortfall in this crucial budget, which presents us with an extremely challenging starting point.” He continued, “We are therefore proposing to make the necessary funding available from a combination of sources, including seeking contributions from schools themselves. This continues to be a critical area of demand-led spending for the council, and we expect further work to be necessary during 2020/21 in readiness for the 2021/22 budget round.”
The proposed budget makes various provisions to address key priorities of the council, including:
£240,000 for Climate Change and Ecological Emergency, including a Citizens Assembly, environment strategy and action plan development
£370,000 for regeneration to bring forward major development projects to improve infrastructure, access to housing, and our area’s attractiveness to businesses and employers
£150,000 for Arts and Culture so we can properly respond to the findings of the BCP Cultural Enquiry
£50,000 for Unauthorised Encampments to improve site management
£50,000 for improved Community Engagement to help people shape and influence our decisions.
Cllr Slade concluded, “I am extremely proud of the budget that is being proposed. The council has promised a greater commitment to involving residents, to delivering on the priorities set in liaison with our stakeholders, and to set a budget that is sustainable beyond this financial year. This is what we are proposing, and I would like to thank all members and officer who have been involved for their hard work.”