22nd Jul, 2019

Warwickshire households facing another big hike in Council Tax

Ian Hughes 25th Jan, 2019 Updated: 29th Jan, 2019

COUNCIL tax payers in Warwickshire are facing another big hike in their bills.

Conservative-controlled Warwickshire County Council (WCC) – which accounts for around 80 per cent of the total bill – is looking to increase Council Tax by three per cent and the Adult Social Care precept by two per cent.

It is the second year running the county has set an inflation-busting five per cent rise having been forced to make savings of some £100 million since 2010.

County council leader Izzi Seccombe said: “At a time of financial challenges for local government generally, this budget represents the final year of our three year financial plan.

“In 2017, we identified a requirement for savings of £67 million over the period. We have achieved 90 per cent of our savings to date and continue to deliver high quality services for the people and communities of Warwickshire.

“Our overriding strategy has been twofold – to grow the economy and look after the most vulnerable in our communities.

“The economy is strong and growing with Warwickshire identified as the fastest growth area in the country. Unemployment has reached 1.8 per cent, half the national average. Growth has helped us to increase our tax base and together with some extra temporary funding from central government, it means we are able to invest in services in a way that will have a lasting and positive impact on the communities, people and businesses of Warwickshire.

“It has also allowed us to remove some of the most difficult savings we were planning to make.”

“Our need to reinvest in services that are facing particularly difficult savings and increased demand requires us to raise Council Tax by three per cent and the Adult Social Care precept by two per cent.”

Liberal Democrats have set out criteria to test the Tory budget – with investment in the next generation the group’s priority, via supporting everything from early years education to youth work.

Lib Dem group leader Jerry Roodhouse said: “This year we are breaking with tradition for a number of reasons. Firstly, Warwickshire is run and controlled by a majority Conservative administration. Secondly, the council is in turmoil at this point in time over its reorganisation that is taking place and the time cannot be right to take up valuable officer time and resources when they should be 100 per cent focused on providing local services for residents. Thirdly we wish to be constructive in our opposition by producing a clear set of priorities.

“The pressure on services continues, over the last five years WCC have taken £88.4 million out of its budget and future savings running into millions will be needed.”

Labour group leader Richard Chattaway argued partnerships were the answer.

Coun Chattaway said: “Over the last three years, the Labour group have put forward a budget that meets the priorities of residents in Warwickshire on public transport, road safety, education, health and social care and community security.

“The budget has been fully costed. This is based on forming effective partnerships using county assets, which sum a total £1.192 billion and reserves of £133 million, and investments of 138 million which are currently not being used or utilized by this Warwickshire Conservative leadership.

The budget will be set on Thursday February 7.

Izzi Seccombe outlines the proposed Conservative budget

“Across the country, specialist services for children have seen a huge increase in demand. Warwickshire is no exception. We will invest an additional £6 million in children’s social care and a further £6 million to manage the demand pressures on our education services in relation to pupils with special educational needs and disabilities.

“We will support our recently published Education Strategy by investing £200,000 to roll out the implementation plan. Supporting young people in education and requiring schools to help every child to achieve their best potential. We will invest an additional £5 million to protect the growing number of elderly citizens and vulnerable adults and manage winter pressures, whilst still continuing to make progress on our vision of greater integration between health and social care, especially in this Year of Wellbeing.

“Warwickshire Fire and Rescue Service has been rated Good through its recent inspection. We know that our firefighters deliver great services to the people of Warwickshire and so we will reduce the savings required from the service by 60 per cent phase the delivery over two years and retain the second tenders at both Coleshill and Stratford so they are available into the future for the growing populations they serve.

“Warwickshire Youth Justice Services has been a beacon that we are proud of and they have just had an Inspection rating the service Good with outstanding areas. To maintain this quality service, we will not take any further savings and instead any efficiencies delivered will be reinvested back into the service.

“Our Conservative ambition has been to help people to live the lives they want to lead, by listening to their needs and targeting support. This means building communities to be resilient and helping people to have choices. We will be investing £2 million in community capacity, independence and prevention.

“We will be looking to fund projects that will support our care leavers, tackle the challenges of mental ill-health and build capacity by actively exploring, with partners, opportunities to help communities to be supportive of those that are vulnerable.

“Last year, the Conservative budget invested in the Homelessness Project. Jointly working with the Third Sector, police and district/borough councils we have begun to make progress on what is a complex issue. We have therefore decided to continue this programme for a further two years with £300,000.

“As a large rural county, we have seen pressure on public transport over the last year. We will be seeking to invest in community transport and work alongside commercial providers to support those living in isolation and loneliness, to live well and be supported. We will make £500,000 available for investment as alternative, viable schemes are identified. We will invest £400,000 in our waste management service to meet the increased demand as a result of housing growth and reduce the savings the service was expected to deliver by the same amount.

“To support our districts and boroughs at a time when local plans are developing and at a time of great growth in our local economy, we will invest a further £200,000 to expand our transport planning capacity.

“Warwickshire County Council will be an important partner in the 2021 City of Culture in Coventry. Our market towns and historic areas will play a key part in the run up to, and during the year itself. It is vital that we are ready and so we will be investing £1million to ensure that Warwickshire helps to develop activities and legacies that will benefit our region and our communities for many years to come.

“We will increase the Capital Investment Fund by £12.5million. This will allow further investment in projects to stimulate the economy and keep our communities safe. Our priorities will be road projects where safety is an issue, new technology into gritter lorries, mobile compactors for the household waste recycling centres and cycle routes. All this is possible without materially depleting our reserves.”

WCC Liberal Democrat group leader Jerry Roodhouse responds –

Our approach to the 2019/20 budget is to publish a clear list priority which we will test against the Conservative budget. We wish to be a constructive opposition and have chosen this approach because in a time of significant reorganisation of the county council and because the political context of the Council with a Conservative administration running the county council (Conservatives 36, Labour ten, Liberal Democrats eight, Greens two and one Independent) make it clear where the majority of votes are.

Austerity has seen WCC cutting back on services and driving greater efficiencies, over the last five years WCC have taken £88.4 million out of its budget. Continuing austerity in local government means that there is a need for new type of politics. The financial risks facing Warwickshire that will need to be considered as part of the budget process are from three main sources:

1. Areas of service pressure, Children & Adult Social Care, Infrastructure and Waste/Environment.

2. The level of resources available (both locally generated and allocated nationally)

3. Wider economic and political changes (Brexit etc)

Throughout austerity Liberal Democrats have been supportive of the principles of the Warwickshire “Stepped Approach” which is about building greater community capacity in order that communities can support each other and the people that live in them, for Liberal Democrats prevention and investing in the next generation by supporting our early years / Intervention/family support and youth work is a number one priority.

Our starting point has been the Corporate Boards allocations. But we believe we should go further.

We will test the Conservative budget against the following,

Test 1- Early Intervention, family and youth work. There is continued growth in demand in relation to children and families is ongoing and the need to invest in our families and young people there is a need to be proactive and get to grips with area of work as highlighted by the Ofsted chief Amanda Spielman in the annual report 2017/18.

* We want to see a substantial increase being invested into the Children & Families Business Unit with special regard being given to the “Stepped Approach” with mental health, youth work and families at the heart.

* We recognise the change with the creation of family hubs and do not support any more savings and instead look towards the creation of integrated teams working out from the hubs.

Test 2 – Healthy & Independent Communities, the pressure on the voluntary sector and local communities are increasing, the County Council wants more services delivered by local communities, we are also seeing more individuals from all ages are seeking care and support.

* We want to see the underspends on Concessionary bus fares ring fenced and invested towards maintaining and enhancing a bus network that is helping and supporting our communities. Liberal Democrats want to see a young person’s bus pass scheme developed.

* We believe that we are on the cliff edge regarding Adult Social Care and the government’s lack of action in regard to ensuring that continued funding is in place is making matters worse. Our test will be to see greater integration of service delivery that will make differences within communities.

* We believe in Public Health and prevention, the cuts being made by the government are unacceptable and we expect to see no cuts/savings to this budget area and resources being focused towards health visitors and family nurse practitioners who work in our communities.

* We believe in our communities and want to see extra resources being made available to support local initiatives in our local communities. The councillor grants should be increased to enable a health & wellbeing grant to be made in the local community.

Test 3 – Planning for the future, environment, The county is under immense pressures from extra construction and development which is leading to an infrastructure crisis. We want to see a substantial investment which is linked to also making us an environmental leader in the country.

* We want to see a more integrated approach to tackling environmental issues. We call for substantial increases towards Warwickshires Climate Change and Biodiversity environmental action plan which needs to encompass the “Circular Economy” as outlined by the Governments new waste strategy bringing together key partners and agencies.

* We also want to see established a pedestrian and cycling infrastructure capital fund which can invest at a minimum £2million per year into schemes such as K2L and cycling infrastructure in Stratford. Recently highlighted by NICE guidance.

* WCC owns a lot of assets, we believe that the council should have a more robust criteria by making the first call on the sale of council owned land towards social rented housing projects.

Test 4 – Safer Communities our Fire & Rescue

* We will not support the further erosion of our front-line fire service and do not support the savings target on crewing or removing fire engines.

* We want to see a long-term plan that see the fire & rescue service working ever closer with our communities, we do believe that some extra efficiencies can be found which may include working with neighbouring Fire authorities, but we will judge these on a case by case basis.

* We want to see greater resources being made available to the youth offending team and in tackling the complex issues of mental health, drugs & alcohol abuse, domestic abuse and rough sleeping.

WCC Labour group leader Richard Chattaway responds –

Residents in Warwickshire are once again being forced to pay higher council tax by the Conservatives, but will get fewer services. Council tax for everyone in Warwickshire will increase by an inflation busting five per cent, with some residents paying £130 per year more than they are currently paying.

Under the guise of savings the Conservative budget will make cuts over of £16million in the next year, on top of the previous £58 million since the Conservatives took control. This is caused partly by a cuts in grants by Conservative central government and partly by a lack of effective leadership at the top of this Conservative led local authority. The victims are the most vulnerable people in the County. This Tory posturing that ‘austerity is over’ is a myth.

The cuts over the last number of years have hit the most vulnerable. Cuts to Children’s Services, have resulted in Warwickshire Children’s Services being designated as “requiring improvement”. But there has been no apology from the Tory portfolio holder for their failings they created.

Cuts to fire service has been compromised public safety because response times have increased. And valuable resources were wasted on a bungled attempt at collaboration with other fire services.

The Conservative Cabinet have been claiming they have been lobbying central government for a better deal for Warwickshire but they have failed miserably to get the help we need. Warwickshire residents deserve better.

The Labour Group calls upon the council leader to put some welly into the fight for more money from central government.

Over the last three years, the Labour Group have put forward a budget that meets the priorities of residents in Warwickshire on public transport, road safety, education, health and social care and community security. The budget has been fully costed. This is based on forming effective partnerships using county assets, which sum a total £1.192billion and reserves of £133million, and investments of £138 million which are currently not being used or utilized by this Warwickshire Conservative leadership.

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