Wednesday 14 January 2015

 

After launching a Budget Conversation with residents in the autumn, more specific proposals have been drawn up by Sheffield City Council to address necessary budget savings of around £63m in the coming financial year.

Members of the public have watched the council’s budget conversation video online (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s5GD2Roeg8Y), emailed the authority and sent in suggestions via Twitter as to how money can be saved without impacting on the most vulnerable in our society.

Sheffield City Council’s cabinet member for Finance and Resources, Ben Curran, said: “This is the toughest budget we’ve had to set, not just in the last four to five years but in recent history. We have worked hard to protect front line services as far as possible with deep and unfair budget cuts that we have been forced to make. Due to the level of cuts we are facing we have to look at everything and the only area that we have continued to protect from cuts is the money we spend on safeguarding children.

“The majority of people who have spoken to us – an average of around 86 per cent – said they agreed with the priorities of protecting front line services, particularly those that the most vulnerable in our city depend on, that will guide our approach to setting this budget.”

The council has sought to deliver fairness despite an unfair settlement and highlights the following decisions as key to doing this:

* Maintaining a £1.5 million Local Assistance Scheme, despite the Government scrapping their funding for the scheme entirely

* Investing an additional £100,000 in the Council Tax Hardship fund

* Protecting spending on child safeguarding

* Prioritising the Council’s flagship apprenticeship schemes which have given Sheffield the best record of all the core cities on delivering apprenticeships

Since 2010, the amount of funding Sheffield City Council gets in its main Government grant has been slashed by 50 per cent. At the same time, the council is facing further budget pressures, due to factors such as a rising population and an increased number of people needing school places and social care.

Over the same time period, Sheffield City Council has had to make cuts of £240m – but to find a further £63m in savings, the authority will have to cut spending further and do more things differently.

A public meeting is being held at Sheffield Town Hall from 5.15pm tonight (Wednesday, 14 January), at which people can find out further details regarding how we as a council plan to make cuts in the coming financial year.

It will be proposed that around £38m is saved from service departments, around £15m is saved from renegotiating the contract with Capita, increasing the amount of money brought in through Council Tax and Business Rates and refinancing pensions – and £10m would from come from closer working arrangements between the Council and the NHS.

Part of this, it is proposed, will involve raising Council Tax by 1.99 per cent, after a four-year freeze. This equates to 38p a week for most households in Sheffield.

At the same time, a further £100,000 will be invested in the Council Tax hardship fund, to protect the poorest households which cannot afford to pay.

Coun Curran said: “In order to meet these massive reductions in our funding, we have already had to make some difficult decisions, and as the Government’s cuts get deeper the decisions become harder every year.

“We have frozen council tax for the past few years, but we have now come to a point where the cuts we are facing are hitting the council so deep that we can no longer afford to do this.

“In order to protect essential services and in order to prevent making deeper cuts elsewhere, this is a necessary and difficult decision that we have had to make.”

As part of the savings, it is anticipated that up to 200 redundancies will be made at the authority in the 2015/16 financial year.

Each year, Sheffield City Council is required to submit an HR1 form to inform the Government of potential redundancies. We have estimated that there may be up to 200 redundancies in the 2015/16 financial year, compared to 600 in the past two financial years.

This is not a precise figure, but is based at the upper end of any projections we make, as a precaution. We hope that any redundancies we have to make are less than this number. As in previous years, we are taking a number of steps to minimise redundancies, such as offering Voluntary Severance and Voluntary Early Retirement schemes.

Other specific proposals for savings include:

* Negotiating significant savings on our big contracts with Veolia, Capita and Amey

* Introducing single regional services for adoption and Youth Justice

* Increasing the income we get for traded services with schools, such as pupil admission services and educational psychology

* Retendering some services to providers who meet the agreed quality standards but may be more cost-efficient

* Developing our “Shared Lives” care project as an alternative solution for long-term care placements

* Reducing our contribution to the South Yorkshire Passenger Transport Executive

* Changing our arrangements for customer services, away from telephone to more online channels

Everyone is free to attend tonight’s public meeting, which runs in the Town Hall reception rooms from 5.15pm to 7pm, but places must be booked in advance.

Sheffield City Council’s Leader, Julie Dore, Coun Curran, and Chief Executive John Mothersole will speak at the event and also take questions from members of the public.

The evening will also enable members of the public to meet with cabinet members to discuss specific challenges in their own portfolio areas.

Call 0114 273 5417 or email PPCBusinessSupport@sheffield.gov.uk to book a place.

The next stage of the process will be to put the proposed 2015/16 budget before Cabinet in February, before it is agreed at Full Council in March.