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Hereford Council Budget 2015 to 2016 - Council tax increase again


megilleland
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Published in Hereford Times News by Bill Tanner

 
Band D bill for 2015/16 could be £1,275 as services face further cuts
 
HEADING into an election year, Herefordshire Council is set to reject the government’s offer of a one-off grant to freeze council tax and instead plans an increase of 1.9 per cent – just short of a rise that would trigger a referendum.
 
The recommendation, which would see the average (Band D) bill up to  Â£1,275.10, is made in a cabinet report outlining the council’s budget plans for 2015/16.
 
Councillor Tony Johnson, leader of Herefordshire Council, defended the rejection of the grant saying the council would have to find a further £750,000 in savings if the grant was taken up.
 
“I’ve looked very closely at the offer but I’m afraid because of how the government grant allocation system works, Herefordshire and other rural authorities do not get the same level of grant as some other councils; particularly London boroughs,†said Cllr Johnson.
 
“This is despite the fact that in many instances our geography means some services, such as road maintenance and social care cost more to deliver. The scheme on offer doesn’t add up for Herefordshire so unfortunately we are recommending it’s rejected,†he said.
 
As proposed, spending on adult social services would be slashed  by £5.5 million over 2015/16, children’s wellbeing by £1.1 million and spending on other services by £3.6 million.
 
The council says the majority of the savings can be found through on-going “efficiency measures†such as the “improved†use of technology rather than cuts to frontline services.
 
To 2013/14 the council has saved £34m and is on target to save a further £15m in the current financial year against a background of reductions in grants from central government, increases in demand for council services and increasing costs to the council.
 
Spending would be increased in designated “priority†areas including £200,000 to re-introduce rural bus services that received significant local public support and have a potential longer term growth, £400,000 to maintain increased grass cutting in parks and verges and £100,000 – on recommendation – for the prevention of  child sexual exploitation.
 
The report makes clear that significant further savings will still have to be found over future financial years.
 
Cabinet holds the first budget debate next Thursday, but approval rests with full council on February 6.
 
If approved, the final rate will be set on March 6 to include the amount charged by parish councils, the Fire Authority and the Police and Crime Commissioner.
 
Initial proposals were put to the council’s two overview and scrutiny committees in November with neither proposing alternative options.
 
Although the council is on target to deliver within the overall budget in 2014/15 there is slippage in some savings and additional pressures in both 2015/16 and 2016/17 that have been mitigated by alternative savings and the use of contingencies.
 
Next month, the full council will be asked to approve the 2015/16 budget and a medium term financial plan with scope for “refreshment†by any new administration after the election in May.
 
At present, the medium term plan estimates a near £34 million funding gap arising from increased costs and reduced funding.
 
The latest 2014/15 forecast outturn shows an overall delivery of savings in the current year with an additional £18 million of savings required over 2015/16-2016/17, £10 million  2015/16 alone.
 
A total savings plan for the financial period 2011/12-2016/17 accounts for £67 million.
 
The council’s provisional spending settlement for 2015/16 was announced by the government last month and may change in the final settlement expected in February.
 
Behind the scenes at Shirehall, however, any change is not expected to be material enough to effect the budget.
 
The provisional settlement  did, however, confirm another year of funding reductions in 2015/16 - in line with the council’s expectations.
 
There was also an increase in rural funding that resulted in a net in overall funding compared to budget assumptions of £251,000k.
 
This will be used to fund transportation costs and specifically to improve public transport options for vulnerable groups and further feasibility work on the Rotherwas rail link.
 
A breakdown of current cost pressures across the council’s three directorates shows:
 
Adult and wellbeing
 
The 2014/15 savings target was £5.5 million of which 44 per cent has been delivered.
 
An overspend against budget of £974,000 by the year’s end is forecast.
 
This compares to a forecast overspend of £962k that was previously reported to Cabinet.
 
The forecast overspend within adult social care client groups continues to rise particularly in residential and nursing as a result of pressures in the hospital system.
 
But this has been partially offset by a continued reduction in the forecast spend on domiciliary care.
 
The client forecast assumes that any further demand pressures will be managed and that new services such as reablement and telecare that were introduced in July will have an impact on managing growth.
 
Children’s wellbeing
 
The savings target for 2014/15 was £2.5 million, 60 per cent has been delivered.
 
The latest forecast predicts an overspend against budget of £472,000 by the year’s end, an improvement of £12,000 since August.
 
Continuing cost pressures presented by children in care and the use of agency staff costs means that mitigating savings have stopped any further overspend.
 
Though there are no new residential placements, there is little spare capacity within the council’s in-house fostering service.
 
Despite significant efforts to reduce the use of independent foster agency placements there has been an increase of seven placements with independent agencies since August costing an additional £139,000.
 
The Herefordshire Intensive Placement Support Service has now been commissioned with a specific remit to reduce costs and improve outcomes in this area.
 
The first intake of newly qualified social workers have completed their initial 12 months and moved into posts.
 
But the commitment to keep caseloads at a manageable level has meant that there is still a reliance on long term agency staff with a number being extended until the end of the financial year.
 
However, the recruitment of permanent staff continues and a new regional approach to agency recruitment should start in January.
 
Economy, communities and corporate
 
The savings target for 2014/15 was £7.3 million, 89 per cent has been delivered.
 
The projected underspend is £242,000, a minor improvement on the August position of £17,000.
 
Fourteen major planning applications brought £747,000 in fees in excess of the income budget, an increase of £237,000 from the August position.
 
There is a net revenue pressure of £174,000 in relation to the Master’s House project in Ledbury.
 
This spend is required to meet grant conditions of the Heritage Lottery funding for the project.
 
Outstanding insurance liabilities have been externally re-assessed with a recommendation that the council increases the sum set aside in its insurance reserve.
 
This, as well as costs associated with the re-tender of the contract, gives an overspend of  Â£250,000 built into the base 2015/16 budget.
 
There are risks emerging in the property maintenance budgets marked for management within the overall directorate budget.
 
Earmarked reserves and contingency budgets have been set aside for in-year pressures.
 
The £2 million budgeted for â€change management†is forecast to underspend by £1 million due to less than forecast redundancy costs falling in year.
 
In October, the revenue contingency budget  of £700,000 was committed to additional grass cutting, Colwall Primary School’s temporary accommodation and  adults transitions.

 

They were going to have to find an extra £750,000 to freeze council tax and they say they could not do that. What about the £1,000,000 underspend for their "change management" or does that mean the change is going into management's pockets. What about the parking charges of nearly two million pounds - is this going towards more bottled water and biscuits?

 

It is interesting how all the areas that the council under took in the past have been whittled down, through out sourcing, to just 3 areas. With all the money being sucked out of the locality by non elected quangos including the LEP and private companies on lucrative contracts. You just feel that your pocket has been picked again.

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I seem to recall this exact same thing happened last year, didn't it???

 

To add to your list, Megilleland, what about the money raised from all the properties/land they have been busy selling off in London.

 

I'm sure significant savings could be made, if Herefordshire stopped sending children to out of county residential placements. Surely setting up, and staffing a specialist residential unit/s closer to home, has got to be a better option all round? Children and their families could maintain their relationships, they would continue to be a part of their local community, and everything I have read over the past few years about residential placements for vulnerable children and adults, states that it is best they remain as close to home as possible.

 

There is a wealth of knowledge within this county....tap into it!.

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"Fourteen major planning applications brought £747,000 in fees in excess of the income budget â€¦"

 

I'm beginning to wonder if the Council's failure to have a five year housing plan in place, thus opening the door to these huge planning applications (and damn the people affected by them), isn't a covert way to rake in funds.

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In The Independent today. Sounds familiar.

 
Citizens will be expected to pick up litter from the street, prune hedges in the local park and grit minor roads in winter, as funding cuts to local government bite. Communities will be forced to start fending for themselves in ways not seen for generations when cuts to frontline services leave councils relying on local people to cook for elderly neighbours, start volunteer library services and sort out their own transport for children.
 
Government cuts to council funding means that authorities will be surviving on 14.6 per cent less in 2014-15, according to council finance directors.
 
Until now, councils have protected residents from the effects of cuts by saving money on staffing and other office costs. Now there is so little left in council coffers that the services that residents rely on – and even some that councils must provide by law – will be axed.
 
Though not all councils have signed off their budgets for the next financial year, a survey by The Independent on Sunday has revealed that most are planning widespread cuts, and many will call on citizens to do their bit.
 
In Darlington, the council is asking residents to take over the management of green spaces and keep pavements clear of rubbish.  â€œClearly we don’t have the funding to maintain [parks and green spaces] in anything like the kind of condition we have now,†admits chief executive Ada Burns. The council is appointing “street champions†to gather volunteers to create “a systematic approach to a regular programme of litter-picksâ€. Areas where there is less community spirit, because there is a high number of short-term renters, may struggle to find volunteers. “That’s one of the big challenges,†Ms Burns admits.
 
In winter the council will provide grit, but will ask residents to take responsibility for clearing streets themselves. The town has already lost its arts centre to cuts, so businesses will be expected to demonstrate greater responsibility to the community by providing literacy training or helping to look after the streets.
 
In Oxfordshire, subsidised transport for the elderly and disabled will be cut back. Village halls and sports clubs are threatened, as council support for community services is chopped. Ian Hudspeth, the county council leader, said statutory care services would account for three-quarters of the authority’s budget by 2020. “Unless we get additional funding, the county council will struggle to do anything but provide a safety net for the most vulnerable people in Oxfordshire,†he said.
 
A report from the New Local Government Network (NLGN) published last year predicted that the situation would get so serious that “the future may be one of private affluence and public squalorâ€. It said: “Councils and their residents will have to accept more litter on the streets, fewer libraries and theatres and parks that are left to turn into wild meadows.â€
 
Simon Parker, the NLGN director, said two-thirds of the population had not yet noticed local government was struggling to cope financially – but that was about to change. “It’s absolutely clear they are now going to be affected. Politicians haven’t always been very honest about what’s happening. The public are going to be confused and bewildered,†he said. “There is a lot more work to do to get the public used to what’s going to hit them.â€
 
The warnings come as businessman Craig Lavelle began charging Bury residents £8.40 each to empty their wheelie bins, after widespread anger at the council’s decision to switch to three-weekly rubbish collections. Meanwhile, John and Ling Valentine have hired a handyman to help look after their village of Grange Villa in County Durham.
 
Local people stepping in to plug the gap will soon become a reality. Durham council is trying to find more people to adopt vulnerable children because it cannot afford to take them into care.
 
Barnet is handing over responsibility for community events and support groups to local businesses. Buckinghamshire will only provide school transport to poorer households, expecting those who can afford it to make sure their children get to the school gates themselves. Leicestershire will close museums, and stop providing subsidised meals at community day centres.
 
West Sussex intends to make residents organise and manage their own flood defences through its Operation Watershed scheme. Louise Goldsmith, the council leader, said: “I’m not pretending there will not be difficult decisions to make. It is inevitable that there will be changes to some services,†adding that the council would aim for “minimum impact†on residents.

 

So we are going to pay council tax to pick up other peoples' litter, while the council gradually gets deeper into debt developing schemes that only provde benefit for themselves.

 

The chief executive will also outline proposals to develop the structure of his senior management team, specifically by putting in place a number of permanent senior management posts in place of interim roles as the council continues to respond to unprecedented financial and policy challenges. Sounds like a good idea.

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How about something radical. Lets get rid of the Hereford City Parish Council and its councillors, after all they duplicate themselves on the county council and within the eight wards set up a panel of residents to supervise/oversee the day to day running of their own wards. People who know their areas and can react when something needs to be done. I know this sounds like existing Community Associations, but I don't see them working for the benefit of everyone, only their own agendas ie Big Society, and Locality as set up by the Conservatives.

 

Having written this, my idea has already failed as it already exists. It is just not working.

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Looking back through various threads, did we ever get to the bottom of the money - around one million pounds - which Amey were supposed to have repaid??

 

I think Biomech asked again about this quite recently. There was no councillor response on that thread.

 

Things are bleak. Very bleak. If this money is still out standing, it needs chasing up quickly.

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