Sunderland City Council budget agreed

Sunderland Bridge

Sunderland City Council has agreed its budget for 2016 to 2017.

It was agreed today (Wednesday March 2) at a budget council meeting.

The council agreed to reduce its spending by £46 million and to raise the city’s Council Tax by four per cent.

The increase in council tax is the first increase since 2010.

It includes the two per cent Adult Social Care levy that was introduced by the Government last year.

City Council leader, councillor Paul Watson, said: “I say ‘with mixed emotions’, as, while there is some very positive news in respect of investment in the future of our city, there are also some very difficult decisions needing to be made in order to deliver a balanced budget.

“We are now in the sixth year of what is proving to be the most challenging of periods ever faced by local government.

“With each year, comes ever deeper cuts in funding and sadly there is no sign of this abating, with ever more pressure to be placed on local government.

“There are further reductions in public sector funding forecast through to 2020, as well as plans for further upheaval in the way local government is funded which brings with it yet more uncertainty.”

Cllr Watson, added: “How can it be fair that councils with far greater levels of deprivation and need are not to receive one penny of this additional money?

“For Sunderland the new social care levy will raise just £1.6m a year, while the costs pressures we face in adult social care are many times more than that.

“Research by the King’s Fund shows that the five councils who will raise the least income from the new levy are all in areas of high deprivation, with greater need for funded care.

“By contrast the five councils that will generate the most income are all in relatively wealthy areas with less demand for funded care. How can this be considered fair?

“We have worked hard to protect residents and communities from the impact of the cuts over the last few years with £207m already saved since 2010.

“But we now need to find a further £46m of reductions next year with potentially £115m needing to be saved by 2020.

“As a result of these sustained cuts and pressures, our ability to deliver even statutory functions is going to be severely tested and we are now faced with having to make very difficult decisions.

“By 2020 the council expects to have less funding available for all council services than we currently spend supporting vulnerable adults, children and families – at a time when our population is ageing and demand for our services is continuing to rise.

“Clearly this Government has continued to ignore the cumulative impact since 2010 of moving resources away from high need authorities such as Sunderland to more affluent areas.”

The City Council leader, Cllr Watson, also spoke about the council’s capital one-off spending budget.

Cllr Watson, said: “The Government’s move to self-sustainability for local government means we need to focus on more than re-modelling services and making the necessary cost reductions.

“We must also focus on continued investment in growing and developing the city’s economy. We need to create and nurture the conditions for growth in order to secure new businesses and jobs, which in turn will build our capacity to be self-sustainable.

“Since 2010, and despite the cuts, this council has invested more than £430m in infrastructure to support these priorities. This has included significant investment in the city centre, seafront and infrastructure across the city.

“I am pleased to announce that we are continuing with this approach and that we are proposing almost £122m of City Council capital investment next year – with a further £130m planned to be spent in the following three years.

“This once again proves our commitment to making this city more prosperous and self-sufficient despite the cuts from Government.

“In terms of people, we will ensure that we continue to protect the most vulnerable citizens within our communities through both Children’s and Adult’s Services provision. This commitment is reinforced by the inclusion of more than £21m additional funding to support cost and demand pressures as well as improvement action planning within these areas of the revenue budget as well as associated capital investment.

“As a council, we are taking an increasingly ambitious and more commercial approach to securing capital investment in the city in order to deliver growth and jobs.”

The City Council leader, Cllr Watson, added: “The council and all our partners continue to invest in the regeneration of the city and we are increasingly working together to maximise the use of resources and delivery of outcomes.

“We are also focusing on bringing forward our Local Plan and working with house builders to facilitate quality new houses across the city, so more people can stay in the city when they finish their education and can come to the city from outside and make their homes here with their families for the future.

“Our city Centre is taking shape – having completed St Mary’s Boulevard and Keel Square we’ve connected the retail centre to the new business district planned for the former Vaux site.

“Future plans include investment to allow two-way traffic on North Bridge Street, as well as working with partners on the development of Sunderland Railway station to create a better gateway for the city.

“Over the next few years we will see further highways and seafront improvements as well as the completion of the New Wear Crossing creating a new transport gateway to the city.

“In addition, also over the next few years, through our regeneration partnership with Siglion we will see significant investment, not only in the city centre, but also at other key sites across the city.”

The budget vote was 53 in favour and five against. There were no abstentions.

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