Council leader warns of tough choices
It is not too strong a term to use; the city council’s finances are in crisis. The city council faces a £7 million pound overspend this year, largely due to increasing pressures on care services for children, vulnerable adults and older people which in turn come from the pressures on the NHS. After “salami-slicing” millions from our budget as the grant from government is cut by around £25 million each year, the time for easy savings is over. We can’t put off tough choices any longer. By 2019, even if council tax increases by 2% a year, there will be a gap of well over a hundred million pounds between what we receive in revenue and what we need to pay for what we do. 1% in council tax raises £1 million for services.
The Government have said this week that the revenue grant, which historically has provided around a third of the council’s income, will be ended altogether. They have said that in 2020 the council will be able to keep all of the money paid in business rates; but this will only offset the cuts to a certain extent and it will not help us now and in the coming few years. Further cuts are expected to be announced next month. All the while Government is handing councils responsibility for more and more services, without the money to pay for them.
I am calling a special meeting of our main decision making committee in a few weeks to get a grip on the council’s finances and ensure we end the year with a balanced budget. We have begun a four year budget plan that will re-shape council services for the future and for a time when our funding will have been cut by well over 40%.
We are putting forward plans to make libraries community hubs, open seven days a week in buildings that are fit for purpose, affordable to run and at the heart of their neighbourhoods. The current home of Hove Library is costly and unsuitable for modern library services, so we are proposing to move it to Hove Museum where it will make better use of the space in a better location for Hove residents.
To safeguard the Royal Pavilion, the symbol of our city and the jewel in our crown, we will be putting together plans to move it into a new trust alongside the Dome and museums so that it is preserved for future generations. It will still be council-owned and the trust board will have elected members representing residents on how the Pavilion and museums are run.
We can no longer afford to run the same number of town halls and offices we do now. I will be radical in my approach to buildings that are much-loved but costly to run. Kings House is being sold and Hove Town Hall being improved to become our main headquarters. We will look again at our other properties to ensure we can afford to run them and that we are making the best possible use for them. If not, difficult decisions will be needed. Money saved from buildings will be invested in local community hubs, new technology and better customer services.
Our local democracy is vital but has to live within its means. Group Leaders of each of the political parties have agreed to start the process of an independent review of councillor numbers and costs, one that has to begin now in order to conclude in good time for the next elections. Residents will expect councillors not to be spared in cuts that reduce the council’s budget by a third, and it is right that we have wide consultation on any proposals put forward.
The pressures on our funding mean that decisions on social care and children’s services, as well as dozens of other things the council does currently, will be reduced or in some cases closed. We will work with partners in the voluntary, co-operative, community, private and charity sectors to keep as many services going as we can, keep them local and accountable and fair. We will get our own house in order before we make the cuts we have to, and we will target our spending and investment on those who need it most and the basic services we all rely on.