Council Tax Statement from Councillor Mark Hunter, Leader of Stockport Council

We continue to transform Stockport into the place of choice for people to live, work and play, with new opportunities and effective, efficient services for all.

When I was elected as Leader and formed the new Council Cabinet in May last year, we knew that the cost of living crisis was going to get tougher. We put at the top of our list of priorities those residents most disadvantaged and least able to help themselves.

In the event, things got much worse than we or our officers expected, largely because of Central Government decisions – the huge impact of government actions last autumn and the local government settlement that followed did not deliver what was needed for us to be able to freeze council tax, as had been our ambition. For example, just our street lighting bill alone costs £2.4m a year more than it did last year because of the increase in energy prices.

Yet we have coped and delivered, with a big emphasis on partnership working, notably with the ‘Third Sector’ and other trusted partners. This approach is a well-known strength of Stockport Council and was recently highlighted by the independent Local Government Association Peer Review. We listened to our partners and worked with them to deliver benefits beyond those which the Government provided, to find those people not being support directly by Government yet still needing help.

At the same time, we have made progress to bring a resurgence to the town centre and our local and district centres; we have focussed on the need to tackle climate change locally by appointing the first Cabinet Member for climate change, facilitating a range of community projects, and made this a key priority in our own buildings (such as the refit of Stopford House and improvements to our schools); we made changes to our relationship with Life Leisure and TLC to deliver even better value for money; we have taken actions on digital inclusion to get more residents online, whilst preserving traditional ways of contacting the Council for those unable to access such services otherwise; and we have completed the first employee survey for many years and acted on the results to help provide effective services as well as improve motivation and skills development. There is, of course, much more to do and more we are ready and planning to do.

Our budget this year included 12 months’ funding for free school meals to those young people who do not already qualify under the national scheme, but who have qualified for support from the Council. It also includes money for each of our 21 Wards to ensure that local councillors can identify what their communities need and have resources available to help – something which encourages the movement of decision making closer to local residents and where there is need.

We all face a tough year ahead and our budget is pragmatic and robust, to allow us to help those most in need whilst delivering positive progress for the Borough. We believe the approach we have taken, and that the Council has now agreed, represents a fair balance between protecting frontline services for us all whilst achieving one of the very lowest Council Tax increases in the country.