Council Tax statement from Councillor Elise Wilson, Leader of Stockport Council

There is still a great deal of uncertainty facing Local Government as we move into the next municipal year 2020/21.

Whilst the Government’s course on Brexit has progressed, we still await a longer-term funding review to address funding pressures which disproportionately affect Local Government.

Over the past 10 years we have seen Stockport achieve budget savings of over £100m, which of course has influenced our services and the manner in which we deliver these services to our residents. This year our forecasted saving requirement was £10.3m - despite Government statements announcing, ‘austerity was over’.

The one year funding settlement announced by Government in December, and various post-election Government statements, gave some relief but as yet there is no certainty for Local Government funding beyond 2020/21 which enables sensible planning of services. We did receive some one-off monies from the one-year Local Government Finance Settlement. However, these one-off monies are not available to cover the council’s recurrent revenue costs. Instead, we have used the monies to balance the council’s 2020/21 budget and make a number of positive investments decisions for the Borough lined to our ambitions and priorities.

Looking forward, our current funding shortfall for the next two municipal years 2021/22 to 2022/23 is estimated to be £17m. We must be very clear about the challenging financial situation facing the council due to the uncertainty, complexity and volatility of the financial landscape; we continue to face costs pressures as a result of price and pay inflation, increases in demand for our services and changing demographics. Furthermore, the lack of a long-term sustainable funding solution for Adult and Children’s Social Care coupled with our increasing population with the largest percentage of over 65s in Greater Manchester is a serious area for concern.

As in previous years, the Government’s response to the continuing financial challenge faced by Local Authorities is to assume that councils will raise their Council Tax; for Stockport Council the Government expected an overall Council Tax increase of 3.99% to meet their assessment of the council’s 2020/21 ‘core spending power’. Despite this we have taken the decision to raise general Council Tax by 0.99% and the Adult Social Care Precept by 2% resulting in an overall increase in Council Tax of 2.99%. This amount does not address all of our financial problems but has allowed us to take a balanced approach between protecting and continuing to provide essential services to our residents whilst not overburdening our Council Tax taxpayers.

Our approach to maintaining balanced budget position and bridging the funding gap in our budget has been through investing in ‘growth and reform’. In order to make the council financially sustainable we have invested in projects which generate income by regenerating economies, raising more Business Rates income, producing more jobs, and making changes to the way we provide services, but all the while attempting to minimise the impact on our residents.

Some of our long-term capital spending also provides additional benefits and income for the council for instance the Stockport Exchange scheme next to Stockport Train Station, Redrock leisure complex and the Mayoral Development Corporation. These schemes help to re-generate and bring footfall into the town, whilst other capital spending such as the LED street light programme provide significant long-term savings to the revenue budgets.

Overall, I believe we have delivered a very progressive budget. We continue to protect essential front-line services and deliver positive investments across the Borough in order to grow our local economy whilst listening to the concerns of our residents.

We know that continued increases in Council Tax of this level can’t be sustained not least because it asks residents to pay an ever-increasing amount to fund council services through a system which does not reflect the ability to pay and is essentially regressive. Whilst lobbying against this, we will also keep making the argument for fair and sustainable funding from Government as we need new ways to address increasing budgetary pressures.

Importantly we have a vision for our town and residents. We urge everyone to get involved in Our Stockport Conversation over the coming year. Your thoughts and insight can help shape our ambitious Borough Plan and make Stockport an even better place to live, work and enjoy and where we can live long and healthy lives.

Councillor Elise Wilson, Leader of Stockport Council