Cllr Chris Read, Labour Leader of Rotherham Council, speech on the council’s 2018/19 budget.

Madam Mayor, Colleagues,

Can I start by thanking all the members and officers of this council who have dedicated hours and hours over the last few months to enable us to bring these proposals forward?

To my Cabinet colleagues who have been selfless in their approach. And Cllr Steele and our Scrutiny colleagues who have been tireless in their efforts to ensure that nothing is missed.

But mostly I owe thanks to Cllr Alam, who went through every single line of the council’s budget with me, and who hasn’t complained once.

It is exactly four weeks ago today that Northamptonshire County Council was forced to issue a Section 114 notice. For the first time in twenty years an English council declared that it could not make ends meet.

Two weeks later a survey undertaken by the Local Government Information Unit and the MJ suggested that two thirds of councils intend to use their reserves to balance their budgets in the coming year. 95% of councils are increasing council tax.

We meet at a moment when the whole future of English local government hangs in the balance.

This budget will mark £162 million of cuts to the council’s budget, with a further £30 million expected over the following two years.

Across the country 800,000 fewer people now work in local government than when the Tories came to office in 2010. To put that figure in context, it is more than half of the entire staff of the National Health Service.

Can you imagine, if they’d tried to do to our NHS what they have inflicted on local government?

In times like these, the passing of time doesn’t make the choices any less real, any less earnest.

There’s a Joe Biden line; “Don’t tell me what you value. Show me your budget and I will tell you what you value.”

Aneurin Bevan put it another way; “The language of priorities is the religion of socialism.”

And whilst there are undoubtedly reductions in services in this budget that we would not take in other circumstances – reductions in maintenance in our country parks, revisions to ad hoc cleaning, staffing reductions – today is about our priorities.

Those priorities are why:

  • We’ve brought spend on agency staff down by nearly a quarter over the last year.
  • Why we cut councillor allowances again this year, cut the cost of the town hall, and the mayoral car, totalling a saving of £48,000 – and taking £30,000 out of our pockets and investing it in our neighbourhoods.
  • Why 60% of the savings we need to make in this revenue budget are made without impacting on services to residents.
  • And that’s why this budget puts social care first.

I suspect most members of the public don’t know that social care accounts for 60% of our budget – and the total amount of council tax raised by every single household in Rotherham wouldn’t cover it.

That’s why the crisis in social care is a crisis for local government.

It is a huge credit to Cllr Watson, Ian Thomas and the team that they have transformed Rotherham’s Children’s Services. The work that they have begun is already turning around the lives of thousands of children and families across the borough.

We said it was our top priority, and we have delivered on it.

I know that some people think that was the easy part.

I’ve got to tell you, when you get those “Need to Know” alerts – a child is missing, a child has been neglected, we don’t know if they’re still alive – there’s absolutely nothing easy about it.

And we all owe the man sitting next to me a debt of gratitude.

So this budget continues to make significant investment in Children’s Services. We have exempted our care leavers from council tax. And we’ve heard the demands of the Looked After Children’s Council and binned those black bin liners.

Every member of this chamber should proud of that progress – whether they voted for the investment or not.

But at a time when we have more children in the council’s care than ever before, we must keep up the pace of change in transforming our Early Help services. That’s why we are bringing forward proposals to reduce the amount of money we spend on the buildings that house youth clubs and children’s centres and instead invest in the kinds of activities that our at-risk families need the most.

In so doing, we will save on building costs, but we’ll also be able to build on our Family Group Conferencing and Edge of Care services – it’s the right thing to do for our budget, and the right thing for our families.

At the same time, we are making no additional cash reductions this year in the Adult Social Care budget.

We will use the government’s Adult Social Care levy to raise £2.9 million and meet the costs of our young people who are reaching adulthood with complex needs that mean they require social care, meet the rising costs of contracts, including our commitment to the lowest paid staff, and to invest in social work practice.

Members present here don’t need me to tell them that whilst social care might take up 60% of our budget, another issue has taken up a rather larger chunk of our inboxes recently.

Rotherham council spends more than £11 million a year on collecting bins, so it is right that in the current climate we look to see if we need to make changes both to make savings and to boost recycling. We asked every household in the borough what they thought. And it’s fair to say that they told us.

So I confirm today that we are ring fencing the additional 1% we’re allowed to raise in council tax this year to facilitate the introduction of kerbside plastics collection, as thousands of residents asked us to.

In total, this means a rise of 2.99% in council tax and 3% on the government’s Adult Social Care levy for Rotherham households. For the average household in Rotherham, that’s just over £1 extra per week.

Colleagues, I know that sometimes the scale of challenge posed by austerity can seem overwhelming.

But because of the choice we have made to strengthen our economy, and build the homes that Rotherham families need, we are able to protect £1.8 million worth of services in the coming year through higher business rate growth and income from new housing developments.

By securing commercial development in the new caravan park at Rother Valley and business premises at Beighton Link we expect to be able to protect an extra £650,000 of services from 2019/20.

That’s what fighting austerity really looks like.

The fastest growing economy in the region, bringing jobs and investment – and the money we need to fund our public services.

We’re committing more than £800,000 to secure local school places for 125 children with special educational needs and disabilities where it is in their interest to study nearer to home.

A Living Wage uplift, paid for in this budget, that will put an extra £10 a week in the pockets of our lowest paid staff.

A commitment to housing that will see an additional 167 council houses built across the borough in the next two years:

– It’s the most significant council house building programme in Rotherham for decades.
– And if the number of council houses built across Britain last year is anything to go by, as many as 1 in every 20 councils houses built anywhere in the country in the next two years will be built here.

Local Welfare Provision that will feed as many as 5,000 people next year who would otherwise literally go hungry.

And despite the changes we’ve had to make this year, our Council Tax Support Scheme still leaves our poorest residents at least £110 a year better off than they would be in half the councils in the country.

Decency and opportunity. That’s what we are building the future on.

And over the coming year, we’ll continue to invest in our town centre, with work starting on the bus station in a matter of weeks.

Our 2020 Road Programme will see more investment in road resurfacing this coming year than at any time in the last decade – repairing an additional 100 roads – and we are committing an additional million pounds to resurface more pavements this year.

We are investing in street cleansing equipment and bins to trial improvements. And we’ll only reduce grass cutting if we can’t reach agreement with our trade union colleagues to find further savings from reducing agency staff.

Colleagues, Rotherham is changing. You can feel it.

From our improvements here, to our manufacturing renaissance, and the new the University Centre Rotherham.

We’re finding our place in the world again.

Just as we must keep working to secure justice for those let down so badly in the past, so we must keep fighting for security in the future.

That will mean more difficult decisions lie ahead. We didn’t come here for an easy life. We will have to find better – and more cost effective – ways of supporting people than we’ve been used to. We will have to work more closely than ever before with our partners, and find new ways of delivering services. We will have to keep learning.

But if we ground those decisions in our values – in decency, and solidarity, and opportunity – we are building a future that’s worth fighting for.

The dogmas of the quiet past are still inadequate to the stormy present.

It’s time to rise to the next challenge.

Madam Mayor – I move.

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