Cllr Chris Read
Cllr Chris Read

Last week, Labour councillors formally set Rotherham Council’s budget for the coming year. Despite £200 million of cuts from the Tory government, we set out our plans to invest in our roads, libraries and street cleaning. Cllr Chris Read – Labour Leader of Rotherham Council – moved the budget and gave the following speech.

“Colleagues – my thanks as always to everyone who has once again undertaken the mammoth process of pulling our budget proposals together for the coming year. Thank you to Judith and her Finance team, to Cllr Alam, and to all my Cabinet colleagues who work so diligently for months to bring these proposals to this meeting today.

As you know, last year we set out a two year plan to meet a budget gap of £30 million. Thirty million pounds of cuts following the previous £170 million of cuts.

£1,700 of cuts for every household in the borough.

That’s what ten years of the Tories has done for Rotherham.

Not by chance, but by choice.

The then Local Government Minister, Brandon Lewis, put it like this in 2013; “Unlike the old system which encouraged councils to talk down their local areas to win more funding, the decentralisation of local government finance now puts councils in the driving seat: rewarding them for supporting local enterprise, building more homes and backing local jobs.”

So here we are, in one of the fastest growing local economies in the region, with one of the biggest council house building programmes anywhere in the country, with an award winning economic development team and a devolution deal now on its way.

And more than 1,800 jobs lost from the council.

It’s always the Matthew Effect for the Tories, isn’t it? For to every one who has will more be given, and he will have abundance; but from him who has not, even what he has will be taken away.

This is what they don’t get. It isn’t talking down our area to talk about the needs of the people we represent.

It isn’t talking our area down to understand that 84 year old Margaret was recently admitted to hospital after a fall. Before she can return home the Council needs to carry out adaptations to her Council bungalow to make it safe for her to move back in – a level access shower, key safe, stair lift, bed raiser, two grab rails and a concrete ramp to get through her front door. Once she is home, Margaret requires two carers to help with daily tasks like washing, dressing and food preparation for 14 hours per week. Ensuring Margaret has the quality of life that she’s entitled to costs this council £22,000 per year.

Or take Steve, a 24 year old with cerebral palsy. He has a direct payment to enable him to purchase the care that suits him best. He pays a care agency for 14 hours support per week and he employs a personal assistant for 28 hours per week. That’s how £22,000 of our Adult Social Care budget is spent.

Or Charlotte, a 13-year-old who came into the council’s care after experiencing physical abuse at home. That is the single most common reason that a child comes into care. Taking any child into care is a huge deal, never taken lightly, but sometimes it is literally what keeps that child alive. And because Charlotte has needed to stay in a residential placement while we try to find a suitable family for her, the annual cost of that placement to the council is £243,000.

I’ve changed the names and some of the details, but their stories are based in reality.

And we are all glad we live in a country where those of us who have the chance of a job, an income, our own home, good health – can contribute to ensure that all our neighbours can also lead decent lives.

As Mario Cuomo once put it, “Our government should be able to rise to the level where it can fill the gaps that are left by chance or by a wisdom we don’t fully understand.”

It isn’t talking our area down to say that the people who provide these critical, intimate services deserve better than poverty pay. The number of people needing home care has risen 10% per year every year for the last three years – and under Cllr David Roche’s leadership 800 more home care staff will be paid the Real Living Wage from this April in recognition of how important that work is.

It isn’t talking our area down when we say that nearly two thirds of our budget is spent on social care for people like Margaret and Steve and Charlotte.

It isn’t talking our area down to say that making the level of support that they can get depend on the amount of business floorspace in the area is a nonsense.

It’s just the truth.

Last year I said that the government had to reach a conclusion about how councils are funded.

This year they decided not to bother.

Instead, a sticking plaster solution. Some extra cash yes, but not nearly as much as they claimed, and not enough to meet the increased budget we need for social care next year. Some one off funding to avert a social care catastrophe, and the nerve to call it the biggest increase in funding for a decade.

It’s like stealing a kid’s lunch money every day and then telling him he should be glad you’ve given him the weekend off.

But everyone knows that Monday morning is going to roll round eventually.

And if the LGA’s figures are to be believed, and this government can’t change its ways, there’s another £6 million smash and grab raid on our Adult Social Care funding on its way, sending the money that’s needed here off to wealthier parts of the country.

Even this year, with the government’s additional funding, this council still faces a £5 million funding gap. The Tories said they were putting councils in the driving seat. But they forgot to mention that they were taking away the rest of the car.

So we made the tough choices that our residents needed us to make.

We will continue to deliver the changes in services that we set out last year, and our budget proposals mean no additional job losses or cuts to frontline services.

A year ago we had about 645 children in the council’s care, now because of the choices and the investments we made, it’s down to 605.

More adults are living lives of their own choosing, independently, in the community and with the right support.

So this year we can stick to our plan, including on council tax.

And at 3% between the Adult Social Care Levy and general council tax, the rise we propose today will be lower than most other places in the country.

For most of our households in the borough, our proposal amounts to 58p extra a week, or just 5p per week for those on the very lowest incomes because of the council tax support scheme we have worked so hard to protect.

And because of the choices we’ve made, we are able to spend a little more on some of the services that we know residents value right across the borough:

  • £75,000 to roll back the one day a week closure at each of the four household waste recycling centres
  • £70,000 to provide more on-street youth work every week across the borough
  • £100,000 to tackle noise nuisance that blights the lives of residents, with a new team in place seven nights a week
  • £233,000 to prevent further cuts to tendered bus services at a time when our bus network is creaking

I spoke earlier about the importance of social care, and supporting those less fortunate than ourselves. But people who require those services are often vulnerable in other ways.

Take the example of the woman who took control of her elderly grandfather’s home, sold it, and used the £98,000 of profit to spend on herself. Or the bedbound resident in a Rotherham care home who gave lasting power of attorney to a friend – who then stole £55,000 of her savings.

Sadly these aren’t isolated examples. The police and council have investigated 20 similar cases over the last two years alone. So we will work with the ground breaking team from West Yorkshire to bring their innovative approach to Rotherham, identify people at risk and support criminal prosecutions.

In our capital programme we commit £1.7 million to keeping the streets clean, giving our new Streepride neighbourhood teams the kit that they need.

We will follow our successful 2020 Roads programme with a new four year, £24 million programme of road resurfacing. It is the biggest investment in the borough’s roads for decades, intended to halve the number of potholes facing motorists.

We will fund our commitment to invest and improve every library in the borough.

We will continue our programme of investment in the town centre, including trying to secure more government funding, and upgrading all the key car parks.

And we will upgrade the athletics facilities at Herringthorpe, and work with Historic England to preserve and re-open Keppel’s Column to the public.

Let me finish by saying this.

Five years ago, when I first delivered a budget speech in this chamber, this council was in crisis.

Today, our Children’s Services are transformed, our council rebuilt.

But building a better council was only the beginning.

Because none of us are here simple to be administrators. We’re here to represent our communities and to improve the lives of the people we serve.

And now the building blocks for something bigger are in place.

Social care services to meet the need of our most vulnerable.

And economy that is creating jobs, attracting investment, and standing up against poverty pay.

More affordable housing, better roads and a decent local environment.

Working in every neighbourhood and valuing every place.

The aim was never just to build a better council. The aim has always been to build a better borough.

And that is what the budget helps us to do.

Madam Mayor, I move the recommendations.”

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