Labour's budget means more money for youth work, cleaners streets and safer roads. Tory councillors voted against it.

Cllr Chris Read’s introductory comments at the start of the 2022/23 budget discussion:

Colleagues, Madam Mayor – I am proud to be able to present our budget proposals to the council this afternoon.

I want to thank Cllr Alam for his boundless patience as we have worked our way through what has been a very uncertain budget setting process, my Cabinet colleagues of course, and all the members who have made this the best possible set of proposals.

This is a budget that begins to reap the benefits of the difficult choices we have made over the last few years.

A budget that sets us on the right course for the years ahead, moving us on from the dark period under Covid, and securing real improvements for our residents.

It’s a prudent budget – we won’t run risks with taxpayers’ money.

But it’s also a budget that gives the most support to those in the most need. That’s what “levelling up” should mean.

The last two years of Covid have caused huge uncertainty for councils. Savings have been delayed, new costs have been incurred, income lost, and rightly the government has put additional support in place. For us, that support will be spent by the end of this month.

That uncertainty has only exposed the consequences of 12 years of austerity.

Seven councils are subject to capitalisation directives today because they couldn’t make ends meet.

And the more deprived the communities, the heavier the burden of austerity has fallen, and the greater the pressure for councils to have realistic, deliverable plans.

Because the places that can’t walk that hard road are the places who will let down those who need local services the most.

We won’t let that happen here.

I want to start with Adult Social Care, because it is the single biggest pressure on our budget.

From next month, the average person in work in Rotherham will be paying an additional £147 in National Insurance, and not a penny of it will find its way into the social care system for at least three years.

In December the National President of the Association of Directors of Adult Social Care said that social care was in a state of “national emergency”.

But the government’s reforms aren’t dealing with an emergency. It is increasingly clear that they are aimed at reducing the bills of those with the most assets to start with and will do nothing to ease the costs on normal families.

And far from meeting the funding gap that councils face, there’s real concern that we will again be left high and dry.

You don’t have to take my word for it, the Conservative Cabinet member for Adult Social Care in Windsor and Maidenhead no less recently said; “The proposals have the potential to destabilise the entire council.” He believes that for them the additional cost of the new system will amount to £20 million a year.

I understand that there are members present here today who want to play fast and loose with the council’s reserves. We’ll not be doing that.

Because in the real world, 86-year-old Ida had a long stay in hospital recently following a stroke. Following a period in reablement, she needs two carers to visit her at home, four times a day, seven days a week. Making sure that Ida is safe and well in her own home costs about £25,000 a year.

But home care providers are facing a staffing crisis. Rates of pay in the industry are just too low, and career options limited. So to meet some of the shortfall, we are increasing the council’s payments for home care by more than 7%, at a cost of more than a million pounds.

40-year-old David has autism, and has been living with his parents and attending day opportunities through the council five days a week. But David’s parents are getting older and supporting him in their home is increasingly difficult. So with lots of support, David is moving into a specialist residential service. It’s the right place for him and his family, and David’s care comes at a cost of more than £120,000 per year.

The providers of services like David’s new home are also facing rising bills – increased National Insurance contributions, utility bills and a higher minimum wage – meaning that the fees the council pays to Learning Disability care homes, for example, need to rise by 5.5%

The pandemic showed again the incredible work undertaken by frontline social care staff. They deserve a decent wage. And reflecting that we’ll keep our commitment to increase fees for hundreds of social care personal assistants to the level of the Real Living Wage.

All in all, that’s an £11 million increase in the funding we will provide for Adult Social Care next year, and rising in the subsequent two years.

With the council’s core funding, plus the Better Care Fund and IBCF, we expect to spend £103 million on Adult Social Care next year. That’s a 25% increase since I first stood here to deliver a budget announcement in 2015.

And we’re proud to commit it.

But if you add together the additional money that we’ve received from government this year in the form of the new grants – even if we didn’t have any other rising costs in any other areas – those grants still would not cover the rising social care bill.

That does mean, if we are to avoid cutting other services, we need to do what the government tells councils to do, and to increase the Adult Social Care Levy.

"We know that if we can turn the tide on austerity and deliver the services that people rely on, then we have an obligation to do so." Cllr Chris Read
Cllr Chris Read

Over the last twelve years, we have railed against the consequences of austerity in our communities.

But because we made those difficult choices, because we were responsible for our communities, we now have the opportunity to invest in some services that we know are valued the most.

Over the last twelve years, more than 700 youth clubs have had to close, including some here in Rotherham.

But now we have the chance to invest in Youth Work on a sustainable footing, creating thousands of opportunities for young people to have somewhere to go and something to do.

Over the last twelve years, more than 800 libraries have had to close.

But in this budget we can choose to invest in new books and resources, and on a sustainable footing.

The Centre for Cities reported that in the first decade of austerity, street cleaning budgets had been cut by a third.

But in this budget we can commit nearly half a million pounds extra towards street cleaning and grounds maintenance, plus equipment – and on a sustainable basis.

Because we want every community to look its best, and every community to have services that everyone can rely on.

And we should go further, addressing the issues of safety that our residents raise with us:

  • With a million pound a year extension of our Neighbourhood Road Safety Fund and two new dedicated posts to work alongside councillors addressing the local concerns in communities
  • With £300,000 to complete the renewal of our CCTV cameras, and a dedicated post to improve the management of them
  • More money to make permanent appointments in Licensing and Planning, strengthening our enforcement

Importantly we’ll also make permanent additional social work dedicated to tackling Child Criminal Exploitation and working with the police to go after those who would seek to exploit our children.

In every community, real practical improvements to support the quality of life that we want everyone to be able to enjoy.

Last year I told you about Lily and Steph, children in my ward whose families through no fault of their own found themselves relying on foodbanks.

Since then the cost of living crisis has only worsened.

While we’re all feeling the squeeze, the burden falls hardest on those who have the least.

Rotherham Citizens Advice Bureau reported a 50% increase in the number of people asking for their help last month.

The council’s Advocacy and Appeals team report a 66% increase in enquiries in the year from January 2021.

And as we know, the government then decided that Lily and Steph’s parents didn’t need the extra £1000 a year in Universal Credit that they’d been relying on.

So we’ll make permanent financial support for school uniforms to low income families benefiting more than 2000 children.

We’ll deliver on our commitment to new social supermarkets.

And we’ll put in place a Council Tax Support Top up to benefit 14,500 households of working age on low incomes. It will lift more than 10,000 families out of borough-wide council tax altogether.

Overall, our council tax increase with the Adult Social Care levy means a typical increase of 93p per week, but we will protect nearly one in five working age households from borough-wide council tax bills altogether.

And in the coming weeks we will bring forward further plans to support Rotherham residents with rising energy bills.

Madam Mayor – we don’t know what lies ahead. I started out talking about the uncertainty we’ve faced in recent times and today we don’t know whether we are truly in the clear of the Covid crisis. We are all watching the news on our TVs with trepidation.

We don’t know what the fallout from the government’s social care reforms will be. We don’t know if inflation will continue to rise.

But we do know that for far too many people, life is still tough.

We know that if we can turn the tide on austerity and deliver the services that people rely on, then we have an obligation to do so.

This is a budget that delivers on the priorities of the people we represent, I move it, and I urge all members to support it.

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