South Ribble Council budget speech in full

Councillor Stephen Robinson presented the following budget speech prior to the Conservative led administation freezing their element of the council tax for the 5th time in six years!

Mr Mayor

It has been my honour and privilege to present the budget for this Council since 2009. We have lived through very interesting, almost unprecedented financial circumstances but our goal throughout has been producing the highest possible standards, and the protection of, our frontline services.

Despite the Council’s core funding falling by around 46% on a recurring basis since 2010 we have had very few redundancies, maintained the services that are most important to the people of South Ribble and managed to freeze Council Tax for four out of the last five years. I believe that this record is comparable with any other District Council in the country.

In my budget presentation last year I stated that a principal reason for our financial success and stability was our commitment to forward planning that we constantly undertake. Not for us, Mr Mayor, the wringing of hands and whining to the press when authorities have not looked ahead even though they are aware of future financial settlements and demands. Not for us the constant complaints that it is always someone else to blame and they have reached a point of no return where services cannot be maintained.

Despite facing the toughest percentage reductions of any council in Lancashire in the last five years, our approach to proper forward planning has put us in a position to propose this budget tonight: one that is optimistic, vibrant and full of exciting plans for the future.

South Ribble Borough Council now has a leading role in managing the growth of the borough, along with our communities, neighbours and partners. International auditors Grant Thornton revealed a few months ago, that as many jobs were created in South Ribble as in Manchester and Liverpool combined over an eight-year period. This puts South Ribble at the top of the tree for job creation in the North West, and in 16th place out of 324 regions across the country.

We’d been saying for a long time that South Ribble had been weathering the economic storm better than most, and these remarkable figures clearly show that this had been a major understatement on our part! I’m very proud that our borough is already at the heart of the North of England’s economic powerhouse, and we can be even stronger in the future through working with businesses and our partners to support growth.

That growth will provide the funding to drive improvements in the hearts of our towns and villages, and there are already significant schemes in the pipeline right across the borough, which will enhance South Ribble as a top class place to live, work and do business.

I will begin by informing the Council that we are proposing to freeze our share of the Council Tax for the fifth time in six years. Unfortunately, for the second year in succession, our electorate will see a rise in their bills because once again the Labour run County Council and the Labour Police Commissioner have increased their Council Tax share by 1.99%, the maximum allowed without having to consult the people of Lancashire. In addition the Fire Service has also increased its tax by the same percentage. I am sure that the people of South Ribble will notice where fiscal responsibility is exercised properly and make their opinions known at the ballot box in May.

I would like to emphasise that the Council under this administration has a consistent and excellent track record of meeting its financial targets, having achieved more than £4 million in efficiency savings since 2010. In the annual audit letter, our external auditor said that a key challenge facing the Council going forward is that “the need for robust governance and financial planning and management in local government is greater than ever.” The letter went on to say that “South Ribble Borough Council has robust arrangements in place to face these challenges.”  This statement endorses our policy of planning and management.

Our aim in 2014/15 was to close a budget gap of more than £500,000 by identifying savings of £410,000 and using around £130,000 of reserves. Due to the great efforts of Councillors and officers we have made further efficiencies that mean we will not have to utilise reserves in the current financial year.

For the year 2015/16 we are projecting a gross budget deficit of £775,000 but savings of £590,000 have already been identified as shown in the report. This will leave approximately £185,000 of reserves to be utilised but once again we will strive to close this gap during the year.

I would also like to announce tonight that despite all the challenges we have faced, as a result of robust and careful forward planning the Council is forecast to run a budget surplus in 2016/17.

I’d now like to look in more detail at the economic growth of the area, the role that this council can play in managing this growth, and the enormous benefits it can bring to our residents and businesses.

We have already committed £50 million over the next ten years to the Preston, South Ribble and Lancashire City Deal in partnership with Preston City Council and Lancashire County Council. This will bring new homes, thousands of jobs and new community facilities to the area over the next 10 years.  

The amounts specified in the capital budget will be instrumental in producing major new funds from the City deal. It is planned that over £10 million will be available for public transport corridors, local centres and Community and Green infrastructure in the next three years.

Our commitment will unlock the development potential of the sites identified in our local plan. This will release monies through the development process which will be used to drive the ambitious projects to improve our neighbourhoods.

We have an obligation to provide land for housing and want to attract more businesses to South Ribble. We have plans to make sure this growth is co-ordinated, and that the infrastructure such as roads and sustainable transport links are in place first. There are ambitions we were working on already, and there are others which will be brought forward by the City Deal investment.

These include the multi-million pound regeneration of Station Road in Bamber Bridge, as well as future additional investment in schemes covering Penwortham, Longton, Lostock Hall and Leyland.

With this in mind, the City Deal and our aspirations for South Ribble are about far more than new roads and buildings. We are committed to improving the facilities available for leisure and recreation with, for example, in excess of half a million pounds to improving our wonderful array of parks and open spaces in 2015/16.

This involves further investment in our existing three Green Flag-winning parks, like the de-silting of the pond at Worden Park, along with some more community-based projects. This also involves a commitment to the new Central Park, which is an excellent example of the way in which we will carefully manage the growth of South Ribble. We not only intend to protect the green and rural nature of our borough, we want to enhance it by creating a real community asset that will be treasured by generations to come.

The masterplan that was published this week demonstrates the breadth of innovative thinking that has gone into this scheme. As Councillor Hughes has put it so well, “the images in the plan really help bring the park to life and hopefully bring home to people the sheer scale of our ambitions.”

We are also investing in recruitment to support growth, which mirrors our commitment to managing the growth of South Ribble in a co-ordinated way. More than a dozen new appointments have been made in the past three months to bring together our strategic housing and planning services, while enabling them to work seamlessly with the people who will be supporting our businesses and delivering our community improvements. 

The measures I have outlined above represent very substantial capital projects that will take place over the next few years but we are also concentrating on our day-to-day revenue commitments. The management restructure implemented in 2014/15 means that £500,000 a year less is spent on senior management than five years ago. Such savings, along with many others, have enabled us to freeze car parking charges for the sixth year in a row and establish a new apprenticeship scheme from September this year.

A great development for the Council looking forward is the announcement of a new seven year contract for the critical service of waste collection and control. This contract will produce savings of more than £4 million over the duration of the agreement. This is great news for our residents, who also deserve enormous credit for their efforts to help us to recycle more than half of all the waste that was collected in South Ribble last year. That is already the best recycling rate in Lancashire, and we will improve the service even further by investing almost £1.5 million in the waste collection fleet in 2015/16. This is a perfect example of the way we have worked in recent years: we’ve improved a highly-valued service through working smarter and embracing new technology, which in turn has allowed us to make an investment to improve further still. 

The next report on the agenda is the actual Council tax setting report for 2015/16 and you will see from that report that we are not proposing to increase the weekly Council tax support deduction. The plain fact of the matter is that because of the increases from the County Council, police commissioner and fire service, the deduction should rise to £3.97 per week if those increases were to be passed on to the people affected. We are holding the amount at £3.50 per week, a saving of more than 13% of the sum. I would like to point out that other Councils with percentage rather than flat rate schemes will be passing this on automatically.

This fits with the wider range of support for vulnerable people in this budget. We are providing funding of £30,000 per annum to run a personal budgeting service in Gateway meaning residents can have one to one sessions to help reduce their debt, lower bills and make their money go further. This is available all residents not just to those people in receipt of Universal Credit.

The budgeting service, along with a freeze in our Council tax, a high performing benefits service, continuing support for the Citizens Advice Bureau and the absorption of the increased Council tax support sums, so cruelly placed on affected residents by Labour run authorities, show it is evident how we Conservatives are considering the needs of those people in the Borough that may be struggling financially at the moment.

The fact that we are able to give such extensive support to those in need demonstrates that the proper stewardship of finance is far more effective than merely throwing money at a problem that has been the Labour Party’s response to any difficulties that arise. Little wonder that we Conservatives are trusted so much more with money and economics both locally and nationally.

Our success has been considerably helped by the great officer team that supports the members of this Council in so many ways. I want to take this opportunity to thank Susan Guinness, Garry Barclay, Michael Fisher and their teams who have worked so assiduously and effectively to collect all the various streams of income, account accurately for them and ensure that all the internal systems and controls are in place and working well. My sincere thanks to you all for the assistance and guidance you have given to me and my colleagues over the last few years.

A special word for Michael Fisher who is leaving the Council at the end of this week after more than 14 years of service.  May we wish you all the best for the future and thank you for all you have done. 

Mr Mayor, at this point I would like to move the approval of the statutory resolution, a draft of which has been forwarded with the agenda. This resolution incorporates the tax relating to the County Council, the Police Authority, the combined Fire Authority and as appropriate the taxes relating to the parish and town councils in this area. I would also like to move the recommendations under item 3b; 3c; 3d and 5 of the Cabinet meeting of 11th February which you will recall were deferred from item 4 of the Council agenda.

Speaking personally, this is my last budget presentation as I will be standing down in May. I must express my sincere thanks to Mike Nuttall, the Chief Executive, and the senior management team. It has been a privilege to work alongside them and their dedication and efforts know no bounds. Many thanks.

I must also thank my colleagues on this side of the Council chamber who have provided such tremendous support over the last few years and whose efforts are reflected in these exciting proposals that we are able to publish for the coming years.

This Conservative administration has faced many difficult and seemingly insoluble financial problems and dealt with them all head on. Services have been maintained, staffing levels protected in almost every sense and due to advance planning and imaginative management major developments and projects are now in place and being implemented.

We are not complacent – far from it. There is still much to accomplish and much to produce for the Borough of South Ribble and its residents. We have come a long way in the past eight years and we will continue to progress in the years ahead – the job is not yet done. I hope and trust that our successes and accomplishments to date will produce the right result on May 7th.

Mr Mayor, I commend this budget to the Council and its residents.