• Thursday , 23 November 2017

Guest blog – Councillor Steve Eling on the council’s budget

The Council’s Deputy Leader and finance boss Councillor Steve Eling talks about the council’s budget for the next three years.

Last night the council adopted its budget strategy for the next three years based on the Government’s autumn statement.

We’re in an extremely tough budget position. But we are up for the challenge.

Sandwell Council House

We’re getting almost £30million less this year than we did last year if we compare the budget like-for-like.

Our budget for 2015/16 will be £122million less than it was in 2010/11. And overall, the council’s budget has been cut by £280million in the past five years.

Even on the Government’s own figures Sandwell has suffered a 5.1% government funding cut while affluent areas like Wokingham and Cheshire East get increases of 2.6% and 1.4% respectively.

So, what are we going to do to meet these reductions in funding?

It means that to survive, a number of services will have to be delivered in different ways in the future. That’s the difference between having a service and that service disappearing.

As a council we’re adopting a new Facing the Future strategy which aims to radically change the way we work in many areas so we don’t just impose percentage cuts across the board.

This means things like, for example, encouraging residents to do more business with us online, which is much cheaper than traditional face-to-face or other methods.

It also means getting better value for money when we buy goods and services, and a drive to encourage developers into Sandwell so we can increase the business rates and Council Tax we get from new companies and homes.

Facing the Future is a major part of our budget strategy to safeguard as far as we can our vision of frontline services and will continue to be over the next three years.

The final detailed budgets for services will be approved at the budget setting at the council meeting on March 3. At that meeting, the council will also decide on Council Tax for the coming year.

In recognition of our residents going through hard times, we have frozen Council Tax in the last four budgets and this will be an option that we’ll give serious consideration to again.

We’ve been planning the council’s budget over the medium term for many years now, and this puts us in a better position than many other councils, including some of our near neighbours.

I really want to reassure people that I am confident that our council is in a strong position and we’re confident that we can continue to protect the services that our residents value, despite the cuts.

Steve eling serious

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  • Neeraj Sharma January 14, 2015 at 4:54 pm

    I remember thinking as a senior manager a few years ago that it was difficult enough to plan properly for the next year and here at Sandwell we had to plan for the medium term. I can see that we were right to do so and we have time to implement the plans properly and with the least negative impact on service delivery. Facing the Future takes us to next level by planning for corporate and cross-cutting transformation rather than just efficiencies and savings.

  • David Hill January 18, 2015 at 12:04 pm

    As a former long serving officer of SMBC I am getting increasingly concerned about cuts in services, cuts in staffing levels etc, at the rate you are going you will not be providing ANY services yourself directly, they will all be privatised. I read of £200k cuts to various services, I read of 500 more staff cuts, I know that staff now take the risk of redundancy or pension when they leave. I know senior staff are treated differently provided they sign a confidentiality agreement first! What really gets my goat is that payments to members increase, they are the largest in the Black Country – when are members going to take a hit? Now, here’s a solution – reduce the number of members from 3 to 2 or even 1 per ward, that could save you from approx. £400k to £800k pa and at least show you are “leading” from the front, after all only about 6 of you ever make any of the big decisions. In addition stop members from joining the Local Govt Pension Scheme – that is a major perk which if removed would at least save the council contributions!

  • Darren Cooper January 22, 2015 at 5:13 pm

    Response from Councillor Eling:

    “I appreciate the concerns expressed by Mr Hill. His concerns are no more than mine. As I have stated, places like Sandwell have carried by far the largest burden of government cuts, and local government as a whole has been picked on compared to the government’s own departments.

    “Without the sort of actions we are taking, a number of our facilities would already have closed, as has been seen in other areas. The fact that many services are still running is because they have less staff, but that is better than no service at all.

    “Whilst I understand that there are ill founded rumours and scaremongering about staff facing risks around redundancy or pensions, this is simply not true. The issue raised about senior staff being treated differently and confidentiality agreements as also misinformed. The ending of any contracts of employment are dealt with in accordance with employment law and staff terms and conditions of employment.

    “I need to take exception to the insult to elected members. I find this incredible from a former long serving member of staff. He is completely wrong on every point that he makes about members. First that Sandwell members are the highest paid – wrong; and second about increases in payments to members, when in Sandwell members have declined to accept the increase at the same rate as staff in recent years, even thought the scheme for members payments provides for that.

    “Regarding the number of members, he should know that it is not the Council that sets how many members there are, it is Parliament. This is done on the basis of ratio of councillors to electors that in nearly all councils including Sandwell is about 1:3000. Is he saying that democracy in Sandwell is worth less than in the rest of the country?

    “The fact is that the cost of members has been reduced. The number of cabinet members and other posts within the council has been cut to save money along with cuts in other allowances. However, the thought that at least £800,000 could be saved clearly shows that he doesn’t know how much members actually cost.

    “Finally, the government have beat him to it on kicking councillors out of the pension scheme. At this point it’s worth remembering that the provision for councillors to be members of the local government pension schemes was to enable them to still make employment-type pension contributions, even though they were working less than full time hours with their employer to undertake council duties. So, what I would put to him is, why is it that he can benefit from being a member of the local government pension scheme, paying in his contributions and then receiving a pension, but deny that to working age councillors, to be able to be members of and pay in to the same pension scheme as him? Or perhaps his membership of the local government pension scheme, as he puts it, is also a perk!”

  • Lynda Cooper March 5, 2015 at 3:59 pm

    Well I would have thought the answer to the last part of response was obvious. Pension schemes are for employees. Councillors are not employees (or at least they are not supposed to be !!)

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