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BUDGET TARGETS GROWTH AND RESIDENTS’ PRIORITIES

Written by on 31 January 2021

A quarter of a million pounds is set to be invested in key priorities to boost sustainable growth and the local environment as part of Newcastle-under-Lyme Borough Council’s budget proposals for 2021/22, set to be discussed by Cabinet on 3 February.

The Borough Growth Fund, originally set-up in 2018, will receive a £250,000 boost to create a pot of £320,000 that will be invested in the priorities local people have said are important

to them – and also to boost growth in the Borough post Covid-19 over the next year.

The council’s priority projects that will be funded using the Borough Growth Fund include:

  • £100k to support the new Environmental Sustainability Strategy

This is to ensure that the Council plays its part in improving air quality, reducing carbon emissions and delivering its services in an environmental sustainable way.

  • £50k to address community concerns about unpleasant odour widely experienced by communities across the Borough and raised by residents in the recent budget consultation process

This will enable the Council to increase its support to residents following a huge rise in the number of complaints to the Council about foul odours people believe are coming from the local landfill site, and associated reports of a negative impact on residents’ quality of life.

From next week the Council will be extending the hours of operation of its environmental enforcement team to include an on-call and out-of-hours response service in order to assist the investigation of odour complaints. It is hoped that the service will operate 24 hours a day, seven days a week, until further notice.

  • £100k for the “One Council” programme

The Borough Growth Fund will support a new Council initiative called the ‘One Council’ programme. This will start this year and run until the end of the 2022/23 financial year and will involve extensive redesign of the Council’s structure, processes and technology to transform the way services are delivered to the public and make sustainable saving that can be reinvested into frontline services.

  • £70k Town Centre Recovery

This is to provide ongoing support to local businesses and town centres to get back on track following the Coronavirus pandemic.

Council Taxpayers will see a rise in their bills for the 2021/2022 financial year of just £5 per year or less. The majority of Council Taxpayers in the borough will pay less than nine pence more per week – less than the cost of a take-away coffee spread over 12 months.

The Council’s share of the annual Council Tax bill equates to six, seven or nine pence a week for 69 per cent of residents who live in Band A, B and C properties respectively – and 10 pence for those in Band D, which is 12 per cent of all residents.

The increase will raise £187,000 and is part of a raft of measures identified to meet a £1.275m shortfall in 2021/2022, caused primarily by lost income and additional spending as a result of the ongoing Coronavirus pandemic. The Council also intends to raise income and reduce expenditure and anticipates ongoing savings from digital delivery, staffing-related savings and good housekeeping.

Council Leader, Simon Tagg, said: “In exceptional circumstances, my administration has been able agree a comprehensive budget for 2021/22 which incorporates achievable savings alongside aspirational planning for the borough’s future.

“This year we have faced immense challenges and, as a direct result of the coronavirus pandemic, have lost income across a wide range of services, estimated at more than two and half million pounds. We have also faced costs of around £1.83m in helping rough sleepers and supporting local businesses with business grants.

“We understand that these are very difficult times for our residents. That is why we have taken such care to set a budget that can tackle our financial losses now and rebuild our reserves in the coming years to support the Borough Growth Fund into the future without asking our residents to shoulder the burden.”

“We are able to prioritise key areas, such as the odour problems that many residents experience in the town, and also put plans into place that ensure sustainable growth as we emerge from lockdowns and get back to a sense of normality.”

In addition to the Borough Growth Fund, the Council’s Capital Strategy sets out how the Council will use its capital resources to achieve its objectives.

In 2021/22 it will provide £4.6m to support the refurbishment and reopening of Kidsgrove Sports Centre. The Council has been working closely with the community group for the past two years with the aim of finding a sustainable way to reopen the swimming pool and sports hall in addition to providing a new gym. More than £1m has already been spent on this project during 2020/2021, bringing the total £5.6m.

To secure the long-term financial resilience of the Council throughout the life of the Medium Term Financial Strategy (MTFS) and taking into account the increased financial risks that the pandemic has brought, unallocated reserves and contingencies of £3m will be held in 2021/22. This is an increase on the previous level of £1.548m.

Cllr. Tagg added: “We must continue to ensure that the council operates on a sound financial footing. That is why we are boosting the council’s reserves so that we can plan for the uncertain times we are in – and continue to provide the important frontline services that residents deserve, while keeping Council Tax rises low.”

This year, the Council has also secured £1.75m of advanced Town Deal funding to deliver a range of projects in both Newcastle and Kidsgrove by the end of March and also received more than £11m from the Future High Streets Fund to support its plans for the major redevelopment of the Ryecroft area in Newcastle.

Newcastle’s Full Council will be asked to approve the administration’s budget at their meeting in February.