A financial strategy which responds to the continuing challenges
Next week’s meeting of Shropshire Council’s Cabinet (Monday 8 February 2021) will discuss the council’s financial plans for 2021/22 through to 2025/26, with a particular focus on setting the budget for 2021/22.
The Medium Term Financial Strategy 2021/22 – 2025/26 outlines the changes the council needs to make in the short term to respond to the continuing challenges in local government finance. These include the increasing cost of providing services such as adult social care and children’s social care.
Next financial year the council expects to spend £556 million on delivering essential services to local communities – most of which is spent on protecting the county’s most vulnerable residents.
There is a legal requirement for the council to deliver a balanced budget every year and, to enable this to happen, it is planning to deliver savings of £9.9 million in 2021/22.
To do this, the council is planning to continue to innovate and change how it delivers some of its 150 services, review contracts and increase income to provide investment in key local services, rather than cut them.
For the first time the council is anticipating a significant shortfall in its Collection Fund. This is the money that is collected in the form of business rates and council tax every year. As a result of the coronavirus pandemic, a shortfall in business rates collection in the region of £20 million is expected to impact the council in 2021/22.
The Government will compensate councils for such shortfalls by allowing these to be spread across three years and by providing grant funding. Grant funding for this is expected to be received in 2020/21 and carried forward in a reserve to be used in 2021/22 when the shortfall will impact the finances. Because of this, it may appear that the council is in a better position financially as it will have more money in its reserves, but this money will be needed to be used to keep essential services going.
In terms of funding, the main area that the council has control over is setting the council tax level for the next year. For 2021/22, the council is proposing a 4.99% increase to council tax, which includes a 1.99% general increase and a 3% ‘social care precept’ increase that is used specifically to fund the growing costs in social care. This is the maximum that the council can raise council tax in this year and, if approved, it will bring in £8.2 million more to help the council to deliver important services that the council is required to provide.
Peter Nutting, Shropshire Council’s Leader, said:
“The 2021/22 budget will be a challenge, made even more so by the ongoing pandemic, increasing costs of social care in particular, and the uncertainty about future Government funding.
“Despite this, we’re continuing to work hard to keep our finances on track to deliver a balanced budget that invests in local services for our residents, whilst prioritising those who are most vulnerable.
“But we need to do more. It because of this that we are proposing to increase the amount that people pay for the services they receive. We know that things are difficult for everyone, so we need to make sure that any increase is kept to an absolute minimum. It’s not an easy proposal to make, but it will make a significant difference to the services we deliver in the future.”