February has been an incredibly busy month with some exciting progress made across all areas of the council.
We have agreed a balanced budget with spending aligned with the 20-year Vision that so many people across the borough played a part in shaping. As a Council, setting a balanced budget is one of the most difficult but important responsibilities we have.
The Government Grant given to us to run vital services has reduced dramatically. Despite lobbying Government for a fair funding review, we have seen the money coming into South Tyneside more than half since 2010. As we work in an even tighter envelope it is even more important that we target spend on those areas that mean the most to our residents.
This year our budget has been prepared using evidence, insights, and feedback from thousands of people right across the borough. Its content aligns with our 20-year Vision and its five ambitions to make South Tyneside a place where people live happy, healthy, and fulfilled lives.
Despite the continued financial pressures, we have been under for the last decade we cannot stand still. It is important that we have the assets and facilities for people to enjoy in generations to come and that is why we continue to invest in the borough's capital programme including roads, footpaths, accessible playground equipment, housing stock, environmental and renewable energy schemes, adult and children's social care accommodation and the regeneration of all three towns
In South Shields work is underway to free up the final sites needed to facilitate South Tyneside College's proposed move from its current Westoe to the town centre. Without the council intervening to clear sites redevelopment would not be viable. By doing this and working with partner organisations such as the college we can bring about significant change. The College has already secured £20m in funding from Government's FE Capital Transformation Programme to support the move and expected to submit a planning application for its new campus in the Spring.
This project supports our ambition to connect people to jobs, skills, and training. Earlier this month I was delighted to meet with some of our apprentices as part of national apprenticeship week. As a council we are committed to supporting apprenticeships and ensuring that we drive skills development so that our future workforce can take advantage of opportunities such IAMP, Dogger Bank and our growing green economy, happening right on our doorstep.
Last year, 5,000 people in the Borough were doing an apprenticeship, and 460 of those who took up a new apprenticeship were over the age of 25, highlighting that apprenticeships aren't just for school leavers, but for anyone wishing to develop their skills.
Skills is an important strand of the region's 'minded to' devolution deal.
Following the announcement of a £4.2 billion devolution deal for the North East, South Tyneside was the first in the region to host a public consultation event on the proposed devolution deal from government. I was delighted to see so many people take part in what was a really interesting discussion. There is still time to take part in the online consultation so please visit www.southtyneside.gov.uk/devolution where you will find the survey and details of other events happening right across the region.
As we look towards election time, I just wanted to remind you about the new national introduction of a Voter ID system, please get prepared. We have been promoting awareness of the new requirements but potentially 3,200 polling station voters in the Borough could be at risk of losing their ability to vote, please make sure that you are not one of them. More details about the new rules are available at electoralcommission.org.uk/voterID. The new rules do not apply if you choose to vote by post. To apply for a postal vote visit www.southtyneside.gov.uk/elections.
Councillor Tracey Dixon
Leader of South Tyneside Council