South Tyneside Council has issued a Consultation Paper outlining an ambitious package of budget options to be considered for its next financial year (2003/2004), together with indicative proposals for the following two years.
Leader of the Council, Paul Waggott, stressed that no decisions have been made yet, as councillors genuinely want to hear the views of all interested parties.
The budget options include an exciting range of priority-led initiatives, described in the Consultation Paper, aimed at progressing the transformation of the Borough and improving frontline services such as cleansing, back lane adoptions and street lighting.
Communities are being asked to give their support to a radical re-focussing of the Council's activities to ensure that the Council puts its financial resources into the areas which are most important to them. The Council's eight priorities, together with some of its proposed initiatives, are as follows:
Education - Invest an additional £250,000 in ICT in schools.
Health & Social Care - Better assessment, intermediate care and support to carers, a package of measures costing around £3million to help older people to maintain their independence.
Employment and Enterprise - Invest £750,000 in Riverside development and intervention so that we can 'repossess' the riverside and put forward a confident vision and clear strategy for the future. Community Safety - Improve street lighting throughout the Borough.
Inclusion - £250,000 Council contribution to a major Youth Intervention Programme to give our young people more job opportunities.
Modernisation - Changing the culture and systems of the Council to provide a more customer focussed approach.
Environment - A programme of adopting the Borough's back lanes and investing in their improvement. - Launching a 'Blitz It' local clean up service which will provide improvements to street cleansing.
Transformation - Investing seed capital into the redevelopment of the foreshore and the town centres at Jarrow, Hebburn and South Shields.
Chief Executive, Irene Lucas, referred to the findings of a recent MORI survey commissioned by the Council.
She said: "Across all areas of the Borough, residents set out their top priorities for improvement as safety, a clean environment, opportunities for young people and employment. The Council has listened to this feedback and action on all of these issues is included in our proposed budget."
While the Council is consulting on a Council Tax increase of 7.5% for 2003/04, it is being stressed that this level of increase is necessary mainly because the Government, in its recent shake up of local Government financing, has not provided South Tyneside with enough funding to reflect the high levels of unemployment and deprivation in the Borough. The Council is particularly disappointed about the level of funding it is to receive from the Government for Education.
In looking back at some of the successes of the last year, and the recent Comprehensive Performance Assessment which rated the Council as "Fair", Councillor Waggott is urging residents and other stakeholders to support the Council in its ambitions to regenerate the Borough.
"We must ensure that we keep up the momentum that has built up since last year's launch of the Transformation Plan for the Borough. Our budget options therefore include the resources necessary to enable the Council to play its part", said Councillor Waggott.
He echoed the words of the Transformational Plan consultants Comedia in saying, "for South Tyneside the time is now".