South Tyneside Council has agreed its budget for 2019/20.
During a meeting of the Full Council last night (Thursday 28 February), members expressed their commitment to delivering for its residents despite continuing budget pressures and a severe reduction in Government support.
This year the authority is being forced to save another £12m with more to find in future years. This is on top of the £156m already saved and against a backdrop of significantly increased demand for council services in areas such as adult and children's social care. The vast majority, some 70%, of the Council's discretionary budget is spent on caring for vulnerable adults and children.
Savings are being implemented due to the continuation of Government grant cuts which have been in place since 2010.
Cllr Ed Malcolm, Lead Member for Resources and innovation at South Tyneside Council, said: "The shape and scope of the Council is constantly evolving. With less money we must be leaner and focused on spending our money where we can make the biggest impact for the people of South Tyneside. We still need to protect the most vulnerable in our communities and the cost pressures on these services increase every year.
"Since 2010 South Tyneside has had to save a total of £168m. We have already lost almost 40% of real spending power over the last nine years and are in the top three councils worst hit. Of course this means that we cannot simply maintain the status quo.
"What we are trying to do with this budget, and ones that have gone before it, is to mitigate the long term impact for our residents. We have tried to protect vital services, reshape others to meet customer need and increase overall efficiency."
This year's budget proposals include increased income generation through new and existing services, delivering greater value for money on external contracts and infrastructure, reducing services that are no longer sustainable and continuing to work in partnership with the community and the voluntary sector to deliver services.
Like many other Councils across the country, South Tyneside Council is asking residents to pay a little more in their council tax in 2019/20 to help protect services. The increase is 3.95%, which is made up of a 2.95% council tax increase and a 1% adult social care levy - this equates to around 76p per week for Band A households, into which the majority of households fall.
The bill issued by the Council includes separate amounts levied by other statutory bodies such as police and fire.
Councillor Malcolm continued: "The national crisis in adult social care funding continues as does the need for fairer funding across local government. We are still waiting to hear what the Government plans to do to address these two issues.
"In the absence of a fair funding solution we are in the unfortunate position of having to raise council tax further to help plug the gap. In areas such as South Tyneside where tax bands tend to be lower than average, this effectively means we are asking more from already economically disadvantaged people to help poorer people."
Despite increasing financial pressures the Council continues to deliver positive outcomes for residents and businesses.
Since 2010, the Council has invested in regeneration schemes, the employment rate has increased by 7.8% putting around 5,600 people back into work. There has been a steady increase in the number of new businesses and visitor figures hit 6.34million last year - bringing in a £305m economic boost to the local economy.
Health improvements are also being delivered across the Borough with a reduction in the number of people smoking and associated mortality rates. Leisure memberships have increased by 1422% since 2013 - coinciding with investment in leisure facilities including Haven Point, Hebburn Central and the newly opened Jarrow Focus.
More people are being supported to live independently for longer, there has been a reduction in the number of children in need across the Borough and children are performing better at school.
450 new homes were built in South Tyneside in 2018. Phase 2 of the South Shields 365 masterplan is underway, with construction of the £21m South Shields Transport Interchange continuing at pace and expected to be completed this summer. IAMP is expected to support 7000 new jobs and attract approximately £400m private investment over the next 10-15 years.
Investment in infrastructure has facilitated economic growth and improving the area. At the Arches, significant work is underway to increase safety and traffic flow, following on from last year's Lindisfarne improvement scheme which has already resulted in a 36% reduction on road traffic casualties.
The Council has also worked hard to attract funding and investment from other sources to help finance major infrastructure projects.
Councillor Malcolm added: "We can't stand still and we certainly can't fall back regardless of the crippling financial position the Government has placed us in. If we are going to generate more jobs and boost our economy then we must also make some capital investments to drive our towns and villages forward. These investments are targeted to make every pound count."