Growth Fund to Boost Priority Areas
Detailed proposals have been released which highlight how a new “pump priming” fund for Newcastle-under-Lyme will be used to boost council services and drive the borough forward.
Plans for the £304,000 “Borough Growth Fund” will be discussed by Cabinet on 6 February together with revenue and capital budgets for the year ahead.
Key elements of the financial packages include:-
• Savings and efficiencies from the revenue budget totalling £2,468,000 have been drawn up.
• Just under £19 million has been earmarked for capital projects linked directly to corporate priorities such as housing improvements, vehicle replacement, enhancements to council buildings and properties such as the museum and Jubilee2.
• A 2.99 per cent proposed rise in the Borough Council’s share of Council Tax bills. More than 70 per cent of all homes in Newcastle-under-Lyme are in Council Tax Bands A, B and C and for these households the increase amounts to seven pence, nine pence and 10 pence a week respectively. This will bring in £211,000 a year.
• £200,000 from successfully applying to be part of a Government business rates retention pilot scheme will be ring-fenced to accelerate changes to recycling and waste services.
Council Leader Simon Tagg said “Our new Council Plan agrees a vision for Newcastle-under-Lyme of a growing borough that is an attractive and welcoming place for all. The new Borough Growth Fund gives us an opportunity to invest in priority areas which are part of that plan. This is an innovative and ambitious proposal and we think the £304,000 can have a significant impact to benefit our communities and our businesses.”
A town centre for all (£104,000)
- Developing and implementing a 10-year Parking Strategy aimed at supporting the local economy.
- Revitalising Newcastle market which includes developing a clear programme for improvement with traders. A consultation programme on this issue is already going on.
- Facilitating bids for grants, including the “Future High Streets Fund” which is a Government initiative announced in the 2018 Budget to help local areas regenerate high streets and town centres. Bids will be considered for both Kidsgrove and Newcastle town centres.
Council transformation (£100,000)
- Digital Delivery Programme - the Council is committed to introducing more streamlined and speedy processes to improve service delivery to residents, particularly in recycling and waste, environmental services and planning. Residents will be able to customise, via a “My Account”, how they get up to date information on particular council services.
- Establishing capacity to develop commercial working practices to reduce costs and generate improved revenue streams. This includes creating a work force fit for the future by developing the skills of our staff and also investing in apprenticeship opportunities.
Building for the future (£100,000)
- Enabling residential and commercial development to generate improved revenue streams. We will use innovative models to ensure that when development opportunities arise the Council retains an income stream or reinvests the income into further opportunities.
A report to the Cabinet meeting on 6 February says that a “budget gap” of £2,200,000 faced the Council in the next 12 months due to a variety of factors including a reduction in direct Government funding (£526k); a revised New Homes Bonus Scheme (£519k); staff-related costs such as superannuation increases (£335k) as well as pay awards and NI contributions (£326k). In addition it is facing a reduction in waste income and recycling credits and a reduction in Council Tax and Housing Benefit administration grants.
Savings and efficiencies totalling £2,468,000 are being put forward by Cabinet including £500,000 in additional sources of income generation and an increased demand for services that the Council charges for; £442,000 from good house-keeping efficiencies; £410,000 from staff-related efficiencies and £1,116,000 from New Homes Bonus funding, savings from negotiated contribution rates and advanced payments of staff-related costs such as superannuation contributions etc.
The Council has been told that it will receive £56,000 additional funding from the distribution of the surplus on the national Business Rates Retention levy account. This will be added to the £248,000 in additional savings and efficiencies to make up the Borough Growth Fund.
Cllr. Stephen Sweeney, Deputy Leader of the Council and the Cabinet member responsible for finance and resources, said: “We have carried out two consultations with the public in recent months to get a clearer understanding of what is important to them with our budgets.”
He added: “We are working hard to be efficient and effective but despite this the Borough Council still needs a little bit extra from residents in the year ahead. We are also trying to be as innovative as possible and this was highlighted by our recent success in becoming a pilot area for the retention of business rates.”
In July 2018, the Government invited councils to bid for the opportunity to be involved in a pilot project for 75 per cent Business Rates Retention during 2019/20 only.
An application was successful and as part of the Staffordshire and Stoke-on-Trent Business Rates pool, the Borough Council will receive an estimated £200,000 of additional resources in the year ahead.
Cllr. Tagg said: “We are proposing that all of this extra funding which has been secured will be used to accelerate changes to the recycling and waste services. The Council carried out one of its biggest ever consultation exercises recently on the service and there was an overwhelming demand from the public for changes to be made. We are proposing ring-fencing this money so we can get on with what the public have demanded of us.”
During the last decade the Borough Council has bridged budget “gaps” of £22, 456,000 via a combination of savings, efficiencies and additional income. Its Medium Term Financial Strategy suggests that over the coming four years a further £2,980,000 will have to be found.
In addition to revenue proposals, Cabinet members will also consider capital requirements for the next three financial years.
Just under £19 million will be spent on capital projects linked directly to corporate priorities such as housing improvements, vehicle replacement, enhancements to council buildings and properties such as the museum and Jubilee2 and also “modernisation of the Council.”
After Cabinet has considered the revenue and capital budget proposals next week, they will go to Full Council on 20 February for a final decision.
Last updated 29 January 2019