First council tax rise in five years is in pipeline for Sheffield residents

View over Sheffield City from Castle Market Roof
View over Sheffield City from Castle Market Roof
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Mixed views on authority’s decision to increase levy

“I feel sorry for young people working to pay mortgages in Sheffield – it is more money they have got to find.”

So said one Sheffield pensioner, just minutes after the city’s council tax rise was agreed.

She was speaking after Sheffield Council cabinet members backed their 2015-16 budget – including cuts to theatre subisides and a rise in council tax.

Outside Sheffield Town Hall, many residents had strong views on the city’s funding – and how the cuts were being dealt with, including the first increase in council tax for five years.

Some said it was ‘another blow’, while others were happy to pay if it meant less job losses.

A council scrutiny committee has ordered a new report to be drawn up to look at how the council’s Government settlements compares to other authorities, with the intention city MPs will then take it up and ‘lobby’ Parliament.

Reg Chambers, of Crookes, said: “The Government is cutting local council funds right left and centre, so they have to find cash somehow, or make more cuts and lay people off.

“We go to Brighton and that’s thriving – I do think we are missing out.”

Iris Bradshaw, aged 81, of Greenhill, said: “Council tax has been frozen for two or three years and it is going up by 1.9 per cent, I don’t think that’s too bad if it saves jobs.”

The budget passed cabinet with just one public question yesterday , although more debate is likely on Friday, March 6, when it goes before all councillors for formal approval.

Opposition members are expected to call on the authority to use a Government grant to freeze council tax.

Coun Ben Curran, cabinet member for finance, said: “Council tax is 38p a week extra, and we have increased our hardship fund to help offset the impact for the most vulnerable. We felt it was at the point where services would go into the red or we asked for extra support.”

Council tax rise

Almost every household in Sheffield will be affected as council tax goes up for the first time in five years.

Residents are to pay a rise of 1.99 per cent, just below the referendum level of two per cent and equivalent to around £29 a year on a band D property.

Cabinet reports say the rise, and an increase in the number of B and D properties, will create an extra £6m of income.

In the weeks since the rise was announced, politicians have been embroiled in a row over the decision as council tax has been frozen for four years previously using a Government grant

Deputy Prime Minister and Sheffield Hallam MP Nick Clegg said statistics show the council would have received £1.97m – as a top-up to its block grant from central Government – if it had frozen tax.

He said Labour were ‘turning down’ the money and taking it from people who could ‘least afford it’.

The council says it has lost 50 per cent of its grant and can no longer afford to continue freezing council tax.

Coun Ben Curran said the Government money was only equal to a one per cent rise in council tax and the increase raised extra money for services.

Cabinet reports also say accepting the grant can ‘no longer be viewed as a sustainable financial strategy’ as it is no longer a specific grant.

The total amount to be raised from council tax is £170.3m.

Residents are to pay a rise of 1.99 per cent and equivalent to about £29 a year on a band D property

Jobs

Up to 200 job posts were potentially set to be axed as part of the budget cuts.

But cabinet reports say several of the jobs are already assumed to be vacant and the ‘net reduction’ in posts totals 98.

It has not been made fully clear where the losses will come from, although reports say customer service teams will be reduced or restructured as residents are encouraged to use online channels.

There will also be staff reductions in business support or business strategy.

The report said next year’s net reduction was a ‘79 per cent decrease compared to the figure of 475 for 2014/15’.

Redundancy costs have been reduced by £3m to £8.2m.

Contract reviews

Contracts with firms who provide waste, highways and payroll services to the council will be looked at as part of the budget.

Negotiations with Capita have resulted in savings of £1.8m next year, the council says.

The authority has also been reviewing a number of options for refinancing large payments using low interest rates, such as its £20m annual payment to South Yorkshire Pensions Authority. That alone will generate £500,000, reports say.

The council says it will look to save £1m from its waste management contract with Veolia but ‘we will make sure that this has no impact on the frequency of bin collections as part of these proposals’.

Bosses also want to reduce the cost of delivering the Streets Ahead programme to renew roads, lights and pavements among other partnerships.

Negotiations with Capita have resulted in savings of £1.8m next year

Savings

Savings from services will total £37.5m next year – and very few areas can be protected wholly from the axe.

Adult social care alone is facing £9.2m of cuts next year, which means ‘significant reductions in spending over a short period of time’.

In children and young people, providing more ‘local’ and better fostering places will save £400,000. Respite and short breaks for needy families will be reviewed and some services like adoption are to become Yorkshire-wide to save £350,000.

Youth services will be cut by £840,000 by reducing support to those only deemed ‘most in need’.

Subsidies for Sheffield Theatres, Sheffield Museums and SIV will be sliced by £500,000.

The way events are funded will also change – and the council wants others to help promote Sheffield, such as businesses.

Management of parks and green spaces will be switched to a ‘more natural and lower cost land management’ to save £100,000 a year.

In public health, sexual health and young people’s substance misuse services will have a reduction in cash.

Charges for pest control, allotments and bereavement services will go up – although there will be no increase in parking.

More school crossing patrols will be funded by schools instead of the council.

Community well-being and community health champions programmes will be reduced.

One of last year’s changes, relinquishing control of 15 libraries, will also save £800,000 next year.

Adult social care alone is facing £9.2m of cuts next year

Suggestions on how to generate income and make savings were made by members of the public during consultation.

They included:

* More pro-active collection of money owed to the council – such as council tax

* Introducing a local lottery to raise funds for the voluntary and community sector

* Boosting advertising and sponsorship of council assets

* Increasing council tax

* Growing the tourist economy

* Raising transport charges and fines for littering

* Being more business friendly

* Getting better value from contractors and reducing outsourcing

The council says further consultation will take place.