Sheffield’s budget will focus on ‘investing in social care, housing, youth services and Heart of the City II’
Sheffield Council has settled on a budget for the coming financial year with a focus on investing in social care, housing, youth services and Heart of the City II.
Balancing the budget is challenging for councils in the best of times but as with many things, a decade of austerity and Covid-19 has made it significantly harder.
The budget gap this year was more than £60 million.
Dozens of councillors tuned in to the virtual four-hour full council meeting from their homes across the city this week to share ideas of how the budget should be balanced and formally approve the final plan that will guide finances from April.
Councillor Terry Fox, cabinet member for finance, said: “This is a budget for investing in our city and our communities and is shaped by our residents.
“This has been done due to the prudent way and the real life decisions taken over the years by this Labour administration.
“The last 12 months have been some of the most challenging in Britain’s recent peacetime history.
“The Covid pandemic has dominated every aspect of people’s day to day life, caused huge disruption, economic turmoil and very sadly, many deaths and serious illnesses.
“Against this backdrop the council has had to maintain its critical services for the citizens of Sheffield.”
Coun Bob Johnson leader of the council, added: “At the start of this pandemic government told us it would fund whatever it takes, they have clearly not done this and we have gone through a really difficult process trying to meet significant budget gaps which at the same time as dealing with the pandemic has been immensely challenging.”
Before full council, the budget was discussed in public meetings of the overview scrutiny committee and cabinet.
In both, councillors and officers criticised the government for a lack of long-term funding which affected planning and made the future beyond 2022 uncertain.
At the scrutiny committee Eugene Walker, director of resources, said: “It’s disappointing that we have another year where we don’t have an answer for what the future funding of adult social care is.
“For several years now each budget we have had an injection of one-off funding from government that has assisted but hasn’t really given any certainty and we still don’t have certainty about the long-term.”
Coun Fox said as a result it meant the cost fell on communities.
“This government is loading the burden on the back of hard-working families in our city and that is the issue with this,” he said. “Local taxation puts the burden away from them and onto organisations and councils like ourselves and then we are having to make those cuts.”
The council said it was with regret that it was increasing council tax by 1.99 percent with an additional three percent adult social care precept but said it was left with no choice.
Coun Cate McDonald said: “Although we were reluctant to recommend the additional three percent social care precept, the government yet again left us no option but to find a way of supporting our people through doing that.”
For those living in Band A properties, this will mean paying just over £1 extra per week.
Those on the lowest incomes however will not have to pay the 4.99 percent increase.
Council tenants will be faced with paying an increase of 1.5 percent in their home and garage rents and 60p more per week in community heating standing charge.
In terms of services, an additional investment of £4.2 million is being put into the care sector with the aim of improving staff pay.
There is also an extra £2 million going towards supporting youth services and an additional £1 million to improve community safety.
Capital projects get a total of £191.7 million. The biggest proportion of this will go on Heart of the City II (£62.9 million), followed by new homes (£50.3 million) and housing investment (£42.2 million).
Some of the savings being made will come from 300 redundancies across council departments.
This equates to around 240 full-time equivalent jobs. Around 100 of these are to be replaced by apprenticeship roles.
Officers said besides savings, the aim was to reduce the age profile of the workforce.
Opposition parties had some different ideas for what money should be spent on.
The Liberal Democrats said more should be given to support businesses on the path to recovery from Covid-19 and there should be more money given to communities to spend.
Coun Shaffaq Mohammed, leader of the party, said: “[We] have found money in the budget to support much needed projects to boost Covid recovery, care for people and protect the environment.”
The Green Party said more should be spent on tackling the climate crisis and inequality.
Coun Douglas Johnson, leader, said: “Sheffield Greens are serious about doing what we can to address the climate emergency and to protect the poorest in society.
“The climate crisis needs government spending on the scale of what was available for the Covid pandemic. At a local level, our budget proposals focus on what is achievable here and now.”
In full council, he added: “Between the parties, the amendments seem to be moving slightly closer over the years. If we were collaborative, we could do a lot.”