Published: Friday, 17th February 2017

Oldham Council is set to vote to finalise its 2017/18 budget which includes a rise in Council Tax.

Cabinet will consider the proposed budget on Monday 20 February knowing the council needs to save around £15m as a result of Government cuts – a figure that was recently adjusted due to changing financial circumstances including lower than expected levies and additional grants.

If approved, Full Council will then meet on March 1 for a final vote.

The proposed budget includes an overall increase of 3.99 per cent in Council Tax.

This is made up of a 1.99 per cent increase for Oldham Council services and an additional two per cent levy to help support under-funded adult social care services.

That equates to an increase of just below £5 per month for a Band D property.

The borough has been looking for ways to save money since the budget process began last autumn.

Many options were proposed such as reducing spending on maintaining street lighting and back offices services like finance and business support.

Council staff have been asked to play a role in helping to save money by continuing to take three days unpaid leave each year and accepting a number of other variations to contracts.

As well as back office savings, the public also played a role in the consultation leading to the withdrawal of a number of budget options such as the proposed closure of the Link Centre and the proposed implementation of charges for residents’ car parking permits.

Savings totalling £9.498m were found as part of the council’s budget process with the remaining £5.483m being met from reserves.

Cllr Abdul Jabbar, Deputy Leader of Oldham Council, explained: “Every year the budget process is very difficult.

“However, having been forced to make cuts totalling more than £207m over the last eight years, we’re now at the point where it is almost impossible to find savings options that won’t have a significant negative impact.

“This year we needed to save a total of £14.981m following budget adjustments but we have only found £9.498m worth of savings and are making up the shortfall from our reserves which is unsustainable in the medium term.

“It’s a huge problem because we must keep reserves strong in case of major civil emergencies.

“Local government is important to people. They want to see their communities looked after to a good standard from parks and open spaces to roads, public buildings and other amenities.

“People also recognise that, in spite of the funding crisis, we must continue to improve the town or risk it becoming stagnant.

“That’s what we’ve done by continuing to invest in regeneration projects like the fantastic Old Town Hall cinema and restaurant complex but it’s a very difficult balance to strike.

“Local government is being woefully underfunded and is now at crisis point.

“We’re particularly concerned about the impact of continuing cuts on adult social care services which are by far our largest cost and will undoubtedly suffer further if nothing is done.

“I call on the Government to urgently review the funding of local government, ensure adult social care and children’s social care are properly funded and stop passing on their ideologically driven cuts to the public by leaving us with no other choice but to increase Council Tax.”

In a poll of UK councils published last month by the Local Government Information Unit, eight in ten councils said they lacked confidence in the sustainability of local government finances.

Nine out of ten councils said Council Tax rises should not be used to address the social care funding gap.

The study confirmed that 94 per cent of councils would increase council tax and increase charges for services this year as a result of the budget challenges they face.

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