We’re setting our budget for the coming financial year – and we have a huge budget gap to fill, while focusing on building a better borough and protecting the vital local services residents rely on.
More than a decade of brutal cuts in Government funding – more than £200m in the last decade - have taken their toll. At the same time demand for the council's services has risen sharply; mainly in adults and children’s social care, partly due to the legacy of Covid and also due to the rising cost of living.
Setting a budget is never easy and this year we have faced even more pressures. Rising fuel and energy costs, greater demand for services following Covid and now the Cost of Living crisis, have all had a significant impact on our budget planning.
This means we are again having to make cuts to balance our books, this year totalling £29.3m, with a further £13.5m to follow in 2024/25.
These figures are lower than we originally estimated; partly due to the council receiving around £7m more in Government funding than last year – around a 3 per cent rise.
However, that 3 per cent is far below inflation, and comes after years of austerity, which has seen the council’s budget slashed by £204m - a huge amount of money, resulting in several services being cut back or lost.
Despite years of sound financial management tough decisions will have to be made to bridge the funding gap we face.
That’s why we are proposing a Council Tax increase of 3.99 per cent - which is less than the 5% the Government expect us to raise it by. This means the average Oldham household will pay around 92p extra a week to safeguard essential services we all rely on, such as collecting bins, caring for our most vulnerable people, and keeping the streets clean.
Councillor Amanda Chadderton, Leader of Oldham Council, said: “The Cost of Living crisis is affecting many Oldhamers so raising Council Tax is not a decision we took lightly. Unfortunately, this rise is essential to bridge the budget gap.
“Councils across the country are all in the same boat, with many putting up their Council Tax bills by the full amount expected by Government. This will come as little comfort but we didn’t want to do that because we know many of you are struggling.
“The extra money raised will be used to support those who are struggling and to boost social care. Increased support for social care will also help relieve pressure on the NHS.
“Despite all these cuts and lack of funding we still need to protect and carry on delivering vital services we know you all rely on. And at the same time I’m absolutely committed to investing in the things that are the most important to us all, to build a better Oldham.
“This means putting a huge £15m into improving children’s social care; tackling the Cost of Living crisis head-on with one of the country’s biggest support packages for those who need our help; and delivering developments that will boost the local economy, create jobs and support businesses.”
This year’s budget will be good news for the lowest-paid in Oldham, with a rise in the Real Living Wage from £9.90 to £10.90. This pay increase will mean more money in the pockets of people such as carers, who work hard looking after the most vulnerable people in our communities.
Councillors will also be considering proposals such as ceasing charges for pest control services, meaning people no longer have to pay; making changes in back-office functions to make services more efficient; and stopping events such as the annual dinner for the new Mayor.
The full proposals are still being worked through and will be considered by Cabinet in February and then Full Council in March.
In the meantime, while proposals are being worked up, we want to hear from you, our residents. Tell us where you think we can save money, and where you think we should be focusing our spending.
Councillor Abdul Jabbar, Deputy Leader and Cabinet Member for Finance and Low Carbon, said: “We are facing very difficult choices, and want members of the public to tell us where they think we should be spending money, and where they think we should be making savings.
“Government provided us with a financial settlement which was far below inflation, and did not take into account the significantly increased pressures we face.
“The settlement is also only for one year and there is a great deal of uncertainty after that – more public sector cuts are expected from 2025 onwards.
“Doing nothing is not an option due to the financial challenge we face.”
The 3.99 per cent proposed Council Tax rise does not include the council tax precepts set by Greater Manchester Mayor Andy Burnham, which have not yet been decided.
Take part in the consultation by visiting https://www.oldham.gov.uk/budget23-25 The consultation will run until Friday 10 February 2023.
Councillors will then make a final decision on next year's budget proposals at Budget Council on March 1.