Sunderland residents will see their council tax rise from April.
A meeting of the full city council yesterday approved a budget plan which will see spending cut by £46million for 2016/2017 but council tax rise by 3.99% – the maximum allowed before the council has to hold a referendum on its plans.
The rise is the first increase since 2010 and includes the two per cent Adult Social Care levy that was introduced by the Government last year.
Proposing the cabinet report which contained the detailed budget plans, City Council leader Coun Paul Watson said he had ‘mixed emotions’, adding: “While there is some very positive news in respect of investment in the future of our city, there are also some very difficult decisions needing to be made in order to deliver a balanced budget.
“We are now in the sixth year of what is proving to be the most challenging of periods ever faced by local government. With each year comes ever deeper cuts in funding and sadly there is no sign of this abating, with ever more pressure to be placed on local government.
“There are further reductions in public sector funding forecast through to 2020, as well as plans for further upheaval in the way local government is funded which brings with it yet more uncertainty.”
“We have worked hard to protect residents and communities from the impact of the cuts over the last few years with £207million already saved since 2010.
“But we now need to find a further £46million of reductions next year with potentially £115million needing to be saved by 2020.
“As a result of these sustained cuts and pressures, our ability to deliver even statutory functions is going to be severely tested and we are now faced with having to make very difficult decisions.”
The council’s five Conservative members voted against the budget plan.
Tory group leader Coun Peter Wood said his members supported the two per cent rise for Adult Social Care but not the rest of the increase.
“It is not easy to put together a council budget, all the more so during a period of austerity, when local government is bearing the brunt of central government efforts to balance the books,” said Coun Wood.
But the council was still spending on capital projects such as the new Wear crossing and development of the Vaux site: “The council is willing to spend the money and the Government is very much helping to do so through its Northern Powerhouse initiative,” said Coun Wood.
“I am sure all members welcome the building going on.”
The group had identified a number of areas where savings could still be made, he said, including cutting back on councillor’s allowances and the use of consultants, maximising council tax and business rates and working with other councils to identify areas where costs could be shared.
The budget vote was 53 in favour and five against. There were no abstentions.
A senior councillor accused political opponents of ‘scaremongering’ over claims of threats to Sunderland’s school crossing patrols.
Lib Dem campaigner for Millfield and Thornholme Niall Hodson claimed earlier this month that the council’s budget report included ‘plans to axe all of the funding for lollipop men and women across the city.’
“This appalling move is completely unacceptable and poses serious risks to the safety of young people walking to and from school every day,” he said.
The news sparked an online campaign which attracted more than 800 signatures.
But Portfolio Holder for City Services, Coun Michael Mordey, told the budget meeting claims the crossing patrol service was facing the axe was untrue.
The council was to carry out a review of services across the city, but no decision had been made, he said.
He told the meeting: “Let me be absolutely clear to the council and the public – there are no proposals within this budget today to reduce the number of schools crossing patrols.
“Anyone who has suggested otherwise should apologise to parents and children across Sunder; and for political scaremongering at its worst.”