Sunderland City Council votes to agree next year's budget

Sunderland Civic Centre.
Sunderland Civic Centre.
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Sunderland City Council has voted to reduce its spending by £45million and increase council tax by 5%.

At a meeting of the full council today, 48 members voted to agree the budget for 2017/2018, while just seven voted against

The council agreed to reduce its spending by £45m and to raise the city's Council Tax by five per cent (4.99 per cent).

This Council Tax rise - the second since 2010 - includes the three per cent adult social care precept that has been suggested by the Government.

The increase represents a 79p a week for a Band A property in Sunderland - the majority of households in Sunderland are in bands A and B.

However, the tax raises only 14 per cent or £90m of the council's planned budget of £633m. The vast majority of council spending comes from Central Government grants and the austerity programme of the last seven years has required savings of more than £250m from Sunderland's budget.

Speaking at the meeting, City Council Leader Councillor Paul Watson had 'mixed feelings' as despite positive investment in the city there were still very difficult decisions in delivering a balanced budget.

He said: "We are now in the seventh year of the severe austerity measures imposed by this and the previous Government.

"Seven years of huge cuts to our funding which increasingly, have had an impact on our much needed local services.

"Sadly, despite indications to the contrary, it is now clear that this Government has no real plans to change its austerity course, no matter how damaging it is for people and communities.

"The fact is that the Social Care precept introduced by the Government last year, shifts the burden away from Central Government to the council tax payer. It also disadvantages councils such as ours, with a low council tax base. We cannot raise as much through council tax as those in other, more affluent areas in order to compensate for the sustained cuts in Government funding.

"The widespread calls for fairer, common-sense funding have simply not been heard by the Government and so I have stood in the chamber, each year since 2010, and set out the significant and disproportionate cuts that we have been repeatedly faced with.

"As a result of these sustained cuts and pressures, our ability to deliver even statutory functions is being severely challenged and we are once again faced with having to make very difficult decisions.

"We have demonstrated great innovation and resilience, and despite the considerable pressures, we will continue to be innovative and outward-looking in our approaches to improving outcomes for residents.

"This includes implementing, where appropriate, alternative service delivery models, as we have done with adult social care and leisure provision, and we are doing more with our Children's Services through the development of the Together for Children company.

"The Government's move to self-sustaining local government means we need to focus on more than re-modelling services and cutting costs. We also need to focus on continued investment in Sunderland's infrastructure to deliver more and better jobs, and make the city more attractive to investors, businesses and visitors, and a great place to live for our residents.

"Since 2010, despite the devastating cuts, this council has invested more than £500m in infrastructure to support these priorities. This has included significant investment in the city centre, seafront and infrastructure across the city.

"I am pleased to say that we are continuing this approach and that we are proposing a capital programme of more than £156m for the next year - with a further £163m of planned investment in the following three years.

"With our investment in roads and transport and improvements to the public realm we can generate more wealth, attract more jobs and become self-sustainable."

Things we learned about the 2017/18 budget:

* Council tax will increase by 4.99% – a figure just short of the 5% limit which would force a local referendum to take place – the figure has been widely adopted elsewhere as a result.

This will mean an extra 79p per week for the majority of Sunderland households, who live in Band A propertie
* Services will be hit by £45million worth of cuts in the next year – part of the £74million the council has to save by 2020.
* Bin collections will move from weekly to an alternate weekly service – this means that green bins will be collected one week and recycling bins the next.
* Services for the most vulnerable will be recommissioned using new providers. This means an end in council funding for organisations like Centrepoint and Wearside Women in Need.
* The cost of burials and cremations for under-16s will be scrapped saving already-grieving families who have lost children from financial hardship, which can run into thousands of pounds.