Wednesday, June 27, 2018

News: More budget challenges for Rotherham Council

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Bosses at Rotherham Council are looking at ways to cut a further £30m from its budget over the next two years as government austerity and overspending in children's services and adult's social care continue.

The authority has already made savings of £162m between 2011/12 to 2017/18 in response to the Government's austerity measures which has seen substantial cuts to local authority funding.

For 2018/19, the Council has a budget of over £200m and was required to find savings of £15.2m, with further savings of £30m required over the period 2019/20 and 2020/21.

The focus has been on identifying "efficiency savings" and also on maximising income generation opportunities in order to minimise the impact on front line services to the public.

Due to pressures on children's services and adult's social care, the Council is already forecasting year-end overspend of £5.8m for 2018/19, even after taking account of a £10m budget contingency.

A paper to an upcoming cabinet meeting states: "In response to meeting the challenge of funding reductions and rising cost pressures as a result of increased demand for services, the Council will continue to examine service change and improvement work across the Council."

It means that the authority will need to do things differently, do less of some things and stop doing others. Following the reductions in central grants, changes to government funding for adult's services and to how business rates are retained are not expected to happen until 2020.

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Sharon Kemp, chief executive at Rotherham Council, said: "After setting the budget in February we immediately went straight in, in March, looking at how we make the further savings that are required in the following two years. We are currently in the middle of working through that in terms of what the opportunities and challenges are and that will come back to members in September, and for public consultation.

"It is a challenging year, probably more so than others. We are obviously looking at what some of the feedback is that comes from government that will come out later in the year. The national situation around children and adults demands and challenges continue and we know that certainly they are areas of challenges for us.

"The key message is that we are working really hard as a senior leadership team to look at, within designed criteria, proposals that we can bring forward to find just over £30m worth of savings over the next two years."

Judith Badger, strategic director for finance & customer services at Rotherham Council, added: "By no means are we in a crisis position, I wouldn't want people thinking we are going to collapse at anytime very soon, but it is a serious situation that we have to get our costs down significantly and a lot of that will have to come out of social care unless the Government chooses to give us more funding.

"And there is no option about that. The money we spend on social care is such a significant proportion of the entire council, that you could not obliterate the rest of the Council and still balance the budget in future years.

"We do have some reserves, a small amount of "give" to cover off crisis but it is not a planned approach that we would want and it would not be sustainable in the future. So we have to have a significant reduction in our spend. The work that we are doing now is entirely aimed at addressing that, but doing it in a safe and appropriate way."

As previously reported by Rothbiz, the Rotherham Youth Enterprise service was cut with budget proposals to reduce the team down to two staff.

The regeneration and environment directorate has taken the lead in the council becoming more commercial and offered a number of income generating proposals. Investing £4.7m to create 50,000 sq ft of new business space for inward investors and growing companies at Beighton Link is expected to be completed in 2019.

Plans have also been approved to enable the authority to create a new £4.7m camping and caravan park at Rother Valley Country Park.

On further commercial opportunities, Kemp added: "We are looking at where are some of those ideas that come up through the organisation through some of our experiences. But also using our colleagues in the LGA [Local Government Association] to look at where other people may have looked at for income generation. We want to maximise that but we've got to be realistic that, given the size of our budget challenge, income generation, whilst it'll be an important contribution, is not going to be significant in the overall scale of what we need to achieve in the time period we need to achieve it."

In a recent meeting, Cllr. Brian Steele, chair of the Overview and Scrutiny Management Board said that the authority was just "going round the magic roundabout" in working to set budgets that were then not met due to overspends in social care.

Cllr. Chris Read, leader of Rotherham Council, responded: "We are all acutely aware of the problem and the challenge to make budget decisions earlier in the year. We've eked out a few weeks but are not in the place I think you and I would like us to get to. Cabinet are already meeting regularly to look at early budget options and we'll be able to start bringing those through relatively soon."

RMBC website

Images: RMBC / Google Maps

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