County council publishes draft budget for 2014/15

FOR the fourth year running, Gloucestershire County Council’s cabinet is proposing a council tax freeze as part of its budget plans.

The draft budget, published today (Thursday), outlines the proposed spending plans for 2014/15.

As well as the continued council tax freeze, there are planned investments into services for young people and families, while spending on adult services remains the highest portion of the budget.

One of the proposals being considered is the investment of £1.48 million over two years to set up a pilot social work scheme in Gloucester city.

The aim is to create a pioneering new model, which brings social workers, domestic violence support, drug and alcohol workers and health professionals together to provide a more holistic approach for local families.

Cabinet is also asking the council to continue its focus on keeping services local by giving each county councillor more of a say in how certain schemes are delivered.

Specifically, the budget proposes:

• To create a £2.65million sport and physical activity grants scheme, equally shared between the 53 local councillors over the next two years. The cash would provide sport or leisure facilities to encourage people to be more active within their local community

• To dedicate permanent funding of £1.06 million to continue the successful Highways Local scheme. The initiative allocates £20,000 per county councillor to be spent on highways works in their local community.

• To add to the £50,000 per district funding the council already allocates for youth facilities, by introducing a children and young people’s activity grant. This would provide £265,000 in total, allocating £5,000 per local councillor to be spent in their communities.

This is the fourth year of the council’s four-year savings programme Meeting the Challenge, which was launched in 2011 with a view to saving £114million.

The council is on target to make £100million savings by the end of 2013/14 financial year and 2014/15 will be the final year of the Meeting the Challenge programme.

Funding from the government is decreasing year on year so the proposed budget is £423.14 million for 2014/15 – a £7.8million or 1.8% reduction in the 2013/14 budget.

Cllr Ray Theodoulou, deputy leader and cabinet member for finance, said: “While we’re tightening our belts to meet our commitments, we know the people of Gloucestershire are in the same situation.

“That’s why for the fourth year running we’ve proposed a council tax freeze, which many other councils are understandably choosing not to do.

“We’re proposing to invest into services for young people and continuing to prioritise our spending on adults and those who need our help the most.

“We know going forward this will become even more important as budgets continue shrinking and we have more tough decisions to make.”

Responding to the publication of the draft budget, Cllr Lesley Williams said: “This Tory budget contains plenty of cuts, but no plan of action on how to make Gloucestershire a fairer place to live. There are  £7.7million cuts in this budget and we are looking at each one very closely to ensure families, the elderly and most vulnerable are protected.    

“Make no mistake that the Tories locally are making the cuts imposed by the Tories and Lib Dems nationally. There is no vision for Gloucestershire in the budget and there is no plan on how to make Gloucestershire a fairer place to live.

“In particular I am troubled there are no proposals to help people struggling with the cost of living crisis and no plan of action on how to help young people into work.

“The Labour Party will be amending this unfair and unambitious budget. We will be bringing forward fully costed plans that the council can afford  to introduce a Living Wage and Apprentice Travel Card in the county. We will also be calling on the Council to create an independent Fairness Commission to look at key issues such as breakfast clubs, the cost of childcare and rural poverty .”

Leader of the Liberal Democrat Group Cllr. Colin Hay (LD: All Saints & Oakley) said: "This year it looks as if the Tories are just playing safe with the 2014/2015 Budget.

“Amidst the savings and cost reductions there are pots of money from within particular Budget areas amounting to just short of £2.6million for individual county councillors to spend in their own divisions.

“As Liberal Democrats we welcome councillors having more control in how money is spent in their own divisions, but we are concerned that the Tories are just buying votes from the back benchers.

“We will be seeking assurances that these individual pots of money do not deflect from council priorities.”

Cabinet will now be asked to agree the draft budget at its meeting on December 11.

A public consultation will start today (Thursday, December 4) and it will run for six weeks up to January 16 2014.

People can comment online at www.gloucestershire.gov.uk/budget2014 and questionnaires will be available at libraries and all other council buildings.

People can also call 01452 425000 to request a copy of the questionnaire to be posted out to them.

Cabinet will consider all of the feedback received and it will make its final budget recommendation on February 5, 2014.

Full council will then be asked to agree the budget on February 26, 2014.

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