Savings proposals totalling around £14m have been announced as Middlesbrough Council continues work to recover its financial position.
A report published today sets out how a shortfall of more than £6m remains, with further action beyond the current proposals required to allow the Council to set a legally balanced budget in February.
The Council’s Executive will be asked next week to approve a public consultation on measures that could result in a reduction of around 75 full-time equivalent posts at the authority.
The consultation would invite views on changes including introducing fortnightly waste collections, charging for green waste collections and the potential closure of the Captain Cook Birthplace Museum.
Under the waste collection plans, households of three or more people would qualify to receive a larger bin, with more education and support rolled out around recycling. Those who use communal bins would continue with weekly collections.
Garden waste collections would be extended, with rounds starting in early April and continuing fortnightly until late November. A £40 annual charge is proposed for the service.
The Council is battling to balance its books in the face of reduced government funding, increased demand for social care and pressures brought about by sustained levels of high inflation.
The Council also has critically low levels of reserves to meet unforeseen spending pressures.
Middlesbrough Council now spends around 83% of its budget on its statutory duties in caring for vulnerable children and adults – a much higher proportion than many other local authorities.
Middlesbrough is an outlier in terms of the demand for social care, with more adults admitted to residential and nursing care homes at 42.4 per 100,000 of population, compared to the national average of 13.9 per 100,000 in 2021/22.
In terms of Child Protection plans in place in Middlesbrough, there were 140 per 10,000 children in 2022/23, while the national average was 43.2 per 10,000 children.
With this context in mind, many of the budget proposals focus on improving the efficiency of social care delivery.
In adult social care, there will be enhanced early intervention, more use of digital technology, increased reablement and a broadening of the Council’s accommodation offer.
In children’s social care, there will be enhanced early help and prevention, the development of new models for placements of looked after children and more in-house fostering capacity.
Middlesbrough Mayor Chris Cooke said: “We are working hard to recover the Council’s finances so we can reset our priorities for the town and start to deliver the services people expect and need.
“The financial situation we are facing means we will have to take tough choices in the short term in order to save our services in the long term.
“By taking a common sense approach and focusing on our communities and the services they value, we can protect services for the future.
“During the short period I have been Mayor, I have created a vision to finally move our town forward, putting people at the heart of our great town.”
Cllr Nicky Walker, Executive member for Finance and Governance, said: “The position we inherited has put us in a place where we have almost nowhere left to go.
“Councils across the land are reporting gaps in funding due to increased costs and demands around key services.
“What makes this particularly challenging for Middlesbrough are the overspends emerging from each of the last two years’ budgets and the critically low level of reserves as of March this year available to cushion such overspends and invest in the transformation that we need to deliver.
“We need to change from being a council which spends more than it has income, start to rebuild our reserves and begin to return to a position of financial resilience.
“Difficult decisions will have to be made now to avoid even tougher measures in the future and we’re determined to transform the Council so we’re protecting the services the public value most and delivering them to the best of our ability.
“We’ve made progress in reducing the overspend during this financial year but there is a lot more work to do.”
Next week’s budget report sets out how the Council still has a further £6.27m to find to ensure it can balance its budget at a meeting on February 28.
Officers are awaiting news on the local government finance settlement for 2024-25, with an announcement due later this month. Detail of the settlement will be analysed so the full impact on the Council’s finances can be assessed.The process of identifying further savings proposals will continue, including the development of business cases for transformation projects that will be designed to deliver savings or income over a longer period.
The Council will also continue talks with government and will consider applying for “exceptional financial support” if necessary.
If the Council is unable to approve a balanced budget, it will be necessary for the director of finance (also referred to as the section 151 officer) to issue a section 114 notice.
This has been seen recently at councils under different party political control, including Nottingham, Woking and Birmingham. It brings with it the potential for further government intervention and the suspension of all but essential spending to meet statutory responsibilities.
The budget for 2024-25 also includes a proposal to increase council tax by 4.99%, with 2% specifically set aside for funding adult social care. These increases are in line with the current limits announced by government before a referendum would be required.
The proposed increase would mean those in Band A properties – over half of households in the town – would pay an extra £1.20 per week.
Alongside the budget proposals, Executive will consider a draft of the Council Plan for 2024-27, the first since Labour took control of the authority in May’s elections.
The plan sets out the Mayor’s vision and ambition for Middlesbrough around the four themes of:
- A successful and ambitious town
- A healthy place
- Safe and resilient communities
- Delivering Best Value.
The Executive will consider the reports on December 20.