COUNCIL TAX: An open letter to everyone who lives and works in Sefton
Sefton Council leader Cllr Ian Maher has penned an open letter to all residents and business-owners in the borough.
At its Budget meeting last night, the council voted through a 4.99% council tax hike.
Deputy council leader Cllr John Fairclough told the meeting: “This government promised to fix our broken social care system. What they haven’t said is that they expect councils to raise council tax to finance this. The government have already factored the increase into our funding settlement for this year.
“If we don’t increase our council tax, our vulnerable won’t get the care they are entitled to.
“Imagine what we could have done with the £555m taken away from our budget. The Tory government, they promise, promise, promise… and never deliver.”
The council tax increase comes as a kick in the teeth for many, especially those who have lost jobs and livelihoods or been refused financial support during the pandemic.
Leader of the Council, Cllr Ian Maher, has today penned an open letter to all people living and working in the borough.
Last night (Thursday), Sefton Council set its budget for the next financial yar.
As a result of Covid, this is the most technical budget the council has set.
We’ve always managed our budget to the highest standard despite having to make over £233m of savings over the last ten years so that we’re able to continue delivering services that are most needed within our communities, and pre-pandemic the council was in a robust financial position and had delivered a balanced budget.
We have an excellent track record of effectively managing our finances and delivering financial sustainability.
But of course, the impact of Covid cannot be ignored.
At the beginning of this crisis, local authorities were told by Government to do “whatever it takes” to support communities. That’s what we have done, and the response has been nothing short of incredible.
But this response comes at a cost – and the figures involved are just startling.
This is expenditure that we haven’t made by choice, but by necessity.
This year Sefton Council has put food on the table for families who would otherwise go hungry, housed the homeless, co-ordinated a massive volunteer response, supported those who are out of work due to the crisis, supplied PPE to our frontline workers and care homes, and we’ll keep doing everything we can to help local businesses stay afloat.
Our schools in Sefton have been fantastic, and we have worked hard to support them in delivering home schooling, supporting families of key workers and ensuring the most vulnerable children continue to attend school wherever possible.
Teams at Sefton Council have worked so hard to support local businesses however they can. From providing advice and information, to administering over 10,000 business grant applications totalling nearly £70 million, plus £41 million in Retail Discount (Business Rates Holiday) has been awarded to 1700 businesses.
The impact of the pandemic is hitting now and will be felt for years to come. Local authorities need continual funding.
Every council has seen a rise in demand for services, but also a loss of income from fees and charges and reductions in council tax and business rates. We’ve been calling on Government for months to deliver the resources the council needs to support residents.
So how has the Government responded to our calls for increased and continual funding?
With announcements that are nothing more than smoke and mirrors!
The Government will have you believe that they are making £1 billion of funding available for local authorities for social care.
What they won’t tell you is that £700 million of that comes from allowing councils to increase council tax. This is incredibly unfair, and only transfers the burden on to every single local resident and council tax payer.
But we have no choice. The Government are simply not providing local authorities, such as Sefton Council, with the funding they need to deliver essential services.
Therefore, the council will need to continually monitor and evaluate the impact of the pandemic and make any required decisions as they arise throughout the year.
Our biggest risks still come from children’s social care and income from council tax and business rates; and for a council of our size and complexity, our level of reserves remains low and needs increasing.
Which is why we’re left with no choice but to increase Council Tax once again this year to help fund the unprecedented demand on children’s social care and to be able to continue to provide the everyday services residents rely on.
That means that for the provision of council services, it will cost the majority of householders an extra £1.39 or less per week (figures based on a Band C property).
Nevertheless, we will strive to ensure that essential services that safeguard the most vulnerable residents across the whole borough are protected and prioritised in addition to ensuring that financial sustainability is maintained.
This is no easy feat and when I look around the borough, I’m still amazed and impressed with the quantity and quality of services that we still continue to offer.
I am immensely proud of the way in which the council has responded to the pandemic, working in very demanding and challenging times.
We’ve faced a rollercoaster of tightening and relaxing of restrictions and ever-changing guidance over the last few months, but essential council services continued throughout the pandemic and I just want to go on record, once again, and thank all council staff for the tremendous work, commitment and dedication over these last few months.
Throughout this difficult and uncertain time, I am proud that the people of Sefton have come together to support their friends and neighbours, and I have been heartened by the number of people coming forward to volunteer their time and energy to help their communities.
But community spirit is not enough, and we will also continue to press the Government to keep the promise made by Ministers to provide us with the funding to support our communities.
There are still many positives within the budget. Projects and programmes which started in 2020/21 will continue and come to fruition during this year.
Unashamedly ambitious schemes which will bring with them continued and sustained economic growth, such as the £37.5 million Southport Town Deal, the redevelopment of Crosby Lakeside Adventure Centre, a brand-new Southport Market, and of course, our exciting plans for the future of Bootle Strand and Bootle Town Centre regeneration.
All of this activity demonstrates our commitment to delivering our 2030 Vision for Sefton.
Take Care and best wishes
Cllr Ian Maher
Words: Kate Lally, Local Democracy Reporter
Watch the channel on TV