Express & Star

Staffordshire residents face hike in council tax

Staffordshire residents are set to see the tax they pay for county council services rise by almost five per cent as the authority faces the financial challenges of inflation and rising demand for children’s services.

Staffordshire County Council's Stafford headquarters. Photo: Kerry Ashdown.

Staffordshire County Council plans to invest an extra £9.5 million in children’s services, as well as an additional £2.8m to address an overspend on support for those with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND), as part of its latest budget.

High inflation rates over the past year are also continuing to put pressure on the authority’s finances, Councillor Ian Parry told fellow cabinet members on Wednesday when he presented the Medium Term Financial Strategy (MTFS) for 2024 to 2029.

An additional £22.3m has been earmarked for inflation costs, while almost £650,000 extra has been added to the home to school transport budget due to rises in fuel prices.

Despite these challenges, the council’s finances are in a stronger position than others across the country fighting to avoid bankruptcy. And Staffordshire County Council will be able to deliver a balanced budget for 2024/25, as required by law.

Residents will see their council tax bill rise however if the proposals are approved by the full council next month.

The cost for households in Band D properties will be £1,544.64 for the year – an increase of £73.41 compared to last year’s bill.

Councillor Parry, cabinet member for finance and resources, said: “The aim is to balance the ambitions of this council with a clear commitment to deliver value for money for residents and businesses and to live within our means.

"We need to strike a balance between ensuring we stick to the pledge and ensure we continue to invest in those things which support the residents of Staffordshire.

"Despite the well-documented challenges facing the local government sector overall, it’s thanks to the long term planning, the creative, imaginative and courageous change that this council has gone through and the careful management of our resources means this council remains financially stable.

"It is that stability which also allows us to meet our statutory responsibilities and look to the future by investing in our economy, our infrastructure and communities.

"Since February, inflation has not reduced as quickly as was hoped and remains higher than the two per cent target. In addition interest rates have risen higher than anticipated and are likely to stay at that level for longer than expected.

“Underpinning the planning framework is the council’s aim of setting a good and balanced budget – and we do meet the requirements of a good and balanced budget. The integrated performance reports which cabinet receive each quarter show a picture of relative financial stability during 2023/24, except for areas in children’s services and SEND transport.

“In addition, the High Needs Block which is funded from the Dedicated Schools Grant is also overspending due to increased demand. These are the key areas of overspend-type pressure that we are addressing at the moment.

“The council has a proven track record however of delivering cost reductions, with £127m worth of savings having been identified and delivered in the past seven years up to 2022/23. Higher interests mean returns on our investments which are a financial benefit to the MTFS.”

The proposed 4.99 per cent council tax increase includes two per cent specifically for adult social care.

The authority is also committed to making improvements to children’s services following a critical inspection report from Ofsted, which was published earlier this month.

Councillor Parry added: "Transformation of the children’s system is a key priority and a key programme within the council. It’s set against a much higher demand for children’s services, with increasing numbers of children in our care.

“Therefore an additional £9.5m will be added to the children’s services budget for 2024/25 to fund the increase in cost of placements and to fund part of the transitional programme.

"The existing savings still remain to be delivered and the additional budget reprofiles these savings over the period of the MTFS – we have not lost sight of the expectation of savings through the transformation of the children’s system.

“Increasing numbers of health and care plans are placing further pressures on SEND services including home to school transport.

"Additional funding of £647,000 has therefore been added to the service budget to fund inflationary pressures on fuel and £2.8m has been added to address the overspend arising from the 2023/24 period.

“We have some projected pressures and cost-reduction options we need to address. The total amount of extra funding allocated for inflation next year is £22.3m, which is in addition to the £26m already added last year.

"Adult social care pressures continue to dominate the budget process, particularly around the care market and the national living wage, which has increased pipeline costs for adult social care for the council. These pressures have been largely offset by the additional precept facility and Social Care Grant."