21st Jan, 2019

Solihull council tax hike and budget approved

Felix Nobes 2nd Mar, 2018 Updated: 3rd Mar, 2018

COUNCIL Tax in Solihull will rise by 3.9 per cent in April after a budget was approved.

Solihull Metropolitan Borough Council leaders say they have raised the tax to compensate for government cuts to adult social care and other pressures.

The council tax hike tabled by the controlling Conservative group was passed by 27 votes to 16 at the budget debate on Thursday (March 1).

The budget proposals divided opinion with the opposition Green Party, UKIP and the Liberal Democrats opposing the 2018/19 plans.

Green leader of the opposition James Burn claimed it was “simply not a budget for everyone in Solihull”.

Taxpayers will have to contend with a £50 increase on the annual bill for an average Band D home.

The tax rise includes two per cent to go directly to adult social care.

The government enables councils to include up to three per cent for care services for the elderly, mainly at home and in communities.

Local authorities blame heavy government grant cuts since 2010 for cuts in services.

Authorities around the country have been facing budget shortfalls, but are obliged to balance the books.

Solihull council has set a £141million budget for the year from April.

The council budget report outlines financial pressures including the rising costs of adult social care from a growing elderly population, childcare and foster care.

To achieve a balanced budget in the next three years, the council is hoping to save £22million.

Proposals include cuts of nearly £700,000 from the children, education and skills portfolio, and cuts to services helping young disabled people get into employment.

But the budget report does outline a business rates pilot that could find an estimated £6million this financial year.

Council response: 

Council leader Bob Sleigh said: “In arriving at the our council tax recommendation we recognise there is a balance to be struck between the potential impact of a higher increase on council tax payers and of a lower increase on the services delivered to residents.

“For a number of years we have had in place a council tax reduction scheme for council tax payers whose individual circumstances may give them eligibility for council tax reduction, in part or in full.

“We are managing a significant number of budget pressures across council services, especially within Adult Social Care and Children’s Services.

“There has also been a significant reduction in funding we receive from government towards the cost of our services.

“In particular, the £700,000 grant for Troubled Families is from a separate government funding stream and is at risk if that ceases.”

Opposition councillors also outlined concerns about cuts to the STEPS service (Support Towards Employment, Progression And Satisfaction) which helps young disabled people into employment.

“Support for people with disabilities to gain and retain employment is an important part of inclusive economic growth and there is opportunity to look at new ways of supporting people with disabilities, which will have more impact and provide better value.

“As part of the development of an alternative approach, the plan is to disband the STEPS team.

“Our plans look at provision of employment support for people with learning disabilities through other routes.”

Opposition perspective: 

The Green Party and Liberal Democrats united during the debate to criticise ‘inequality’ in the borough.

As the Observer reported last December, there is a 10 year disparity in life expectancy in the borough’s richest and poorest wards.

Coun Burn claimed climate change and inequality were the borough’s ‘biggest challenges’.

But Coun Sleigh claimed that carbon management and issues associated with climate change was a very high priority on the draft council plan.

Coun Sleigh also responded to the life expectancy gap saying: “Overall people do live longer in Solihull than in most other parts of the country.

“There are also issues around choices that people make with regards to their own health that do impact very considerably on life expectancy.”

Chelmsley Wood Green councillor James Burn said: “Solihull is now gaining a reputation as one of the most unequal places to live in the country, with more and more areas slipping into poverty.

“In 2007 just 7 areas were in the bottom 10% for income, now it’s 18.

“The gap in life expectancy is also increasing, as men in our worst-off areas now die 12 years before those in the wealthiest areas.

“Just shy of 10,000 children in Solihull are living in poverty now.

“The shocking thing is that these gaps are growing significantly more in Solihull than for the rest of the country.

“The budget is a real change to address this and to set tackling poverty as one of our core aims.

“Not only does the budget fail to outline how we can spend our money better to tackle this problem, it fails to even acknowledge there is a problem.

“This is simply not a budget for everyone in Solihull.”

Solihull Lib Dems tweeted: “Tory Leader and Cabinet members blame “lifestyle choices” for 12 years lower life expectancy for North Solihull residents! Disbelief in Green and Lib Dem groups. #inequality.”

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