Council looks set to balance budget despite pressures of pandemic
Darlington councillors will meet next week to discuss the budget for the next year, along with a forward projection to 2024/25.
A report to be discussed by the council’s cabinet on 8 December, shows the council is financially stable for the next four years, which puts it in a much stronger position than many other local authorities.
The report states how the council will achieve this balanced budget by focusing resources on core services, with some limited investment in discretionary services and continued investment in the Futures Fund into 2024/25.
The Futures Fund targets investment into five specific areas to stimulate economic growth:
- Community safety
- Maintain an attractive street scene environment
- Maintaining a vibrant town centre
- Developing an attractive visitor economy
- Neighbourhood renewal.
The money in these areas will be used to provide services such as street cleaning, clearing back lanes, grass cutting, encouraging visitors to the town centre, preserving the town’s history; employment initiatives and tackling holiday hunger.
The report details extra pressures on the council’s budget this year, many caused by the coronavirus pandemic. The pandemic has led to a drop income particularly from the closure of leisure and culture facilities; a fall in car parking revenues and reductions in council tax and business rate income.
The government has indicated there will be funding to help with the pressures caused by the pandemic but details have not yet been announced.
The report shows that the council is continuing to invest in social care services and plans to increase spending on both adults and children’s services.
To help offset some of the exceptional pressures this year, a council tax increase of 1.99% is being proposed. A further 3% social care precept will also be levied on top of the council tax increase, in line with the government’s approach to funding social care.
This 4.99% overall increase on council tax bills equates to £1 a week on a Band A property.
Savings and income, which are helping to offset some of the investment needed in services, are also identified in the report. These include increased investment returns from joint venture companies; more savings in electricity charges following the replacement of street lighting columns; and a reduction in business rates on council-owned properties following revaluation.
Heather Scott, Leader of Darlington Council, said: “It is becoming increasingly difficult to respond to budgetary challenges, particularly in respect of a growing elderly population; pressure in the children’s social care sector and of course the major economic impact of Covid-19, which has had a direct impact on our finances this year and will undoubtedly be felt for a number of years to come.
“We must therefore press ahead with our top priority of growing the economy and continue to be creative and find innovative ways of working. We are very proud of our town and will continue our hard work to transform the lives of our residents and the fortunes of our businesses in the years to come.”