Investing in new and improved ways of supporting vulnerable children and adults together with protecting frontline services are the key commitments in Leeds City Council’s annual budget plans to be confirmed this month.
Those elements underpin the annual budget for 2022/23, which will be considered by senior councillors at the executive board meeting next week (Wednesday 9 February) before being fully debated and voted on at the meeting of full council at Leeds Civic Hall on Wednesday 23 February.
The plan confirms how the authority can successfully achieve required savings and deliver a balanced budget in the next financial year, while continuing to support the city in the face of the ongoing impact and challenges caused by the Covid-19 pandemic. Key themes within the budget are a commitment to working with the NHS and other partners to provide more effective and flexible care and support for vulnerable children and adults.
This would see further progress on preventative work to help children and families, including supporting mental health issues and those suffering from trauma as well as investing in additional support for looked after children. In adult social care, the council is looking to review its services, with a focus on offering the right support for people at the right time to help them remain independent in their homes, with more emphasis on increased occupational therapy services. The council recognises and is grateful to NHS partners for investing financially in supporting these aims.
The annual budget for 2022/23 commits more than 60 per cent of council resources to services for vulnerable children and adults, with an invest-to-save approach to tackle rising costs and demand pressures in these areas as well as within services responsible for the collection and disposal of the city’s waste.
The 2022/23 budget includes a council tax increase of 1.99 per cent for core council tax and one per cent which the government requires be dedicated for adult social care funding. This is well below the rate of inflation (the retail price index is at 5.4 per cent at the time of writing) and means council tax for a Band D property will increase by 87 pence per week, with council tax in Leeds remaining amongst the lowest of England’s comparable core cities.
Of the £65.4m annual budget gap that was identified for the forthcoming financial year, ongoing council reviews of its ways of working as well as additional funding, joint investment through working with partners and the use of reserves has reduced the total service savings to £16.5m. Additional efficiencies and service reviews put forward for consideration if approved and realised would deliver the total required level of savings and a balanced budget. This includes a proposal to make bulky waste collection from households free.
Leader of Leeds City Council Councillor James Lewis said:
“The budget report shows how tough the challenge is to balance our books every year, and we face another difficult 12 months ahead with covid sadly still with us. Every year the pressure on council tax increases as it needs to stretch further and further to support more services, especially those for our most vulnerable residents where we have rising demand.
“Across the council we are committed to working with all partners to invest in new flexible ways of delivering services to make them as effective as we can. We especially appreciate the financial investment and support from our NHS partners in Leeds to help us achieve these aims.
“Despite the ongoing difficulties caused by the pandemic, the city has shown strong resilience and we continue to be especially grateful for all our frontline and key workers, charities and volunteers for all their efforts. If we keep talking and working together as a city, showing empathy and compassion for all, we can achieve great things and deliver our ambition to make Leeds the best it can be.”
After being put forward in December, the budget plans have been consulted on with a range of council committees and stakeholders including unions, business representatives and third sector groups. Engagement has also been undertaken with members of the Citizens Panel and an online public survey. This received 1,332 visits and 468 completed surveys giving preferences and views on a range of questions related to key elements of the budget plans.
The annual budget needs to be seen in the context of the financial challenge the council has faced since 2010. Since then, the council has seen overall reductions in funding from government and faced significant demand-led cost pressures. The council has risen to the challenge, through a combination of stimulating good economic growth, managing demand for services, increasing traded and commercial income, growing council tax from new properties and a significant programme of organisational efficiencies.
This includes the need to deliver £56.1m of savings in the current financial year, while further savings are expected to be needed in the following years of 2023/24 and 2024/25. Despite the ongoing challenges and pressures, the council remains committed to being as resilient, enterprising and sustainable as possible, tackling poverty and inequality through a strong economy and compassionate city. Its focus continues to be on its three pillars of inclusive growth, health and wellbeing for all and achieving net zero by 2030.
In terms of staffing levels, the 2022/23 budget proposals contain a loss of 19 full-time equivalent (FTE posts), but also include 211 new FTE posts in services including climate change, social care and environmental services. Overall, the council has reduced in size by 2,831 FTE posts between 2011 and the end of 2021. The council continues to be a Real Living Wage employer, with the basic wage level increasing to £9.90 per hour from April.
To see the Leeds City Council annual budget reports for 2022/23, go to Council and democracy www.democracy.leeds.gov.uk A further budget proposal is to introduce an admission charge for Kirkstall Abbey for all non-Leeds residents. An online public consultation is currently started on this proposal, which runs until 20 February and can be seen at www.yourvoice.leeds.gov.uk