Sandwell Council's budget for the coming financial year has been agreed which leaders say will protect frontline services and recognises the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on the local community. Councillors have approved a council tax of 1.99% to fund local services, plus an extra 1% to help pay for adult social care services meaning a total increase of 2.99%.
Total council tax charges are different for each one of eight property valuation bands – and also include additional charges from police and fire services. Including the charges for police and fire services, most Sandwell residents will need to pay an extra 77p to 89p per week from April 1. This is the lowest council tax rise in the West Midlands.
Councillor Wasim Ali, Sandwell Council's cabinet member for core council services, said the budget - which was agreed at the Full Council meeting – acknowledged the impact of Covid-19 on the local community. He said: "The budget for the coming year again protects frontline services but also recognises the massive impact that the Covid-19 pandemic has had on our residents and businesses.
"In order to do this we are proposing an increase in council tax of 1.99% and an extra 1% for adult social care services. This is lower than the 4.99% allowed by government which has been adopted by neighbouring authorities, making the rise the lowest in the West Midlands and the minimum we believe is necessary to protect frontline services. We’re also one of very few councils nationally whose Council Tax Reduction Scheme provides 100% support to our lowest income residents.”
Cllr Ali said that the council's budget for 2021/22 had a £13.8 million shortfall and that the deficit would be met by using one-off balances and Covid-19 emergency funding, and that savings plans were now being considered to address the shortfall in coming years. He also gave a reassurance that the council’s free balance provision would remain stable at the end of 2021/22 and remain within the recommended limits.
He said: “This is the first time we have needed to use one-off balances to balance the budget but the pandemic has brought unprecedented challenges and it’s important to say that the council maintains a strong balance sheet and a comfortable level of reserves.”
Sandwell’s deputy council leader, Cllr Maria Crompton, added: “This has been a very difficult year for so many people, with our residents, businesses, community organisations, and the council, all facing financial challenges.
“We have approved a budget to protect frontline services for our communities while also keeping the council tax rise to the minimum we can in order to achieve this.” The budget also confirmed 2021/22 funding for the Sandwell Children’s Trust of £68.028 million and that the council’s fees and charges would be frozen for 2021/22.