The cost of parking, funerals and concerts will rise in Middlesbrough
The cost of parking, funerals and concert tickets could be increased by 10% as a councilor warns of a £15million financial shortfall next year.
Middlesbrough Council has published its financial recovery plan ahead of the local authority’s executive meeting next week after a £9million financial shortfall was forecast for the 2022/23 financial year.
There could also be a freeze on non-essential recruitment with proposals to hire additional social workers suspended and a £150,000 service could be cut before it is even operational.
Politicians will have to vote to approve plans that will charge residents more for city services as the cost of living crisis continues. Overspending has been attributed to salary increases, inflation (which stands at 9.9%) and high demand for services for children.
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Cllr Stefan Walker, executive member of finance and governance, said he hoped the financial decisions the board is currently making will not be permanent, however, it will not be straightforward going forward.
He added: “What worries me is we have a £9m overrun and then we look forward to next year and see what the budget will be – we have a £15m gap. pounds that we’re going to have to bridge too.
In Middlesbrough the situation is exacerbated by low levels of council tax collection compared to other parts of the country and the majority of households being in the lower brackets – so even when tax is collected it is not as much as in other boroughs that have more expensive properties.
Across all departments of the council, savings of £6.9m were proposed, with all departments seeing underspend forecast for the 2022/23 financial year, except children’s services which remain more than £6m over budget. The final overrun is now expected to be £1.66million.
Cllr Walker, who is the deputy leader of the Middlesbrough Independent Group, said: ‘I predict that over the next two years you are going to have councils that will not be able to balance their budgets and will go bankrupt. Middlesbrough Council is not in that position yet, legally we have to provide certain services, but legally we have to have a balanced budget.
The council is unable to borrow for day-to-day expenditure as the government can, however, it still has a legal obligation to provide social services for adults and children.
This means he often has to make tough decisions to avoid overspending, especially when demand is high.
The city’s Department of Children’s Services, which was found to be insufficient after an inspection at the end of 2019, has offered savings of £811,000 – although it is unlikely to meet this target. The financial pressures on the service are partly due to increased demand, the cost of temporary social workers and the rising costs associated with outpatient residential placements for youth in the care of the authority.
The report warns that the freezing of non-essential vacancies will put additional pressure on current members of the squad and could impact performance. Cllr Walker, who represents Coulby Newham, said the children’s services funding model is outdated because the council does not receive funding per child, as schools do.
Therefore, even if there is a sudden increase in the number of children in care, the council does not receive additional money to safely house and monitor them. He added: “We can’t let a vulnerable child down, it’s not a choice we can make.”
He wants to ensure children’s services are sustainably funded as they are expected to be responsible for 45% of council spending next year which could impact the work of others departments because funding is tight.
The department will also try to cut spending on external residential placements, which is expected to be over budget by £4.9m, by a further £300,000 by the end of 2022/23. However, the report indicates that this will be a very difficult objective because all possible reductions have already been taken into account.
An improved youth services package, costing £150,000 and agreed in February this year, will not take off as the council decided to scrap it to save money. He was supposed to work with vulnerable children in Middlesbrough who are affected by high levels of anti-social behaviour.
The public will also face mounting costs as the council proposes to raise fees and charges, to earn an additional £463,000. These would usually be increased as part of the February budget report each year, but due to high inflation the increase was brought forward.
This includes a 10% increase in bereavement services with cremation fees rising from £820 to £902 and burial fees rising from £660 to £726. There will also be a 10% increase in the cost of tickets for events at council venues including Town Hall, Middlesbrough Theater and Newham Grange Leisure Farm.
A 10% increase will also be applied to housing estate rents, parking charges, Stainsby crèche fees and registration fees which cover marriages, births and deaths.
The Adult Public Health and Social Care Department has projected savings of £1.4million. The department was more than £1million over budget according to recent forecasts.
There are plans to increase NHS contributions where there are shared responsibilities and to end a small hospital discharge scheme which has been dormant for three years. The department will suspend plans to hire a number of additional interim/acting social workers and delay the hiring of two child care support workers.
Concerns have been raised about the impact of the hiring freeze on the department’s ability to improve service ahead of Care Quality Commission inspections due to begin nationwide in April 2023.
The Department of Regeneration and Culture plans to save £648,000 by ceasing all new activity in the town center which requires the council to inject cash. According to the plans, there will also be a reduction in activities to develop museums and attractions.
The Environment and Community Services team predicts £419,000 in savings. The rollout of the proposed subsidized pest control service and enhanced tree maintenance program – both included in last year’s budget – will be delayed. Funds distributed through the community environmental kitty will also be stopped. Security at libraries and hubs will also be halted and recruitment for five vacant street guard positions will be frozen.
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