Thousands of South Tyneside residents are facing a council tax rise for the first time in five years.
It has also emerged that council house rents in the borough are to rise by about £1.50 a week.
Council taxes have been frozen since 2010, despite the local authority needing to make savings of more than £100m over that time.
But, with another £22m in efficiency savings required during the coming financial year, the council’s cabinet is being recommended to agree a 1.95 per cent rise, from April this year, when it meets next week.
That would equate to an extra 32p a week, or £17 a year, for the majority of borough residents living in Band A properties.
The hike will add £350,000 to the council’s coffers.
The coming year’s budget proposals also include a recommendation for a 2.5 per cent rise in council house rents.
With the average rent currently £78 a week, that works out at an additional £1.50 a week.
More job losses are also inevitable over the next 12 months, despite 1,200 council posts having already been shed since 2010.
Negotiations over the exact number of posts to be axed are continuing, but the numbers are set to be fewer than in previous years as the authority says it is down to its core staff.
A series of value-for-money service reviews across the authority has identified further savings.
The largest of those will be £7.5m from the council’s social care budget, with a greater emphasis being put on commissioning services that enable people to live independently.
Despite those cuts, Coun Ed Malcolm, the council’s lead member for resources and innovation, said a balanced budget had been prepared focused on protecting the most vulnerable in the borough and providing more services efficiently.
“This is the first increase in council tax in five years, and our council tax level remains low compared to other councils and is the second lowest in the Tyne and Wear region. I want to reassure everyone in South Tyneside that this is not a decision we have taken lightly, but it is necessary to ensure we can continue to provide vital services over the coming year.
“We believe this budget delivers the best possible deal for the people of South Tyneside in the extremely difficult circumstances we face.
“We will continue to do our best for the borough despite the unfair cuts that have been handed down by the Government.”
Coun Malcolm identified one individual saving which had eradicated an annual outgoing of more than £100,000.
“We had a resident who had been in residential care since he was 18, so we did a revised assessment on him by a panel of professionals, and this gentleman was moved to a supported living scheme, so our costs for that have been reduced from £105,000 per annum to zero.
“There are other examples where we have been paying for care packages that are no longer necessary for the people concerned, so we revised the packages.
“They are still getting the care they need, but it’s been felt they have been getting an over-supply of care.
“We have also been looking at the charges we have to pay the health trusts for care.”
Stuart Reid, the council’s director of finance, said:
“If a resident has health needs, the health bodies are responsible for picking up those costs, and that’s not always been the case as historically, as a council, we have been picking up costs that we probably shouldn’t have been picking up.”
Budget proposals will be put to the cabinet next Wednesday and taken to the full council for signing off on Thursday, February 26.
WHERE THE SPENDING AXE WILL FALL
• £500,000 less on procurement of commercial services.
• £315,00 reduction in early years funding. This involves deleting two vacant posts and a reduction in management and advertising costs.
• £200,000 off street lighting programme and making use of more energy-efficient lights.
• £960,000 reduction in Change4Life budget promoting support to stop smoking, as well as encouraging healthy living and exercise.
• £433,000 saving by integrating the council’s economic growth and adult community learning teams.
• £100,000 less on the council and South Tyneside Homes’ fleets of vehicles.
HOW MUCH COUNCIL TAX YOU’LL PAY
Band A (65.2 per cent of properties): Set to pay £877.81, up from £861.02 this year, an extra £16.79.
Band B (13.6 per cent): £1,024, up from £1,004.53, an extra £19.59.
Band C (11.3 per cent): £1,170.42, up from £1,148.03, an extra £22.39.
Band D ((six per cent): £1,316.72, up from £1,291.53, an extra £25.19.
Band E (2.4 per cent): £1,609.32, up from £1,578.53, an extra £30.79.
Band F (one per cent): £1,901.93, up from £1,865.54, an extra £36.39.
Band G (0.5 per cent): £2,194.53, up from £2,152.55, an extra £41.98.
Band H (0.1 per cent): £2,633.44, up from £2,583.06, an extra £50.38.
Source – Shields Gazette, 04 Feb 2015
South Tyneside Council’s social care budget is set to take the biggest financial hit as plans are drawn up to make savings of £22m over the next financial year, it has emerged.
The local authority has already made an estimated £90m in efficiency savings since 2010 – shedding 1,200 jobs in the process.
The pain is set to continue in 2015/16 with further cuts of £21.978m identified from across all council departments.
Yesterday, members of the People Select Committee were given an outline of the proposed savings by Coun Ed Malcolm, the authority’s lead member for resources and innovation, and Stuart Reid, its head of finance.
The biggest target is in the area of Commissioning for Independent Living – covering the money the council spends on helping borough people to live independently.
A review of the services provided and the sharing of costs with health colleagues is earmarked to save £7.5m.
No specifics on where the cuts would come were given – leading to one councillor to call for “more meat on the bone”.
A further £3.9m will be saved from the council’s corporate finance pot, specifically through maximising council tax collection.
Meanwhile, bringing more services in-house, maximising the authority’s relationship with its strategic partner BT and combining the council’s and South Tyneside Homes’ customer services were also highlighted as areas of savings.
Amid the financial gloom, Coun Malcolm did make a commitment that the local authority would retain, at a cost of £150,000, its Local Welfare Provision Scheme – which provides vouchers for people in emergency need to use at Morrisons, Asda and other retail outlets, in addition to fuel top-ups and household goods provision.
Many local authorities nationwide plan to drop the scheme from April due to the withdrawal of government funding.
In reference to the savings to be made from the social care budget, Coun Malcolm said:
“Everything that we have done will ensure that the people we represent get the services that they need.
“No one will go without services, no one will go without care. It’s the highest area of spend and presents a significant challenge for the council.
“It is a demographic strain that has been placed on the system.
“There is a national focus on independence and personalisation because people want to be able to decide the level of care that they want and that’s how we’ve approached this particular subject.
“But let me repeat that we will still be providing a service that will ensure that no one will suffer.”
Committee chairman Coun John McCabe said he believed the cutbacks had reached “saturation point” and called for more work to generate income by attracting new businesses into the borough.
He also urged caution when “selling off the family silver” – referring to the sale of council-owned buildings to generate income.
Coun McCabe added:
“We don’t always have to give away our assets. Yes, we should be maximising our assets but we should always retain the freehold on those assets. It’s an important pointer for the future. We can’t sell away the family silver.”
Source – Shields Gazette, 14 Jan 2015
A trade union boss in South Tyneside has spoken of his fears that some of his members are having to rely on food banks to make ends meet.
As public sector workers prepare for a day of unprecedented industrial action in the borough tomorrow, Merv Butler, branch secretary of Unison South Tyneside, offered a staunch defence of the action, saying his members had continued to provide services on the ground despite “draconian Government cuts”.
Strikes by council workers, school staff and firefighters are set to cause disruption to people across the borough tomorrow.
Mr Butler says it is “likely” that some of his membership have resorted to food banks to make ends meet, although he knows of no specific cases locally.
Carers, social workers, refuse collectors, street cleaners and teaching assistants are among thousands of local council and school support workers in South Tyneside striking as part of a nationwide action over pay.
Mr Butler says a pay freeze imposed by the Coalition Government in 2010, 2011 and 2012 – and below-inflation rises in eight of the last 17 years – has sent the pay packets of local government and school workers “plummeting back to the level of the 1990s”.
He said: “Many council workers in South Tyneside have been left struggling to get by, with some, no doubt, relying on food banks, second jobs and in-work benefits to make ends meet.
“This year’s offer would result in a cumulative real-term cut of almost 20 per cent for more than a million local government and school workers.”
Unison is urging the employers to get back to the negotiating table with an offer that recognises the “invaluable contribution members make to their local communities”.
Mr Butler added: “Council workers have kept on going in the face of four years of draconian Government cuts to keep local services in South Tyneside running.
“They care for our elderly and our vulnerable, keep our streets clean, and educate and look after our children.
“They deserve better treatment than they have had at the hands of this Government.
“Taking strike action is never easy but our members are sending a clear message to the Government that they have had enough.
“Low-paid women make up the backbone of most local councils and they deserve to be paid a decent wage.
“The employers must get back into talks immediately to avoid a damaging dispute.”
Most civic buildings in South Tyneside will be closed to the public tomorrow. But buildings operated solely by South Tyneside Homes and BT South Tyneside will be open as usual.
The council’s contact centre at South Shields Town Hall will be closed to the public, but inquiries can still be made on 427 7000.
As a result of the action, all bin collections tomorrow will be cancelled.
These bins will be emptied on the next due collection date, Thursday, July 24.
Meanwhile, firefighters in the borough will also be on strike tomorrow from 10am to 7pm in support of their ongoing pensions claim.
Source – Shields Gazette, 09 July 2014
More than 30 frontline South Tyneside Council jobs are to be shed in a new bid to streamline services.
The council needs to cut 33 posts in the areas of housing services, community safety and street cleaning – reducing staff from 150 to 117.
It is hoped the majority of jobs will go through voluntary redundancies, redeployment and early retirement.
The plan is to establish a new streamlined housing and area management team to be overseen by South Tyneside Homes.
Coun Ed Malcolm, the council’s lead member for resources and innovation, said the new approach was part of a bid to “deliver frontline services in the most efficient way possible”.
But Merv Butler, branch secretary with Unison South Tyneside – which is now in consultation over the changes – described them as “worrying”.
One employee affected by the switch said frontline services would “inevitably” be cut as a result.
Among the posts threatened are housing officers on various grades, tenant enforcement officers and community wardens and street cleaning managers, supervisors and workers.
Coun Malcolm said: “In the face of unprecedented financial challenges, we have to continue to look at ways of delivering frontline services in the most efficient way possible, without compromising on quality.
“We’ve identified a range of housing, community safety and area management functions across South Tyneside Council and South Tyneside Homes that would benefit from being integrated through one single organisation.
“The integration of street cleaning and estate maintenance functions will build on the highly successful Handy Estates pilot that has been in operation across the council and South Tyneside Homes since April 2013, and has received very positive feedback.
“We are confident that this new model will deliver an improved public service by concentrating our resources where there is a proven track record of expertise.”
He added: “We are very conscious that changes of this nature can be unsettling for the staff involved.
“We are doing all we can to minimise uncertainty and have already held a series of briefing sessions with affected members of staff and trade unions representatives.
“Consultation, including one-to-one sessions with affected staff, will be ongoing. While this review will result in an overall reduction in the number of posts, we will ensure that this impacts on staff as little as possible, through management of redeployment opportunities, early retirements and voluntary redundancy.”
Mr Butler said: “The public need to understand the implications of this, particularly in the area of community safety as it could see a reduction in the number of community wardens.
“It is very worrying. The council does have difficult decisions to make but we want to see frontline services protected and our members jobs maintained.
“They see this as the best way of doing this is by creating this new structure. We just hope they are right.”
Although pay protection is in place, one employee, a multi-skilled operative, told the Gazette he believes his salary would be reduced from £19,000 to £14,000 a year under the proposals.
He said: “I just couldn’t exist on that and would to have leave the authority.
“I’m already looking for a new job.
“It’s particularly upsetting because these are workers on the frontline who are dealing with the public on a day-to-day basis, not faceless back office staff
“Those frontline services will inevitably be reduced as a result.
“We feel we have been unfairly selected.”
Source – Shields Gazette, 12 June 2014
Rising rent arrears, increased use of food banks and soaring demands for advice services are revealed in a shock new report focusing on the impact welfare reforms are having in South Tyneside.
The Coalition Government’s welfare reform programme represents the biggest change to the welfare state since the Second World War with a raft of changes to benefits and tax credits to help cut spending and streamline services.
A new report by Helen Watson, South Tyneside Council’s corporate director for children, adults and families, outlines the human impact reforms are having in the borough.
It says that, within six months of the bedroom tax being introduced, rent arrears in the borough rose by 19 per cent – £81,000.
In total, South Tyneside Homes rent collection rates have fallen by 21 per cent over the last year, resulting in a loss of £331,000.
There has also been a 20 per cent increase in the demand for advice services since April last year.
Over the same period there has been a big rise in people using the borough’s three food banks, with a 50 per cent hike in referrals over the last 12 months.
There are 2,770 residents affected by the bedroom tax, with Tyne Dock, Victoria Road and Laygate, all South Shields, and The Lakes and Lukes Lane estates, in Hebburn, most affected.
Meanwhile, the number of out-of-work benefits being paid in the borough has been reduced in recent months, with a 22 per cent fall in claims for Jobseekers Allowance since April – 1,556 claimants.
The report makes grim reading for Coun Jim Foreman, the lead member for housing and transport at South Tyneside Council.
Coun Foreman believes the welfare reforms are having a “tsunami effect” and says the Government is “burying its head in the sand” by denying any direct connection between rising rent arrears and food bank usage and the welfare reforms.
He said: “The Government says there is no correlation between benefit cuts and the rise in food banks but they are just burying their heads in the sand.
“People don’t go to food banks out of choice. They go there because they are living in poverty. Having to use them is an attack on their pride and their resilience.”
Coun Foreman also expressed admiration for the “phenomenal work” being done by borough Citizens Advice Bureau staff and the South Tyneside Homes’ Welfare Reform team in a bid to minimise the impact of reforms.
He added: “It is not just a matter of the benefit cuts themselves but also the sanctions that are imposed if claimants turn up five minutes late for an appointment or don’t fill in a form or don’t make 15 applications for work in a week.
“All this is having a massive impact on the ability of people to provide for themselves and their families.”
Secretary of State for Work and Pensions Iain Duncan Smith, the driving force behind the welfare reforms, has claimed increased publicity over food banks was the reason for their rising popularity.
He said: “Food banks do a good service, but they have been much in the news. People know they are free. They know about them and they will ask social workers to refer them. It would be wrong to pretend that the mass of publicity has not also been a driver in their increased use.”
The welfare report is due to be presented to the council’s Riverside Community Area Forum at South Shields Town Hall at 6pm on Thursday.
Source – Shields Gazette 22 April 2014