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Budget cuts will 'fall on the most disadvantaged' says Grantham councillor

The deputy Labour leader for South Kesteven District Council (SKDC) has criticised budget cuts for “falling on the most disadvantaged.”

Councillor Lee Steptoe made his comments following SKDC’S meeting of the full council yesterday (Monday) to discuss the budget proposals for 2021/22.

He said: “Times are tough as we all know but Labour opposes the SK budget cuts as they fall on the most disadvantaged.

Councillor Lee Steptoe, Labour (24894592)
Councillor Lee Steptoe, Labour (24894592)

“Councillor ward allowances that do excellent work helping a range of community groups from foodbanks to local hubs are being cut from £1,000 a year to £500.

“Grantham in particular has large pockets of relative poverty and they will be adversely affected. This is a Tory administration that is prepared to underwrite the Thatcher statue by up to £100,00 out of the public purse. It’s priorities during a pandemic remain perverse.

“These cuts go hand in hand with a rise in the council tax, so all residents are going to suffer. This budget has its priorities wrong and we will continue to press for a change of direction.”

It comes as members approved a £5 council tax increase for 2021/22.

This will take the authority’s Band D share of the tax to £168.62 — a 3.06% increase.

Councillor Adam Stokes, cabinet member for finance, said: “The report is the culmination of five months of hard work in response to the most extremely financially challenging period this council has ever faced with the Covid-19 pandemic.

“The feedback from the consultation was just over 34 per cent supported the council tax increase to the council’s portion of council tax of £5 per Band D property.

“This budget is focused on three main strands; supporting the delivery of the corporate plan actions, responding to the Covid recovery plan and maintaining quality service delivery.”

Councillor Stokes warned of tough times ahead after revealing the council’s finances have been “hit hard” by the pandemic.

He added: “There are financial challenges and there is still much uncertainty for the months ahead but I am pleased to confirm that the budget stabilisation reserve remains in place and can be bolstered by a further one million pounds as part of a one-off government Covid related funding in order to provide a resilient financial cushion to balance the books without any service cuts.

“I must also be transparent about the challenges that lie ahead. The council’s finances have been hit hard by the pandemic and we are leaving no stone unturned to ensure we deliver the right services efficiently and effectively.

“This budget has probably been one of the most open budgets for 21/22 we have ever had. We have had meeting after meeting after meeting. We are hardly hiding anything. My door is open to anyone with regards to amendments.”

A report before councillors said: “The scale of the financial challenges ahead are significant and largely as a result of the external environment namely a further delay in the national review of the local government funding formula and the detrimental impact the pandemic has had on the council’s resources.”

The report said the financial outlook for the district “remains uncertain”, however, it notes a number of settlements and financial measures announced by government including the income losses compensation scheme.

A number of national reductions in funding means SKDC predicts its income will reduce from £18.5 million to £13.4 million by 2024-25 and, so money will have to come from elsewhere.

Kelham Cooke, leader of SKDC, went on to praise his members’ efforts in supporting the local community throughout the global Covid-19 pandemic.

He said in the meeting: “We have been bold in our approach for budget setting ensuring that we can continue to deliver the best services for our residents whilst also delivering value for money and a balanced budget.

“Our vision is for South Kesteven to be the best place to live, work and visit. Our priority over the last year has been to support our communities and our council has gone above and beyond during this time. Last year our community hub swung into immediate action. Hub volunteers contacted nearly 18,000 vulnerable residents personally to offer support.

“The pandemic has put pressure on the local health services and we’ve worked with health colleagues to ensure there are testing and vaccination centres conveniently located across our district including in Grantham and in Stamford."

Last week, North Lincolnshire Council approved a 3.48 per cent council tax increase for 2021/22, which works out as a 45p weekly increase for a Band D property in the authority.

It’s neighbour, North East Lincolnshire Council, has approved a 4.98 per cent council tax increase for 2021/22 – with three per cent going towards adult social care. This will see a £1.52 per week increase for a Band D property – £79.04 annually.

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