Herts County Council set £1.1billion budget for services across 2024-25

By Deborah Price - Local Democracy Reporter

20th Feb 2024 | Local News

Herts County Council has set a £1.1bn budget to deliver services for the next year. PICTURE: County Hall. CREDIT: Herts CC
Herts County Council has set a £1.1bn budget to deliver services for the next year. PICTURE: County Hall. CREDIT: Herts CC

Herts County Council has set a £1.1bn budget to deliver services for the next year.

That's an increase in spending of £98m compared to this year (2023-24) – to deliver a range of services that include education, social care, waste disposal, highways, public health and even the fire service.

But it also includes £46m of 'savings', a maximum increase in council tax and the use £11m of council reserves.

It comes as demand for council services and the costs of delivering those services are increasing – with the council already predicting a £15.7m overspend this year (2023-24).

Presenting the budget to a meeting of the full county council this month, executive member for resources and performance Cllr Bob Deering said it was an "excellent budget arrived at in extremely difficult circumstances".

He acknowledged that arriving at the budget – with an increase of almost £100m – had been "immensely challenging".

He said "prudence in the past" and "continuing sound management of our finances" meant Hertfordshire was "much better placed than many councils up and down the country to deal with the pressures and maintain services for our residents".

He catalogued the £478m that would be spent on adult care, the £257m on children services, £140m on growth and environment and the £80m on 'keeping Hertfordshire moving.

He also pointed to the £59m 'to make Hertfordshire cleaner and greener the £54m on public health, £46m on "protecting our communities" and £21m on community services – stressing that unlike other authorities, no libraries would close in Hertfordshire.

He acknowledged that the £46m of savings within the budget plan was the "highest savings target for a number of years".

He said this would include work to reduce preventable hospital admissions and the need for long term care, as well as changes to the organisational structure of the council.

He also acknowledged the planned use of £11m of council reserves – saying that this was a "substantial sum".

He stressed: "We do not draw on reserves lightly but it is prudent in order to protect services."

Nevertheless he said the savings and the use of reserves would still not be enough to fund the "ever increasing cost" of council services.

As part of the budget he proposed an increase in the county council element of the council tax of 4.99 per cent – equivalent to an increase of £1.54 a week for those in a Band D property.

"It is never an easy decision to raise council tax, but doing so will enable us to maintain front-line services," he said.

"Two percent will be ring-fenced for adult care and will be used to increase the pay of care staff.

"We believe this is essential given their critical importance in caring for vulnerable adults and ensuring the wider care and health systems can operate effectively.

"Overall this will amount to an increase of £1.54 per week for a Band D property which I hope will be seen as appropriate, given the savings we will be making and the range and importance of the services that we provide."

He said: "This Conservative administration wants Hertfordshire to be cleaner, greener and healthier.

"We want our county to continue to be a place where out people thrive, our children go to good schools, our places prosper and our planet is protected.

"This is an excellent budget -arrived at in extremely difficult circumstances -of which we can all be proud."

During the budget debate amendments were proposed by Liberal Democrat and Labour councillors – but none were backed by the council's Conservative majority.

The Liberal Democrats proposed that an extra £1m be invested in the SEND team and the proposed council tax assistance for care leavers be extended to when they are 25.

They also suggested spending for an additional special school within the next four years and to bring the care of more 'looked after' children 'in-house'.

Their amendment also proposed additional spending on solar panels for schools, tree planting – and increased budgets for drainage and highways maintenance, as well as road safety measures outside schools.

They proposed reversing planned £1m cuts to the youth service and the cancellation of plans to reduce locality budgets, which are allocated by councillors to local groups.

Presenting the Liberal Democrat amendment – which also proposed how the changes would be funded – Cllr Tim Williams stressed that it had been ratified "as a valid and balanced budget".

He also acknowledged that this year's budget had been "one of the most difficult to balance" for all local authorities – suggesting that councils had been "starved" of grants and cash from government, as demand for council services increased.

He said the Liberal Democrat amendment set out a clear direction and a clear difference from the Conservatives' budget.

He said: "We'll create a greener, cleaner, healthier and better Hertfordshire with extra money for schools and young people – to create a sustainable Hertfordshire, to improve roads and travel and to support local communities."

A further budget amendment presented by the Labour group would have restored full night lighting to areas where requested by members and residents.

It would have injected a further £1m into SEND funding – on top of the additional £7m planned by the Conservative administration.

It would have increased eligibility for council tax discount to care leavers to the age of 25.

It would have spent £100k on a feasibility study looking into the delivery og adult care services 'in-house' or through a charitable trust.

It also earmarked £250k for domestic violence and £150kon an initiative to tackle knife and gang crime and 'county lines'.

Presenting the amendment Labour Cllr Ian Albert pointed to the challenges faced by councils nationwide in setting their budgets this year.

He said: "I think we would all agree government has failed to give local authorities proper longer term financial settlement to allow us to plan prudently and efficiently for the future.

"The substitute is to throw out bits of extra cash at the last minute – presumably found from under the Treasury sofas. This is no way to run local government."

This was echoed later in the debate by leader of the Labour group Cllr Nigel Bell, who put the focus on central government "sticking plaster" funding.

He particularly highlighted the 'ignoring' of local government finance in the Chancellor's Autumn Statement and the doubt over the future of the Household Support Grant, which the council uses to fund holiday supermarket vouchers for children on benefits related free school meals.

  • In addition to the £1.1bn revenue spending plans the budget also included a capital spending programme of £315m – extending to £1.2bn over the for-year period of the council's Integrated Plan (IP).

     

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