The council provides more than 600 services from adult and children’s social care, waste and recycling collections, to libraries and parks. This year’s day-to-day services budget was nearly £760m (£759.8m).
But because of the cost of living crisis, increasing demand for services, especially in social care, and uncertainty over Government funding arrangements, there is a funding gap of £17m for next year.
The council is planning to use £9m from its reserves to reduce the gap to £8m but over the next four years, the gap is estimated at more than £50m.
Cabinet Secretary, Councillor Paul Stewart said: “We cannot fill the gap and meet the savings needed without making some difficult decisions. In some cases, proposals we are considering will include changes to how we deliver some of our services.
“It is vitally important that we hear from you, as residents, on what you think about our suggested approach. We need to ensure we continue to create a city where everyone can live, work and play, while understanding what priorities are to help us deliver changes and see lasting impacts and improvements.”
See https://www.sunderland.gov.uk/letstalkbudget for more details on budget consultation. The consultation runs until 7 January 2024 with more budget-setting decisions in January and February.
Planning for the next budget is already considering an anticipated council tax increase of 4.99 per cent. This is in line with Government assumptions and is composed of 2.99 per cent for helping fund day-to-day services and two per cent for the Social Care Precept.
Yet the council tax only finances around £16 (16 per cent) of every £100 in the services budget as the majority of funding comes from the Government.
Cllr Stewart said: “Regrettably, there was no cheer in the recent Autumn Statement for councils and there remain major uncertainties relating to Government funding and uncertainty on the state of the economy with significant inflation. These are alongside the increasing pressures on council services as demand and costs continue to rise for both adult and children’s social care.”
“Since 2010, Sunderland has lost more than a quarter of its core spending power (27 per cent) and yet more and more demands are being placed on it.
“Nonetheless, we have to plough on developing plans and possibilities for what could happen in the New Year and in years ahead, and we want to hear from residents too.”
This year’s council tax increase was 2.99 per cent and less than the Government’s assumption that councils could raise it by 4.99 per cent, and the tax is the lowest in the North East region.
For this year, the allocated services budget of £759.8m included £201m (more than a quarter, 26 per cent) going towards adult social care. Ten years ago the adult social care budget was £114.8m and 17 per cent of the services budget.
In November, leaders of the council’s three political parties wrote to Chancellor Jeremy Hunt before the Autumn Statement. They called for extra funding to continue work on supporting struggling communities and outlined how in common with other councils, Sunderland is facing significant cost increases in:
- Children’s social care as a result of rising costs and demand pressures
- Home to school transport for children with special educational needs and disabilities
- Adult social care, driven by higher demand and rising costs resulting from inflation
- Homelessness services.
The council has not had a response.