Government Commissioners welcome council’s proposed ‘robust’ annual budget

Liverpool City Council’s proposed new budget has been welcomed by Government Commissioners who were parachuted into the authority in June 2021, following a damning report into the Labour-controlled authority by government inspector Max Caller.

The proposed budget for 2024/25, which includes an increase in Business Rates that will generate £200m for the council, was described as “robust” by the Commisioners, who said it is “the culmination of some very impressive teamwork within finance and between finance and strategic directors and departments, and between officers and the executive”.

They added: “In our view this report proposes a robust budget for 2024/25 and a solid foundation for managing both revenue and capital over the following years of the MTFS (Medium Term Financial Strategy).”

The spending plans have been approved by the council’s Cabinet, and will be put to all councillors at the Budget Council meeting on March 6.

The proposed budget includes a £20m drive to improve and transform key frontline services.

A key focus of the balanced budget for the next financial year will be to invest this new additional funding into supporting adult social services, children in care, tackling homeless and investing in environmental programmes.

In addition, the council has increased budgets for demand-led services, as a result of the continuing impact from high inflation and the cost of living crisis, by a further £24m in 2024/25. This is on top of what was thought previously required, some £25m, as set out in the MTFS in March 2023.

The focus of this budget is to continue to support the most vulnerable in the city’s communities and to deliver improvements driven by better financial management, such as improved collection of payments and maximising the use of new legislation to bring empty properties back into use as quickly as possible.

As well as additional investment, the council will also put aside six per cent of its next expenditure budget in reserve. This equates to £37m which provides financial resilience in case of the need for emergency spending.

The new investment is possible because the council is starting to deliver on its huge transformation programme to make it as efficient and productive as it can be, following the intervention of the Commissioners. The council is projected to make £85m of savings by 2025/26 of which a significant amount relates to improvements in adults and children’s social care.

In addition a further £18m will have been generated by 2025/26 thanks to increased income collection rates as a result of improvements to online payment processes and streamlining systems.

It is being recommended that Council Tax should rise by 4.99%, which is in line with most other local authorities in England. The majority of households, which are in Band A, would pay an extra £1.25 per week. This would raise in total an estimated £235m for the council, based on a collection rate of 94%. However, for context, the council’s Adult Social Care bill for 2024/25 will be £247m.

Council leader, Cllr Liam Robinson, said: “Despite the huge financial challenges that the local government sector is facing, I am hugely proud of the work of the entire council in proposing a budget which protects essential services and invests in many of the services we know people value the most.

“Our move to a new Neighbourhood Model of joining up services will make us more effective and responsive to issues raised by residents and councillors, as well as enabling us to tackle issues with rogue landlords and anti-social behaviour.”

In December, 2023, the Commissioners announced plans to hand back some powers to the local authority ahead of schedule, reflecting progress made by the authority since their appointment, although they say some challenges remain.

They said: “The primary messages in this report are positive and the hard work of many people across the council is recognised by Commissioners. Given the scale of the improvement challenge and time remaining, it is likely the council will continue to require support beyond June 2024.

“Any ongoing support will be at a reduced scope, cost and Commissioner presence. Commissioners will discuss options with the council leader and chief executive before making any recommendations.”

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