DETAILS of council cuts will be announced in the coming weeks, the leader of St Helens Council has said as cabinet “reluctantly” agreed to raise council tax.

On Wednesday, senior Labour councillors approved the council’s 2020-21 budget, following the final one-year local government finance settlement announced by the government last month.

The budget includes a proposed 3.99 per cent council tax increase, which includes a 2 per cent adult social care precept.

“Council tax rises is something we do reluctantly,” council leader David Baines said.

The Labour council leader said the £3 million raised by the increase is “nothing” when compared with how much the council spends on adult’s and children’s services.

“And without that, to be clear, we would have to find £3 million savings from elsewhere,” he said.

For 2020-21 the council has forecast a £10 million budget gap – reduced to £4.975 million after the use of £5 million from earmarked reserves.

Back in October, Cllr Martin Bond, cabinet member for finance, ordered portfolio holders to develop savings proposals to close the budget gap.

St Helens Star: St Helens Town HallSt Helens Town Hall

During Wednesday’s meeting, Cllr Baines said announcements on these cuts will be made in the coming weeks.

The Labour leader said these will cover details of the savings and the “growth measures” the council is putting in place to deliver a balanced budget.

On Wednesday, Cllr Bond said the coming year is a “pivotal one” in developing the strategies and actions to protect the council’s long-term financial stability.

“Every elected member lives in the borough and pays council tax. All of us use the services of the authority,” Cllr Bond said.

“We all want a fair deal for ourselves and our fellow residents. We haven’t had that for the last ten years from central government.”

Cllr Bond said the spending power of St Helens Council has dropped by 33 per cent since 2010.

“So that’s a third less in spending power to protect the most vulnerable, a third less in spending power to tackle deprivation and a third less in spending power to invest in our communities,” he said.

Cllr Marlene Quinn, cabinet member for adult social care, accused the government of “shirking its responsibilities” of protecting vulnerable residents.

She said Whitehall is “splitting communities” by giving local authorities the option to levy a social care precept on the public.

Cllr Quinn said comments from some residents on social media who object to paying the precept are “nothing short of disgusting”.

The Labour councillor said the precept will only raise £1.5 million, which she called a “drop in the ocean”.

Cllr Baines said the council has a £90 million recurring reduction in the central government grant funding since 2010, while demand for essential services has risen.

He said 71 per cent of the council’s budget in the coming year will be spent on adult social care and children’s services, adding that in the last ten years alone the cost of caring for looked-after children has more than doubled.

St Helens Star: St Helens Council leader David BainesSt Helens Council leader David Baines

Cllr Baines said: “To be absolutely clear, it is wrong for central government, as Cllr Quinn has said, to put local councils in a position where they have to raise council tax to fund essential services and where many, like us, have no choice but to do so.

“The budget shows a £10 million gap. £5 million of that will be filled by using one-off reserves but that is clearly not sustainable.

“The other £5 million will be achieved through cuts and through some income generation, but there is much more needed of that.

“I would like to be in a position, like everybody in this room, to freeze council tax in future years. We will only get to that point by increasing growth and by generating more income as a council.

“That’s my task and our task for the years ahead.”

After securing approval from cabinet, the budget, including the proposed 3.99 per cent council tax rise, will go before full council for a final decision.