The Council budget 2022/23 – Caring for York – for People and Planet

West Offices

York Green councillors in a minority Administration with the Lib Dems have faced a budget this year that has been very tough to balance. Only a balanced financially resilient budget can legally be set otherwise direct control of running the council day to day passes to the Government, with a strong risk that only the minimum ‘statutory’ (legally required) services would be protected in future.

Resident feedback from the budget consultation told us that the top priority for residents is to protect social care services for adults, children and young people and to provide extra support for those most in need, particularly people struggling financially following Covid. Over 80% of residents responding to the recent ‘Big Conversation’ consultation also supported the importance of York’s ambition to be zero carbon by 2030.

Resilient, caring and reducing carbon

We believe this budget does the very best we can to maintain resilient finances whilst protecting social care services, offering extra help to those most in need and protecting the council’s growing capacity to reduce its own carbon emissions and lead on delivering a Climate Change Strategy and partnership building for a zero carbon city.

This budget makes £6.4m of savings in order to arrive at a legal balanced budget. It also spends an additional £16m in order to respond to growing needs in adult social care (£4.5m) and children’s services (£4.7m) as well as maintaining other core council services areas such as public health, waste/recycling collection, highways maintenance and environmental health [check savings list]. Extra investment in areas of need is included for example:

  • an extra £50,000 for winter fuel vouchers for those who are struggling the most with fuel cost rises;
  • [£200k to support Covid recovery in local communities?]
  • £100k to help tackle holiday hunger (when the Government fails to fund Free School Meals);
  •  £100k to support education catch-up and mental health in schools;
  •  A further £100k to extend overall mental health support;
  • An additional £150k investment in the York Financial Assistance Fund providing hardship support for those on the lowest incomes {check this vis a vis the F. I. Fund]

Immediate needs and the Climate Emergency

Council around the country are grappling with the loss of most direct Government funding over the last ten years or so, whilst at the same time the need for services to support people continues to increase and has been made worse by Covid. In York in 2011 the council received £56million of Revenue Support Grant. Now that is almost nothing by comparison – only £500,000. The council’s £135m budget now has to come almost entirely from council tax and business rates (with sporadic amounts from competitive on-off Government grant schemes).

Any responsible council has to prioritise delivering a balanced budget and protecting our residents who are most in need of support. We believe this budget is doing that as well as we can whilst also protecting the council’s capacity to lead on tackling the Climate Emergency, develop a resilient local economy, promote green jobs and skills and enable York residents to live sustainable low carbon lifestyles.

This budget protects the new Carbon Reduction Team of officers at the heart of the council which Green councillors insisted should be created. It protects an operating budget for that team that can be invested in facilitating city wide action on the Climate Emergency, including for example the production of a Local Area Energy Plan which is now underway with partners. This Plan will develop a key part of York’s pathway to zero carbon alongside the Climate Change Strategy/Action Plan and detailed Evidence Base that will be published in the coming months following further public engagement.

This budget also includes and protects specific investment in carbon reduction measures (both revenue and capital);

  • £126m programme to build Passivhaus homes on zero carbon sites;
  • £5m of Government funding won through competitive bidding for energy efficiency retrofit in the city, managed by a new energy efficiency team based in the Housing Department;
  • £2m of direct council funding to kickstart the retrofitting of the council’s 7,500 council homes;  a further £300,000 awarded this month from the Social Housing Decarbonisation Fund to include some deep retrofit (external walls and floors);
  • Production of a city-wide Retrofit Strategy in the coming months; energy efficiency measures will be incorporated as far as possible in the £45m programme of refurbishment for council homes over the next 5 years;
  • £2m of energy efficiency investment in council owned non-domestic buildings including a river source heat pump to power the refurbished Guildhall and a retrofit of the Eco Business Centre;
  • £11m of investment over 5 years in switching the council’s vehicle fleet to electric, with additional funding in EV infrastructure;
  • £9.6m of Local Transport Fund spend on sustainable transport over the next 5 years;
  • An £3.3m programme of 24 Active Travel measures to improve walking and cycling infrastructure in the city;
  • £30,000 additional annual funding for winter gritting routes including key pedestrian routes and cycle paths;
  • £150,000 to deliver a new Local Transport Plan for York that will help the city meet the necessary carbon reduction targets;
  • A £50,000 fund to help bring the Government’s new Great British Railways to York, providing more skilled green jobs in the city
  • £50,000 extra funding to support sustainable transport particularly to encourage confidence in bus use;
  • £21m to improve the pedestrian environment, cycling and bus infrastructure in front of the station;
  • £4.4m to  improve walking and cycling provision in the Castle Gateway area;
  • £4.8m on drainage system renewal and drainage maintenance;
  • £2m of investment in climate related projects such as the new York Community Woodland;
  • £16m of investment in constructing a new railway station at Haxby

Questions and answers

But I have heard you are cutting £100k from the climate change budget?

Yes it is true that the list of budget savings includes £100k reduction in the operating budget for the central team that was established a few years ago. Some of this funding was needed over the last year to help put everything in place for the new York Community Woodland. This is now in place – additional external funding was won and the development of the new woodland has been awarded through a procurement process to the Forestry Commission so some of that funding is no longer needed for that purpose. The reduction, which contributes to the £6.4m saving we had to make, still leaves an effective operating budget for the team. Hopefully the figures above give some indication of the magnitude of what we need to spend on tackling climate change. Many, many millions of pounds which will need to come from Government and from all parts of the private and public sectors. The council cannot do it alone. What is crucial is that the council has the capacity to coordinate, to work to ensure that every council service takes whatever actions it can to tackle climate change and to build city partnerships so that every organisation in the city is also playing a part. This budget ensures that capacity remains firmly in place, whilst making a contribution to the hard to find but necessary savings.

You say that you are really short of funding yet there seems to a lot being spent through the capital budget?

It is indeed the case that the council has a significant capital budget. For the 22/23 financial year this amounts £570m. Only a proportion of this is money that has actually been borrowed by the council, other parts of it are made up of grant funding or capital receipts or other capital income that the council has received. All councils (as long as they are well managed) can borrow money at very favourable rates under ‘prudential borrowing’ arrangements and pay it back over long periods of time. This means that it makes sense to use capital budgets as much as is reasonably possible to achieve positive outcomes for the city and for residents especially when the day to day (revenue) budgets are so challenging. It is possible to appoint much needed staff to help in the delivery of capital projects out of the capital funding.

There are of course limitations on this and two key concerns have to be kept in mind. All capital borrowing has to be repaid and that has an impact on the revenue budget; it must be kept at a level where the advantages of the capital investments far outweigh the impact on the revenue budget. Secondly, the overall size of the capital programme can present a financial risk even if much of it isn’t actual borrowing. In both these cases the current budget is deemed to be prudent by the council’s Finance Officer. Whilst a further £1.6m has been added to the revenue budget for 22/23 to help pay for capital borrowing the value of the returns for the city from capital schemes (see above) is well worth the investment and deemed to be well within limits. The capital outlay for 22/23 has also been reduced compared to the previous year and overall the budget is deemed to be ‘robust’.

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