Plymouth council chief defends two per cent hike in Council Tax
PLYMOUTH will need "every penny" to break even in the next financial year, says the city council's finance supremo.
Cllr Mark Lowry was defending his proposals to raise council tax by 2per cent next year.
Councillors on the city's overview and scrutiny management board heard yesterday that the Government grant for the 2013/14 financial year amounted to a 7per cent cut in the amount of money Plymouth will have to spend.
The council's budget will be cut by £17.8million to £198.million.
Cllr Kevin Wigens (Con, Plymstock Dunstone) said a 2per cent increase in council tax was "Draconian", given that neighbouring authorities were planning to freeze their charge.
Cllr Lowry, the city's Cabinet member for finance, said: "We are struggling to balance the budget, and will need every penny to break even.
"We are seeing a huge increase in demand for adult social care."
He said that the council might have to raid its reserves to deal with the aftermath of this winter's flooding.
"Plymouth's council tax is still the lowest in the region and I think 2per cent is modest," Cllr Lowry said.
When the Conservatives were in power, from 2007 to 2011, they raised council tax by a total of 11per cent.
And Cllr Lowry promised to deliver a balanced budget for 2012/13 despite the current shortfall in this year's budget.
Adam Broome, the council's director for corporate services, said the shortfall had been cut from £2.4million in November to about £2million now.
Council leader Tudor Evans said the Government's welfare reforms were likely to put extra pressure on the council's budget by hitting council tax collection rates.
But he said that creating 2,000 jobs was the council's number one priority.
"Plymouth is one of the few places in the South West where the Government can deliver growth.
"We keep saying to the Government, 'It's not what you can do for us, but what we can do for you'.
"A strong Devon and Cornwall economy depends on a strong Plymouth economy, and we are determined to keep our end up."
Councillors on the scrutiny panel also heard from health chiefs.
Ann James, chief executive of Derriford Hospital, said they would have to cut their budget by £27million, or 7per cent, in the next financial year.
This came on top of a £22million cut in this financial year.
She said she was looking to improve productivity and cut agency staff, but was having difficulty recruiting staff nurses. "We want to maintain staff levels," she said.
This winter's Norovirus outbreak had put extra pressure on staff.
Steve Waite, chief executive of Plymouth Community Healthcare, said they faced a £4million cut in their £90million budget, before inflation, but would deliver projects like the refurbishment of the Glenbourne Unit.
Cllr Patrick Nicholson (Con, Plympton St Mary), a panel member, asked whether the city's partner agencies were maximising employment opportunities.
Ms James, the Derriford chief executive, told him the NHS should be used to generate growth. "I am really looking to sustain current employment and looking to deliver employment opportunities."
Jerry Clough of the new Devon Clinical Commissioning Group, said they had a long-term strategy of prevention rather than cure.
But he promised: "That doesn't mean we will take money away from care of those who are ill."