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Article date - 21 September 2017
Councillors had to make some tough choices about how some services will operate after 2020. At a cabinet meeting last Wednesday (13 September), councillors agreed on a number of proposals, including the move to three and four weekly brown bin collections and the reduction of free home to school transport for some pupils aged under 5 years and over 16 years with special needs or disabilities.
These proposals include a three weekly brown bin collection which will commence in September 2018, with a possible four weekly brown bin collection introduced from 2019/20 in an effort to save £100,000.
In addition, the annual events programme could face cuts, while a review continues into the library service and Sherdley Park Golf Course.
St Helens Council Leader Barrie Grunewald said: “There are some stark decisions to be made, not because we want to, but because they have been forced upon us by central government.
“With £20.6m of savings to be made over the next three years on top of the £74m cut from our budget since 2010, the simple truth is that we can no longer continue to pay for all the non-statutory services we have traditionally provided.
“As a result, we are reviewing some of the statutory and non-statutory services we offer which may have to be ceased completely, carried out less often – or charged for.
“In St Helens, the number of older people suffering from dementia is expected to triple in the next decade and the number with complex and or multiple conditions is likely to dramatically increase. So too is the number of children or young people who need to be looked after, as well as an increase in the number of people with disabilities and learning difficulties.
“We must do all we can to protect these vital services which our most vulnerable residents depend on. Therefore we have to prioritise the resources we have towards those services. It is a sad fact that if we are not legally required to carry out a service, then it is possible that that service may no longer be available or reduced in some way.”
Councillor Grunewald continued: “A little known fact that we don’t shout about enough is that St Helens Council really is a well-managed and effective local authority that is in a better position than many other North West councils and public sector services.
“Thanks to good financial management, the council is not in as disastrous a position as other councils, and is more capable than most to act and seize opportunities to invest to earn and grow.”
Justifying proposals to spend £300m - made up of public and private funding streams - for the redevelopment of St Helens town centre, Councillor Grunewald said: “There can be no denying that this is a substantial amount of money, and comes at a time when the council, like many others across the country, is having to make changes to services in light of the significant cuts to budgets.
“However from the council’s perspective, funding could take the form of borrowing where the initial investment is repaid through the increased income from the development in future years.
“We can also apply for grant funds, and in the last year alone we have already successful obtained outline approval for over £30m of grant funds from the Liverpool City Region Strategic Investment Fund for investment in the borough, and the council has already met with senior officers of the Combined Authority to raise awareness of our long-term plans for the town centre.
“Come 2020, local authorities will get to keep all funds collected from business rates in order to maintain local services because there will be no more funding from central government.
“Therefore it is crucial that we increase our town centre offer to attract more businesses to the area. More businesses will not only bring in more business rates which can help off-set the need to make drastic cuts to some services – but also create more job opportunities for local people which we as a council continue to hold among our top priorities.
“We must invest to save – It is as simple as that.”