Council tax in Dudley will remain the lowest in the West Midlands, councillors have said, as the cabinet passed a 4.49 per cent hike in bills as part of its provisional, medium term financial plan.
The move won support from opposition councillors as the Labour controlled committee moved the increase, first outlined in February when the Conservatives ran the authority.
But the council’s finance chief is calling for a fair deal for the borough as it tries to balance cuts in funding and protecting frontline services.
The rise will mean a £65 hike for band D households before additional charges by the police, fire and combined mayoral authority are included.
Councillor Qadar Zada, Cabinet Member for Finance and Legal Services, in moving the report said the council was committed to protecting frontline services.
“The authority is a low taxing, low spending council and over the last eight years we have had to makes some hard decisions to making savings.
“Next year will be the last of a four year funding settlement and from 2021 onwards we face considerable uncertainty as government is still working through the council’s funding formula.”
Saying the plan for 2019-20 includes £6 million in savings, he added. “Even with this increase ours will be the lowest council tax in the West Midlands and one of the lowest in the country.”
The report revealed the council has been using financial reserves to bridge the gap between falling income and overspends but warned ‘this is unsustainable in the longer term.’
Earlier this year the Local Government Information Unit has said two thirds of authorities are using their reserves to fund services.
Northamptonshire, Somerset, and East Sussex county councils have now been forced to make emergency cuts in service after depleting their budgets.
Speaking after the meeting, Cllr Zada said Dudley has lost over £70 million in funding since 2010 and is now facing a possible total budget deficit of £24.7 million by the end of 2021.
Asked how the authority will balance cuts in government funding, the need to fund services and maintain its reserves, Cllr Zada replied: “Our priority at the moment isn’t to rebuild or reserves, our priority is to make sure our residents are safe, to make sure we are delivering services to our local population.
“We have a responsibility to make sure the budget matches and we have a legal budget and we are working through a set of savings which will have to put forward to the council which will be very much around improving productivity and efficiency.”
Asked where the cuts will fall, he replied: “What is important to us is that frontline services remain, at the same time we are lobbying government for a fair deal for Dudley because if you look at Dudley as a local authority, it’s been hit by cuts of 25 percent whereas areas like Surrey they have had cuts of only 2.5 percent.”
The financial plan’s recommendations will now go to public consultation and be discussed by the borough’s scrutiny committees before the final budget is set in February next year.