Steve Darling, leader of Torbay Council, writes for the Torbay Weekly
For many years the council has released its budget proposals with a warning that difficult decisions have to be made.
This year is no different. But what is different is the high level of uncertainty we face.
The ongoing impact of years of austerity, combined with the coronavirus pandemic and the failure of the chancellor to issue a budget this autumn, presents a huge challenge for all local authorities.
During Covid-19 our spending has increased so we can help the most vulnerable people in Torbay. This includes a rise in demand for services that assist the homeless and providing much-needed support through our shielding hub.
Like many other businesses across the Bay our income, which supports our services, has fallen dramatically. We successfully secured much-needed grant funding but unfortunately this does not cover all of our additional costs.
As the coronavirus outbreak continues we don’t know how long it will last, how badly it will affect our economy and how much it will cost.
We don’t know how much grant funding we will get from central Government or what sort of settlement it will award to local authorities. Nor do we know what damage and hardship it will cause in our communities.
As we tackle this pandemic we are planning for the worst and hoping for the best. We are working hard with our local partners and communities to put the right plans in place for whatever hand this pandemic may deal us in the future.
Despite the challenges we have faced, we are continuing to improve our children’s services: In the last 12 months we have reduced the number of children in residential care from 46 to 23, saving millions of pounds in residential placement costs and moving children into better foster care placements.
This should result in a better quality of life for the young people we look after in Torbay.
One area of significant pressure on the council’s budget is public transport.
The previous Conservative-led council stripped out any subsidy to our bus services in Torbay.
A number of our peripheral bus routes are now very weak due to reduced patronage as a result of Covid-19. Therefore, we are looking to add extra support in the budget for these community lifelines in the form of a £150,000 bus subsidy.
Another area of growth within our budget proposals is our support for housing services.
With the Government failing to support our local economy through a bespoke furlough scheme for the hospitality and tourism industry, we are anticipating a tsunami of unemployment which will lead to a stream of local residents with housing problems knocking on the town hall door for help.
We want to be a council that works with our local communities to overcome our future challenges.
We value your views and would be grateful if you would consider our budget proposals for 2021/2022 and feed back to us with your views.
We want our residents to be at the heart of decision making in Torbay.
The public can feedback their thoughts on the budget at www.torbay.gov.uk/budget-202122
In these uncertain times it’s pleasing to know that across Torbay we have some significant building projects underway which are boosting our local economy.
These are the two Fragrance Group hotels being developed on Paignton seafront, and the two Torquay hotel developments close to the harbour, the Premier Inn on The Terrace and the Hampton by Hilton, due to be opening in January 2021.
This new 120-bedroom Premier Inn hotel and in-house restaurant in central Torquay is a good example of what we can secure for local residents when we work with local businesses.
We have developed an employment skills plan dedicated to this site, alongside the building company MIDAS, which supports the use of local labour and suppliers.
It creates apprenticeships and training, while employing care leavers and individuals from disadvantaged areas across Torbay.