Sunderland City Council Facing very Difficult Funding Decisions

Sunderland City Council

Sunderland City Council works hard to provide over 600 services to residents and businesses across Sunderland however are continuing to face very difficult funding decisions. The majority of their funding, as a council, comes from government grants however, the core government funding they receive has reduced in real terms since 2010/11. 

Alongside this reduction in income, their costs continue to increase and pressures on the services grow. They also understand that many of their residents are facing challenges through the cost of living crisis. 

These sustained challenges they are facing mean they need to make some difficult decisions, now and in the coming years. For the financial year 2023/24 it is estimated a £30 million gap between the money they receive and what they need to spend to deliver these vital services will be present. They have been using their reserves to lessen the impact of this funding gap and plan to use £9 million in 2023/24 to leave a gap of £21 million instead. 

However, they cannot meet those savings that are required without making difficult decisions. In some cases, proposals they are considering this year will include changes to how they deliver some of their services. It is vital for them to hear from their residents on what they think should be the suggested approach. They have provided information and what their proposals include/context below. 

Costs are increasing

  • Continued increases in demand for adult social care and increasing costs in both children’s and adults’ social care mean we face further need in an area where we already spend the most. Upcoming social care funding reforms will also provide us with more challenges in how we fund these changes in the coming years
  • Increases in inflation and interest rates mean it costs us more to provide services and to borrow money to invest in things like our regeneration programmes. In addition, the levels of government funding we receive are not increasing in line with inflation
  • Increases in utility costs mean it costs us substantially more to operate our buildings and venues, maintain street lighting, and fuel our vehicles including refuse and recycling vans
  • Nationally agreed staff pay awards mean our staffing costs increase

To address these challenges, we need to try to increase our income at the same time reducing our costs.

Increasing our income

Did you know: the council tax we collect only accounts for 15% of our total income

We understand many of you are also facing challenging decisions. One of the ways we can increase our income to meet some of these challenges is by raising council tax.

In their Autumn Statement, the government increased the referendum limit of 2.99% (including 1% for social care). This was a limit to the amount councils could increase council tax without a local referendum. There is an expectation that local authorities would increase council tax by 5% (including 2% for social care) in the absence of sufficient additional funding from the government.

We have made our proposals on the basis of an increase of council tax of 2.99%. This would mean that a household living in a Band A property would be paying 61p more per week whilst a household living in a Band D property would be paying 91p more per week. Even taking into account this increase, we would keep the lowest council tax rate for Band D in the North East.

Our proposals also consider other ways we could generate more income, including

  • Income from regeneration
  • Income through Housing Benefit overpayment recovery
  • Maximising external grant income
  • Increases in income from building control and development control activities

Cost saving proposals

Because council tax is a small proportion of our income, this increase alone will not address the funding gap. We need to consider some difficult decisions in how we cut our spending while trying to maximise our income. In some cases, the proposals we are considering this year will include changes to how we deliver services and staffing.

We also have to take into account that some of our spendings is outside of our control. This includes things like funding for maintained schools and housing benefit payments.

If we look at every £100 the council has to spend, half of this covers these services. This leaves £50 which the council can control for day-to-day services.

We want you to share your views on our proposals as well as let us know if you have any other suggestions for cost savings that would make a significant impact on our funding challenge.

Some of our proposals include:

  • Reshaping and changing the way we deliver our social care services, providing a saving of £1.5 million
  • Reviewing the way we deliver our support services including a reduction in staffing costs, providing a saving of £1.8 million

You can read the full detail of our approach in the Budget Planning Framework and Medium-Term Financial Plan 

They need to hear your views about the proposals they have provided above. They will ask whether you agree with their approach, what alternatives you may have to suggest and your views on council tax. The consultation will run from 8 December 2022 to 8 January 2023. The Resident’s views will be used to inform our final agreed approach to the budget for 2023/24. 

Share your views here.