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Big Conversation FAQs
We've pulled together the following questions and answers to try and help you understand more about this process. We'll update this page as more questions arise.
About the big conversation
Why are you doing this?
Faced with the need to make £77m of savings by 2020/21 due to ongoing government cuts, we launched our ‘Big Conversation’ in August 2015 and began a five-year conversation with residents, organisations and partners across the county. The initial aim was to better understand residents’ perceptions of what services they valued and where the council should prioritise its diminishing budget.
Over 2450 residents and organisations took part in Shropshire’s Big Conversation, which comprised of a large survey, focus groups, action-planning workshops, and a feedback presentation.
The key findings from this indicated that services for vulnerable children and adults, education and transport were perceived as priorities, where people felt savings couldn’t be made. Feedback also gave us an insight into peoples’ views around ways to make savings, increase revenue, and around increasing local involvement in providing services.
Much has happened over the past 12 months, and the feedback from our Big Conversation has been taken into account and influenced both the work we are doing and our priorities, which we’ve now included in our draft corporate plan.
We're in a slightly better position financially than last year, due to using one-off funding from our reserves and sale of assets. However, this only buys us some time to explore and find solutions to help sustain those services that meet the needs of our local communities.
The Big Conversation is not a one off. We intend to carry on having conversations with you as we explore new ways of working and funding council services.
About the budget
Where does the council's funding come from?
One quarter of our funding comes from council tax paid by local residents. The rest comes from government grants and business rates.
How much has been cut from the council’s budget so far and how much more needs to be cut?
Since 2009 £146m has been cut from our budget. By 2020 we'll have a further £77m less to spend.
Where has the figure £77m come from?
By 2020/21 the government’s £43m revenue support grant – money tpaid to councils each year to help provide services – will end.
By the time this grant ends, it's estimated that the council will actually be £77m worse off, due to the combination of inflationary increases in costs and further cuts in government grants.
How is the council’s budget spent?
Our budget for 2016/17 is £216m. 64% (£138m) of this budget is spent on core services such as adult and children services. 36% (£78m) is spent on the remaining 150-plus council services.
Why can’t the council spend more money than it has?
We must balance our books by law; we can’t spend more money than we have. Our independent auditors are satisfied that we have in place proper arrangements to secure economy, efficiency and effectiveness in our use of resources.
Why can’t the council spend it’s reserves?
Our policy on balances is to have a general fund balance (excluding schools balances) of between 0.5% and 2% of the gross revenue budget. For 2015/16 the minimum balance required is £2.896m.
Can the number of councillors be reduced?
The Boundary Commission determines how many councillors we have.
Can the number of staff be reduced?
We're running an on-going programme of reviewing the roles and responsibilities of all staff as part of our budget response. Staff numbers have reduced by 36.5% in recent years, and that process will continue as part of the budget response.
Can you raise council tax to help raise money?
This is an option, and we've asked for people’s initial thoughts on this in the surveys we've carried out to date. However, raising council tax alone won't meet the shortfall in funding we're facing.
In the week commencing 7 December 2015 our Conservative cabinet approved plans to increase council tax by 3.99% for 2016/17. The move equates to a rise of £46.47 for the average Band D home. This was in no small measure due to the influence of public opinion revealed by the Big Conversation, as over 50% of those responding so far said they would support an increase in council tax.
Can you ask businesses to pay more tax?
Taxes collected from businesses are known as business rates. We currently collect business rates on behalf of the government, and these are redistributed to local councils via a formula. We estimate that we'll be allocated around £39m from the £80m business rates that will be collected in Shropshire in 2015/16. By 2020 this system will change however, and we'll receive 100% of the total. However, as this happens, other grants may cease, and we may be required to fund new or current responsibilities with this income.
About our services
Which services are statutory?
The purpose of the Big Conversation is to engage with local people at a very high level on what Shropshire inhabitants would like us to be focusing our limited resources on. We don't want that to be limited by reference to complex statutory provisions.
Like all councils (whether county, district or parish) we can only act in accordance with what statute permits us to do. However, the range of statutes that apply to a unitary authority such as Shropshire Council are very wide-ranging and updated on a regular basis. Some of the statutes are mandatory and some are discretionary, the latter allowing more opportunity for reduction, but both can be achieved by providing services in a different way.
Any definitive list of functions we have to perform would not only be extremely lengthy and detailed but would also be out of date almost as soon as it had been compiled. Rather than keep such a list centrally, our various teams are familiar with what statute requires of them.
Do you have to provide all the services you currently do?
We have a legal responsibility to provide some services, such as education and social services, while others are discretionary. We're working to support those in greatest need and our most vulnerable, growing Shropshire’s economy and disposing and recycling of household waste. Services which will therefore remain protected include:
- Adult safeguarding
- Adult services – directly-provided services
- Adult services staffing
- School transport
- Child protection
- Waste collection and disposal
- Concessionary fares
- Treasury management – we have a duty to manage public funds in a responsible way. That includes how and where we invest and borrow money. The principle of treasury management is no different to the way you manage your home finances, just on a bigger scale. We have money which comes in, money we pay out, savings for a ‘rainy day’ (reserves), as well as money we need to borrow to fund large projects – a bit like a mortgage
Can you share some services with other organisations?
We're already working with other organisations. It's likely that this will be a more important part of our future approach to delivering services. We're gathering your views on this as part of the Big Conversation.