Barnsley Council have agreed a package of savings of almost £16million.

The authority has confirmed that council tax bills for council services will not rise from April, although increases in police and fire authority precepts mean Barnsley residents will see an average increase in their bills of 0.45 per cent.

Presenting the council's budget for the new financial year, Cllr Alan Gardiner said the focus was on corporate and administrative savings to protect, as far as possible, the most vulnerable.

“Our commitment to improve the borough and the prospects for our communities remains, and we are well on the path of determining what our ‘Future Council’ will look like and what roles our communities will play in that future,” Cllr Gardiner told us.

The future, he explained, would be centred on three priorities of growing the economy, improving people’s potential and achievement, and changing the relationship between the council and its community.

Cllr Gardiner said the success of Barnsley's economic strategy would be pivotal to the council's funding in future years.

This is because under the government's new Business Rates Retention scheme, the council will be able to retain 50 per cent of business rate collected locally. However, it will have to fund 50 per cent of any uncollected rates - when, for example, a business fails.

Barnsley Council's 2013/14 budget is the third since the government’s Spending Review of October 2010 which led to reductions in local government spending. The council's budget for 2012/13 delivered £7 million of reductions on top of £22 million delivered in 2011/12.

Cllr Gardiner said a recent announcement by the Chancellor of the Exchequer would mean additional cuts in Barnsley in 2014/15 over and above those previously announced.

This will mean estimated spending reductions of £50 million in Barnsley over the next four years to 2016/17 - with £16 million having to be made when setting the 2013/14 budget.

Overall, Barnsley Council will spend £80 million per year less on its services, every year, by 2016/17.

Cllr Gardiner said: "Despite this position, we have remained committed to try to protect as far as possible those front-line services that matter to our communities and seek to deliver our council for the future."

"We have also been able to maintain services which are right on people’s doorsteps, for example, street cleaning and looking after the town’s environment. In the future, our new arrangements for area councils will decide local priorities for these and other services."

He confirmed Barnsley's continuation of the council tax discount scheme for over-65s, introduced four years ago.

From April, the council will also become responsible for a Local Council Tax Discount Scheme that replaces the current benefit system; this will mean there will be people who receive a council tax bill for the first time.

He said savings of this magnitude could not be delivered without impacting on jobs within the council.

Councillors and senior managers had tried to minimise the impact by not filling vacant posts, redeployment, appropriate voluntary retirements and one-to-one support for staff affected.

Changes to employee terms and conditions, agreed in the 2011/12 budget, have also been restored as originally promised, with employees entitled to increments and other benefits from this April.

Cllr Gardiner added: "As the future for Barnsley and local government as a whole looks extremely difficult, the decisions that we need to take today will underpin ongoing work required to deliver our future council."

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