A budget built to bounce-back

The Town Council has set out an ambitious list of priorities for the coming year, as we help to stimulate our area’s fightback from the pandemic.

Council this week approved the 2021/22 budget, which maintains a raft of essential community activities and services.

Councillors and officers also created a “reactive” budget, allowing re-prioritisation of investment quickly, to help community organisations and charities in their COVID-19 recovery.

However, even with the reactive element built-in, the vast majority of key services and support currently provided – such as the Neighbourhood Warden scheme, Advice in County Durham Partnership and the Environmental Caretakers – will all continue to be funded.

Council Leader, Cllr Les Timbey, said it had been one of the most challenging budget processes the Council had faced in living memory.

“2020 was a year of “firsts”, and that has also been the case with this year’s budget,” said Cllr Timbey. “Officers and elected members worked together to conduct a forensic appraisal of Council investment, to ensure that we could make the necessary reductions, while maintaining current levels of service provision.

“There have been moments of inspiration, passionate debate, and a lot of incredibly tough decisions in the budgetary process to ensure we continue to look after the people, organisations, businesses and charities in and around Stanley.”

Among many projects that will continue are the “Stars, Youth & Community” youth project, environmental improvements to build on enhancements of recent years, heritage projects protecting and celebrating the culture of the area, while Council will continue to the support the Stanley Fund, administrated by County Durham Community Foundation, to the tune of £50,000, which has helped leverage over £300,000 additional funding into town projects.

Funding for Advice in County Durham Partnership continues to be a priority, with numbers accessing the service expected to rise considerably. The trailblazing service helped people deal with over £2m in debt arrears in 2018/19 and guided residents to access £900,000 in benefits they did not know they were entitled to.

Stanley Town Council has made significant savings across the board, cutting its cloth appropriately, while safeguarding frontline services. A large percentage of savings will be found from an ongoing organisational review across the entire Council. However, rising costs and essential maintenance needed to maintain and develop the Civic Hall means the Council has been forced to increase its precept by 2.99% from the 2020/21 budget.

“The decision to increase taxes is never one we take lightly,” added Town Mayor, Cllr Carole Hampson. “We are always reviewing how we operate, and the ongoing organisational review will reduce salary costs significantly, but, sadly, to maintain levels of service, we must increase our precept.

“This is a budget of priorities and while we continue to help those with immediate need of support, we are also focused on the economic fightback from the pandemic – this budget delivers on both fronts.”

In real terms, the precept increase will see residents in Band A homes pay an additional £1.96 across the year or 16.3p per week towards Stanley Town Council services.

Stanley Town Council, Town Clerk, James Black, said:

“The last year was like no other and has taught us that your best laid plans can change in an instant. Accordingly, we have created a budget that hopes for the best, but very much prepares for the worst.

“For example, our events budget of £44,000 has been allocated to a Community COVID Recovery Fund, but should we be in a position to hold some form of community event in the summer, we can re-allocate funds to do that.

“We are also driving forward the Stanley Masterplan, the blueprint that will hopefully help shape the town and surrounding area’s future development. Consultation with residents and businesses ended this week, so we will be looking to progress that at pace, to help focus attention and investment on areas of local priority.

“So, while Stanley Town Council continues to be reactive to the needs of residents, we are also planning for a successful future.”