Date published: 25 February 2020
A raft of measures to protect frontline services and deliver long-term investment in the borough have been approved – as the council continues to grapple with considerable financial uncertainty created by the coronavirus pandemic.
At a meeting of the Full Council last night (24 February), members agreed a 2021/22 budget following recommendation by the Cabinet, Scrutiny Panel review, and a series of cross-party workshops and public consultation with residents and other stakeholders last year.
The 2021/22 budget provides for investment in the council’s Strategic Visions, with a refreshed Capital Strategy and Capital Programme to deliver over £43m of capital investment to make Colchester an even better borough in which to live, work and visit and aid recovery. These include schemes to tackle the climate challenge and embed sustainability; creating safe, healthy and active communities; delivering homes for people who need them and growing a fair economy so everyone benefits.
The council faces continued significant lost income from the lock-down restrictions. To balance the books, as it must, it has taken urgent action to identify significant savings and efficiencies in this and future years. It means, another £2.4m of council reserves will still be needed in 2021/22 to meet Covid-related lost income and other pressures. This is in addition to reserves already used in 2020/21.
The council’s portion of the Council Tax is also set to rise by £4.95 (2.5%) from the current rate, to £200.52 for a Band D property. The council will continue to offer relief to residents most in need, through its Local Council Tax Support scheme.
Noting uncertain future support from Government, the council will use the coming year to undertake a wide-ranging further review of how it delivers services – testing their efficiency, testing processes, levels and different models of service supply, reviewing assets and their use, and working closely with other partners.
Cllr David King, Portfolio Holder for Business and Resources, said: “This budget comes at an extremely difficult time for the borough’s residents, the council, and the whole country.
“We are in a huge economic and pandemic crisis, but we are determined to continue to provide a high level of service. Savings will not impact residents this year but will require yet more from our dedicated staff and more work to prepare for future tough years. I know they will rise to the challenge.
“Difficult decisions lie ahead that will require us to transform and reduce costs even further with the least impact on services. We approach this challenge with some confidence, however, thanks to progress made already, cross-party participation and scrutiny, and public consultation, which has helped guide our thinking.
“Past prudence and action now mean we can afford to continue to play a leading role in boosting investment, supporting economic recovery and jobs. We will do so fairly, with the equality test at the heart of everything we do, and with a widely supported budget strategy, which will adapt as needed to ensure we balance the books and still support the public through these difficult times.”
Cllr Mark Cory, Leader of the Council, added: “This budget underscores and complements our Strategic Vision to guide Colchester in the right direction towards a greener and fairer future.
“Developing this budget has been particularly challenging, due to the high level of uncertainty caused by the coronavirus pandemic. The council has suffered financially because of Covid and the scale of the challenge means some difficult decisions have been inevitable, sadly. At every step we have included all councillors and political parties in briefings and the shaping of the budget. We will balance the books, focus on recovery and deliver our Strategic Vision for Colchester.
“We will continue to hold the Government to account for the promises they have broken on funding the full costs of Covid-19. They promised to support local councils throughout the pandemic and beyond, but sadly not only have they not delivered, but they are also cutting other funding pots such as New Homes Bonus. This makes local decisions even more difficult.”