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Budget crisis: Garden Club plans paused

Plans to be reviewed

Date issued: 9 July 2020

Proposals for the introduction of a new Garden Club are to be put on hold by Colchester Borough Council, to allow for further review of the plans to be carried out.

After carefully considering the proposals, Cabinet last night (8 July) agreed the plans should be reviewed and further developed by a Task and Finish Group, in line with the following recommendations from the Scrutiny Panel:
 
  1. A pause be taken on the proposal to introduce changes to the garden waste collection service;
  2. A cross-party Task & Finish Group be set up to review waste service costs and implications and to include representatives of all-party groups;
  3. Ward councillors be consulted on any proposed changes to the use of wheelie bins and specifically as to the identification of geographical areas where wheelie bin usage would or would not be appropriate.
  4. Further exploration be made of the five-point response to Budget Recovery agreed at the June Scrutiny Panel meeting, including the forensic understanding of statutory and non-statutory service provision by the Council;
  5. Cabinet continues to lobby central government for a long-term financial settlement for the benefit of this council's finances and its residents.
The proposals for the Garden Club were put forward to help the council in reducing the predicted gap in its budget in the next financial year due to the loss of income it is facing as a result of national restriction put in place to tackle the spread of coronavirus (Covid-19).

While the Government has pledged to financially support councils as a result of the impact coronavirus (Covid-19) it has so far only provided Colchester with £8.1m towards helping an estimated £10m shortfall in its budget this year.

The council will be using money from its reserves to cover the funding gap this year, but is potentially needing to find £2m through efficiencies and increased income to support next year’s budget.

Cllr Martin Goss, Colchester Borough Council Portfolio Holder for Waste, Environment and Transportation, said: “The decision whether to charge for garden waste collections was never going to be easy and, as I have said publicly, I dislike immensely even having to consider looking at it. Personally, it is the last thing I would want to see invoked.

“However, because the Government has yet to back up its initial commitment to reimburse councils for the money they have lost as a result of helping the fight against the spread of Covid-19, we are in a position of facing a gap in our budget next year.

“We can use our reserves to help ease the funding gap we are facing this year – but once that is used, we can’t use it again. Tough decisions will need to be made by all local authorities. We are trying to deal with this now."

Cllr David King, Colchester Borough Council Portfolio Holder for Business and Resources, added: “Government has not kept the promise of fully reimbursing councils for extra costs incurred to help and shield the vulnerable through this health and now huge economic crisis. That means we are facing a funding black-hole not of our making. We can dig deep into our reserves to ease the funding gap this year, but we can only use our reserves once.

“This means we must ask residents to help us fill the gap. That means difficult and unpopular decisions, such as charging for garden waste. In an ideal world, we would continue to deliver a free garden waste collection service. But it feels fairer to give residents a choice of options for garden waste collection, at up to £1 a week, than a huge increase in council tax for everyone.

“We are a low-tax authority now. We will still be a low-tax authority if we have a garden waste service charge. However, I welcome the pause for the opportunity it gives us to help raise awareness.

“Our approach is not about raising extra money. We will need to cut costs and jobs at least harm to services, to balance the books. It will be great to have cross-party support through the Task and Finish Group and to have them join us in lobbying Government for the money they have yet to provide.”

The timetable for the review is not yet determined and further information will be made publicly available on the council’s website in due course.
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