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Budget strategy: Cabinet approves raft of proposals to tackle funding gap

Members endorsed proposals for a budget strategy

Date issued: 15 October 2020

Cabinet members have set a course for efficiency savings and a wide-ranging review of services, as the council seeks to plug a substantial funding gap created by the coronavirus pandemic.

Members last night (14 October) agreed to dig deep into reserves to ease this year’s funding gap, as they looked to trim £1.7 million from next year’s budget through a combination of efficiency measures – including the potential loss of up to 27 full time posts – and increased fees and charges for services like planning, allotments and car parks.

The severity of the financial challenge from coronavirus is expected to see commercial income almost halve, as the council face losses of over £11m this year and further losses in later years. Government support will help, in part, but this year only. In these circumstances, Cabinet accepted the council may have to use £6.2m of reserves across 2020/22, despite job cuts and savings, and still have a £2.6m budget gap for 2022/23 to plug.

Together with proposed budget savings and opportunities outlined in the Medium Term Financial Forecast assumptions, members endorsed proposals for a budget strategy comprising the following themes:
 
  • Priorities: a reprioritisation of the council’s Strategic Priorities
  • Efficiency: optimising the efficiency of council services, tasks, and processes – including accelerating digital transformation
  • Service provision: reviewing levels and models of service provision and organisational structures
  • Commercial: maximising income across all council services by optimising fees and charges, finding and predicting new income opportunities and commercial projects, and reviewing the use of assets
  • Communities: working with stakeholders, partners and service providers to harness the potential of our communities

Wider public consultation will be undertaken with residents and other stakeholders, during November. The results of formal staff and public consultations will be discussed by Cabinet, when the final Budget Strategy proposals are considered in January 2021.

Cllr David King, Colchester Borough Council Portfolio Holder for Business and Resources, said: “The Government has fallen short on its promise to fully compensate councils for the losses and extra costs of dealing with this unprecedented health and economic crisis. We appeal to them to help now and from next year onwards, as we face huge income losses not of our making.
 
“We can, for now, balance the books. We can continue to serve our residents well. But only by deep cuts to planned spend this year and because we are able, due to past prudence, to dig deep into our reserves. But we can only spend those reserves once.

“Protecting frontline services and jobs remains a priority, as we look to reshape the organisation and service delivery with partners and by listening to our staff. We will be imaginative, looking at our ways of working, where we work and our estate for opportunities to balance the books beyond this year.  

“I am confident we will find a way and that we will find opportunities in this crisis. But as this next wave of the pandemic and lockdowns show, we all face huge volatility and uncertainty. Our budget strategy will change as needed and enable us to identify what else we must do to balance the books and still support the public through these tough times.” 

Cllr Mark Cory, Leader of the Council, added: “Like many organisations and businesses in Colchester, the council has suffered financially as a result of Covid and we need to look at transforming and how we make savings. The scale of the challenge means difficult decisions are inevitable, sadly.

“We will be working closely with all our staff, especially those potentially impacted by these proposals, and the unions to ensure we give them all the necessary support through this unsettling period.”

The proposals, which received cross-party support from the Scrutiny Panel on 13 October and praise for the transparent approach taken by Cllr King and the Finance team, will now go forward for public consultation and further consideration by members in January 2021.
 

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