04:38PM, Thursday 18 November 2021
The leader of the local independents has raised concerns that the council’s budget is a ‘holding budget’ that is too reliant on assumed Government grants.
In the council’s draft budget, £3m of central Government grant funding available to local authorities is considered as a potential income for the Borough.
But leader of the local independents Lynne Jones noted that the council may not get all £3m of a this – because it is already receiving another Government grant, targeted at supporting councils with a lower-than-average income.
Without that grant, she said, the council may not have a balanced budget, as the administration claims.
“There’s a lot of assumptions and a lot of unknowns in here,” Cllr Jones said. “We don’t know whether we will get a balanced budget yet, and we won’t know until December.
“We can’t say we have a balanced budget if we need to get grants. We’re not in control of our own finances – we would need £3million more in reserves for that.”
Leader of the council Andrew Johnson said: “We’re still awaiting precise details (on grants) – we’re confident that we will get some support from Government, but we may get more than we factored in, or we may get less.
“With that, the budget does have the potential to change. If we didn’t get any additional finance, we would have to consider other options.
“For the moment, we’re looking to get as much consultation on the draft budget as we can, to hear what the public and the opposition think.”
Cllr Jones also raised concerns that despite increases in council tax of 3 per cent, the Borough will struggle to keep up with increasing costs.
“A three per cent increase in our council tax is much less for this borough than in others, because we’re starting from a lower (base),” she said.
“Demand on children’s services is going up and up and until something changes, the gap between us and other councils is getting bigger and bigger.
“The council is waiting for the Government to say it can up council tax (beyond the 3 per cent cap). We have just got to survive until that happens,” she said.
Though the council continues to lobby Government ‘within reason’ to raise the cap, Cllr Johnson said that it would be ‘incredibly difficult’ to ask residents for more at this time.
Cllr Jones also raised concerns about some of the proposed savings in the draft budget.
Some of the savings are ‘reviews of resources’, including within the communities sector. Cllr Jones said this ‘raises some red flags.’
“(With these reviews) it isn’t a case of ‘we’ve found some savings,’ it’s a case of ‘We’re looking to find some savings’,” she said.
In response, Cllr Johnson said:
“Some of this will involve restructures but we’re not looking to reduce headcount – I can say that with certainty.”