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As Council Cuts Loom ‘Those Affected Are Going to Scream’

Published on: 12 Nov, 2020
Updated on: 12 Nov, 2020

By Martin Giles

GBC’s lead councillor for finance gave a dire warning last night (November 11) about the financial challenge the borough faces in the wake of the Covid pandemic. Cuts to some popular services seem inevitable.

In a bleak presentation to the Executive Advisory Board (EAB) on next year’s outline budget, Cllr Tim Anderson (R4GV, Clandon & Horsley), said: “The task ahead of us is going to be very painful. A lot of difficult decisions will have to be made.

Cllr Tim Anderson

“All councillors must go into this process with an open mind. There is no room for sacred cows. We have to rise to the financial challenge Covid has now set us.

“The cost combined with loss of income is crippling. We have to move quickly to balance the 2021 budget and the years that follow.

“There will be a full [public] consultation process including a survey of residents about their priorities when it comes to council services. No decisions have been made… but we need to grow thick skins because those who are to be affected are going to scream.”

Cllr Fiona White (Lib Dem, Westborough) said she normally favoured public consultation, but councillors had a duty to protect the vulnerable, although many people might “prioritise fixing potholes over adult social care, based on personal experience”.

Cllr Fiona White

Earlier, the council’s finance director, Claire Morris, had warned the meeting of the volatility of the situation, presenting slides that showed a projected £2.7 million budget deficit for the next financial year, and deficits continuing until 2025.

But planned deficits are not allowed by law. Unlike central government, local authorities have to set balanced budgets and cannot borrow.

Nor can they transfer funds from the housing revenue account, for example from a sale of the council’s £140m of property assets, to the general revenue account, used to pay for council services. Reserves on this account have already been reduced to almost zero.

Before any sign of the pandemic, the council was already having to deal with a budgetary deficit caused by the withdrawal of government grants. Until recent years, these had been a major element of its income.

The report before the board stated: “The scale of the shortfall between income and expenditure is significant, particularly considering the fact that the council has made substantial savings, efficiencies and [raised] additional income in the past three years … when calculating the budget shortfall.

“To deliver further savings of about £4.4 million… savings equivalent to about 32% (just under one-third) of the council’s budget need to be found.”

Tellingly, the report continued: “This may require some very difficult decisions to be made about the level of service provision the council can afford to provide to the community.”

The meeting then went into closed session to discuss the various savings options, some of which were likely to affect staff implications. But those listed within the published report for review were the council’s:

  • Provision of discretionary services;
  • Capital [investments etc] programme; and
  • Need for office accommodation.

Also to be considered are radical reorganisation such as merging with a neighbouring borough and merging them with other neighbouring boroughs and part of the county council to create one of several unitary councils in Surrey.

The discretionary services review will look at whether amenities such as sports facilities, the museum, entertainment venues and parks and gardens are affordable in their present format. Grants to outside bodies, such as the Yvonne Arnaud Theatre, will also be reviewed.

“Statutory services” such as rubbish and recycling collection, planning services and provision of social housing, which the council has to provide by law, will continue.

Cllr Anderson told The Dragon today: “We will not abandon the vulnerable in our borough. Our team of council officers in that area is inspirational.”

The report with any recommendations from the EAB will go to the GBC Executive on November 24.

 

 

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test One Response to As Council Cuts Loom ‘Those Affected Are Going to Scream’

  1. David Wragg Reply

    November 12, 2020 at 1:11 pm

    Short of cash, but how much will a public survey cost?

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