Stafford Council warns of savings - but doesn't plan any service cuts this year

Budget savings may need to be made in the future by Stafford Borough Council to help balance its books according to a senior member – but no cuts to services are planned this year.

The authority’s deputy leader Mike Smith has warned fellow cabinet members that a shortfall is predicted between the council’s income and what it spends in the coming three years. The council has been able to set a balanced budget for the coming 2022/23 financial year however, as required by law.

On Thursday Stafford Borough Council’s cabinet backed the proposed 2022/23 budget, as well as indicative budgets for 2023/24 and 2024/25. The plans will now be go forward to a Resources Scrutiny Committee meeting on Tuesday (January 18) before being considered by the full council.

If approved Band D households would pay £165.38 to the borough council in 2022/23 – an increase of £3.08 for a Band D property compared to the 2021/22 council tax bill.

Councillor Smith said: “The budget assumes a council tax increase of 1.9%, which is what we agreed some years ago. This is in line with the existing policy and represents an increase of just six pence per week for a Band D property.

“This provides all the borough’s services and the increase is below the threshold that would require a referendum. And it maintains our promise of keeping council tax raises below inflation, which we have done since 2003.

“The income from the brown bin green waste collection is predicted to continue to support the budget, particularly in light of the predicted loss in car parking income.

“There are predicted shortfalls when comparing forecast income against forecast expenditure in the following two years. This is of some concern.

“Discussions are currently in progress to start identifying how we can ensure the budget position will be in balance in the medium term. It is recommended that rather than recommend budget savings now, that could have a detrimental impact on service delivery, it is better to monitor the Government policy position and keep forecasts under review.

“Ideas will be developed over the coming months that can be implemented from 2023/24 should the need arise. We now have a joint chief executive between ourselves and Cannock Chase and one of the areas we need to explore is the sharing of more services.”

The coronavirus pandemic continues to affect council finances. And local authorities across the country also facing uncertainty over how they will be funded in the future.

Councillor Smith said: “Because of the pandemic not a lot has changed. The uncertainty we had last year remains.

“The Government has just rolled forward on its position from last year, with a one-year settlement and some extra grant aid, and postponing the fundamental changes that were planned for the retention of business rates, the business rates reset and New Homes Bonus.

“In general this year’s budget is a continuation of last year’s. The Government has decided to delay its review this year but this will have a significant impact next year and the year beyond.

“Whilst not being complacent, it is worth emphasising that part of the projected shortfall is the anticipated impact of the Government’s new financial regime. Very little is known about what the Government is seeking in this regard.

“To summarise, we are managing our way through and hopefully out of the pandemic with assistance from Government grants. For 2022/23 much Government funding has been continued from last year.

“This, together with prudent management of our resources, has enabled us to produce a budget without any need for service cuts, as well as enabling us to invest in the borough, for example through the Future High Streets Fund.

"The future of local government finance is uncertain but the borough, unlike many councils, has no debt and is well-placed to build on its solid foundations to enable us to thrive in the longer term. “

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