Wolverhampton Council delays projects to balance books but expects future deficit

A council in the Black Country has managed to balance its books despite the impact of coronavirus on its services, chiefs have revealed.

Wolverhampton Council leader Councillor Ian Brookfield
Wolverhampton Council leader Councillor Ian Brookfield

Wolverhampton Council held back on projects and kept vacancies unfilled to ensure it came around 0.26 per cent under its target budget.

But the council is still forecasting a deficit of almost £30 million by 2023-2024 – despite the slight underspend for the 2020-2021 period.

It comes as Wolverhampton Council's leader Ian Brookfield called on the Government to act now and guarantee "sustainable funding".

Councillor Brookfield said: “Covid massively distorted our budget last year, it meant that certain council services were unable to operate as normal and therefore departments spent less than they ordinarily would because it was all hands to pump dealing with the pandemic emergency.

"This, combined with our planned and prudent financial management, led to a small underspend which will be used to ease future pressures because it is vital to remember we continue to forecast a deficit of almost £30 million by 2023-2024.

"This council has been forced to make cuts of £235 million due to reductions in Government funding over the past 10 years and we have absolutely no certainty over how Government intends to fund councils in the future. Based on the very limited information provided by the government, we continue to be prudent with our finances and we’re planning for the continuing austerity ahead until we hear any different."

Councillor Brookfield said they "literally have no clue" about what the funding will be beyond the money they've received from this year, as he called on Ministers to help the city bounce back from the impact of the virus.

He added: "I continue to urge the Government to give us the tools we need to do the job so we can deliver our ambitious long-term plans for our city and help our communities and businesses to ‘relight’ from the shadow of Covid.

"The impact of the pandemic is not going to disappear, it will be felt for years to come in terms of businesses which have gone bust, unemployment and associated problems of poverty and mental health issues.

"We need a guarantee of sustainable funding to be able to realise our big ambitions for the city of Wolverhampton, to be able to make long-term plans and so we can confidently emerge from this pandemic stronger than ever and looking forward to a far brighter future."

The issue will be discussed by Wolverhampton Council's cabinet on Wednesday.

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