Chesterfield Borough Council has set out a range of new savings proposals to help address serious and significant funding gaps now and in future years – as it works to protect essential services and effectively meet the ever-increasing demand for services to help the most vulnerable.
Like local authorities across the country, the council is facing extreme pressures on its budgets, due to a variety of factors outside of its control.
These include ongoing risks and uncertainties over future Government funding (which is already less than half of that which was provided to councils in 2010), the long-term financial impact of Covid-19, rising demand for services due to the cost-of-living crisis, and a period of exceptionally high inflation which means the cost of buying goods, services and contracts has risen across the board.
A report which is due to be presented to the council’s Cabinet on Tuesday 14 November sets out the size and scale of the financial challenges facing the council, with current forecasts showing a budget shortfall of £4 million in 2024/25 – increasing in future financial years.
The council has already made substantial savings over the last 18 months, but much more is needed to address the budget gaps. The latest report puts forward a range of proposals to help the council find further savings which, if they can be achieved, will go a significant way towards meeting its legal duty to set a balanced budget for the financial year 2024/25 when the council meets in February 2024.
Councillor Amanda Serjeant, deputy leader of the council and cabinet member for finance and asset management, acknowledged that some difficult decisions lie ahead, but that the council stands ready to do all it can to protect essential services and support the borough’s most vulnerable residents.
“This national economic crisis is not of our making – the position we find ourselves in is largely due to economic factors outside of our control, compounded by historic and piecemeal Government underfunding of the sector.
“However, we do have control over how we respond and as community leaders it is our duty to manage this stark reality and be prepared to take the difficult decisions that will be needed to put the council on a sustainable financial footing for the future.
“The council has always been committed to finding new ways of working, and to making sure our services are running as efficiently as possible. But despite these actions, the sheer size and scale of what are unprecedented financial challenges mean there is still a significant amount of work to do.
“Next week, the council’s Cabinet will be starting to take some of these tough decisions – looking at ways in which we can deliver some services differently and, where appropriate, how we could raise more income in some areas to help protect the essential services that people rely on now more than ever.”
A wide range of new savings proposals have been developed in line with the council’s Budget Strategy, which was approved at a meeting of full Council in July 2023.
The report recommends that ‘approval in principle’ is given for officers to carry out reviews of a range of services and ways of working, including:
- How tourist information services are delivered, including use of the Visitor Information Centre in Rykneld Square.
- How some of our community buildings are used – namely Hasland Village Hall, the Assembly Rooms, and Revolution House.
- The levels of funding currently provided to a range of external organisations, including community and voluntary groups, and subsidies applied to the running of outdoor sports and leisure activities.
- How council venues, including the Winding Wheel Theatre, Healthy Living Centre and Queen’s Park Sports Centre are managed to ensure commercial opportunities and income are maximised.
- The use of digital technology, to further improve the efficiency of customer facing services.
- The council’s events programme, to make sure events are effectively supporting the town centre and parks while providing value for money.
- The management and maintenance of our parks and open spaces, to consider whether there are changes we can make to reduce costs.
The report also seeks approval to develop detailed proposals for the possible introduction of charging for garden waste collection, and a review of how the residents’ town centre car parking scheme currently runs.
Councillor Serjeant added: “It’s important to acknowledge that Chesterfield Borough Council has gone over and above for our communities, providing more services and support than many other district and borough councils. We’re proud of this, and the impact it’s had – but in light of the serious financial challenges facing us, regrettably we won’t be able to sustain this level of service in the future.
“The current national economic crisis is fundamentally impacting what councils will be able to deliver in the coming years – and without significant Government intervention or a reform of how local government is financed, we have no choice but to review which services we continue to deliver, and how we deliver them, even when this presents difficult choices.”
The report also proposes the launch of a Budget Conversation with residents, tenants, businesses, and community / voluntary organisations across Chesterfield borough – asking people to have their say on the council’s budget strategy.
If approved, the Budget Conversation will open in November and run for a month. The results will be used to help shape decisions about where under-pressure council budgets are spent in the future.
Additional to the budget conversation, the council will also need to run detailed engagement and consultation activities, where appropriate, ahead of making decisions on specific savings proposals.