Chesterfield Borough Council, like local authorities across the country, 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, the long-term financial impact of Covid-19 and a period of exceptionally high inflation which means the cost of buying goods, services and contracts has risen across the board.
A budget monitoring report – considered by the council’s cabinet on Tuesday 19 September – shows a forecast overspend of £774,000 for this financial year, with previously estimated budget shortfalls of £2.5m in 2024/25, rising to £3.4m in 2026/27.
But authority leaders are making progress in line with the council’s budget strategy which was adopted in July this year and are committed to doing all they can to protect local services in the face of what are unprecedented financial challenges.
Councillor Amanda Serjeant, deputy leader of the council, and cabinet member for finance and asset management, said: “This is not a financial crisis of our making – the position we find ourselves in is largely due to current economic factors outside of our control, compounded by historic and piecemeal Government underfunding of the sector.
“Nevertheless, we are not immune to the impact. As community leaders we must respond to these extreme pressures in a responsible and sustainable way, and we stand ready to make the difficult decisions which are needed to protect the essential services which the most vulnerable in our community rely on – especially in the current cost-of-living crisis.
“Whilst the budget monitoring report for the period April through June 2023 paints a difficult picture, we have in the last couple of months started to see the impact of the council’s new budget strategy in action.
“There are green shoots of recovery in some of our core sources of income, and we are starting to see savings coming through from work we have already carried out to manage demand for our services and control costs to the best of our ability.”
The report also sets out how the council is working hard to deliver £1.035m worth of savings that were approved as part of the budget setting process for the current financial year.
The council however acknowledges that further difficult decisions lie ahead if it is to meet its legal duty to set a balanced budget in February 2024, and in future financial years.
Councillor Amanda Serjeant continued: “We’re changing the way we do business to help us meet the budget pressures of future years. Current actions include investing in digital technology, adopting a more commercial approach to delivering some services, reviewing the use of buildings to help lower the council’s bottom line and making sure all of our services are delivering the very best value for money.
“In parallel with these actions there will also be a reduction in the size of the council’s workforce through voluntary redundancy and voluntary early retirement.
“Inevitably there will be consequences in relation to our ability to continue to deliver all of the council’s services to the same levels and standards. This might mean stopping the delivery of some services and / or reducing how much we deliver of others. Where this is the case, we will communicate and consult with local people about our intentions and, where appropriate, explore alternative ways to deliver these services if possible.”