Chesterfield residents invited to help shape council’s budget as it faces estimated £4m deficit
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Labour-controlled Chesterfield Borough Council has stated, like many other local authorities nationwide, that it is facing serious funding gaps on its budgets and a rising demand on services due to the cost of living crisis, the Covid-19 pandemic, exceptionally high inflation rates, rising costs, and uncertain Government funding.
The council has revealed an estimated budget shortfall forecast of £4m in 2024/25 which is expected to increase in future financial years but it aims to protect essential services and continue supporting the most vulnerable.
Chesterfield Borough Council – which states it has already made substantial savings over the last 18 months – is now holding a ‘Budget Conversation’ survey and public consultation welcoming residents’ views after presenting a hard-hitting report to the council’s cabinet on November 14 outlining its proposed saving plans and a strategy alongside its target to set a balanced budget for the 2024/25 financial year.
Councillor Amanda Serjeant, deputy leader of the council and cabinet member for finance and asset management, said: “As community leaders it is our duty to manage our way through the significant financial challenges that all councils currently face and be prepared to take the difficult decisions that are needed to ensure the council is able to maintain essential services and support the most vulnerable in our communities.
“We want to make sure that the views of our communities are at the heart of these decisions – now, and in future years – so this is the start of a long-term conversation to understand what matters most to everyone in our borough, including our residents, tenants, businesses and community and voluntary groups.
“The Budget Conversation survey will ask a broad set of questions about where and how people think we could make budget savings and should focus where we spend our budgets. It will only take a few minutes to complete, so we would encourage everyone to take part.”
Chesterfield Borough Council Opposition Liberal Democrat Leader, Cllr Paul Holmes, has claimed the council’s current budget plans will result in £3m of cuts and savings that will heavily impact residents.
He has also argued the Labour-controlled council shares responsibility for its financial plight after he claims it used money from its Reserves and this pushed up this year’s budget deficit, and he claims the council increased staffing every year from 684 in 2017 to 840 in 2022 which resulted in further large outlay to meet salaries.
Cllr Serjeant has conceded that the council will have to reduce its workforce in light of the authority’s financial position by looking at voluntary redundancies and voluntary retirement options, while avoiding the need for compulsory redundancies, and this may also mean stopping the delivery of some services and possibly reducing others.
But the council aims to address any budget deficit by rationalising its assets, reviewing services, transforming how it delivers services, by making better efficiency savings, and by increasing its income where possible.
Its latest financial report – which was presented at the council ‘s cabinet meeting on November 14 – puts forward a range of saving proposals to go towards meeting its legal duty of setting a balanced budget for the 2024/25 financial year when the council meets in February 2024.
The Budget Strategy Implementation Plan has recommended a series of concerning reviews of services and practices that will inevitably lead to changes for the borough’s residents.
These include: How tourist information services are delivered; How some council community buildings are used; The levels of funding provided to a range of external organisations and subsidies applied to the running of outdoor sports and leisure activities; How council venues are managed; The use of digital technology; The council’s events programme; And the management and maintenance of parks and open spaces.
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: “People may have also seen information about some specific service proposals which we’re developing in the shorter-term – for example, the introduction of charging for green waste collections and changes to the way we use some of our public buildings.
“Many of these will need further engagement and, or consultation with our communities before any final decision can be made, and these consultations will run in addition to the questions we’re asking through our Budget Conversation.”
The Budget Conversation survey can be found online at www.chesterfield.gov.uk/budget-conversation and the initial part of the survey will run until Friday December 15.
Useful background information about how the council is funded and which services it has responsibility for is also available via the same website link which people are invited to consider before completing the online survey.
Following the survey deadline date of December 15, the survey’s webpage will remain open for general feedback and it will provide links to other relevant consultation and engagement activities.
Paper copies of the survey will also be available at Chesterfield Town Hall, Queen’s Park Sports Centre, Staveley Healthy Living Centre, and at the offices of Brimington Parish Council.