After years of austerity, most people will be aware council budgets are under extreme pressure. In the next few years, the last of the central government grant which once formed the bulk of our funding will go and we’ll be left surviving on council tax, a portion of business rates collected locally–Crawley retains around £4m of £120m, a small amount of New Homes Bonus and what we can raise using our wits. This leaves councils with two choices: make more cuts or find more money.
At Crawley our strategy is to generate new income and I believe West Sussex should take a similar approach, unfortunately their latest financial paperwork has me worried. Firstly, in the Medium Term Financial Statement they’re only including Adult Social Care Precept for two years, perhaps because the council is up for election in the third year, but ultimately taking out the precept means more cuts have to be made.
Secondly, they assert that without savings there’s a £75.6m budget gap over the next four years. In truth, even the worst case scenario would making a cut of only a third of that figure. Why? Because they’re adding together the deficit for four years rather than stating the cumulative budget gap. If your household budget involved overspending by £25 a week for four weeks, you’d need to adjust your budget to reduce spending by £25 per week, the way they put it suggests you’d need to cut £100. So, why present this inflated figure? One possibility is people are more likely to accept cuts when presented with really bad figures than somewhat bad figures.
Every council faces budget difficulties right now, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t choices. You can choose to make cuts instead of generating income, but don’t misrepresent data in attempting to justify that choice.