Since I became Leader of Crawley Borough Council in 2014, we have worked hard to ensure that the cuts to our grant made by Government are not passed onto frontline services. Generating new income from council assets has proven highly successful, which is why despite losing our grant the Budget we set back in February maintained net revenue expenditure of £14m, the same as when I took office.
COVID-19 has put an end to that. Over the last ten years, the Government has increasingly tied council incomes to local economic performance. While our increased expenditure tackling the virus has been just over £1.5m, the cut to the council’s income has been £3m, which the Government has refused to help cover. This is not just a one year problem either, the economic impact of COVID on Crawley is such that the annual budget will need to be cut by £2m for the foreseeable future.
So, for the first time since I became Leader, the council is going to need to made actual cuts. We will of course do everything we can to limit the pain by focusing on genuine efficiency improvements, holding posts vacant, and avoiding the frontline as far as possible. However, the simple truth is that it is not possible to cut a seventh of a council’s expenditure without that having a noticeable impact.
In some ways, we are lucky that we have managed to go six years through the toughest period of local government funding in history without having to cut, but that does not make the decisions we now have to take any easier.
Even so, this is not the biggest issue Crawley right now. The risk of mass-unemployment amongst local residents and the lack of action from Government to help us avoid it is a far greater problem. Not only is the impact of unemployment on people’s lives far greater than any loss of local services, but the gap in council funding is the result of the economic crisis currently facing local businesses. Government action now would not only help save local jobs, but local services too.