Tonight, Crawley Borough Council will formally set its budget for the next 12 months. This budget is the first in Crawley’s history to have been produced entirely through joint-working, with Labour and the Conservatives working together to steer the town through the challenges created by COVID-19.
Without a doubt it has been the hardest budget I’ve had to produce since I became leader in 2014 and the first in which cuts have proven entirely unavoidable. While the council has seen its revenue from Government aggressively cut for a decade, over the last six years we have always found alternatives to cuts by carefully investing the council’s reserves and increasing the use of the councils paying services to generate income.
The economic impact of COVID-19 has not only reduced the number of people eligible to pay council tax and shrunk the business rates base, but effectively shut down all the council’s paying services. In all we’ve lost around £2.4m from £15m net revenue expenditure, with no way of raising more money to close the gap. Even so, we’ve worked to limit the impact on frontline services, with two-thirds of the budget gap closed through back office savings.
To decide the remaining cuts to services, we put proposals out to consultation–the biggest in the council’s history, and went with the options preferred by the public. Regardless, we recognise that reducing the number of adventure playgrounds and the level of grant funding available to the voluntary sector will hit some groups harder than others, which is why when more money was made available by the Government we scaled back these proposed cuts for the next council year.
I suspect that the council will pass the budget tonight almost unanimously, the question is: what next? We’re not past COVID-19 yet and a delayed Government review is expected to propose further cuts to Crawley’s budget. However, once the pandemic is over, there will be new opportunities for the council to generate its own income again and I’m determined to do everything I can to get back the money Crawley needs to provide the services residents deserve.