Thursday 23 May 2024
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Council services to be cut because of £1.9 million deficit

Mansfield District Council needs to plug a £1.9m deficit in its budgets to balance the books next year.

This is the result of inflationary pressures, rising energy costs and a £900,000 forecasted increase in staff wages.

New papers have revealed the authority could increase council tax to make up the shortfall.

But council officers and leading politicians are waiting for Whitehall to confirm the maximum legal amount they can increase bills by without having to call a public referendum.

The Labour-led council’s general fund revenue budget is £1,894,000 higher than previously forecast for next year, although this does not factor in planned “savings and efficiencies”.

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The figure is expected to be significantly higher in the following two financial years, with £4.12m in savings forecast for 2024/25 and a further £4.7m in 2025/26.

The authority says a “review [of all services provided by the council” will be taken to assess “whether or not the service will continue to be provided”.

Where the authority views a service should still be provided from 2024/25 onwards, an assessment of how much service will be offered will also be undertaken.

It comes as local authorities across the country look to Whitehall for financial guidance as the cost of living crisis worsens.

Inflationary pressures have impacted the cost of offering services to residents, while councils are also facing a potential £1,925 pay award for every member of local authority staff.

In Mansfield Council’s case, this pay award is expected to increase budgets by £802,000 in 2023/24.

A further £332,000 has been added through electricity increases, with gas budgets rising by £254,000.

Other councils in Nottinghamshire have already spoken out about their financial situations, with Nottinghamshire County Council needing to find £59m in savings over the next three years.

This includes £24m in 2023/24, with the authority indicating this will be found through ‘savings and efficiencies’ as well as council tax increases.

Ashfield District Council also needs to find about £3m next year to balance the books, with the authority’s leader Cllr Jason Zadrozny warning all the “easy options” have been taken through 12 years of austerity.

In Mansfield, new budget papers reveal savings for 2023/24 will be found through £9,000 in ‘cost reduction’, £755,000 in ‘establishment savings’, £142,000 from ‘income generation’ and £18,000 worth of service reductions.

The papers do not confirm specific policies.

A further £473,000 would come through the ‘corporate priorities’ reserve, with £247,000 of general fund balances to be used and a further £250,000 coming from income at the Wildflower Rise housing development.

These sums do not factor in any potential council tax increases – in what would be the second consecutive year of rising bills for Mansfield taxpayers.

Councils await guidance from the Treasury on the maximum council tax rise allowed.

Last year, district and borough councils were allowed to increase residents’ bills by either 1.99 per cent or £5 on a Band D, whichever was higher.

Taking the £5 Band D option would bring in £153,000 to Mansfield District Council’s budgets, with the 1.99 per cent rise generating £118,000.

The authority says it expects to receive the same level of grant support from Whitehall as in 2022/23, with the agreement from the Treasury a two-year settlement.

Dawn Edwards, the authority’s Section 151 Officer and head of finance, said in a report: “The council needs to be prepared to make decisions regarding the services provided, the level at which they are provided and the way in which they are provided.

“[This is necessary] if it is to maintain balanced and sustainable budgets for the future and ensure that priorities are delivered.

“At this stage, further work is necessary to provide the balanced budget required.

“A range of areas have been identified which will need to be quantified.”

Members of the council’s overview and scrutiny corporate resources committee will assess the council’s financial position on Tuesday, November 1.

This committee could recommend ways for the authority to find savings and the level of council tax increase necessary to balance the books.

A decision on how to find the cash will be made by the cabinet in January following recommendations from the scrutiny committee, with the wider budget due before full council on January 24.

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