Chichester District Council avoiding ‘unpleasant surprises’ with financial plan

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THERE will be ‘no exception’ for the next two years, as Chichester District Council continues to bear the full brunt of central government cutbacks.

The council unanimously backed cabinet member for finance Tony Dignum’s financial strategy for the next five years at a full council meeting on Tuesday.

The chamber heard that the council was currently suffering a total shortfall of income against budget of £592,000 – a figure the council is assuming it will not recover in the years ahead.

This is made up of a £200,000 loss on car parks across the district and other income shortfalls including £111,000 with Careline, trade waste, recycling credits, Westgate Leisure Centre, the Novium, pest control and licensing.

Cllr Dignum said: “We have borne the full brunt of the coalition government’s austerity programme since 2010 and the next two years will be no exception.”

However, he said the council had a ‘legal duty’ to balance income and expenditure, with the council launching a further £2.4m deficit reduction programme in May this year.

Cllr Dignum said this had avoided cuts in frontline services for residents.

The reduction programme included slim-lining the district council’s senior management, which saw a reshuffle of jobs – leading to yearly savings of £300,000 in salaries.

Because of this programme, Cllr Dignum and district treasurer John Ward have predicted a surplus for the next two financial years, with the council then roughly breaking even for the following two years, before having a budget deficit of £250,000 in 2018/19.

Cllr Dignum warned the council could yet be further unbalanced by central government actions.

“It remains essential, therefore, that we achieve the outstanding balance of savings in the deficit reduction programme and stand ready to deal with any other unpleasant surprises,” he said.

“So far, major service reductions have been largely avoided.

“However, with reducing government grants, I must warn there is a risk there is a risk that the council may not be able to maintain existing services to the current level provided, let alone implement additional services.”

He said as a ‘first line of defence’ against any sudden shocks for the district council’s budget team, they had earmarked £1.3m as available to support the revenue support budget, ‘should the grants position be worse than expected or other adverse factors develop’.

As announced a fortnight ago at cabinet, the district council is yet to make a decision on its council tax precept for the upcoming financial year, leaving it until next year to make the final call.

However, Cllr Dignum noted the aim was to ‘limit increases in council tax to modest and affordable levels over the next five years’.

Councillors praised the presentation of the financial plan, unanimously backing it.