Council facing budget shortfall of £16.5m in next financial year
Rising fuel and energy costs have been cited as Flintshire Council faces a shortfall in its budget of £16.5m for the next financial year.
High levels of inflation have also been highlighted as a contributing factor in a newly published report showing the predicted gap the local authority needs to plug in 2023-24.
Officials have warned there are no major cost-cutting proposals available to reduce the figure without the risk of services becoming “unsafe” to run.
It means the authority is likely to be reliant on Welsh Government funding and council tax payments to fill the void.
However, the indicative settlement the council is expecting to receive from minister in Cardiff Bay stands at 3.5 per cent, which is said to be much less than in previous years.
Senior councillors have been told the difficult economic outlook could make it harder than normal to set a balanced budget.
In a joint report, the council’s corporate finance manager Gary Ferguson and chief executive Neal Cockerton said: “The economic outlook is extremely challenging with inflation at its highest level in 40 years and with considerable increases in energy costs.
“These factors together with an increase in individuals National Insurance contributions mean that all households are experiencing a reduction in income.
“Inflation forecasts on energy and fuel is particularly volatile and we are working through the latest inflationary estimates with our energy team.
“This represents a significant risk and is likely to result in an increase to the forecast which we will include in future reports.
“The forecast will be kept under review and updated as appropriate throughout the year.”
For the first time in a number of years, the 2022/23 local government settlement included indicative figures for future years of 3.5 per cent for 2023/24 and 2.4 per cent for 2024/25.
Mr Ferguson and Mr Cockerton said the council was grateful for the advance notice, but said it meant it would face a struggle during those years.
They said: “These indicative allocations, though welcome, are at a much lower level than those received over the last two years so will present significant challenges and increase the requirement for budget contributions to be met from other sources.
“Therefore, the need to consider areas of service reform to generate a higher level of cost savings will be an area where the council will need to undertake further work over the summer to find solutions so that we are able to set a legal and balanced budget.
“Members will be aware that whilst we are able to identify some cost savings and efficiencies as part of our annual budget setting process, there are no cost savings of any scale remaining following a decade of underfunding of local government.
“In previous years, the council has rightly stood on the principle that it will not reduce the budget for any service to the point where the service is unsafe, or to do so would mean we would fail to meet our statutory duties or fail to meet our quality standards.”
The pair said it was too early for the authority to indicate what council tax levels will look like for 2023/24.
The draft local government settlement for Welsh councils is expected to be published later this year, before Flintshire’s final budget is set next spring.
The report will be discussed by members of the council’s ruling Labour cabinet at a meeting being held tomorrow (Tuesday, July 12).
Liam Randall – Local Democracy Reporter (more here).
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