Dozens of jobs are at risk and services face cuts as Brighton and Hove City Council tries to bridge a £54 budget gap over the next four years.
The shortfall would be about £19 million – before spending cuts and a proposed council tax rise – in the next financial year alone, according to the council’s draft budget report.
The report said that 24 full-time posts were at risk of redundancy and 38 unfilled jobs could be “deleted” as councillors and officials try to balance the books.
Senior councillors are due to debate the budget proposals at a town hall meeting on Thursday (1 December).
The council said that the budget report showed how high inflation, a weak economy, the cost-of-living crisis and real-terms government funding cuts were affecting the council’s finances.
The Chancellor’s autumn statement was expected to mean an extra £20 million in funding from the government but, the council said, costs were expected to rise by £39 million. This meant a shortfall of £19 million.
Even having earmarked savings and allowing for a 4.99 per cent council tax rise, the council was still trying to plug a £6.2 million deficit.
Services earmarked for cuts in the 2023-24 financial year, starting in April, include the Youth Arts programme for young people who have dropped out of education and training.
Scrapping the Youth Arts programme would save £48,000. It was proposed as a cut in this year’s budget but the scheme was reprieved after a campaign.
The council is also proposing to limit “expensive external residential placements” for children with disabilities – in independent and non-maintained children’s homes, special schools and boarding schools.
It also wants to seek joint funding from the NHS in this area as it seeks to save £450,000 from this the “demand-led budget”.
More public toilets may close permanently as the council looks to save £300,000 by reducing maintenance costs and utility bills – for water and electricity. The council may also look at charging for busy toilets, mainly on the seafront.
Libraries could be open for fewer staffed hours, relying on the self-service Libraries Extra scheme at other times to save £76,000. Children’s late fines could also be brought back to return at 15p a day and with a cap of £3.75.
The report, to the council’s Policy and Resources Committee, said that the government’s three-year spending review, which was supposed to increase council spending power, was not enough to deal with the joint blows of high inflation and national pay awards.
The £11.6 million forecast overspend this year was attributed to a combination of inflation at 12.5 per cent, the local government pay award of 6.3 per cent plus increased demands on adult and children’s social care and temporary and emergency housing.
The local government pay award added £3.3 million to the council’s spending bill this year. High fuel bills have also affected many council services.
The report said: “While the authority has seen very large shortfalls of circa £20 million before, during periods when government grants reduced substantially under austerity and deficit reduction policies, the context was very different with low inflation, low interest rates and a growing economy locally, nationally and globally.
“In the current context of high inflation, increasing interest rates, increasing service demands driven by the cost of living, and a weakened economy, managing a large budget shortfall of nearly £19 million presents a serious and unprecedented challenge which, together with substantial in-year pressures … will be a severe test of the authority’s financial resilience and sustainability.”
As well as funding services, the council needs to pay back nearly £6 million into its reserves over 10 years after the money was used to “financially smooth” the effects of the coronavirus pandemic.
Income from the council’s commercial property portfolio was also affected by the pandemic because it was “geared towards retail” and had suffered from changes in shopping habits.
The report assumed that council tax bills would go up by 4.99 per cent, including a 2 per cent rise to go towards the cost of adult social care.
Fees and charges were also expected to go up, with most of the details due to be decided in principle at council committee meetings in January.
The council must set its budget and council tax by Saturday 11 March. The budget council meeting is expected to take place on Thursday 23 February.
The council’s Policy and Resources Committee is due to meet at Hove Town Hall at 4pm on Thursday (1 December). The meeting is scheduled to be webcast on the council’s website.
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