Evolution to meet challenge of change
Boston Borough Council is one of the smallest local authorities in the country. Since cuts in funding by the Government in 2009 the council has met a huge austerity challenge laid before it and saved £2.4 million.
It has now published its working document for balancing its budgets over the next four years in order to find projected additional net spending reductions of £2.2 million by 2020. The Government has announced a 53 per cent reduction in funding to local government by 2020. This compares to cuts of 11 per cent for business, innovation and skills, ten per cent for justice and seven per cent for work and pensions. There will be increased spending for health (11 per cent), defence (ten per cent), education (seven per cent) and the Home Office (three per cent).
The Council's Transformation Programme includes a number of suggestions for making savings and generating income, but comes with the health warning that it will evolve as circumstances change, some schemes identified may change as projects develop and it will be under constant review.
Full details of the proposals can be seen from 9am today (Wednesday, May 11) at http://bit.ly/24JInrY
They include headline items such as removing the £70,000 cost of footway lighting. The borough council has been undertaking initial consultation with parish councils about this - some have indicated they may be willing to take on the cost and some have no concerns about footway lighting not being available. None have raised objections. Footway lighting is not the same as street lighting, which is a county council highways responsibility.
There is also a proposal to reduce spending on public toilets by 75 per cent, saving £150,000 a year, by looking at how costs could be reduced through a number of initiatives including introduction of community toilet schemes where some finance would be made available for toilets in commercial premises, such as shops, to be accessed by the public.
In addition to debate on the programme within the council, there will be consultation with the public from May 18 to June 29 when the public will be asked:
1) Do you agree that these are the areas that the council should be looking to transform in order to save money?
2) Are there other areas that you think should be added?
You can email comments now to firstname.lastname@example.org or in writing to Transformation, Boston Borough Council, FREEPOST PHQ17, Boston PE21 8BR or hand deliver to reception.
In addition to the opportunity for anyone to take part in the consultation 1000 surveys will be sent out to a random sample of residents.
The council has done its best to prepare itself for the difficult times ahead. It already has the leanest senior management team of any council in the county, possibly the country - just two. The chief executive has taken on the duties of the deputy chief executive and the finance director shares his time with a neighbouring authority.
Other staff work in part for Boston Borough Council and in part for neighbouring councils, such as East Lindsey District Council and South Holland District Council. Savings have also been made by sharing services, such as some refuse collecting duties.
The austerity challenges have not stopped coming. A further £2.2 million savings are projected to be needed over the next five years - £500,000 in 2017/18. And the Government has announced that the funding system it has historically provided for local authorities, called the revenue support grant, will be overhauled and reduce to nothing by 2020. In 2015/16 this contribution to Boston was £1.9 million.
The main other sources of income for the council come from council tax, some charges for services, such as car parking and garden waste collection, and a portion of business rates. The Government has said that when the revenue support grant regime is replaced in 2020 councils will be able to keep all business rates and not have to continue, as it has done, passing half to the Government, although details are yet to be announced on how this will work in practice.
But in the recent budget it was announced that many more businesses will become business rates exempt or pay much lesser amounts.
By law the council has to balance its annual budget - its outgoing must be the same or less than its income.
This is a challenge for not just the council, its elected members and staff, but for everyone who lives in the borough.
The council's member with responsibility for finance, Cllr Aaron Spencer, has already said difficult decisions will have to be made.
He said: "Let's be clear - there is no place to hide. The challenges that lie ahead are unprecedented. Tough decisions will have to be made about the services this council provides going forward. This council can no longer afford to fund all it once could. Residents will see a change to what this council does and how it provides its services. In order to ensure this council can continue to provide the services it is required to do so by law, whilst also supporting the district's most vulnerable residents and invest in the economy, it must continue to strive to be as efficient as possible in all its work, whilst ensuring it maximises the income it receives."
The council's leader, Cllr Peter Bedford, said: "These are challenging times and demand challenging solutions. The borough council has done well so far to meet its austerity obligations. But now is the time for others to join in partnership with the council; it's not the council's borough, it's your borough. This isn't driven by the borough council or the parish councils, but central Government cuts. We simply cannot afford to do all we once did. The stark choices now are to stop doing some of the things we have always done, do them differently or find new ways of paying for them. I hope we can have realistic and sensible discussions about the ways forward, however painful some may find them."
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