Borough budget briefing - extra report

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Finance portfolio holder Michael Headley spoke to the Times & Citizen this week about the challenges facing Bedford Borough Council.

He claimed that, although government imposed cuts to council funding are set to increase, the borough still remains committed to frontline services.

He said: “Council tax bills are huge, and since they’ve come in they have increased, but this is the third year in a row that we have frozen council tax.

“Residents are having a really tough time, what they don’t need is the authority turning to them to make up the difference.”

He added: “We are also looking at income generation more, if people are going to buy things they might as well buy them from us. But what we want to do is keep council tax down. We’ve frozen car parking charges for three years now too, previously the council has balanced the books by putting them up.”

And Mr Headley also claimed that investment in areas such as school buildings and road repairs will not change.

He said: “We are looking at saving money by making sure we have the best procurement policies, and making sure we buy in bulk. There have been no library and children’s centre closures or changes to rural bus routes like in other authorities.

“We are still spending over £5million a year on road resurfacing because clearly this is important to residents, we can’t stop looking to the future. We are also spending £38million on school building works and are repaying external borrowing. It’s not about a quick fix, it’s about looking ahead.”

But, although it has been announced that council tax will be frozen for the third year running, Mr Headley claimed that making £9.9million in government imposed cuts, on top of last year’s £13million has not been easy, and the situation is set to get worse not better.

He said: “We are expecting bigger funding gaps over the next few years. We will endeavour to make the savings in the back office but each year it gets tougher. We are having to make savings on top of savings we made the year before.”

He added: “Some councils are really struggling, I saw Newcastle Council has withdrawn all funding for the arts, and Sheffield was talking about closing the Don Valley Stadium, all of which would have been inconceivable before. It is getting very tough, and some council are having to make those very difficult decisions already.”