Central Bedfordshire Council to get £2.5million cash boost in government settlement

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CBC's reliance on reserves reduced in budget plans, as extra £2.5m confirmed from government's financial settlement

A one-off payment of an extra £2.5m is being given to Central Bedfordshire Council, as part of the government’s financial settlement this year (2023/24), a meeting heard.

This money is ring-fenced, but will help reduce the amount of reserves the council has to spend to balance the books.

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The local authority’s budget for 2024/25 identifies the savings required to achieve that target amid continuing financial pressures, according to a report to its executive.

Central Bedfordshire Council's Priory House - Chicksands, SheffordCentral Bedfordshire Council's Priory House - Chicksands, Shefford
Central Bedfordshire Council's Priory House - Chicksands, Shefford

Efficiencies totalling £22.7m are identified for the next financial year to mitigate these funding challenges, said the report. “The proposed budget plans for a 4.99 per cent increase in council tax in 2024/25.

“CBC implemented a freeze on council tax for 2023/24, which left the budget with about £9.5m less income per annum than could have been achieved.

“For the majority of service fees and charges there will be a 6.7 per cent increase for 2024 in line with September’s consumer price index (CPI).

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“The new homes bonus scheme is confirmed as continuing for 2024/25. CBC’s allocation of £3.7m has been built into the budget for a period of two years.

“Earmarked reserves at the end of 2022/23 stood at £86.1m and the general fund balance at £26.4m. The council recognises the policy of using reserves to support the revenue budget isn’t sustainable and is seeking further efficiencies to reduce the reliance in subsequent years.

“The medium-term financial plan (MTFP) shows that a recovery is possible in years three to four whereby reserves can be reinstated,” added the report. “Based on these assumptions, CBC will rebuild its reserves to the value of £16m from 2026/27 to 2027/28.”

Executive member for finance and Independent Aspley and Woburn councillor John Baker referred to “some good news” around the £2.5m grant, warning: “It’s a one-year only gift to this council, rather than a guaranteed uplift in our grant every year.

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“So we remain cautious and prudent in our approach to balancing the books. That’s why we need to deal with the significant difference between our income and our expenditure.

“The lobbying of the council leader has paid some dividends and councillor Adam Zerny has been invited to a meeting with a minister to discuss our concerns around how local government funding works.

“We need to save £22.7m through efficiencies. We were going to use £17.2m of reserves, which has reduced to £14.7m because of the gift. But it’s still a massive budget debt which needs closing.

“To do so, we’re proposing a five per cent council tax increase and also recommending implementing an annual garden waste collection charge of £55 for anyone wanting it collected from home.

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“Nobody wants to do this, but I’m genuinely lost for any alternative solutions and I’m still happy to consider other ideas. We’re retaining all the services people rely on, such as libraries and youth clubs.

“To do so we can’t avoid putting up fees and a little cutting round the edges,” he explained. “By making these changes we can protect those key services.”

At the meeting on Tuesday (February 6) the executive committee agreed several recommendations for consideration by full council on February 22nd, including the 2024/5 revenue budget and MTFP for 2024/25 to 2027/28.