The first phase of public consultation that will help inform the setting of South Gloucestershire Council’s budget for next year (2023/24) has launched, with residents encouraged to take part and signal their views.
The council continues to focus on delivering value for money and aligning its spending to the priorities in the Council Plan, while also identifying ways to reduce spending and work more efficiently and effectively. The council has already reduced spending by £102 million in recent years. This year a further £2.9 million in savings have been identified, building on the £23.6 million of savings currently being delivered.
The council is in a relatively strong financial position going into this crisis because it was able to save an underspend of £2.3 million in 2021/22, in anticipation of cost increases this year. Additionally, early this year, it implemented controls on some spending while the impact of rising inflation emerged and was assessed. Also, the impact of rising energy prices will not be immediate as the existing fixed price arrangement does not expire until March 2023.
However, due to significant global events, rising inflation, which is expected to continue to rise despite recent interventions, and continuingly increasing demand for services, costs are rising at an unprecedented rate for the council. As a result, it is anticipated that the budget gap for next year could be as high as £29.3 million as the serious financial situation affecting all local authorities is felt locally.
This means the council will need to consider the potential for changes in services in order to significantly reduce spending, as it is legally prevented from approving a budget which will see the authority spending more than it will receive in revenue.
The first phase of the consultation asks local people about their views on existing services and their priorities for the future, which will help the council assess public opinion about where to direct any changes in order to balance the budget. It also asks for views about the potential to increase council tax.
At this stage, there is still uncertainty about how much money South Gloucestershire will receive from Government. More information will come forward in December as well as proposals from the council about new ways to increase income and reduce spending, and the impact those steps might have. These options will be presented to its Cabinet in December and a second phase of consultation will be launched then to give the public more information and ask for their thoughts when there is more detail available.
Councillor Ben Burton, cabinet member responsible for resources at South Gloucestershire Council, encouraged people to take part in the consultation process. He said: “The financial challenges we are facing as a council are more significant than we have ever seen before. Our commitment to delivering value for money and focussing our resources on our key priorities, which we set out in our Council Plan after consulting with local people, mean that we are in a stronger position than many other authorities.
“That being said, the global events that are impacting our national economy and that people are feeling in their own back pockets are affecting the council too. We now face some very difficult choices and whatever steps we have to take will impact on the services we provide, the people who use those services and our people who deliver them.
“Through this consultation process we want residents to understand the situation and to give us their views to help shape the way forward. We are committed to continuing to protect and invest in the services people rely on, particularly those who are most vulnerable. We also want to continue our support to young people, giving them the best start in life, and to invest in the future of our communities, so that they are thriving and sustainable for years to come. I want to encourage people to take part in this process so that we will be able to respond to local people’s priorities in the months ahead.”
There are two phases to this year’s budget consultation, with the first launching today (Monday 17 October) focussed on the council’s draft budget proposals. The second phase will run from Tuesday 6 December and will ask for views on updated budget proposals, which will consider up to date information on what funding will be available from central government and the options available for balancing the council’s budget.
There are a number of ways to take part. Full information is available on our website at www.southglos.gov.uk/budget. Comments can be submitted:
• By email: firstname.lastname@example.org
• By completing an online survey or download from the council website: www.southglos.gov.uk/budget
• By writing to: Freepost RTXL-YJXJ-BXEX, South Gloucestershire Council, Corporate Research & Consultation Team, Council Offices, Badminton Road, Yate, Bristol, BS37 5AF
• By telephoning 01454 868009.
Those who take part in the first phase of the consultation process before 6 December and provide their details will be advised when the second phase launches so they can add their views as more details are made available.