Looking ahead: financial challenges, delivering services and new opportunities in 2023
Statement from the Leader of the Council, Cllr Chris Sadler
The council has a strong track record of financial management and plans are in place for service transformation and modernisation to make the council financially sustainable in the medium to long term. Like most local authorities, Elmbridge Borough Council faces continuing financial pressures due to, limited government funding, the current economic crisis including high inflation, increasing energy costs and some residual financial impact of the pandemic.
Our Vision 2030 is ambitious and exciting and sets out how we will achieve a sustainable, thriving Elmbridge driven by the power of our community. This will ensure we continue to be the best place to live, work and do business in.
To help achieve our vision and continue to deliver our high-quality services, we will need to reduce costs and increase the income we generate while still focussing on the need in the borough.
The 'fair funding' review of Local Government finance has been continuously delayed, meaning that most of the data on which our funding is based is now at least 10 years old. The council’s approach to achieving budget reductions is to make savings in a planned way, using our reserves to avoid the crisis cuts which many authorities have (and are) facing. This is our 'managed reserves' strategy. Our approach leaves us in the fortunate position of starting 2023/24 in a financially resilient position and will help us plan the reductions we need in the medium term.
While some additional funding has been made available for councils as part of the provisional settlement (announced on 20 December 2022), it is insufficient to meet our forecast cost growth or future pressures. Even given the extra funding, the next few years will remain very tough for councils, with significant savings required to achieve balanced budgets. This settlement represents a ‘holding position’ until the next Parliament, aiming at stability. The ruling out of a business rates reset, or a fair funding review, means that the funding distribution is likely to remain fairly stable for another year, although you cannot rule out any scheme changes that might impact on the settlement for 2024/25.
We will be making some tough budget decisions to make sure people, places and businesses across our borough continue to thrive. It remains an unpredictable and difficult time ahead and our budget plans will aim to manage and maintain our strong financial position.
Increases to budgets for growth pressures have been made only where essential to maintain service provision. Provisions have also been made for key inflationary pressures such as energy costs. Council tax is an important source of income for the council and funds approximately a third of our gross annual budget. The budget in February will propose a council tax increase of just under 3%, which is the maximum the council is allowed to set without holding a referendum.
In preparing our budgets, we have made sure to:
- Include inflationary pressures on contracts
- Review our charges for optional services, such as garden waste and parking
- Identify income opportunities
- Protect the grants we provide to several of the voluntary and community sector organisations we support.
- Ensure employee levels meet service delivery needs
The council wide Transformation Programme, established in 2022 focusses on three key themes: Sustainable Elmbridge, Putting people first and thriving and resilient Elmbridge. A number of these projects are moving forward shape and will help us shape the future of our Borough, one that will help us meet our 2030 Vision.
Cllr Chris Sadler,
Leader, Elmbridge Borough Council