Brentwood Council warned over “dire finances”

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Brentwood Borough Council has been warned over its “dire” finances – as COVID decimates council budgets.

Current forecasts highlight the council is now facing setting an unbalanced budget, with minimum reserves depleting below minimum level which is £2.5 million by 2028/29.

The working balance is forecast to have reduced from around £3.5m in 2024/25 to just £779,000 in 2030/31.

The 10-year forecast includes various static assumptions and does not currently include the use of earmarked reserves to maintain working balances above the minimum required level.

The council is assuming a decrease in trade waste income, season ticket income, car parking income and licensing income.

Now under the council’s control, the Brentwood Centre, which has only just recently reopened fully, is being assumed to operate at a £500k deficit over each of the 10-years in the forecast.

Council finance chiefs are investigating alternative operating models and considering the strategic view of the centre in its entirety.

At the start of July, council leader Chris Hossack told the policy, resources and economic development committee: “I’m not going to blame everything on COVID, I also iterated to you before your time how we used to enjoy seven figures of government cash injected into this council. We no longer do so we have to make adjustments.

“I’m confident with the team that we’ve got in the finance team that we will continue to make adjustments to keep doing what we need to do to keep this council solvent and delivering services and in the last years and even as this year we’ve had a pretty good track record of doing it.

“You’ve got a transparent report in front of you that shows you the way it is and as I’ve said tell what tells us that we need to continually make adjustments, innovate, commercialise and seek opportunity so we don’t stand still and we work hard to keep this council delivering services for the public.”

The administration was also heavily criticised for not bringing the report to its ordinary council meeting on Wednesday July 28, with Lib Dem deputy group leader Cllr Mark Lewis attacking Brentwood’s financial planning.

He said: “You told me the main issue is the seven figure reduction from central government. What discussions are you having to solve this with central Government?

“And what discussion are you having with the key players in order to get some finance back into Brentwood which is sorely needed.”

Cllr Hossack added: The numbers that have been published are dire and are a matter of fact and do need to be disclosed. There is nothing wrong with that.

“What we will continue to do is bring forward to you workable propositions that are designed to generate commercial income.

“And in addition to that of course we should petition central government for more funding.”

Piers Meyler

Local Democracy Reporter