Castle Point will shortly be ‘living beyond its means and must adjust’

Residents in Castle Point have been warned the council will shortly be “living beyond its means and must adjust” in the face of a growing budget deficit.

Castle Point Borough Council has forecast a significant budget gap which, if not addressed, will amount to an accumulative funding gap in the region of £22m over the next nine years.

It adds that while general reserves appear relatively healthy short term, the council has created a range of earmarked reserves which mean it will shortly be “living beyond its means and must adjust”.

The warnings from the council leader Councillor Andrew Sheldon were spelled out as the council agreed a rise in council tax, meaning households in Band D properties will see bills for Castle Point services increase from £268.38 to £273.69 from April.

Cllr Sheldon said at Full Council on February 23: “Every year we come into this chamber and talk about how the headwinds facing this council are getting worse and worse.

“Our officers and financial cabinet members go away and manage to bring back a balance budget with relative few big decisions for us to have to make.

“After 20 years those times are now finally over and over the next year this council is going to have to make some very serious decisions in order it stays functioning.

“We may well see a council of a very different shape with a very different focus next year.

“Because we have to make sure the books add up and we have to make sure residents get value for money and we meet their expectations as a council going forward.”

The council has said that initiatives being looked at include the conversion of existing premises to serve an alternative purpose.

Councillor Wayne Johnson, cabinet member for resources, said: “It is extremely important the council addresses this position during this next financial year.

“Failure to do so could lead to even larger accumulative funding gaps over subsequent years

“Reduced government funding over several years, rising cost pressures caused by numerous factors and the growing demand for services are combining to create a perfect storm in local government and discussions have already been initiated at joint strategic level and some potential initiatives are being considered which may help future revenues and cost reductions.

“Our section 151 officer has also engaged with leaders of the opposition parties to ensure all parties who form this council understand the importance and urgency of this situation.”

He added: “The key component of this budget is the reality of the challenges that both this council and residents face.

“It is no mean feat to produce a balanced budget under the current financial conditions but I am pleased to say that efficient and prudent management means that even under these difficult circumstances we can continue to provide high quality and value for money services for our residents.”

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Piers Meyler

Local Democracy Reporter