An investigation by the BBC Shared Data Unit found that local authorities across the UK plan to make at least £1.7 billion worth of savings in the 2021-22 financial year. Central Bedfordshire Council has planned to make ‘efficiencies’ of £10.735M (£37.19 per person).
The Shared Data Unit study focused on the annual budgets of 171 upper and single-tier councils in the UK ratified before the close of the 2021-22 financial year in March and February.
These budgets set out the financial challenges for the year ahead, while setting a council tax level and outlining any savings needed to keep a balanced budget.
When setting budgets for the 2021-22 financial year, councils with the responsibility for adult social care in England were given the ability to raise council tax by 4.99% in total (with 3% ring-fenced for use in adult social care departments).
It had previously been capped at 3.99%, and any proposed rises above 4.99% would require a referendum. The increase recorded by the Shared Data Unit for Central Bedfordshire was 4.95%.
When asked about Central Bedfordshire Council’s (CBC) financial pressures during 2020/21 and 2021/22, a spokesperson said:
“Local government finances are always under pressure. The enduring COVID-19 pandemic gives added uncertainty at the present time. Main pressures we have budgeted for are around the cost of social care and children’s services.”
“Improved financial support would of course be welcome, but Government has provided significant additional funding during the past 12 months.
“Whether more is needed for COVID-19 responses will depend on how long and how severe the crisis is. Adult social care is underfunded and we would welcome permanent support for that. Ad hoc measures make planning for the future much harder.”
The CBC spokesperson said the Council has no budgeted cuts planned as a result of the pandemic and that it does not plan to use reserves in response to the pandemic, but:
“Some reserves will be used for the purposes they were originally put aside for.”
Across the UK, facilities such as council-owned leisure centres and museums were closed for the majority of the 2020/21 financial year, while town centre parking revenue virtually ceased.
CBC lost income from its leisure centres and other public facilities, its spokesperson said that this lost income will be replaced by a compensation scheme. It has not yet received the full funding from this due to a timing issue with the Government claims system.
Costs associated with coronavirus, such as the procurement of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) for social workers and essential council staff, soared as cases rose, while income from business rates and council tax were also hit.
CBC said that government funding also covered the costs of the procurement of PPE for social workers and essential council staff.
Councils, over the last decade have been encouraged by the government to enter into private ventures.
But in July last year, the then Ministry of Housing, Communities & Local Government (MHCLG) secretary Robert Jenrick said the government would have limited sympathy for councils whose financial predicament had been caused by “risky” investments.
CBC said that it has set up two wholly owned companies, one for housing development (New Visita Homes )and one for social care (Care is Central). it said:
“The companies are in the very early days of operations, so no significant risk has arisen as yet.
“The Council has put in place a comprehensive system of governance to ensure that the companies are well run and all activities are reported back to the Council.”
Information on CBC’s 2021/22 budget can be found here.