Some jobs at South Gloucestershire Council could be at risk, as could service reductions, as the authority’s budget gap is set to reach £29.3m next year.
A report going to the Cabinet next Monday (10th October) says that the council is in new territory and explains that global events, rising inflation which is expected to continue to rise, and continuingly increasing demand for services, mean costs are rising at an unprecedented rate.
Earlier this year, the council was in a robust financial position with a four-year balanced budget through to 2026/27, based on £20m in savings identified in the previous year. Since then, a series of cost increases have put the council under growing financial pressure. For example, surging energy costs will add £2m and inflation is expected to add another £10m-15m to running costs, with the nationally negotiated pay offer requiring the council to find an extra £6.4m annually.
Rapidly growing demand on services, including adult social care, means that the cost of delivering existing services is also likely to go up by £8.5m every year. Additionally, capital costs – for building roads, schools and other one-off projects – have already escalated and may continue to grow if the recent costs for materials, for example, don’t reverse.
The report flags that given the fundamental shift in economic environment, the council is having to look for possible service changes or reductions, some of which may result in redundancies.
Proposals for service reductions and income opportunities are being developed and will be presented to Cabinet in December, with a public consultation set to gather the public’s views on the detail of any proposed changes.
Council leader Toby Savage said: “We knew earlier in the year that financial pressure was building and our prudent financial management in recent years means that we begin this process from a position of relative strength, but an unprecedented storm of global events leading to the cost of living crisis, alongside rapidly increasing demand on council services, means we now have to look across the board at all service areas.
“This is something that councils the length and breadth of the country are all doing and, whilst we are in a relatively stronger position than many, this will still include things that affect our everyday lives.”
He added: “Support for people who need it most will be prioritised and we’re continuing to press our MPs and the Government for increased support for local authorities, to reform special educational needs and disability support and to fully fund the cost of care for our residents who need support.
“Because of the ongoing cost of living crisis, we know that any increase to council tax will be difficult for people and in setting the upcoming budget we will continue to do everything we can to minimise the impact on residents and staff. But the costs we are facing as a council are increasing by significantly greater degree than any increases to council tax being considered, and we are going to have to make some difficult choices.”
More information on the proposals will be shared through the autumn.
This week Liberal Democrat councillors are calling on the Conservative-controlled authority to provide urgent clarity to residents and employees.
Lib Dem group leader Claire Young said: “Local people face a cost of living crisis and will be deeply disturbed to hear that the services they depend on could be cut. News of potential job losses will have come as a blow to council staff, many of whom are South Gloucestershire residents themselves. The council needs to move quickly to re-assure people and bring clarity.”