People are being invited to have their say on where they think under-pressure council funding should be spent, now and in the future – as part of a new ‘Budget Conversation’ which has been launched by Chesterfield Borough Council.
Like local authorities across the country, the council is facing extreme pressures in terms of managing its budgets, due to a variety of factors outside of its control.
These include ongoing risks and uncertainties over future Government funding (which is already less than half of that which was provided to councils in 2010), the long-term financial impact of Covid-19, rising demand for services due to the cost-of-living crisis, and a period of exceptionally high inflation which means the cost of buying goods, services and contracts has risen across the board.
A report presented to the council’s Cabinet on Tuesday 14 November set out the scale and nature of the financial challenges facing the council, with current forecasts showing a budget shortfall of £4 million in 2024/25, increasing in future financial years.
Substantial savings have already been made over the last 18 months, but many more savings will be needed to address the budget gap – and council leaders are now asking local people to put forward their views to help shape services in the future, with the launch of a new ‘Budget Conversation.’
Councillor Amanda Serjeant, deputy leader of the council and cabinet member for finance and asset management, has acknowledged that some difficult decisions lie ahead, but that the council stands ready to do all it can to protect essential services.
“As community leaders it is our duty to manage our way through the significant financial challenges that all councils currently face and be prepared to take the difficult decisions that are needed to ensure the council is able to maintain essential services and support the most vulnerable in our communities.
“We want to make sure that the views of our communities are at the heart of these decisions – now, and in future years – so this is the start of a long-term conversation to understand what matters most to everyone in our borough, including our residents, tenants, businesses and community and voluntary groups.
“The Budget Conversation survey will ask a broad set of questions about where and how people think we could make budget savings and should focus where we spend our budgets. It will only take a few minutes to complete, so we would encourage everyone to take part.”
The Cabinet meeting on 14 November also considered a wide range of new savings proposals that have been developed in line with the council’s Budget Strategy.
They were approved in principle, and more detailed reports will now need to be developed, and consulted on where appropriate, before any final decisions are made.
Councillor Serjeant added: “People may have also seen information about some specific service proposals which we’re developing in the shorter-term – for example, the introduction of charging for green waste collections and changes to the way we use some of our public buildings.
“Many of these will need further engagement and / or consultation with our communities before any final decision can be made, and these consultations will run in addition to the questions we’re asking through our Budget Conversation.”
This initial stage of the Budget Conversation will run until Friday 15 December 2023. After this date the webpage will remain open for general feedback and will provide links to other relevant consultation and engagement activities.
People may wish to read some useful background information about how the council is funded and which services it has responsibility for on the Budget Conversation page before completing the online survey.
Paper copies will also be available at Chesterfield Town Hall, Queen’s Park Sports Centre, Staveley Healthy Living Centre, Chesterfield Visitor Information Centre and at the offices of Brimington Parish Council.