This has been a busy week for those of us involved in trying to balance StEd's budget for the next financial year. The challenge is finding savings or new income to bridge the gulf between what the government gives us and what the council taxpayer forks out. This year and next we are looking to fill a total £2.5m gap, as a result of:
a very small increase in grant (1% this year almost certainly reducing to a minus ?% in 2011/2012);
plummeting interest rates on our capital, itself reducing because of the massive investment in the borough's two towns;
an increased demand for our services such as benefit claims; and
a decrease in fees from planning applications and building control.
Put those factors together and the eye-watering result is not surprising. Having predicted this via our continuous financial forecasting, staff have been working since February to find about £1.3m 'soft savings' or income' without reducing front line services. The next part of the gap is harder, and councillors will be asked to approve savings or income of about half a million pounds on more tangible projects; hence the stories in the local press.
Sadly newspapers do not thrive just on good news, and local authorities are always ripe for criticising. Look at the following negatively spun facts this week alone.
Headlines proclaiming the success of the council in bridging a large part of the gap make way for:
Creating a fantastically good value heritage' season ticket for Moyse's Hall/West Stow becomes:
charging entry to Moyse's Hall.
Relocating to more appropriate accommodation in Haverhill is:
closing the Haverhill office.
Consulting with UNISON about how to get better value from different working practices and thus saving staff costs - which may involve staff redeployment, natural wastage and possibly redundancy (with twice the state redundancy payment) becomes:
Toilet attendants may be axed...
£2.5m = millions of pounds
I could go on, but I think you get my drift.