Consultation launched to garner the public’s views
Council bosses are to ask the public how it should best deal with a looming budget deficit, admitting it will be forced to raid rainy day funds to plug the gap.
The council faces a £552,000 shortfall in the 2016/17 budget which could balloon to £1.7 million by 2020 if left unchecked, as cuts by central government push it into the red.
Figures suggest Tunbridge Wells Borough Council (TWBC) is due to lose out on £261,000 in government grants for the next financial year, which is compounded by pension reforms increasing its national insurance contributions to £291,000.
At a cabinet meeting last week, Cllr Paul Barrington-King, portfolio holder for finance and governance, said: “It’s very clear this is one of the challenges we are facing as a local authority.
“We are getting less money than we have been used to and will take a three-phased approach to formulating a strategy, most importantly we will be involving residents in its formation.”
Mr Barrington-King said the details of how this consultation will work are in the process of being drawn up, with further details and a timescale to be announced at a later date.
The council is working on the assumption it will see a 16 per cent decrease in its government grant, meaning government funding will have halved since 2010.
The second part of the strategy is to meet the shortfall in funding through reserve funds, but the council has said this will be ‘unsustainable’ in the long run.
Ongoing restrictions set by the government capping council tax rises mean the council would only be able to increase it by two per cent next year. A larger proposed increase would by law trigger a referendum estimated to cost £100,000.
In addition to using reserve funding and holding the consultation asking for the public’s views, the third part of the strategy is to make the council less reliant on the new homes bonus.
Currently the council splits proceeds of this scheme, which awards £6,000 government funding for each new home built over a period of six years, between its budget and reserves.
But as the scheme could ‘come to an end with little notice’, according to a report considered by cabinet, the full proceeds are due to go directly to the reserve fund from 2019 onwards.
The budget strategy is due to be discussed at a full council meeting in February next year.