The financial impact of COVID-19 has taken its toll on many, and local authorities are no exception. We estimate that the 2020/21 financial year will see a £3 million shortfall in our budget, even after receiving an emergency government support grant. For 2021/22, we’ve had to solve a funding gap of £7.6 million, which has fallen after a one-off government support, to £5.3m.
To address this, Councillors voted through spending plans in the budget for 2021-22 on Wednesday 24 February 2021 and agreed a number of measures. We will make cost savings, make use of our reserves carefully and explore new sources of income to pay for key council activities.
The essential services we provide to Chelmsford residents include:
- collecting waste and recycling
- helping people who are homeless
- looking after green spaces
- managing new development
- keeping the community safe
- cemeteries and crematoria
- business support
- taking care of the environment, and much more
These services, along with contributions to fund capital investment, cost over £60 million a year. About half of that is covered by fees, charges and sales, but all of those have dropped dramatically since the pandemic began in March 2020.
Our income from car park charges, admissions to leisure centres, theatres and events, and hire of spaces like Hylands Estate have fallen due to the pandemic. This had led to the significant budget shortfall.
The pandemic has also increased costs, as some council services, such as homelessness, are needed more.
Without taking the measures agreed in the budget to plug the gap, we will struggle to fund essential public services. If the money is not there, we cannot pay for the places, equipment, food, staff costs and so on required to keep them running.
Councillors agreed the 2021-22 budget report at a streamed public meeting.