Ipswich Borough Council, like every other council, is facing an unprecedented financial crisis due to the effects of the coronavirus. We are currently forecasting a deficit of £10m this year due to increased expenditure and loss of income.
So far, the Government has only made £1.4m available to cover our losses and has made it clear that it will not compensate us for anything like the full amount. The Council has just £3m in usable reserves to help cover the deficit. Put simply, if we don’t make savings now, it will not be long before the Council goes bust.
On Tuesday we will discuss an emergency budget which contains a large number of measures to enable us to cover this deficit over the next four years. It involves: the use of reserves, the expectation that we shall get more money from the Government, reducing and reprofiling our capital programme, efficiency savings and a small number of service cuts. Even this still leaves us with another £450,000 of savings to find in future years.
One of the cuts proposed is the closure of the TIC, which I know some people are concerned about. We would obviously rather not be proposing this, but it is an expensive service costing £160,000 a year. Many of its services can be provided more cheaply at other Council buildings, online or via phone. Following the Arras Square works, we believe St Stephen’s will be an attractive location and should be able to find an alternative occupier.
Ipswich Borough Council provides many important services such as collecting refuse, cleaning streets, council houses, housing homeless people, many parks, the Museum and Christchurch Mansion, the Regent and Corn Exchange, sports centres and swimming pools, CCTV cameras and the HEARS community alarm service. It is to try and protect these services in future that we are having to take these tough decisions now.
I need to be absolutely clear, though: if we don’t receive as much money from the Government as anticipated, or if the long-term impact of the virus on the Council’s finances is worse than predicted, then we will be forced to bring forward further cuts which will inevitably be more painful than our current proposals.