In July we agreed an emergency budget for Ipswich Borough Council to start tackling the predicted deficit in the Council’s finances caused by coronavirus.
Back then we were forecasting a £10m hit from a combination of extra costs and falls in income. We planned to address this completely unprecedented situation over the next four years by a combination of using all our reserves, service cuts and additional income from the Government.
Although many individual items have changed in the forecast since then – both better and worse – our prediction of the overall cost of coronavirus this financial year was broadly correct.
However, we are now looking at what future years will hold.
We originally forecast that the financial effects of the virus would be over by April 2021. That seemed like a reasonable assumption at the time, but it is now clear that coronavirus will still be wreaking havoc with the Council’s finances well into next year.
Major income streams from car parks, sports centres and theatres are all well down for obvious reasons and they won’t recover while current restrictions are in place.
We now forecast that the Council will see a net reduction in income of £5m next year.
There are no reserves left to cover this. We expect more help from the Government, but it won’t be anywhere near enough to cover the full £5m gap.
So we are having to look at another round of savings. These focus on making efficiency savings by having fewer staff and going with the grain of recent trends of people using the phone and internet to contact us by reducing face to face contact. We will also reduce the amount of grass cutting and stop annual planting.
We must act now. As with the virus, the longer you put off making the difficult decisions, the more drastic the action you will eventually have to take.
But I must level with you. A further tightening of restrictions by the Government – as now seems inevitable – will cause even more damage to the Council’s balance sheet.
Without substantial additional Government funding it is likely that there will have to be even more cuts in future budgets.