West Northamptonshire Council (WNC) has today published its draft 2023/24 budget and will be seeking people’s views on a series of savings proposals that address a significant funding gap whilst still protecting essential services.
In the current climate of economic recession and public spending pressures affecting local authorities across the country, the Council found itself facing a predicted budget shortfall of almost £60m for the next financial year, due to factors including rising inflation rates driving up running costs and a significant increase in demand for services.
With the financial and demand challenges most evident around supporting children in care, vulnerable adults, and those needing temporary housing, WNC has acted quickly and early to identify a range of proposed measures to bridge the deficit, which represents about 16% of the net £377m budget required to run the Council and its services in 2023/24.
At their meeting next week (Tuesday 20 December), Cabinet members will initially consider the draft proposals, with a six-week public consultation launching the following day (21 December) enabling residents to have their say ahead of the final budget going to Full Council in February.
The draft budget features a broad range of proposals aiming to bridge the funding shortfall primarily through productivity gains, efficiencies and savings in operating costs.
Additional proposals focus on areas including:
Recognising the major pressures and demand for adult and children’s services, the draft budget also proposes to invest significant extra funding into these areas to improve preventative and cost-effective care for West Northamptonshire’s most vulnerable residents .
During the next financial year the Council also plans to carry out a capital investment programme of more than £12.2m to improve local roads, including a £4.7m fund towards mending potholes, as well as earmarking public health funding for the year ahead to progress a range of schemes aimed at improving residents’ wellbeing, reducing health inequalities and continuing to support communities through the ongoing cost of living crisis.
In 2023/24 the Council will also continue to deliver upon plans to drive economic growth in West Northants with further progress expected on delivering multi-million-pound plans to revitalise the centre of Northampton through the Government’s Towns Fund, starting in the new year with the Market Square transformation.
Councillor Malcolm Longley, Cabinet Member for Finance at West Northamptonshire Council:
“Like all councils nationally, we are facing serious financial pressures and must do everything possible to address these whilst continuing to meet our duties to protect and deliver vital services to our residents.
“We have worked hard and acted quickly on plans to shape a credible, balanced budget for next year, but doing so has meant making some really tough choices on how we can save more money and raise extra income to cover the costs of increasingly high service demand.
"We must also address the impact of high inflation on our running costs and central to our efforts is saving money by following good practice to make services more efficient, with proposals to increase fees and charges focused around discretionary services where residents have choices on whether they wish to use them.
“Proposing to raise Council Tax during a period of high inflation is a most difficult decision we have to consider, but as a major funding stream for our Council, not doing so would mean having to look at more drastic measures that would impact on services residents rely upon to meet their everyday needs.”
Councillor Jonathan Nunn, Leader of West Northamptonshire Council, said:
“We know how difficult things are for everyone with the ongoing cost of living increases and the importance of ensuring next year’s budget continues to provide essential support and services to help residents through these hard times.
“It’s also crucial that as well as protecting frontline services we also continue to work towards delivering upon our ambitions for a better West Northants and invest where we can to do so.
“Putting this draft budget together has been far from easy but we are hopeful it strikes a fair balance in the light of our financial challenges and I would encourage people to have their say in the forthcoming public consultation.”
Cllr Longley added that the draft proposals avoided relying on the Council’s finite reserves and contingency funds to address the challenges.
He said: “This year’s unexpected demand and inflation pressures have shown how important it is that we retained some contingencies and reserves to ensure we can meet our duties, as without them we would have had to cut services this year. While we try to model and plan prudently for the future, we also do not yet know how the cost of living challenges may cause further unexpected demand in our key services.
“Some councils nationally are facing much bigger deficits than the reserves that they have and having learned lessons from the past, we cannot let that happen in Northamptonshire.”
Cabinet will consider the draft budget proposals during their meeting at The Forum, Towcester, from 6pm on Tuesday, 20 December – this can be watched live via the Council’s Youtube Channel https://youtube.com/@WestNorthamptonshireCouncil
The full 2023/24 draft budget reports are available to view on the Council’s website here: Agenda for Cabinet on Tuesday 20th December 2022, 6.00 pm - West Northamptonshire Council (moderngov.co.uk)