The future of funding

The national context

In 2010 the previous government published its Spending Review, it summarised how they were going to tackle the biggest debt the country has had in its peacetime history. At the time, the country was borrowing £1 for every £4 it spent. Paying back the interest on the country's debts equalled £43 billion. It was clear that there was a need for serious debt reduction and so the government outlined where it would make savings. Cuts to local government funding being one of the saving (for more information see Gov.UK, Spending Review 2010).

It is estimated that the effect of government cuts for local government will be a 32% reduction in money between 2010 and 2020. This takes into account all the changes to how money is given and distributed to councils (for more information see Local Government Association, Future funding outlook for councils 2010-11 to 2019-20). The councils will be watching out for the newly formed government's plans over the coming months.

What does this mean for West Suffolk councils?

The money we receive as grants from the government will get smaller for the foreseeable future. This is coupled with changes in the way money is given to all councils. This means that we need to become more self reliant and start looking at ways of generating our own income rather than being dependent on the government.

Forest Heath District Council and St Edmundsbury Borough Council identified the need to cut costs and work more efficiently early on. Many of our departments such as waste management have a history of shared service even before the partnership of 'West Suffolk' became reality. By working together we can save money whilst protecting services and supporting our communities.

To date, the partnership of West Suffolk councils is saving more than £3,500,000 a year. This is on top of the individual savings brought to each council. The reality is that government funding for local councils will continue to be reduced and we too must continue saving money. We have already identified a potential budget gap - our predicted outgoings are greater than our expected income and that gap will only get bigger unless we can make changes.

Predicted budget gap for West Suffolk councils

The tables below show the predicted budget gap for each council. These are forecasts only and are subject to change because of the unpredictable financial climate we are in. For more information and initial ideas for closing the budget gap for 2015 to 2016, refer to the committee notes in:

Forest Heath District Council        

2015 to 2016

2016 to 2017

2017 to 2018

Budget gap for the year

£1,100,000

£600,000

£200,000

Cumulative budget gap

£1,100,000

£1,700,000

£1,900,000

 

St Edmundsbury Borough Council 2015 to 2016 2016 to 2017 2017 to 2018
Budget gap for the year £1,500,000 £1,000,000 £900,000
Cumulative budget gap £1,500,000 £2,500,000 £3,400,000

So what do we need to do?

It's clear that we need to both save and make money so that we can continue to deliver the services our residents and businesses expect. The challenge is how we do this without increasing charges or cutting back on services that communities rely on. Reductions in funding in some areas and an increase in the cost of living has meant that some families and local communities are finding it harder to make ends meet. This all adds up to an increased expectation on all councils  to support those that need it.

Our Strategic plan sets out our priorities for West Suffolk. By delivering our vision, we hope to promote economic growth, create strong families and communities and to ensure that West Suffolk's housing needs are met. By focusing on these priorities the long term prospects of West Suffolk can be secured.

Our Medium Term Financial Strategy (MTFS) sets out the ways in which we will meet financial challenges in order to carry out our Strategic plan. One of the most important aspects of how we meet these challenges is our ability to behave more commercially.

Behaving more commercially - what does it mean?

It is not necessarily about increasing fees or charges. It is about identifying a need for change - changing how we work and how we approach our work and everyday tasks. Unlike the private sector, councils do not make profits - our income is spent on providing services such as rubbish collections, helping create jobs, homes and helping the homeless.

We need to be able to become more self sufficient and our aim is to shift the balance of where our money comes from. We want to be able to control where the majority of our income comes from with the remainder coming from government sources. We can do this through a variety of ways that can be called 'behaving more commercially:'

  • by using the assets we have. We own property, assets and run commercial services (such as commercial waste collection) that can be rented out or used to generate income.
  • by reviewing contracts and leases. By evaluating these as they end we can assess what the best options are for us in the long term.
  • ensuring our staff understand the commercial agenda. Reviewing the way we work to see how we can work differently, making sure we are doing things in an efficient way and in order to get the best possible results.
  • exploring cost saving partnerships
  • ensuring we have the best internal organisation possible. It is not about simply reducing staff, but about making sure we have the right teams and processes in place to successfully manage how we are run.
  • one voice. Making sure all our teams and individuals understand the importance of behaving more commercially and adopting this.
  • understanding our market.  Like all organisations we need to understand what's happening in our area, is there a gap in the market for a service or need that we can provide?

Examples of how we are behaving more commercially

We have implemented many changes and procedures to make sure that we are doing what we are saying:

  • Shared services - The partnership of Forest Heath District Council and St Edmundsbury Council as 'West Suffolk councils' means that we share a single staff structure which provides services for all our residents.
  • Commercial services - Our Commercial Services team already run an efficient and successful waste and recycling collection service for businesses and are continuing to seek new opportunities.
  • Charging for services - We are allowed to charge for additional services like sports or recreation as long as we are only covering our costs. This means we can offer facilities that we might not have been able to afford if we had to provide them for free.
  • Rents and fees - We rent out our properties and review our fees and charges annually.
  • Partnerships with other organisations - We work with Abbeycroft Leisure to provide sports and leisure facilities in the area. We also work with Anglia Revenues Partnership who manage Council Tax and Housing benefit for us. Working in partnership means we can reduce our costs without cutting back on quality or efficiency.
  • Internal review processes - We have a framework in place to constantly monitor individuals, teams and overall ways of working. Our Internal Audit team review all aspects of how we operate and make suggestions about what needs to be improved

All of these points help us save money and work better while maintaining service levels that you expect.