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‘Major programme of savings’ needed warn St Helens Council

“Radical” reductions in council services could be proposed in an effort to shrink a projected £20.4 million budget gap next year, a senior councillor has warned.

St Helens Borough Council is currently developing an emergency budget for this financial year, given the massive impact the coronavirus pandemic has had on the authority.

As part of the budget-setting process, all council services will come under review.

This week, a budget strategy report was presented to cabinet and painted a grim picture for the local authority, one that is clouded in uncertainty. The report warns that a “major programme of savings” will need to be delivered over a short period of time in order to deliver of a balanced budget for 2021-2022.

Coun Martin Bond, cabinet member for finance and governance, said proposals are now being developed to address a forecast deficit of £20.4 million, which he described as a “hugely significant” sum.

“A review of all services will need to be undertaken to identify efficiencies and reduce overall costs,” Coun Bond said. These reviews may suggest the cessation or radical reduction of some discretionary services, or moving to minimum levels of statutory services. That gives me no pleasure. We’re in no different position to authorities across the old industrial areas of the UK, and in conjunction with our fellow city region authorities, are lobbying MHCLG (Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government) hard to assist in mitigating the serious effects of what is now a second wave. A second wave riding the back of the first wave and ten years of swingeing funding cuts that went before it. The projections do not, and at this stage cannot, assess the impact of the current wave. The situation is grave for local government across the country. We will emerge from the pandemic into a different world, that’s for sure.”

Coun Bond said the way all public services do business will “not be the same as it was” before the pandemic.

He said the present period is the most difficult time for local government in metropolitan areas since 1974, warning the financial challenge is “vast”.

Coun Bond said: “Radical ways of working and delivering services will be part of the strategy, but this authority, whilst Labour-led, will always place our most vulnerable residents first when assessing its budgets. We will ask our fellow residents to adapt to the new world that we will face, flexibly and compassionately. We all live in the borough and we all want the best of our borough.”

Coun Bond said he wanted to be “crystal clear” that the responsibility for potential service reduction and potential cuts lies with the Tories.

He said their “clear promise” to local government at the start of the pandemic, when it told local authorities to do “whatever it takes”, has been reneged upon, and has left the the council to “carry the can”.

This was echoed by St Helens Borough Council leader David Baines. Coun Baines said: “In recent weeks I’ve held a briefing with opposition group leaders to bring them up to speed on the situation. I’m grateful for their offer so far of support. We wrote together, jointly, all political groups in April to Government asking for financial help. We haven’t had a reply some five months later, which is disappointing to say the least. The Government did say, as it was pointed out earlier, that they would do whatever it takes. They told us to do whatever it takes, and we have, and they said they would do whatever it takes, and they haven’t. I’m grateful to the support of MPs, Conor McGinn and Marie Rimmer, who are lobbying hard for us in Westminster. I’m grateful for the support of our colleagues in the city region and we’re working together, Labour, locally, to support businesses, to support residents and to keep essential services running as best as we can, and we will continue to do that. But we we’re doing our bit – we need Government to do theirs.”



Article originally appeared on St Helens the reporter 

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