Statement on financesLast updated 31 July 2020
Ashford Borough Council has seen many reductions in Government funding and faced many challenges over the last decade to continually balance the budget, including making savings and generating income in different ways, so we can continue to deliver services to our residents.
The recent pandemic however is unprecedented and is generating a financial pressure on every local authority in the country to a scale that has not been seen before.
The longer term impact will be considered as part of our medium term financial plan which identifies budget gaps and how we will manage these pressures while leading the recovery effort for our community. Decisions around how to bridge any financial gaps will then need to be taken which could involve new, innovative ways of working to cut costs, but we have every intention of ensuring front line services are maintained.
We have been working on digitalising and transforming services for some time, therefore we will be accelerating our plans on how services could be provided in a different way in the future.
It could also mean temporarily pausing some projects just while we take stock on to assess which ones may provide the greatest amount of benefit in aiding economic recovery as we emerge from the pandemic. Members will be discussing this matter next week before any decisions are made therefore more details will emerge in due course.
As set out in the Cabinet report, we need to use some of our reserves to cover an anticipated £4.5m budget gap in the short term.
The Leader made the decision to set up an Economic Resilience Reserve following the referendum decision in 2016 to help balance any economic issues and the council also has a service pressure reserve that has been set up for incidents that affect services such as this therefore the council has sufficient reserves at this time.
The purchase of commercial property has always been classified as a long term investment, with an understanding of achieving higher levels of returns some years and lower levels in other years. The council believes that property income will continue to be part of the recovery for Ashford, especially with the backdrop of the UK become independent possibly looking at increasing manufacturing and other industry sectors requiring commercial space.
Work is also underway on an emerging Recovery Delivery Plan, which focuses on financial planning to ensure the council continues to operate and how to replenish reserves in the medium term, while delivering services to those who need it and leading the borough’s recovery.
Cllr Gerry Clarkson, Leader of Ashford Borough Council, said: “The council is facing a significant financial challenge but it is one that we will meet. We will develop our financial strategy to maintain the viability of the council and to continue to deliver services. We are also developing a Recovery Delivery Plan which will set out how we will meet this challenge and what our focus will be on as we seek to rebuild our local economy following these unprecedented times.”