Cllr Rowena Hay, Cheltenham Borough Council cabinet member for finance and Liberal Democrat councillor for Oakley ward, discusses the financial state of Cheltenham Borough Council, and how we'll work hard to keep services running in the face of government cuts and the Coronavirus in our latest update on life in our local council.
For most people, life is about tough choices. These past months have been hard for people across our town.
While local people have done all they can to get by, behind the scenes we’ve been working hard. This doesn’t just mean helping with the emergency response to distribute vital help like food and medicine, over £23 million in support grants. It has meant keeping vital services going despite huge financial pressures. Services like waste and recycling, safety inspections, our parks and gardens and so much more besides.
Every year we strive to balance our budget, despite our grant from government reducing to zero - leaving us to generate our own funds to pay for the things local people rely on.
We’ve drawn in the third sector to run some services, cut staffing numbers and made many more savings besides. We’ve also invested shrewdly making a return for local taxpayers.
Thanks to our approach, we still provide excellent local services that our town can be proud of. Now, on top of the savings we’ve made in the past few years Covid-19 has stripped away even more from our budgets.
And the grants coming from central government are nothing like enough to help us balance the books.
The government has many questions to answer over its handling of the virus and those are well known. But I refuse to use our local finances as a political football. However, the facts are clear and we simply don’t have enough money.
We are not alone in having these concerns. Some councils may go bust, but I am determined that we will weather the storm once again – just like this administration always has in the past.
The challenge that faces us is huge and the inevitable trade-offs will be difficult. We’ve already taken the tough decision to change the payment services we provide at the Municipal Offices.
I promise we won’t take any decisions lightly. But I hope local people will appreciate that any service changes will be as a last resort. Cheltenham demands leadership at these difficult times and we will meet the challenge.