Tories to push for ‘budget reset’ plan amid council’s £30m funding gap

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BCP Council
Bournemouth Town Hall, HQ for BCP Council

OPPOSITION councillors will put forward a “budget reset paper” next week, following concerns about a lack of involvement in efforts to close a multi-million-pound funding gap at BCP Council.

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A budget monitoring report outlining work to address the £30m shortfall caused by the coronavirus response was “noted” by BCP Council’s coalition cabinet last week, writes Josh Wright of the Local Democracy Reporting Service.

But members of the opposition Conservative group have asked for greater engagement with councillors in financial planning and will present their own proposals at Tuesday’s full council meeting.

The council is forecasting that the pandemic will leave it facing a funding gap of just over £30m this year.

Among measures drawn-up to deal with this is the deferral of “member priorities” included in this year’s budget, such as increased spending on the council’s carbon reduction work.

Conservative councillors said this was an “impressive exercise of accounting” by council officers but hit out at the lack of involvement of politicians.

The Cabinet member for finance, Cllr David Brown, said this had been done because of the “dynamic” financial situation facing local authorities across the country.

But at Tuesday’s full council meeting, Conservative group leader Cllr Drew Mellor will put forward a motion asking for its “budget reset paper” to be considered by the cabinet.

BCP Cllr Drew Mellor

While full details of the group’s proposals have yet to be published, a five-page presentation outlining its main themes says the council should be “more ambitious”.

“We now enjoy cross-party support for at least £45m per year of recurring savings,” it says. “For the first time this allows BCP [Council] to genuinely lay claim to having a sustainable budget option.

“To that end, our entire financial context has changed. The next full term of the council will enjoy at least a £180m benefit driven from transformation.

“Therefore, even with many pressures there is not a scenario where BCP Council shouldn’t be looking more towards priorities than cuts.

“By taking a different approach to funding the transformation programme, including some short-term Public Works Loan Board borrowing and utilising cash held for later expenditure, then we can invest in our communities now whilst still setting a positive financial plan.”

Cllr Mellor said the council needs to put particular focus on communities and the economy and said the ruling administration had “neglected” these areas.

He said any borrowing would be related to the ongoing local government reorganisation work and this would help create further long-term savings.

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