A grim outlook for Guildford Borough Council finances and services
Following a presentation given to members of the Guildford Borough Council Joint Executive Advisory Board, members of the Councils Joint Executive Committee debated what the bleak outlook means for the Council and residents of Guildford.
Even with a ‘core assumption’ that council tax would rise to its maximum allowable amount, without the necessity to hold a referendum, the future picture for Guildford looks difficult.
The ‘savings strategy’ part of the meeting was held in private and therefore not recorded for members of the public to view prompting fears that there will be cuts to services.
Lead Councillor for Finance Cllr Tim Anderson (R4GV) appeared reluctant to give his comments to the finance officers presentation in public, but after some gentle persuasion, he made some comments that may give rise for concern.
He began by saying that it is very clear “that the task ahead of us is going to be very painful, a lot of difficult decisions will have to be made, but all councillors must go into this process with an open mind. There is no room for sacred cows. I listened to David Cameron on the radio this morning. He said that no Prime Minister has ever faced a challenge like COVID-19. The same is true about this Council. The underlying message of this report is that we Councillors have to rise to the challenge that COVID has set us. We should be proud of the extraordinary work officers have put into supporting the vulnerable in our Borough, but the cost combined with the loss of income is quickening. We have to move quickly to balance the 20/21 budget and the years that follow. The task not made easier by the number of moving parts as Claire referred to earlier. Particularly, clarity over funding from central government. There will be a full consultation process including a survey of residents about their priorities when it comes to Council services.No decisions have been made at this time and a rigorous process will be followed. But we need to grow a thick skin as those who are going to be affected are going to scream.”
Cllr Fiona White (LibDem) responded “My main concern is the issue of consultation, which sounds a bit weird because I am generally much in favour of consultation but let me explain why. I can give you an example, as a county councillor, I know very often if we ask residents what their priorities are, they are that we should maintain the roads and fill potholes. That’s very much top of the list, and probably comes ahead of adult social care and children’s services for very very good reasons because it is based on peoples personal experience. Their personal experience is that they get in their car in the morning; they drive down the road and hit a pothole. They don’t become aware of the need for social services until something actually happens in their family and they actually need them. So that is not a criticism of residents, I absolutely understand it but what worries me is if we consult with residents on their priorities when it comes to making savings, we need to be very careful that we protect the services for the most vulnerable of the people in our communities.
The above is just a sample of the depressing mood music at the meeting. Residents will only be able to imagine what was discussed during the private part of the meeting.
The recording of the whole meeting can be view below. Skip to the segment of the meeting about council finances here.