Independent exposes council budget time bomb

Councillor Rob Strachan, Lichfield District Council’s cabinet member for finance, has admitted that the financial impact of the coronavirus on the budget is ‘unquantifiable’ though has acknowledged that ‘the financial impact we forecast could be between £1.2 million and £4.5 million’. It is becoming increasingly obvious that the council hasn’t the first idea of how to tackle the growing financial crisis and has no strategy in place to return the budget to balance, despite their ambition to do so.

… a structural deterioration in the council’s finances was already present in the good years, paving the way for even harder times now …

Christopher J. Wilkinson

The Councillor has remarked that in February the council ‘envisaged a transfer to our general reserves in this financial year of £546,000 with a reducing amount going forwards to guard against volatility that was to come’. Not only is the transfer incredibly unlikely in the present circumstances, but the claim that reserves were being depleted for economic challenges still to be faced is not entirely truthful as at least the previous two District Council budgets contained similar vast reductions in reserves over the forecast period – long before the pandemic. This suggests a structural deterioration in the council’s finances was already present in the good years, paving the way for even harder times now we face the bad years. Their inaction has rubbed salt into the wound opened by the virus.

… a bill to recognise a budget emergency may be more appropriate for our time.

Christopher J. Wilkinson

Furthermore, the council is set to absorb up to twenty-five per cent of certain losses that have been incurred due to the pandemic, making the task of achieving a balanced budget even more difficult. Lichfield District Council has channelled over £20 million of taxpayer’s money from central government to local businesses and residents during the crisis. Instead of pushing for a bill to recognise a climate change emergency, a bill to recognise a budget emergency may be more appropriate for our time. Like so many other areas, Lichfield is sitting on a ticking time bomb of higher debt, higher taxes and higher unemployment due to the financial irresponsibility of local policymakers. It’s time to change the old, stuck record.

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