Luton Council, which is facing a devastating projected shortfall of £49m in its budget due to the Covid-19 crisis, is now seeking views from residents of the town on its initial thinking of how it can make the required savings.
The council has already asked for ideas and suggestions, and used responses received so far as part of provisional ideas for an emergency budget in July where it needs to balance the books for the financial year 20/21.
The impact of coronavirus has meant the council’s airport company has not been receiving any air passenger income, so has been unable to pass on money to the council upon which it relies so heavily to fund many vital frontline services.
In order to provide these key services in the light of massive drops in government funding the council has successfully grown its commercial income in recent years. Money from the airport is about half of all such income, the rest coming from commercial rents, fees and charges and other trading income which are also massively reduced at this time.
The council has already made several pleas to the government to provide the council with emergency and fair funding to help it through this crisis and has been lobbying through the regional and national media. However if this money is not forthcoming it will be compelled to consider painful solutions which will drastically affect services.
The community of Luton has recognised the seriousness of the situation and has started an important petition to the government asking for emergency funding to avert what will be a disaster for the whole town. The council is urging all residents to sign the petition which can be found on the home page of www.luton.gov.uk .
An enormous sum will need to come out of the budget to set a balanced budget which would mean cuts to key services if our request for immediate cash support falls on deaf ears.
Thankfully a great deal of savings can be made through increased internal efficiencies that won’t affect the public. Much of this will be a continuation of a programme of streamlining back office functions and covers areas such as:
• introducing more efficient payment mechanisms
• digitalising some of our internal manual processs
• reviewing our contracts across the organisation to increase value for money
• reviewing the council’s overall staffing structure and size- including senior management
• expanding successful services we provide to other organisations for profit
• not filling our currently vacant posts
• voluntary staff redundancy scheme
• allowing our staff to buy additional annual leave which would reduce the salary we pay them
Other proposals the council is considering will undoubtedly affect the public and some of the ideas being looked at include: stopping cash payments via our current kiosks
• additional review of the council tax reduction scheme
• reviewing costs of a wide range of health and adult care support services
• re-examining our travel charges
• energy saving street lighting
• reviewing the way we support travel for adults and children who require it
• further reviewing waste collection services
• reducing our annual building maintenance programmes
• reviewing some children and educational support services
Councillor Hazel Simmons MBE, leader of the council, said: “We are tremendously appreciative of all those who have already sent in suggestions and ideas as to how we can respond to this huge crisis. It demonstrates very clearly the commitment of so many people to the town’s future prosperity.
“To see some of the options we are facing in black and white is very sobering. At this stage they are just ideas and more work needs to be done over the coming weeks to develop them more fully, but nevertheless it is clear that difficult decisions lie ahead. However we must not give hope that the government will look sympathetically upon our request for help. Please sign this important petition and pass it on to others so they can do the same. This is a serious moment in the town’s history and it is vital that the government understands the strength of feeling in the town.”
Councillor Andy Malcolm, the council’s portfolio holder for finance, added: “In the face of crippling austerity cuts we created innovative income streams to decrease our reliance on government funding. As a result of this the local economy had blossomed, jobs were created and the town had begun to enjoy the fruits of regeneration. The government had praised our approach on many occasions and now is the time for them to step up and stand shoulder to shoulder with us so we are not punished for our positive response to their funding cuts
“Over recent years income from our airport company has held back the high tide of austerity. Now, unfortunately, as well as causing so much damage to society, coronavirus has broken our defences and our communities will feel the full weight of government cuts.
“Even if we were to implement all the ideas we are currently considering, it would not be enough. We still need to do more. We are working hard to find additional savings and truly value your input as we go about this unenviable task.
Every idea put forward is being considered and we urge residents to continue sending in their comments and suggestions. Visit www.luton.gov.uk/letstalk for more information or simply send us an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.