Councillors took their first look at projected budget predictions for 2023/4 and beyond in the latest meeting of Epping Forest District Council’s Cabinet on 10 October.
Inflation, higher borrowing costs, and reductions in government grants are among a range of concerns raised in the MediumTerm Financial Plan. The latest local government pay award is also expected to be higher than anticipated due to the rise in the cost of living driven by the war in Ukraine. Early analysis shows a significant gap of more than £4 million between income and expenditure next year. Higher costs are also contributing to a budget shortfall in the current year.
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Portfolio Holder John Philip reminded councillors that the council was by no means alone in facing new financial challenges. All councils are facing difficult decisions in coming months. Attention was also drawn to council house rents. Any increase in rents is likely to be capped at a much lower level than inflation.
A huge amount of work is being done to identify savings, increase income and ensure services to the most vulnerable in society are protected. Councillor Phillip was confident that the budget gap could narrow in coming months.
Council Leader Councillor Chris Whitbread highlighted the work to balance the budget and protect the most important services for residents. He also emphasised that the challenges facing local services would not lesson in the short term. It would be some years before the situation improved.
Councillors also noted the impact of the cost-of-living crisis on Qualis. With no value in trying to present a four-year business plan in such uncertain economic conditions, councillors agreed to a single year business plan for next year.
The success of temporarily transferring the Council’s Commercial Assets Team to Qualis has increased income from the Councils commercial business portfolio. However, increases in construction costs have significantly impacted Qualis.
Councillor Chris Whitbread added that Qualis had a very successful year and the 1-year business plan was the way forward.
Litter Strategy and Waste Collection contract
Other items before Cabinet included the adoption of a new litter strategy and the Waste and Recycling Collection contract. Councillors agreed proposals tabled by Contracts Portfolio Holder Nigel Avey to go to market and run a full procurement process.
Consultants reviewed the current waste contract in August 2020. Councillors had agreed in principle to extend the waste contract with Biffa. Since then, Biffa’s performance and service delivery has deteriorated, leading to ongoing missed collections and service delivery issues. There has been district-wide disruption to the collection of residents’ waste and recycling.
Biffa has indicated that any contract extension is likely to cost significantly more than the current contract price. Epping Forest District Council is not legally bound to extend the current contract. Considering Biffa’s current performance and costs of extending the contract, councillors approved the appointment of consultants to develop a full procurement exercise inviting competitive bids from other potential suppliers.
Corporate Plan 2023 – 2027
The Corporate Plan is the Council’s key strategic planning document. The current Corporate Plan comes to an end 31st March 2023. A new Corporate Plan has been developed to take the authority forward over the period from 2023 to 2027. Final approval will be sought at Full Council.
Cabinet approved a new policy for the regulation of markets across the district.
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