Cuts to services and 5% tax increase proposed as Central Beds Council faces 'huge financial pressure'

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Even with a tax hike there will still be a budget shortfall of almost £2 million – meaning further measures might have to be taken

Cuts to services and a five per cent council tax rise are on the cards as Central Beds Council struggles with ‘huge financial pressure’.

And changes including paying for garden waste to be collected or a cut in bus subsidies could still be introduced in a bid to close its funding shortfall.

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The council says it’s facing substantial increases in costs for vital services like educational transport, provision for children with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) and adult social care, coupled with high inflation costs.

Now it is putting forward plans to increase council tax by five per cent and says it will increase its efforts to “squeeze out every penny of savings by being more efficient”.

But that still won’t be enough. Even with those measures, the gap between its income and proposed spend is a whopping £1.9million, which must be filled by the end of February.

This means spending will need to be cut even further, with options being put forward including charging for garden waste collections to save an estimated £2.1million or reducing its £1.2million bus subsidies for routes that don’t make enough money – meaning a loss in services would be likely.

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Now the council wants to hear what you think about the proposals – or whether you have any alternative ideas.

Central Bedfordshire Council Leader explains the budget consultation is so important in a video on YouTube.Central Bedfordshire Council Leader explains the budget consultation is so important in a video on YouTube.
Central Bedfordshire Council Leader explains the budget consultation is so important in a video on YouTube.

Cllr Adam Zerny, leader of the council, said: “When we became the new administration in May, we knew the budget would be tough – last year council tax was not increased, and this decision effectively reduced the available income to fund services by up to £9.5million this year and every year going forward. This decision, which was made by the previous council, combined with high inflation and increasing costs of some of our most important services like adult social care and children’s services, means we need to make some tough decisions.

“I am acutely aware of the other increasing costs of living residents will be paying and the decision to increase council tax is not something that is taken lightly or without careful consideration. Rightly, we have been very clear that the council must also make substantial cuts to its internal costs. Without this, it would not be possible to protect or improve vital services.

“One thing we have promised residents is that we will listen. That’s what this consultation is all about. We’ve set out some real choices to meet the shortfall in the budget and we want your opinion before big decisions are made."

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Cllr Baker, executive member for finance, said: "We have brought rigorous financial discipline to managing the council’s budget to deal with the significant pressures facing the council. We don't want to put up council tax or cut services, but we have no choice. If we make some tough choices now, the financial health of the council should improve over the next few years, protecting vital services that residents rely on."

You can read more about the council’s budget proposals and have your say online or pick up a paper copy at a council library. The consultation closes on January 9, with the council set to consider the feedback before setting a final budget in February.