150 jobs could go at Bexley council as authority looks to balance books

By Lachlan Leeming, Local Democracy Reporter

Up to 150 jobs could be cut from Bexley council’s books as the authority battles to gain a grip on the financial black hole threatening it.

The move, which would save the council £6m in wages and pensions, headlines a range of measures set to be discussed next week as the council desperately seeks to balance its pandemic-ravaged books beyond 2021.

While the update on the council’s medium-term finances expresses positivity that the authority can balance the budget in 2021/22, there remains a budget gap for 2022/23 of £2.034m, which is predicted to further balloon to £13.804m by 2024/25.

“The financial challenges facing the council cannot be underestimated,” the report states.

While the Covid-19 pandemic has undoubtedly made the authority’s financial position worse, only about half of the £7.223m overspend noted at the end of September can be attributed to the virus – with £3.706 pinned on “other pressures”.

And while the authority has maintained it has kept a steady line of communication with the government over potential financial support, the report highlights “it is unlikely that Government will fund all the shortfall…therefore the council must use all of the tools available to it to ensure financial stability”.

However the report reveals the authority is in discussions with the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government to obtain up to £15m in credit to ease the council’s immediate financial pressure.

“The council’s plans…include negotiating a line of credit with the government, which will give the council the option to spread some of the unprecedented financial impact and risk of the pandemic over future years, through a capitalisation order,” a spokesman for the authority further detailed in a statement.

The statement added “Bexley continues to prioritise vulnerable people and the services that are most important to residents”.

However, council leader Teresa O’Neill did not rule out further “difficult decisions” before setting next year’s budget.

“The council always faced a significant financial challenge in 2021/22. The pandemic has added to the size of our challenge, increased our spending and created unprecedented uncertainty that continues to overshadow our forecasts,” she said.

“Most councils have been affected in the same way and the proposals and strategy we will discuss next week should keep our finances on track to deliver a balanced budget that invests in local services for our residents.

“That said, the level of uncertainty is such that we will need to keep the situation under regular review, and we may have to take more difficult decisions before we set next year’s budget in the spring.”

Following next week’s meeting, the next report on the council financial forecasts and plans will be heard at a cabinet meeting on December 15.

This will include more detail on the proposed staff reductions, on which the council has begun to consult staff, according to the authority.

The council has already consulted the public on other proposed changes to services in a bid to save cash, including streamlining the authority’s children’s centres and library offering, with more than 3,700 residents commenting on the plans.

Pictured top: Bexley council’s offices


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