Councillors told to stash £9.7m in war chest ready to keep inflation from hitting West Northamptonshire services

Report warns 'crucial pressures are flagged' as fuel costs drive up prices

By Kevin Nicholls
Thursday, 10th February 2022, 10:39 am
Updated Friday, 11th February 2022, 11:41 am

Councillors are being told to stash nearly £10 million into a war chest to keep rising costs from hitting vital services next year.

West Northamptonshire's final budget proposals revealed an expected £6m 'black hole' highlighted last month included inflationary pressure mainly as a result of soaring fuel bills, additional home-to-school transport and adult social care costs.

Bank of England forecasts inflation to reach more than seven percent in the spring while gas and electricity bills will rise by more than 50 percent from April.

West Northamptonshire Council Tax bills are set to rise by an average of £65 from April.

A report to go before a council Cabinet meeting on Tuesday (February 15) says: "It is crucial that these pressures are flagged as they increase the risk associated with the budget.

"Whilst the services are seeking to identify mitigations to reduce these pressures it is imperative that the additional funding received is primarily used to set aside and build up a contingency which can be employed to fund these budget pressures should they be realised."

Councillor Malcom Longley, the council's Cabinet Member for finance last month revealed the council had received an extra £3.8million in government funding after its draft budget proposals were published.

Another £900,000 has been added after government officials had wrongly advised the size of a grant which had been calculated using the wrong inflation figure.

A contingency of £5 million from the council's reserves had already been included in the draft budget. The extra £4.7 million takes the total being set aside to £9.7 million.

Council chiefs say no services will be cut despite nearly £17 million 'unavoidable growth' with around £19.5m put back into the budget through efficiencies, extra revenue — such as from extending garden waste subscription services to south Northamptonshire — and 'budget robustness reviews.'

Council tax is set to rise by an average of £65 a year from April 2022 across West Northamptonshire — less in Northampton and more in both south Northants and Daventry as part of the 'harmonisation' process of merging three former authorites into the single unitary authority.

That figure includes a £15-a-year rise for police and fire services, approved last week.

The report also highlights £238,000 for an increase in members allowances and an expected £1.7 million loss of car parking revenue.

Councils made £4.6 million from car parking revenue in 2019-20 but officers predict usage will not return to pre-Covid levels.

Cllr Longley said: “This is a balanced budget achieved in very challenging circumstances.

"The council has a sound financial plan to deliver its vision and priority objectives, can invest in a number of services and protect all other existing service levels.

"Whilst we are tackling the national issue of rising inflation and the impacts of Covid-19, we are also addressing the increased costs and local demand for our services.

"Within the plans we are proposing an average Council Tax increase that is significantly below the current level of inflation.

"This budget will enable us to prioritise and earmark resources so we can continue to provide support to the most vulnerable in our local community in the most cost-effective way possible, such as our Council Tax Reduction Scheme, which will give greater support for Care Leavers and War Widows.

"However, there remains a significant amount of financial risk. The contingency fund will help us to mitigate against potential uncertainties.”