Chelmsford City Council has approved budget proposals for 2023/24 that will protect the environment and key services and upgrade important local facilities. The plans present a balanced budget for the coming year in spite of a larger shortfall than usual due to ‘brutal’ inflation.
The council was facing a £6.9m deficit for the next financial year. However, this gap has been closed through a combination of efficiency savings, the use of some of its ‘rainy day’ savings and additional income.
Most difficult budget year in decades
The report warns that this is the most challenging budget year for local authorities in decades; with inflation reaching 40-year highs, the council simply cannot meet extra costs of around 10% from its existing budgets. The council’s energy supplier, for example, suggests that next year its energy bill alone will be £1.5m higher, on top of previous big increases, and fuel increases will cost a further £300k.
The cost-of-living crisis and changes to working patterns also mean that, along with soaring costs, some council income has fallen. This problem is particularly acute in city centre car parks, which are predicted to bring in £1.3m less for the council than originally budgeted for next year.
Cllr Chris Davidson, Cabinet Member for Fairer Chelmsford, told Full Council that repairing the damage done by inflation has been a massive challenge.
“This is a bad year to be presenting a budget for a local council – any council, irrespective of party. It’s the impact of inflation that’s made this budget by far the most difficult for local authorities. A year ago, we were expecting inflation to hit 5%. It peaked at 11% in October and it’s now just over 10%. Inflation this high is brutal for every local authority. It is brutal because costs go up, but income doesn’t – and 10% of a £60m budget is £6m of extra costs.”Cllr Chris Davidson, Cabinet Member for Fairer Chelmsford
Services protected and some new investment
Despite a very difficult year, Chelmsford City Council services will be protected, although continuing financial pressures mean that no extra money will be available to extend these over the coming year. However, the budget does allow for new long-term investment in the city with essential upgrades to the council’s recycling depot, improvements to public toilets and lighting in city parks, resurfacing works for the High Chelmer multi-storey car park, and crucial maintenance at the city’s crematorium all planned.
The largest single investment in the budget is a £6.5m extension to a Green Initiatives Fund to support the decarbonisation of the council by 2030 and reduce its dependence on fossil fuels. This will include changes to the council’s vehicle fleet, replacing traditional lights with LED lighting and the use of new heating technology such as air source heat pumps.
Cllr Davidson says balancing the budget with the future needs of the city hasn’t been easy.
“The damage inflation has done leaves us unable to introduce any improvements to services this year. That’s the reality of the budget gap we’ve worked hard to close for 2023/24 and further gaps in future years that we must be mindful of. This is frustrating for all of us because we can all identify things that we’d like to spend more money on to improve services for residents, but right now it’s necessary to maintain control of our finances.
“But we remain ambitious for Chelmsford. This year we have invested in our theatre, and in coming years other improvements are planned, along with a project to reduce our reliance on fossil fuels to protect both ourselves and future generations of Chelmsfordians.”Cllr Chris Davidson, Cabinet Member for Fairer Chelmsford
City Council share of council tax also set
Council tax contributions account for just over a fifth of the council’s yearly income and proposals for the City Council’s share of council tax are also included in the budget. In 2023/24, a typical property in Chelmsford (band D) will pay just 12 pence a week extra (or £6.22 a year) to the City Council. Although Chelmsford City Council collects all of the council tax in the district, it only keeps 11p in every pound paid by residents. The majority (89p) is shared between Essex County Council, police and fire services and parish tier councils.
In normal years, city and district councils are allowed to increase their share of council tax by 2%, in line with previous levels of inflation. Next year, in acknowledgement of the unprecedented squeeze on local services caused by rising prices, district councils are allowed to increase their share by up to 3%.
A band D property will pay £215.08 to Chelmsford City Council over the course of 2023/24 to help fund the services it provides, which includes dealing with housing and homelessness, kerbside waste and recycling collections and the city’s leisure centres, theatre and museum. If paid over 12 months, this works out at a total of £17.92 a month.
More details on our website and social media
You can see all the details of our budget report on our website and over the next few weeks we’ll have more about our income and services on our social media accounts.
In early March residents will receive information about their council tax for the coming year, which will include the amounts collected by Essex County Council, Essex Police, Essex County Fire and Rescue Service and Parish Tier Councils.
If you have any questions about your bill, visit our council tax pages to find out more: https://www.chelmsford.gov.uk/council-tax/