Shropshire Star

Council reveals £62m cuts plan and warns they will have 'very significant impact'

A council has revealed it needs to cut more than £60m of spending next year – with 300 full time jobs at risk.

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Lezley Picton, Leader of Shropshire Council.

Shropshire Council has published its budget plans for 2024/25, which include a raft of measures designed to save a total of £62m in ongoing day-to-day spending, to ensure it provides a balanced budget.

A host of areas are targeted for savings and Shropshire Council's Conservative Leader, Councillor Lezley Picton, issued a stark warning over the severity of the situation, saying: “The choices we face are ones that no one in the council wants to take."

She added that some of the changes would have a significant impact on residents.

The cuts come after the authority had to find around £50m of savings this financial year. It has made £40m of those savings but faces the potential of having to dip into reserves to bridge the remaining £10m gap.

The situation means the council's latest plan features a variety of different cuts to get to its target.

They include cutting the equivalent of 300 full-time jobs, cutting the number of household recycling centres from five to three, reducing budgets for libraries, leisure services, and charging for green waste collections.

Other measures include looking at potentially selling council-owned buildings.

The authority has made no secret of its desire to leave Shirehall and sell the site, with plans to ultimately relocate to a new hub proposed as part of the Riverside development in Shrewsbury.

But Councillor Picton confirmed the council could look to move its base to temporary premises before its new permanent base is completed.

Any such move would allow the council to sell Shirehall – raising useful capital receipts – and also cutting the onerous costs of running a building it says is no longer fit for purpose.

While many will point to the council's involvement in large and costly projects sich as the North West Relief Road and a new pool for Shrewsbury Sports Village, Councillor Picton was at pains to make it clear that funding for those schemes can not be used to address its ongoing spending problems.

Another proposal could see the running of Theatre Severn moved to an arms length organisation.

As part of the budget the council also needs to restore its reserves fund.

Last year a Local Government Association progress review warned that its reserves position could pose a "significant risk".

As the council struggles to make all of the £50m savings for this financial year it may have to use up to £10m of reserves to meet the shortfall – potentially reducing its reserves fund to little more than £6m.

The budget plans for 2024/25 include measures to address this, by putting £30m into reserves, with the ultimate aim of reaching a target of £40m.

The council's financial difficulties are being replicated at authorities across the country, which have all faced significant increases in the number of elderly people requiring social care, and the costs of children's services also rising.

Ben Jay, the authority's assistant director for finance and IT, said that 77 per cent of the council's daily spending now goes on adults and children’s social care services – both services that must be provided by law to protect the vulnerable.

A statement from the authority said: "Along with other councils up and down the country, it has no choice but to review all its services, especially discretionary ones.

"The council cannot continue to provide them as it does now. Some will change, some will need to be reduced and, unfortunately, some will need to stop altogether.

"There are more than 100 proposals for making the savings that the council must make and these will be presented to cabinet next week.

"This includes decisions that the council never wanted to make and recognises will have a very significant impact for many people and local communities. However, the financial situation it faces means there is no choice."

Councillor Picton added: "Shropshire is in the same situation as many other councils up and down the country who face very difficult decisions as budgets cannot cover the increasing demand for services, particularly in social care and rising costs.

“Our position is then made worse by Shropshire’s ageing population and its rurality – it costs more to run services in a sparsely populated large county like Shropshire.

“The choices we face are ones that no one in the council wants to take.

“But we are now at the point where we have no choice. This means we must continue our conversations with the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities and continue to lobby for funding reform that takes account of the challenges that local government faces and the unique set of circumstances that makes Shropshire’s position even more challenging.”

All of the proposals will go to the council's cabinet next Wednesday and then to full council on February 29 when the budget is set.

Proposals which would see "significant changes in policy" would need public consultation first before any final decision is made.