Stevenage Borough Council: ‘We will do everything we can to protect vital services and jobs’

Council leader Sharon Taylor has publically pleaded with the government for more local funding. Pict

Council leader Sharon Taylor has publically pleaded with the government for more local funding. Picture: SBC - Credit: Archant

In a new column, leader of Stevenage Borough Council Sharon Taylor has vowed to protect jobs and services amid reports the council is reviewing an emergency Section 114 notice.

Before the COVID-19 crisis, the council has continued to manage a tough financial situation in recent years. We have shown resilience and commitment to meet our financial challenges while continuing to provide the essential services for the people of Stevenage to enjoy and rely on.

We provide a range of discretionary services which are vital to the quality of life in our town. Our work also supports the regeneration and house building programmes which are delivering the ambitious future for our town that we all want to see.

Those financial challenges included the government removing over £5 million of grant funding and making £10 million of efficiency savings to help us deal with additional cost pressures. We had a clear programme up until 2022/23 which would deliver all of this.

When the COVID-19 pandemic began to take effect, we listened to central government’s direction to local authorities to take this very seriously. We understood we were to do whatever is necessary to support our community through the crisis

This has been our focus and to date includes:

• Setting up our Stevenage Helps Hub for residents affected by the pandemic because they are vulnerable. This has delivered 393 food parcels, made over 500 phone calls and 255 referrals to our partners for support.

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• Through our partners, Stevenage Community Trust, we have raised over £46,000 and that has enabled us to support residents in financial distress because of COVID-19.

• Housing 45 rough sleepers, supporting their complex needs and planning for their transition into longer term housing.

• We have seen a 90 per cent increase in referrals for domestic abuse as the strains of lock down have taken their toll, and we have expanded our ‘Safe Space’ provision so we can keep everyone safe.

• Our refuse teams have carried on collecting refuse and recycling every week, tackling a 53 per cent increase in recycling and a 23 per cent increase in refuse

• Delivered £11 million worth of government grants to over 800 businesses and provided support to enable them to carry on trading where possible.

We have sent detailed returns to the government, setting out the cost of this work and the loss of income we have experienced. This means the council would have a potential gap in funding of £4.5 million by the end of July.

So far, the government has provided £928,000 of additional funding. They are now considering whether any further funding will be allocated to keep their promise to fund ‘whatever is necessary’.

If the future additional funding from government is insufficient to meet this promise, the council will need to take steps to ensure we can meet the costs ourselves. That is why we are undertaking an urgent review to see how we would do that.

Councils are not permitted to run deficit budgets so we must be able to demonstrate that our books will balance by the end of the year. It won’t be easy but it would be irresponsible of us not to be undertaking the financial planning now.

We will, as we have always done, do everything we can to protect vital services and jobs, and we are determined to build an ambitious future for our town as we move forward to recovery.

Town Centre regeneration has continued to be our focus as we have worked with our partners to keep our ambitious programme on track. This will ensure that our residents and businesses are at the centre of the town’s regeneration led recovery – and that we can offer the very best opportunities and facilities to them.

As the construction industry is developing guidance for safe working with social distancing practices, we are restarting our ambitious home-building programme.

We have fulfilled our part of the ‘deal’ with government to do whatever is necessary to support our community. We need them to recognise the financial challenges we face because of COVID-19, and keep their side of that deal.