'Big or difficult decisions not needed' in Luton Council's 2022-23 budget

'We're in a position to invest in services again which we care most about and our residents refer to'

By Euan
Tuesday, 18th January 2022, 6:19 pm
Updated Tuesday, 18th January 2022, 6:20 pm

An "exciting" Luton Borough Council budget for 2022/23 is going out to consultation with the support of technology, its executive was told yesterday (Jan 17).

The proposed increase in the council tax precept consists of 1.99 per cent and a ring-fenced adult social care precept of one per cent.

Labour High Town councillor Andy Malcolm revealed a "nice little video" is being developed by the communications team "to engage a few more people in the budget setting process" and get some more responses.

Luton Town Hall

"Hopefully that process will gain a few more people participating in reacting to what we're setting out in the budget," explained councillor Malcolm, who's the finance portfoilo holder.

"There aren't loads of savings to be made this year. We had a difficult situation mid-year, the year before last, which we dealt with and took very seriously.

"Both for last year's budget and this year's we're not having to make big or difficult decisions, as we've already made them.

"But there's some intention to spend a little more on some of the services we deeply care for and talk to residents about, such as clearing litter off the streets. It's quite an exciting budget in many ways."

Labour Lewsey councillor Aslam Khan said: "This budget before us is testimony of the hard work by officers and members in managing the cuts and savings in the most difficult of times.

"We're in a position to invest in services again which we care most about and our residents refer to."

The council’s finances were inspected by the Chartered Institute for Public Finance and Accountancy (CIPFA) last year, after the local authority requested more funding support after the impact of the pandemic.

The government issued an exceptional financial support loan allowing the council to borrow up to £49m to fund services up until 2022.

A council spokesman said last month: "We only drew down £15.8m of this, which is another indicator that our decisive action to bring in an emergency budget in 2020 has helped the council to address the financial challenge posed by Covid-19."

Liberal Democrat opposition leader and Barnfield councillor David Franks referred in December to "some serious negatives in the (CIPFA) report", saying: “We learn there's another report on the local authority's relationship with its airport company.

"But nowhere are we told this report is to be kept secret. It is. What does it say that they are so keen to hide?

“The (CIPFA) report says the council must stop using contingencies to mask gaps in the budget. This is a form of accountancy which makes it very difficult for people to see the true state of the council’s finances, and we have complained about it for years.

“CIPFA said £4m of planned savings from 2019/20 have not been achieved and 'some of the largest undelivered savings involve decisions some elected members hesitate to implement'.

"This is code for Labour mismanagement of the finances and Luton residents are certainly entitled to know that.

“Under the heading recommendations, CIPFA added the council should prioritise reduction of the backlog of £7m in unachieved savings, develop a plan to fill the £8m gap in its medium-term financial plan and review its borrowing strategy."

The executive noted the draft 2022/23 revenue budget, and agreed to a public and stakeholders engagement exercise going ahead this month.