IN FULL: 'Profound sense of grief and loss' as council confirms £22m cuts to services in emergency budget
An emergency budget compiled with "a profound sense of grief and loss" has been agreed by Luton borough councillors.
The local authority described the projected shortfall of £49m in its finances this year as "devastating" due to the impact of the coronavirus pandemic.
Passenger numbers at Luton Airport are not expected to return to pre-Covid-19 levels until around 2023, and the council’s airport company London Luton Airport Limited (LALL) is unable to pass on dividends to the council.
This funding has been relied on heavily to fund many "vital front line services".
A thorough review of the council's finances uncovered a £22.2m budget gap, which is prompting 365 job losses and cuts to services, including:
> Cuts to customer services, except for most vulnerable residents
> Cuts to the council tax support scheme
> Cuts in neighbourhood enforcement, public protection services and highways maintenance
> New charges for green waste collection
> Cuts to street lights
> Cuts to the flying start children’s centres
> Cuts to travel support for adults and children in need
> Cuts to funding for school improvements, youth advice and early years services
"The total gross Covid-19 impact is in the region of £70m," the council's finance and audit director Dev Gopal had previously told the scrutiny finance review group.
A LLAL stabilisation plan accounts for in the region of £31m, with government support so far around £11.2m and a further £6.3m anticipated to cover lost income during the coronavirus crisis.
Presenting the emergency budget to a full council meeting on Tuesday, July 14, Labour High Town councillor Andy Malcolm described "the impact of ten years of unrelenting austerity".
He said: "In Luton, we receive more from trading and investments, including the airport, than we do from council tax.
"The coronavirus crisis has broken our defences against austerity.
"With flights virtually at a standstill, our airport company won't be in a position to pay dividends this year or next year.
"The government hasn't provided sufficient support, despite our repeated requests since March and the 10,000 strong petition signed by the people of Luton.
"We have suffered a dramatic loss of income, yet we still have a legal obligation to balance our budget.
"Local government cannot borrow and spend to get through a crisis.
"This budget outlines sizeable service reductions."
The cuts affect four areas of council services, the meeting was told.
These are internal services, adult social care and health, general services and education, family support and children, according to councillor Malcolm, who's the portfolio holder for finance.
"The profound loss in this budget is crystallised in the 365 redundancies the report outlines, of which 107 posts are currently vacant," he said.
"We've opened up our voluntary separation scheme. And 260 of the posts are in school catering, so most of these will be transferred into individual schools or private companies which provide meals."
The council's neighbourhood enforcement team will no longer work into the evenings and will be slightly reduced, while the economic development team will be cut.
"We will be reducing our spending on public health by £1m this year and £500,000 next year," added councillor Malcolm.
"Sadly we're no longer able to run our own school meals service.
"As the council is taking the necessary measures to address the budget gap this year, at this stage there's no need to issue a section 114 report.
"We won't give up our fight for fair support. It's with a profound sense of grief and loss that I move this budget."
The Ministry for Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) said the £11.26m emergency funding the council has received already is enough to cover coronavirus-related spending.
The local authority’s core spending power increased by over £8.9m this financial year, before emergency funding was provided, added the MHCLG.
The budget was approved, with the Labour and Conservative councillors voting in favour and the Liberal Democrats voting against the rescue package.