East Herts Council cabinet presses ahead with £1m East Herts Council savings plan
East Herts Council’s cabinet has voted for a transformation programme to save £1m in the hope that the authority will rise like a phoenix from the ashes of the coronavirus crisis.
Covid-19 and cuts in central government funding have left the already hard-pressed authority with a new £3.25m hole in its budget.
The leader, Cllr Linda Haysey, said the alternative to adopting new working practices for staff and more online contact for council taxpayers was to cut services for residents.
Executive member for wellbeing Cllr Eric Buckmaster said the authority faced budgetary and technological challenges, but while there would be an immediate struggle there could be great benefits in the future if “we work together to create something even better going forward”.
He said: “I hope we can see this as a phoenix moment.”
Cllr Geoffrey Williamson, the deputy leader and executive member for financial sustainability, said: “This is an opportunity to make a negative into a positive.”
Cllr Haysey warned there would be “some difficult and unpopular decisions” as the 'Transforming East Herts' programme rolled out.
It means many staff continuing to work from home so that less office space is required. That will enable the council to cut operating costs and generate income by renting out its buildings.
East Herts has already hacked away at its capital investments, slicing £14.5m off plans for an arts centre as part of its Old River Lane project for the Causeway in Bishop’s Stortford. A £15.5m cinema multiplex plan has replaced a £30m theatre-led scheme.
For residents, the changes mean a one-stop-shop online and a 'My East Herts' portal where they can view all their transactions with the authority and check council tax, benefit payments and waste services.
The council started charging £49 a year for garden waste collections in April and 92% of customers signed up and paid online.
East Herts is not the only local authority struggling to balance its books. Across the country, councils face a £3 billion black hole in their budgets, according to the BBC.
Last week, Slough Council issued a Section 114 notice and became the third council in four years to effectively declare bankruptcy. Ten local authorities have asked to borrow £300m emergency money from the Government to stay afloat.