At Tuesday’s meeting of the corporate scrutiny committee, it was announced the Isle of Wight Council’s £10 million funding gap caused by the ongoing pandemic had been reduced to £5.5 million, with help from government funding.
Councillor Stuart Hutchinson, the cabinet member for strategic finance and the COVID recovery, said it was absolutely critical the budget be balanced by the end of the financial year, otherwise the overspend would just have to be found in future years.
While trying to balance this year’s budget, council officers have also been trying to pull together a budget for next year (2021/22), contending with lost funding and the need to find £3.5million in savings as part of a medium-term financial strategy.
The Fair Funding Review has been delayed for the third time, which council executives said would have had a ‘significant benefit’. They also face the loss of the business rate retention scheme, which would have also provided around £1.9million.
The government announced before Christmas the social care precept could be raised by 3% — instead of 2% as seen in previous years. That is on top of any increases to council tax and the fire, police and town council precepts.
Cllr Hutchinson said:
“We have identified for every single service the level of savings they have to find and officers and cabinet members have been working enormously hard to put those things in place.
“We are very conscious if we take the full three per cent plus the normal inflation levels that is a significant increase in council tax that will impact all households on the Island at a time when many will be struggling.
“As each year goes by it gets more difficult to deal with this and we were hoping things like the Fair Funding Review, would put things into better balance. We will put forward proposals for a budget. It will be a legal and balanced budget and it will be a difficult one.”
Chief executive, John Metcalfe, said there is so much uncertainty with the next budget — whether there will be more government funding and if income levels will be able to recover from services the council relies on such as leisure centres and car parking. But he reassured councillors measures were in place to stop the council reaching bankruptcy.
Cllr Julie Jones-Evans said she was going to sound like a broken record but it had been 5 years since the report was presented showing how much the physical separation of the Island cost — around £6.1 million. She said:
“We are desperate for that Island Deal. It costs us that extra just to be on a level playing field as every other local authority. Not only have we got one hand tied behind our back because we do not have enough money, we are now doubly-damned because of our Island situation with Covid.
“It is all very well people coming down and standing in front of the Columbine building and having a photo opportunity and saying ‘Island Deal’ but I want to see it … getting our fair money.”
Cllr Hutchinson said reminders were being sent frequently but the council “cannot force” the government to provide it.
Leader of the council, Cllr Dave Stewart said the administration was working closely together with the MP to get the deal, and they are ‘not letting up’.
To complete the council’s budget consultation, by the 21st January deadline, you can fill in the survey at www.surveymonkey.co.uk/r/9NBQW2Q.