‘Tough decisions’ put council finances back on track

The implementation of ‘rapid and targeted’ measures to tackle the devastating impact of the pandemic on council finances, has brought about an immediate return to financial stability and a balanced budget. 

At a Cabinet meeting yesterday (Wednesday 13 July 2022), councillors were told that despite losing millions in income during each lockdown and shouldering soaring costs associated with support for the most vulnerable in Eastbourne, the council has reduced an emergency borrowing requirement by £5.7 million.

The pandemic left many councils in the UK in an exposed financial position and calling on government for extra support as usual income streams dried up overnight and unplanned costs rocketed.

In a move applauded by government officials, Eastbourne quickly established a recovery and stabilisation programme to identify savings and efficiencies to offset the acute pressures on the budget.

Councillor David Tutt, Leader of Eastbourne Borough Council, said: “I will always be immensely proud of how the council supported residents and businesses during the pandemic, especially vulnerable people who were most in need. 

“At the time we took the decision to do whatever it required to help our town get through the worst of times, mindful that we also had to be ready to activate our plan for recovery and stabilisation, and it was right that the government recognised our success in doing so.

“Through savings, efficiencies and capital receipts we have achieved a huge reduction in our requirement for exceptional financial flexibility we were granted to address the issue of covid support, reducing it by £5.7 million. This outcome has allowed us to put £250,000 into a cost-of-living emergency fund and £150,000 for fuel and energy support in place to help local families.

“With the excellent progress we continue to make, it is also heartening and welcome news that our overall budgetary targets should be met without the need to market any assets that are likely to cause our residents concern.”

Among the many steps taken to increase efficiencies, the council has implemented technology to improve and broaden customer engagement online and developed new systems for handling revenues and benefits.

Councillor Stephen Holt, Cabinet Member for Finance and Deputy Leader of the Council, said: “The severity of the pandemic on income associated with tourism, culture and leisure meant we had to take some really tough decisions over the last two years, but it was only through this rapid and targeted action that we’ve been able to report this improving budgetary standing now.

“There is still much work to do but compared to other councils that also had to call upon the government for emergency covid support, we are in a much stronger financial position than most.”