West Suffolk: Fears over St Edmundsbury Borough Council’s potential service cuts as investment income rises by £1.35million
Suffolk’s richest borough council has boosted its coffers by more than £1million in the past year – just as it prepares to make £1.5m of cuts.
The investment income for St Edmundsbury Borough Council stood at £34.25m at the close of the last financial year, up from £32.9m the year before.
While a portion of this money is due to be passed on, the council’s revenue reserves came in almost £2m over its Medium Term Financial Strategy (MTFS), which was signed off earlier this year.
David Ray, the council’s cabinet member for resources and performance, said the money St Edmundsbury had in reserve that was not earmarked for specific spending was only £3.5m.
He added: “We are careful to make sure that we have a strong level of general funds in case of an emergency. This represents good financial management.
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“It is this money that allows us to make council tax freezes year on year, to invest in projects that are of benefit to the community.
“It is only right that we are prudent with how we invest – it is after all the taxpayers’ money that we are custodian of – but it means that we can ensure St Edmundsbury, and West Suffolk, remains a great place to live and work.”
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This week St Edmundsbury launched a public consultation on potential cuts to services including shutting the information centre at the bus station in Bury St Edmunds, which could save up to £249,000.
Borough councillor David Nettleton, a member of the council’s treasury management sub committee, said that while the council was “a bit overcautious” with its revenue reserves, the proposed cuts were of far greater concern.
He added: “If we’re trying to encourage more use of public transport and bus services, why are we reducing our commitment to the bus station?
“Are we just using the public consultation to sack members of staff and to justify what they want to do in the first place? The public consultation is too narrow. “I just feel as though there are some sacred cows here they’re not touching and I think they need to start doing that, because the Government has got an appetite for cutting the grants.”
Mr Nettleton pointed to the council’s continuing subsidy of The Apex and the role of mayor as expenditure that could be cut.
Green Party borough councillor Julia Wakelam also voiced concerns over the potential changes to the bus station, and said the borough’s decision to freeze council tax in recent years would cost them in the long run.
Of St Edmundsbury’s £34.25m investment income, around £3.25m was council tax and business rates collected for other authorities.
It had £15m in capital reserves, £12.5m in revenue reserves and a general fund balance of £3.5m.
The council’s MTFS says it should have a general fund balance of no less than £3m. It also outlines a capital spending programme over the four years of £19m.
St Edmundsbury says it is facing a 48% cut in funding from Government and that it needs to save a further £3.4m before 2018. A move to shared services with Forest Heath has already saved £3.5m.
Last year’s investment income figure was by far the biggest of any borough council in Suffolk, although a council spokesman said its reserves will be invested in the coming years.
Among the other cost-cutting measures in St Edmundsbury’s consultation is charging people to use the toilets at the bus station, which would generate £2,000.
Other measures include increasing the use of volunteers, improving the borough’s markets and collecting bins on different days.
To view the consultation visit www.stedmundsbury.gov.uk/budgetsurvey2014