Crawley Borough Council has had to use more than £1m of reserves to balance its budget for 2024/25

Crawley Borough Council has had to use more than £1m of reserves to balance its budget for 2024/25.
Duncan Crow. Picture: submittedDuncan Crow. Picture: submitted
Duncan Crow. Picture: submitted

The £1.06m was less than forecast thanks to an extra £137,031 received from the government as part of its financial settlement for the year.

The budget was approved during a meeting of the full council on Wednesday (February 21).

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It included a 2.99 per cent increase in the borough’s portion of the new council tax bill.

Crawley Town Hall. Image: GoogleMapsCrawley Town Hall. Image: GoogleMaps
Crawley Town Hall. Image: GoogleMaps

From April, the average Band D bill will increase by £6.76, from £225.34 to £232.10.

On top of the £1,714.95 for West Sussex County Council and £252.91 for Sussex Police, the average bill will be £2,199.96.

The budget also included a 7.7 per cent increase in social and affordable housing rents and a 7 per cent increase in fees and charges, where feasible, such as for car parking.

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Leader Michael Jones called the budget ‘solid’ and pointed out that the council currently receives £8.9m less from the government in real terms than it did in 2010, with its spending power dropping by 69 per cent.

Michael Jones Michael Jones
Michael Jones

He added: “It is a minor miracle that we have been as successful as we have in ensuring that front-line services have been protected by as much as they have.

“But inevitably this means that we have to take action to do all we can to ensure that we get through the next year despite, in some cases, the spiralling costs the council is facing through no fault of our own.”

While things are by no means rosy for Crawley, the council is on more solid ground than many across the country, with some even having to declare bankruptcy.

But there are pressures.

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The cost of temporary accommodation for the borough’s homeless has had a huge impact on budgets over the past couple of years.

As of December 2023 it was estimated that £7.6m had been spent on temporary housing in 2023/24 – an overspend of £3.6m.

Concerned that the cost would soon make up more than half of future budgets, the council declared a housing emergency.

Other financial pressures included the increasing demand for council housing repairs.

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By December 2023 there had been an overspend of more than £1.8m for repairs and maintenance.

As such, an increase of 17.6 per cent was included for the new repairs budget, taking it to £14m.

As for the new town hall – the Create Building – the budget assumes that three floors will be fully let in 2024/25, creating income of £600k.

But the vacant floors will still cost £460k on top of the £470k in electricity, heating and other such running costs.

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Mr Jones, though, shared news that one new tenant would be announced soon, with a second to follow.

Speaking about the council’s assets, such as buildings, Mr Jones did not rule out the possibility of some of them being sold.

He added: “There will be no sales that don’t reflect the proper market price.”

A total of £296,000 of savings were written into the budget, including £21,000 from the Neighbourhood Anti-Social Behaviour Team budget – operational costs and not filling a vacancy – and £20,000 from the maintenance budget for Broadfield Stadium.

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The entire Conservative Group abstained from voting after their tabled amendment to the budget was voted down.

The amendment asked for a review of the capital programme to be carried out to find projects totalling £2m to £5m which could be delayed for a year.

But Sue Mullins, cabinet member for community engagement and culture, warned that delaying any capital projects would see them become more costly down the line and possibly unaffordable.

The amendment also called for an extra £21,000 to be taken from reserves so that the reduction in the Neighbourhood Anti-Social Behaviour Team budget would not have to go ahead.

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Bob Lanzer (Con, Pound Hill South & Worth) said now ‘was not the time’ to be making such a change.

Tory leader Duncan Crow worried that the £296,000 of savings was not enough.

He said: “By not having a greater amount of savings this year, I think we could be putting greater pressure on next year’s budget and we will be losing a greater amount of interest revenue on our reserves by not making savings sooner.

“We could be having additional pressures in future years.”