Crawley Borough Council will have to use more than £1.2m of its reserves to balance its budget in 2024/25

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Crawley Borough Council will have to use more than £1.2m of its reserves to balance its budget in 2024/25.

During a meeting of the cabinet, leader Michael Jones also recommended that the borough’s portion of the new council tax bill should rise by 2.99 per cent. This would increase the average Band D bill by £6.76, from £225.34 to £232.10.

The budget also includes a 7.7 per cent increase in social and affordable housing rents. Mr Jones told the meeting that the council currently receives £8.9m less from the government than it did in 2010, with its spending power dropping by 69 per cent.

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A number of councils across the country have been struggling with their finances – with some even having to declare bankruptcy. But Crawley Borough Council is not in that position.

Michael Jones. Picture: Jon RigbyMichael Jones. Picture: Jon Rigby
Michael Jones. Picture: Jon Rigby

Mr Jones said: “I believe this is a solid budget that’s designed to take us through the tough times for local government that’s been forced on us by the current government nationally.

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

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

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The latest financial settlement from the government is expected to be announced later this month, though Mr Jones was not optimistic that it would bring good news.

And he pointed out that a government funding guarantee announced last month would not even be enough to cover one week of the council’s temporary accommodation bill.

He added: “Local government deserves so much more than this treatment it’s an understatement – and Crawley certainly deserves so much more.”

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

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By December 2023 it was estimated that £7.6m was spent on temporary accommodation for 2023/24 – an overspend of £3.6m.

The situation has got so bad that members of the overview and scrutiny commission has asked for a detailed report to be prepared.

Ian Irvine, cabinet member for housing, told the meeting that, before the pandemic, the demand for temporary housing was costing the council less than £1m per year.

He described the current situation as ‘dire’ and predicted worse to come.

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Mr Jones agreed, adding: “We are trying incredibly hard as a council to keep roofs over people’s heads.

“The number of people affected in this borough is staggering – there’s no other word for it.

“Many people are coming forward who we have a statutory duty as a council to house, mainly from private rental evictions at the moment.

“But there is some indication that asylum dispersal from the hotels by the Home Office is beginning to become a factor in the increases.”

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

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 is proposed 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.

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

The budget will be put to a meeting of the full council on February 21 for final approval.

Mr Jones said: “The council faces significant financial pressures.

“However, we feel confident that over the coming year we have a plan and a strategy that will keep the council on a level playing field and enable us to continue services whilst we look at the longer term of what can be achieved.”