• Tuesday, December 05, 2023

Business

Slough council in financial black hole, data shows

Data from the BBC’s Shared Data Unit compared local authority areas as the collective black hole in council finances has ballooned to a nationwide £5 billion

Slough council has the largest shortfall as a proportion of its budget, BBC study reveals

By: Eastern Eye

NEW figures have revealed that Slough in Berkshire is among the worst offenders for having the largest budget shortfall of any local authority in the country, writes James Moules.

Data from the BBC’s Shared Data Unit compared local authority areas as the collective black hole in council finances has ballooned to a nationwide £5 billion.

The cash-strapped Slough Borough Council was among the authorities facing the worst funding shortfalls, with £339 million needed to balance its budget by 2025-26, representing 237.1 per cent of its net spend for 2023-24.

This ranked the council as having the largest shortfall as a proportion of its budget, although Thurrock in Essex was estimated to have a worse cumulative sum at £521m.

Dexter Smith, the Slough Borough Council leader, said: “The deficit reflects the capitalisation direction that we have with central government and the actions we are taking through the asset sales to reduce the deficit over time.”

The research also noted that Slough is among the local authorities to have substantially raised council tax by 9.99 per cent in 2023-24.

The news comes amid major financial woes for Slough Borough Council, which effectively declared bankruptcy in 2021 after amassing more than £750m in borrowing debt.

Mike Short, the head of local government at Unison, said: “Council finances are in the direst of states. As the government tightens the squeeze on local budgets, services either vanish or are scaled down dramatically.

“Cash-starved councils have had to go cap in hand to ministers for emergency support or raid already depleted reserves in a desperate attempt to balance the books.”

The BBC surveyed 190 local authorities across the country to assess the state of council finances.

The research revealed that councils would need to find £5.2bn to balance the books by April 2026, even after £2.5bn in cuts this year.

A spokesperson for the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities said: “Councils in England have benefited from an increase in core spending power of up to £5.1 billion in 2023-24 compared to the previous year, with almost £60 billion made available for local government overall.” (Local Democracy Reporting Service)

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