SERVICES, contracts, and other areas are to be reviewed by officers as Slough Borough Council (SBC) warns it may need to make nearly £18 million in savings over four years due to coronavirus.

In the medium-term financial strategy – which outlines the areas SBC directorates are looking into to reduce costs – finance officers estimate the council may need save £17.9 million by 2023/24.

This is mainly due to the coronavirus pandemic impact on SBC’s income, the borough’s economy, and the “anticipated” growth in demand for adult and children’s services arising from Covid-19.

In the report, finance officers expect next year’s costs to mount to approximately £15 million with spending pressures on children’s services and adult social care, under-delivery of some savings, increase in demand of services and previous spending decisions contributing to the overspend.

A projected year-end overspend of £2.135 million is predicted based on spending to August 2020 due to Covid-19 and service pressures.

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The year-end overspend, however, could be covered by SBC’s general and some of their earmarked reserves – which currently stand at £10.848 million.

The council is also expecting a £4 million shortfall in business rates and council tax income due to Covid-19.

An early plan has been set for SBC to deliver a balanced budget for next year – which includes directorates at the council reviewing services, like Home to School Transport, to see if any savings can be made and to consider delivering the services differently than they currently are.

The report states the council may need to look into liquidating some of its assets in order to pay the “heavy burden” of debt it has accumulated.

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SBC is also reviewing the affordability and the quality of third party contracts as well as reviewing the use of agency staff to see if those posts can be “deleted”.

Neil Wilcox, director of finance and resources, told councillors at a cabinet meeting they are operating in an “unknown” as government has not announced any spending reviews or future budgets to the council – but officers are “working hard” to set a balance budget for 2021/22.

The leader of the council, councillor James Swindlehurst (Labour: Cippenham Green) said SBC wasn’t “immune” to the effects of the pandemic as most, if not all, local authorities are facing future budget gaps – but he remained confident the council will deliver a balanced budget for this year.

He said: “This is the first step of building a plan to narrow the gap identified and to deal with the extra year we have now projected forward into to make sure we have a three or four year plan ahead of us, and we’ll do that work all the way from now to setting of the budget.”

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He added: “We will balance this year’s budget – but the question is how we deal with the later years with the financial strategy.”

Although remaining a “significant risk”, SBC is not expected to pay for the Slough Children’s Service Trust deficit of £5.5 million as it’s an independent organisation from the council and senior officers have entered talks with the Department of Education to cover this overspend and the ongoing funding of the trust.

It is understood SBC is currently not in a position to issue a section 114 notice – which bars any new spending except on vulnerable people and statutory services.

The report was heard at a cabinet meeting on October 12 (Tuesday).