Chichester services are prioritised to help plan for the future and determine future investment

The impact of the coronavirus pandemic and the financial uncertainty it has created has led councillors at Chichester District Council to prioritise its services to help it plan for the years ahead.

All councillors were asked to prioritise council services that were non-statutory — services that the council believes are important to deliver, rather than those it has a legal duty to provide — as part of a financial planning exercise.

The council has already identified over £2 million of annual efficiency savings, including new income generation, over the past two years. This was in response to a reduction in the council's income since the pandemic began. However, it is still possible that further savings will be required over the years ahead and so the aim of the exercise was to use the results to help the council plan for the future and determine where further investment should be placed.

After reviewing the results, councillors agreed to add £188,100 to the council's base budget to fund a variety of posts and initiatives that aim to support the economy; respond to climate change; and support the ongoing additional work created by the pandemic.

The Climate Change Officer and an operational budget; the expansion of the Environmental Strategy Unit, which has seen a significant increase in workload with the Climate Emergency and emerging environmental issues; the Events Officer, who has been arranging events to attract people into the area to support our High Streets and local economy; and an apprenticeship role to support the increased number of enquiries and representations about trees from third parties on planning applications, were all given a permanent budget so that their services can continue.

Councillors also used the results to determine which proposals and projects should not go forward at this stage, including a Property Decarbonisation Technical Manager; alternative fuel at the council's contract services; and a Home Energy Conservation Officer; the Place Branding Project; and the Climate Change Coordination budget, which is being delivered in an alternative way.

"Our financial situation has been very uncertain since the pandemic began," says Cllr Peter Wilding, Cabinet Member for Finance, Corporate Services and Revenues and Benefits at Chichester District Council.

"Our income levels aren't returning to the same level that they were pre-pandemic and we have had to face additional financial challenges, just like our local residents and businesses have. This is why this financial planning exercise has been so important.

"The good news is that we have managed to identify £2 million of savings and new income to help balance our budget, and we do not foresee any reductions to services next year. However, it is still possible that further savings will be required over the years ahead, and so prioritising our services and projects is necessary."

Public conveniences were considered a high priority within the exercise, but councillors asked officers to review our current provision and highlight any sites that could be managed differently or that were no longer required.

Councillors were also keen for the council's accommodation options to be reviewed as a way of making future savings. The office footprint requirements are much lower since the pandemic started and flexible working has been introduced, and so this is seen as a project that could help the council reduce its costs. Work on this has already started and a report will be taken to the Overview and Scrutiny Committee to agree the scope of the review.

Councillors also agreed to merge the Community Grants and Visions funding pots, and for the total to be reduced by £50,000.

The district council will be sharing the outcome of the exercise with local parish councils to seek their views on its priorities.

The full prioritisation list will form part of the budget report, which will be presented at Cabinet on 1 March and then at a Special Full Council meeting on Tuesday 8 March, and the papers will be available from Thursday 17 February on our website.

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