Regent box office to close as council approves cost cutting measures
PUBLISHED: 21:39 03 November 2020 | UPDATED: 21:39 03 November 2020
Fresh cutbacks for the next four years in Ipswich have been agreed by the council in a bid to restore some financial footing following the devastating impact of coronavirus.
Ipswich Borough Council’s Labour administration on Tuesday evening agreed to a revised four year financial plan which aims to address the £4.6million deficit the authority will face.
Among the measures are removing the Regent’s onsite box office to a phone and online-only ticketing system, axing the customer help desk at the Town Hall by March 2022 and carrying out one less grass verge cut each year.
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Those measures should deliver £750,000 per year in savings, with an additional £500,000 in government support, £1.5million in earmarked reserves and a further £350,000 in yet-to-be-decided savings plugging the rest of the deficit over those four years.
The council is also looking to remove five posts in the grounds maintenance team, although the authority’s chief operating officer Helen Pluck said that some of those were already vacant positions, and voluntary redundancy would be offered as a first port of call.
Council leader David Ellesmere said a revised four year plan now would mean less severe cuts would be needed in future.
“If the council takes the measures it will have a balanced budget at the end of the four year term of the medium term financial plan,” he said.
“It has been suggested that we don’t take action now to address what we think is going to happen in future years, just to take care of this year and worry about future years later, that things may turn out okay.
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“In my view that would be the height of irresponsibility. We have seen where that attitude gets us with the government’s handling of the virus.
“These decisions may look painful now but I can assure you that they are nothing compared to the cuts we would have to put in place if we sat back and did nothing.”
The council is working on the basis that the financial hit it has been dealing with will be over by March 2022.
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The four key areas where the authority has lost income are car park revenue, events and theatre takings, sports centre income and cash from the council’s own property portfolio not linked to its separate Ipswich Borough Assets company.
Reserves will also be depleted to just £50,000 of usable levels down from the £6.8m the council had prior to Covid-19.
Councillor Ian Fisher, leader of the opposition Conservative group, said: “Balancing the budget for this year is fair enough, but balancing the budget for the next three years when we don’t even know what the next three months are going to be like seems to be pretty pointless.
“Other councils locally aren’t having to make emergency budgets and having to plan for three years because they have managed to save more for a rainy day and have got more in reserves, whereas our policy over the last few years is let’s avoid cuts because we don’t want to make cuts or service efficiencies where possible, and let’s use reserves.”
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He added: “I fully understand how difficult this is, but we are potentially consulting on redundancies where people will lose their jobs on estimates – that’s exactly what a lot of these figures are at the moment, estimates.”
Mr Fisher also questioned why any additional money above the anticipated £500,000 from government in future would not be used to reverse some cuts but instead be put into reserves to build the pot back up.
Tuesday’s four year plan follows an emergency budget already implemented over the summer in which the council had to axe the Tourist Information Centre in St Stephens Lane and close its Waterfront gym to help make ends meet.
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