Whoever triumphs in this week’s Poole council elections will immediately have to take drastic action to try and balance the books, it has been revealed.
The council’s interim chief executive Andrew Flockhart recently held a confidential briefing with group leaders to warn them the Borough of Poole was facing a financial crisis.
There is confusion about the extent of savings that will be needed but it’s understood group leaders were warned options would include a hefty increase in council tax, some kind of merger with Bournemouth council, outsourcing functions to the private sector or scaling back the services it currently offers.
The council has been criticised for not being more open about the scale of the problem ahead of the local and general elections on Thursday.
Chris Jackson, a founding member of Unite The Conurbation, a campaign calling for Bournemouth, Poole and Christchurch to form a single unitary council, said they were happy to hear the idea of a merger could be on the table but wanted it to be discussed publicly.
He said: “Shouldn’t we know before Thursday if Poole council tax may have to be raised by 10 percent in the next council session and that apparently there are memos circulating within the council proposing radical combinations of services with Bournemouth and joining with Bournemouth by forming a single unitary council?
“If the council’s finances are in such dire straits why are we not being presented with these alternatives as the key issues we should be voting on in our local elections?”
Cllr Mike Brooke, the Liberal Democrat group leader, said the briefing had been confidential because some of the options had implications for council staff.
He added he did not believe the financial situation was any worse than that reported publicly at full council in February and said it made sense to warn group leaders that there were big decisions to be made after the election.
“With the council being no overall control and the outcome of the election totally in the balance, Andrew Flockhart decided it might be a good thing to present the leader of each group with what he sees as the issues and give us time to think about it so that whoever is in power can make it their priority,” he said. “That’s sensible planning.”
He said he believed the council was looking at cuts of £30m over four years but said he didn’t know if that was on top of the £12m they were planning to save this year.
Andrew Flockhart, interim chief executive for Borough of Poole, said: “The council faces a significant financial challenge over the next few years. The scale of this challenge was clearly highlighted to all councillors in a report on the council’s Medium Term Financial Plan in February. Since then, there has been no material change to the council’s financial position.
“Councillors will want to set out their priorities for the council and local services in Poole following the local elections on 7 May. I and my fellow senior officers will continue to advise councillors with the aim of ensuring the council continues to set a balanced budget.”
Report and photo from the Daily Echo 07/05/15