One of Britain’s largest trade unions has warned the £28m funding gap Cambridgeshire councils collectively face in the upcoming financial year is likely to lead to "huge cuts" in services.

Councils say inflationary pressures and increasing demand for services are among the reasons behind the estimated shortfalls in their 2024/25 finances.  

But UNISON has described the situation as "dire" and says that it could lead to job losses, cuts that impact the vulnerable and force councils to sell off assets.  

The trade union analysed the 2024/25 funding shortfall figures of 50 councils in the East of England for its Councils Under Pressure report.  

It found councils in the region collectively have a £332m hole in their finances - and Cambridgeshire County Council’s was the fourth highest at £16.37m.  

Wisbech Standard: Social care is the example of one area that could be cut back as council across the East of England try to balance their books. (Stock image).Social care is the example of one area that could be cut back as council across the East of England try to balance their books. (Stock image). (Image: Jonathan Brady / PA Wire / PA Images)A council spokesperson explained “whilst this is a large sum, and there is a risk of it increasing”, most other authorities are in a similar financial position. 

He said: “In addition to calling on government to make a fairer settlement for local government which reflects the level of work we carry out, we are also focused on what we need to do as a council to manage this.”   

The three other councils with shortfalls higher than Cambridgeshire County Council’s were Thurrock Council in Essex (£156.5m), Norfolk County Council (£45.9m) and Essex County Council (£19m). 

Wisbech Standard: A stock image of a pothole on a Peterborough road.A stock image of a pothole on a Peterborough road. (Image: Joe Giddens / PA Archive / PA Images)Peterborough City Council’s predicted shortfall is £0.53m in the report - but its figure has now increased almost 10-fold to £5.1m.   

Cllr Andy Coles, the Cabinet Member for Finance, HR and Corporate Services, said it has been “working towards financial sustainability”.  

He said: “That is why the budget gaps we are predicting in Peterborough are much smaller and more manageable than some other councils.    

"That said, we still face significant financial pressures and our predicted budget gap in 2024/25 is now £5.1m, up from the £533,000 we predicted earlier in the year.   

“The reasons for this are rising demand and an increasing complexity of cases in children and adults, huge pressures in our housing department and high rates of inflation.”  

Meanwhile, with district councils, the 2024/25 funding gap for Huntingdonshire District Council is £2.77m and Fenland District Council’s is £0.64m. 

Wisbech Standard: Cllr Brett Mickelburgh, of Huntingdonshire District Council.Cllr Brett Mickelburgh, of Huntingdonshire District Council. (Image: Huntingdonshire District Council)Cllr Brett Mickelburgh, executive councillor for finance and resources, at Huntingdonshire District Council said "vital frontline services” have been protected from budget cuts and it also hasn’t tapped into reserves.  

He said: “The financial stability of the council is vital and we have taken preventative action and early intervention where necessary.  

“This means that we have taken the difficult decision to charge for some non-statutory services, such as garden waste from next year, to ensure that we can keep our statutory services running to the standards our residents expect.”
Wisbech Standard: Huntingdonshire District Council has already decided to start charging residents for their garden waste collections from next year.Huntingdonshire District Council has already decided to start charging residents for their garden waste collections from next year. (Image: Newsquest)

South Cambridgeshire District Council, often criticised for its four-day working week, and East Cambridgeshire District Council were among nine councils with a zero funding gap.  

Cllr John Williams, South Cambridgeshire’s lead cabinet member for resources, explained around 25 per cent of its income this financial year is due to be generated by investments.  

The council is also aiming to identify at least £2m in savings by April 2026 without affecting services.  

Cllr Williams said: “That is why we are trialling a four-day week to see if it can improve recruitment to hard to fill posts and thereby reduce our staffing costs, by not having to use more expensive agency staff to cover.” 

Cambridge City Council says its funding gap is now £2.90m, and not £4.76m as stated in the UNISON report, as the figure was revised following the announcement of the local government finance settlement.  

As local authorities explore how to deliver services within the budgets available, UNISON claims “councils are on their knees”. 

Wisbech Standard: Tim Roberts, UNISON's Eastern regional secretary.Tim Roberts, UNISON's Eastern regional secretary. (Image: UNISON)Tim Roberts, the Eastern regional secretary, said: “Ministers seem to care very little about public services and local government has been hit hard over very many years.  

“Yet more service cuts and job losses are sadly inevitable across the country unless the government intervenes with the lifeline of significant extra funding.” 

Fenland District Council declined to comment on its shortfall.

East Cambridgeshire District Council was approached for comment.