IN March, as the Government’s national lockdown measures to help stop the spread of coronavirus were being understood and implemented, we made a commitment to our residents and businesses.

We said Colchester Borough Council would do all it could for its residents, for the vulnerable and for our fantastic staff who serve the public.

We have more than delivered on those promises.

We maintained key frontline services and played our full part with partners across Essex.

And in many areas, we led the way.

To support those shielding through lockdown, we helped deliver food and other essentials to thousands of residents.

Knowing the huge impact of lockdown on businesses and their employees, we were one of the first councils to get financial advice, support and grants out to those struggling to pay their bills.

Over £33 million of Government and council discretionary grants has been distributed, followed up by business advice and help to those in need.

This is just some of the vast amount of work the council has undertaken, thanks to the hard work of our dedicated officers.

While we have done our bit, sadly the Government has not fulfilled its side of the bargain.

Years of Government cuts to our core budget, which has resulted in the loss of around £11m over the last decade, means we have had to become much more commercially focused.

However, as a result of the lockdown measures, many of the ways we generate income – including leisure, car parks, events and museums – were halted.

This means we are now facing a significant shortfall - almost £10m less than we were expecting this year to invest in essential services.

When we made our commitment to the residents and businesses of Colchester, the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government, Robert Jenrick, promised to support councils.

He said: “The Government will provide whatever funding is needed for councils to get through this and come out the other side.”

This promise has so far not been kept.

While we have received some funding, it will at best cover only two thirds of our lost income.

We are facing a £2m gap this year that we are seeking to cover from our reserves – money set aside to help deliver key services in the event of an emergency.

Once this money is gone, it can’t be used again.

Now, because the Government has not lived up to its promise, we have a potential funding gap next year of around £3.5m and more in the years that follow.

We are working tirelessly to find ways we can bridge this gap next year and beyond, but it will mean difficult choices.

That is why a cross-party group of councillors is looking at possible garden waste charges.

Not because we want to do it – we are a low tax authority – but because we must close the budget gap created by this crisis and the shortfall in support from Government, with the least cost to services and jobs.

By law, we must have a balanced budget – and in working to achieve it we will continue to lobby the Government to make good on its promises.

By David King, Colchester Council's business and resources boss