Wokingham Borough Council is set to agree a balanced budget, along with a massive programme of investment in capital projects, at its meeting next week (February 22) despite continuing to face severe financial challenges.
Since 2011, the council has managed reductions in central government grants against a backdrop of rising demand for services - especially in children’s social care and adult social care - as well as waste disposal costs and inflation. It is also continuing to prepare for the complete withdrawal of main government support grant by 2020.
As the lowest funded unitary authority in the country, by 2019/20 the council will only receive just over £40 per person compared to other councils (average score of £250). By 2018/19 this means that 84% of service costs will be met through council tax revenue not government funding (which rises to 90% in 2019/20). A number of authorities around the country receive 50% including Leicester, Stoke-on-Trent, Nottingham and Telford and the Wrekin.
The borough is going through vast changes and challenges with new houses, roads, schools and other amenities being built, and towns being transformed – all while government funding is being reduced.
Managing budgets despite severe government cuts
Leader of the council, Cllr Charlotte Haitham Taylor, said: “We've done an excellent job managing our budgets during recent years in the face of severe government cuts, and we remain determined to continue to meet our commitments to our local communities and help our most vulnerable residents.
“By March 2020, our funding from central government will be cut by 130%. We’ve saved more than £45million during this time, but still have to save a further £10million by 2020.”
A recent budget consultation has helped the borough council understand residents’ views on some of the key issues and their main priorities and concerns. Top priorities for local people include affordable housing, weekly waste collections, maintaining roads, having a thriving economy and good educational attainment.
And thanks to the borough council’s carefully planned developments which are bringing significant contributions from housing developers, attracting central government capital grants and through prudent borrowing, it is able to translate people’s priorities into day-to-day reality. This means the borough council is able to invest an unprecedented half a billion pounds during the next three years in areas that matter most to local people.
- Roads and tackling traffic congestion: £158million. Includes construction of six new relief roads, highways maintenance and improvements
- Education: £49.3million. Includes new schools; improvements to school buildings; providing new school places and enhanced provision for children and young people with disabilities
- Regenerating towns and villages, supporting social and economic prosperity: £170million. Includes affordable housing; leisure facilities - new Bulmershe Leisure Centre, new pool at Arborfield, Ryeish Green sports hub; country parks and play areas and Wokingham town centre regeneration, and superfast broadband
- Building strong sustainable communities: £52.7million. Includes cycleways, greenways and byways; street lighting replacement scheme; social housing; waste schemes; flood alleviation scheme and drainage; park and ride schemes; a community centre at Shinfield
- Commercial assets: £100million. Includes investing in commercial assets to generate income to fund vital services
- Infrastructure: £4.5million. Includes upgrades to IT to make it more efficient, effective and easier for residents to access the council, and to maintain and refurbish buildings that are used by its residents through its adult social care services
Lowest funded unitary authority
Cllr Charlotte Haitham Taylor added: “Despite being the lowest funded unitary authority in the country, we’re still very ambitious. We’re investing half a billion pounds in delivering these priorities over the next three years. This investment will be used to create new roads, park and ride facilities, sport hubs, schools, and community buildings, and it’s being paid for by developer contributions or external funding. We’re also working more commercially to keep council tax as low as possible. This will help us grow, prosper and fund services in the future.
“In the recent budget consultation exercise, more than half of you (56%) told us you would be willing to support an increase in council tax to protect the services we provide. Wokingham Borough is a great place to live and we want to ensure it stays that way. We think our proposed tax increases will help us do that.”
Council tax increase
The proposed budget is based on a general council tax increase of 2.99%, a weekly increase of 78p a week for a Band D property, and a social care precept levy of 2.5% (65p per week). The social care precept levy will generate an additional £2.4million this year to make sure vulnerable adults get the support they need. Taking both into account, the council’s share of the overall council tax would be: £1,433.89 for a Band D property.
Full details of the proposals are included in the agenda papers for the Budget Council meeting on 22 February
You can also view a video: Our Budget for 2018/19 - What it means to you.
Budget agreed: 22 February
Wokingham Borough Council set its budget for 2018/19 at its Council meeting on 22 February 2018. A 5.49% council tax increase was agreed (broken down 2.99% general council tax increase and 2.5% adult social care precept). A £534.5million captial programme was also agreed.
You can view a video: Investing in your Borough to find out more about this investment.