Wokingham Borough Council continues to face severe financial challenges as it prepares for the complete withdrawal of the general government support grant by 2020.
The council needs to make savings of almost £19million by 2019/20, on top of £26million which has been found over the past four years. But rather than a slash and burn budget, the borough council is instead undergoing a radical reorganisation to reduce running costs and is proposing a financial plan based on efficiencies, innovation and a focus on priorities that are supported by the public.
The proposed budget, which will be discussed by council on Thursday 23 February, envisages:
- A massive programme of investment in capital projects that will bring long-term revenue funding and supports residents’ health and well-being
- Ongoing efficiency saving through restructuring and improved IT that will allow residents easier access to services. The restructure (known as the 21st Century Council programme) will save £4million per year on staff costs and more than £9.5million per year in non-staff savings by 2019/20
- Continued focus on protecting our most vulnerable residents and prevention services (both overwhelmingly supported in last year’s public budget engagement sessions)
Cllr Julian McGhee Sumner, deputy leader for Wokingham Borough Council, said: “Although we are facing severe financial challenges, we are proposing a balanced budget that means that we can protect services that residents most value. We are continuing to focus on protecting vulnerable people and investing in prevention services with £76milion dedicated to this area. Both of these areas received strong support in the budget engagement process we undertook last year and continue to be our central focus. We are also stream-lining our organisation even further, with an investment in IT that will allow us to reduce staff costs and provide a better service to residents.”
The savings are necessary because of ongoing reductions in government funding and additional spending pressures, including the need to fund inflation and the growth in population which predominantly affects adult social care, children’s services and waste disposal costs. By 2020 the borough council will see the complete withdrawal of the general government support grant meaning that even more local services will be funded from the council tax payer.
However, thanks to the borough council’s carefully planned developments that are bringing significant contributions from housing developers, attracting central government capital grants and through prudent borrowing, it is proposing some major infrastructure projects.
Over the next three years, the council will be investing:
- More than £90million in its highways
- About £46million in its schools
- About £23million in council and other affordable housing
The specific projects that will be funded include:
- Redevelopment and re-opening of Ryeish Green Sports Centre
- Redevelopment of Carnival Pool and Bulmershe Leisure Centre
- Improvement and realignment of road at Barkham Bridge
- New primary school at Matthewsgreen in Wokingham
- Regeneration of Wokingham town centre
The council will shortly be in year two of a multi-year finance settlement covering a four year period up to 2019/20. The council took up this offer to provide some financial certainty and stability. As a result it is proposed that the council agree a net revenue budget of £113million for the 2017/18 financial year, with a savings target of £6.7million.
The proposed budget is based on a general council tax increase of 1.94%, a weekly increase of 48p a week for a Band D property, and a social care precept levy of 3% (75p per week). The social care precept levy will generate an additional £2.5million this year to make sure vulnerable adults get the support they need.
The final decision on the budget and financial plan will be made at the meeting of the Council on 23 February. Full details of the proposals are included in the Council agenda papers.