Wokingham Borough Council will be focussing on its residents by providing lean and efficient high-quality services for all when it considers its budget later this month.
In recent years, the council has faced reductions in central government grants against a backdrop of rising demand for services - especially in children’s social care and adult social care – together with increased waste disposal costs and a return of modest inflation. The Council continues to face challenging financial times but is up for the challenge. Just 11% of its total revenue “spending power” comes from the Government (the rest is met by local taxpayers), which is the lowest among unitary authorities. That equates to £83 per person. As a comparison, Reading Borough Council receives £193 per person, Bracknell £149, West Berks £111 and Slough £238.
Wokingham Borough Council is up to the challenge. In order to keep providing the high quality services its residents have come to expect despite year-on-year reductions in funding, the Council has an innovative programme looking at delivering services in creative ways which generate efficiencies and opportunities, by using new IT to provide residents access to modern and efficient digital services.
The Council has generated £26million of efficiencies over the past five years and is generating additional savings by sharing services with other Berkshire local authorities for legal services and building control. The Council is also working on ways to provide services to those most in need through council owned companies providing care to older people, adults with disabilities and meeting the increasing demand for good quality affordable and private market homes locally in the Borough.
Leader of the council, Cllr Julian McGhee-Sumner, said: “We have got used to being badly funded and having to come up with new ways to save money, raise revenue, safeguard our future and provide services. I am delighted we are able to propose a budget that will focus on improving the services people rely on every day.
“Unlike other neighbouring authorities, we are not only maintaining our weekly waste collection, we are expanding what can be recycled through a new food waste service. We are proud to be not just maintaining our library services and country parks, but to be improving them.
“We recognise that people are facing difficulties from congestion and, as part of our attempts to counter this, we are building major new roads (such as the North and South Wokingham Distributor Roads, the Arborfield Cross Relief Road and the Winnersh Relief Road) as well as carrying out other highways improvements. And, of course, filling potholes and doing important road maintenance.
“We understand that housing is expensive around here and, through our housing companies, and with money from developers, we are building new homes in shared ownership schemes to help our young families get onto the housing ladder, as well as building more housing for subsidised rents to help those less fortunate.”
The budget proposed would also set out how Wokingham Borough Council is investing in leisure services at no cost to the local taxpayer, with developer funding supporting the re-opening of Ryeish Green Leisure Centre, the rebuilding of Bulmershe Leisure Centre, providing new facilities at Arborfield and improvements at Loddon Valley.
Cllr McGhee-Sumner added: “As well as focussing on what people need now, we are taking the long-term view with a £100m portfolio of investments. A good local example is our purchase of Bush Walk, which is not just a charming shopping street but is now owned by us and returning well on the investment. We cannot sit back and think a future Government will have a change of heart and start funding us fairly – it would be nice if it happened and we continue to argue for a fairer deal – but in reality we must look after ourselves.”
The proposed budget is based on a general council tax increase of 2.99%, a weekly increase of 82p for a Band D property, and a social care precept levy of 0.5%, 14p per week. The council’s share of the overall council tax would be: £1,483.93 for a Band D property.
Full details of the proposals are included in the agenda papers for the council meeting on February 21 and can be found at: www.wokingham.gov.uk/council-and-meetings