This past year has been tough for everyone, and the Covid-19 pandemic has affected us all, with the impact being felt far and wide locally.
Wokingham Borough Council has ploughed additional money to support the community throughout the pandemic from supplying much needed personal protective equipment to care homes and social care staff as well as continued support to the voluntary and community organisations. It also helped to administer much needed grants and discounts to businesses and residents alike.
The impact of the pandemic is still being felt but Wokingham Borough Council remains a good place financially despite facing future uncertainty in terms of government funding and proposed adult social care reforms.
Next week (17 February), Wokingham Borough Council is set to consider a robust and balanced budget for 2022/23 from a position of relative strength despite being the lowest funded unitary authority in England.
Cllr John Kaiser, executive member for finance and housing, said: “Sound finances must underpin everything the council does for its residents. Despite getting very little support from the Government compared to other authorities, our strong reserves and successful financial planning has meant we’ve been able to support the community through Covid-19. We also have ambitions to invest to improve our services, meet the needs of the most vulnerable and invest significantly in our community.”
Key proposed 2022-23 budget facts
- Revenue budget of £145million which pays for everyday services
- No cuts to services
- Continued investment in Children’s Services and Adult Social Care to meet growing demands of the most vulnerable in the borough
- Only received £1.8million additional revenue funding from government, whilst inflation alone costs the borough council some £8million
- Council tax rise of 1.99 per cent, plus a social care precept levy of 1 per cent. Inflation currently running at more than 5 per cent
- No increase in town and village centre car parking charges to support local shops, hospitality and businesses and help the borough’s economy recover
- £265million capital programme (over three years) investing in projects to improve roads, leisure and school facilities, tackle congestion and the climate emergency.
- The capital budget is funded by housing developers section 106 and Community Infrastructure Levy, government grants and other funding sources, which include councils own internal funds as well as external borrowing
- A large proportion of council borrowing is deemed as “supported” borrowing which means that these schemes more than pay for themselves, this ensures the cost of borrowing does not fall on residents
Prioritising the budget
Part of prioritising the budget must involve the council reducing its costs to allow it to be more efficient in offsetting inflation. In the past six years it has reduced costs by almost £30million. Despite these efficiency measures, the authority continues to face a number of ongoing challenges and it has to focus on investing in its priorities, which offer value for money and improve services for residents.
Covid has seen an increase in the number of local people struggling with making ends meet or, in some cases, at risk of homelessness. There has also been a rise in temporary accommodation which is why the council will be prioritising investment in social housing.
Cllr Kaiser added: “This year’s proposed budget is cautious, but I am pleased to say we will not be cutting any services. We have tried to either keep fees and charges to a minimum or where possible, like car parking charges, not increased them at all to help the borough’s economy recover.
“We will also prioritise social housing and look to deliver more homes at social rents. Due to the lack of suitable housing and increase in private rents, even affordable housing is out of the reach for many in our borough who are on low incomes.
“We don’t take any decisions to raise council tax lightly and with inflation running at more than 5 per cent, which the council is not immune to, it’s been a difficult decision this year, especially as we are aware of the rising costs of living which is impacting everyone.”
Full details of the proposals are included in the agenda papers for the council meeting.
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