Wokingham Borough Council is planning its budget for next year – working out how much money it has and what it will be spent on in the next financial year (from March 2023 to March 2024).
The challenge of setting the budget for next year will be one of the toughest the council has ever faced because the cost of everything it does is increasing rapidly – with the inflation rate above 10 per cent (almost double what it was this time last year) and the money it receives as income is generally fixed, and in some cases falling.
This means it will not have enough money to carry on just as it is doing now, and it will have to make difficult decisions about what can continue and what can be changed to compensate. It has worked hard to identify efficiencies, but even with these there is a shortfall of about £4million in balancing the books for next financial year, so the council is looking at a wide range of ideas for further savings or revenue increases.
These decisions will be made through a series of open meetings that everybody can attend and ask questions. These continue this Wednesday (October 26) when some ideas for potential savings or ways to generate more income will be discussed at the Community and Corporate Overview and Scrutiny Committee. There will be a series of further public meetings to discuss other budget proposals and the findings from these discussions and these will be used to draft a budget that will be discussed and agreed next February.
Difficult decisions will have to be made
Leader of the council Cllr Clive Jones said: “For many years Wokingham Borough Council has been one of the worst funded local authorities in the country and everybody knows the difficult financial situation we are experiencing across the country, which is hitting us extremely hard. Pretty much all the things we do are costing us more money and we just don’t have more money to pay for them.
“So, difficult decisions will have to be made and we are determined to make these decisions following discussion and open debate but also in line with the principle of protecting the most vulnerable people.
“We are responsible for vital services that allow people with learning difficulties and physical disabilities live as full and independent lives as possible, that help save people from domestic abuse, that help keep children safe from abuse and neglect and that are supporting people through this terrible cost of living crisis. Those are the services that we are committed to protecting as we look at our budget for next year.”
Details of the Community and Corporate Overview and Scrutiny Committee and other public meetings are available on the council’s website.
The proposals being made and discussed at these meetings are, at this stage, not set in stone and will be considered by councillors in publicly open meetings.
Protecting the most vulnerable residents
Executive member for finance Cllr Imogen Shepherd-Dubey said: “Setting the council’s budget is a complex process but we have quite simple principles – we will look to make efficiencies wherever possible, and we will protect our most vulnerable people wherever possible. The process will be open to scrutiny from councillors and members of the public.
“This will lead to us agreeing a budget in February 2023 and, despite the dreadful financial situation in the country, we will set a balanced budget at that time that focusses on those in the borough who most need our support. We are currently looking at a revenue deficit of more than £4million if we carry on just as we are. We cannot continue to function as a council if we do not find ways to close this gap. I cannot begin to emphasise how serious this situation is.”
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