Wokingham Borough Council needs to save almost £19million by 2019/20 despite responding effectively to austerity and funding cuts from central government since 2010.
Facing a tight financial future is nothing new for the borough council and it has already begun thinking about how it could transform and reshape itself to help meet this challenge which sees the complete withdrawal of the government’s support grant during the next two years.
A national consultation was held earlier this year to introduce a multi-year settlement to local authorities covering up to 2019/20. This would allow councils to plan for the future with financial certainty up to this point in time.
And at its meeting on 29 September, the borough council’s decision-making executive will be asked to agree to the multi-year settlement and an efficiency plan.
If agreed by the executive, the council would write to the Secretary of State to accept the offer of a four-year settlement instead of annual financial settlement on the proviso that there is no negative revenue support grant (RSG) in 2019/20. The initial national consultation introduced the concept of negative RSG which Wokingham Borough Council challenged as it would have meant its residents subsidised residents in other local authorities, which was simply not fair.
However, following the consultation the then Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government Greg Clark confirmed that no council would have to make such payment in 2017/18 and 2018/19.
Leader of the council Cllr Keith Baker said: "While taking up the offer of a four-year settlement gives us some financial certainty and some stability, we’re under no illusions and must continue planning to make ourselves even more efficient during this time.
"It will be challenging as we face the removal of the government’s revenue support grant by 2020. Coupled with the need to fund inflation and the growth in population which predominantly affects adult social care, children’s services and waste disposal costs, which are partially funded by council tax increases, there is still a budget shortfall. This needs to be met with further savings."
Even by accepting the multi-year settlement, the council still faces a shortfall of £18.9million (between April 2016 and March 2020). Despite this, the council isn’t starting from scratch in tackling these financial challenges. It has done a good job so far balancing the books and protecting services. But the point has come where a radical and different approach is needed to secure the council’s medium to long term future. This will involve a number of different initiatives and the council is bringing these together under the title of the 21st Century Council.
This far reaching programme will make a significant contribution to the sound three-year efficiency plan to deliver the necessary savings. It would generate £4million staff savings every year. Some £6.2million investment is also required and it would be paid back in less than two years.
After taking this into account, along with the savings already agreed for 2016/17, a further £9.7million deficit needs to be addressed over the coming three years (2017/18 to 2019/20). It would be met through various initiatives including closer integration between health and social care; continuing to ensure best value for money from the council’s largest contracts; looking for further opportunities to share services with other councils and to raise and generate income such as through the council’s own companies.
And at its meeting on 29 September, the executive will consider the business case for the 21st Century Council Century Council programme. If approved, it would start immediately and be fully implemented by March 2018.
"The business case focuses on the shape, structure and size of the organisation and how it would operate," said Cllr Baker. "This is just one of 12 strands that would make savings. We would become a leaner, more efficient council costing significantly less to run. But I’d like to assure our residents that it would be very much business as usual during the transition. And they should see availability and access to council services improve through digital channels; as well as swifter resolution of issues and queries."
The council would change its approach and way of working by promoting greater self-service for residents, digital interaction, and effective customer services.
Budget engagement sessions
For the second year running, and building on from last year, the borough council is holding public engagement events in five locations to discuss the budget and its financial challenges. It will also be an important forum to discuss the 21st Century Council Century Council programme and canvass residents’ views on the principles and priorities that will guide how the council spends its money to fund services.
The sessions take place between 7pm and 9pm on:
- Monday 17 October at St Mary’s Church Centre, Station Road, Twyford
- Thursday 20 October at Maiden Place Community Centre, off Kilnsea Drive, Lower Earley
- Monday 24 October at The Bradbury Centre, Rose Street, Wokingham
- Tuesday 25 October at Finchampstead Baptist Church, Gorse Ride North, Finchampstead
- Monday 31 October at Waingels College, Waingels Road, Woodley
No need to book, simply turn up on the night.