Published on

27 February 2024

Protecting frontline services despite financial pressures

The proposed increase in the borough council’s element of Council Tax will be 4.99%, which includes a 2% adult social care precept

Wokingham Borough Council meeting

Wokingham Borough Council has protected frontline services and made prudent investment in the future in its budget despite consistent low funding from central government.

With significant cost pressures from inflation and increasing demand for services exceeding additional funding from central government, the council will still have to make savings of about £16.4 million next year.

However, through efficiency targets and some revenue generation, it will be able to maintain vital services. The council has also managed to reduce its forecast debt increase while finding the funding for important infrastructure projects.

Much of the money for new infrastructure is being funded by housing developers in the area, who have to pay for local improvements when they build homes, but this funding can only be used for new projects in specific areas and this money cannot be used for ongoing costs, such as maintaining roads. The council has also been successful in bidding for additional capital funding.

Executive member for finance Cllr Imogen Shepherd-DuBey said: “These are tough times for everybody with the cost of living crisis still biting and more people slipping into poverty due to the national economic situation. That is why it is vital that we make every pound count by focusing our spending on those who need us most, making efficiency savings where we can and generating sensible revenue income.”

Financial pressures, high costs and inadequate Government funding have made the challenge of setting a balanced budget this year (for April 2024 to March 2025) tough once again. However, the budget will ensure financial security and continued protection of vital services – about 60% of the budget is allocated to adult and child social care.

Lack of financial support

Wokingham Borough continues to receive the least funding from central government per resident of any unitary authority in the country – £48million per year less than if it was funded in the same way as the average unitary authority – at a time when our residents need support the most. The Government works out how much funding councils receive on a formula related to deprivation rather than on actual needs, therefore it does not include issues such as increasing needs among our residents.

With the effects of high inflation over past 24 months pushing up all our costs and the needs of residents increasing, the funding increases from central government do not make any significant difference to the council’s situation.

The budget proposal sets out how the council will make savings through service efficiencies and increased revenue generation, but the increase in costs and needs – combined with low government funding – has made increasing Council Tax inevitable.  

Council Tax rise 'inevitable'

The proposed increase in the borough council’s element of Council Tax will be 4.99%, which includes a 2% adult social care precept. One per cent of the increase will be ring-fenced as a reserve to reduce historic and projected overspends on Special Educational Needs.

The average Band D Council Tax for 2024/25 (including the fire service precept, police precept and average parish council precept) is proposed to be £2,262.93 (which is an increase of £8.80 per month on last year).

Leader of the council Cllr Stephen Conway said: “Even in the midst of the financial mess created nationally, we are continuing to provide vital services and even manage to invest in the future. In fact, with the ongoing lack of support from the Government, it is even more important that we stay afloat financially so we can continue to support people.

“The economic situation is very difficult for everybody on middle and lower incomes due to prices going up and up and so we do understand that Council Tax increases are going to hit people hard. Unfortunately, the government bases the meagre amount we get from them on the assumption that we will raise Council Tax by the maximum amount, so we really have no choice.

“But we have continued to make saving and efficiencies to reduce the impact on people and we must balance our books so we can continue to serve residents.”

Investing in the future

Major capital projects that will be funded over the next three years include:

Children’s Services and Schools: Total £74.2million, including:

  • Two new SEND schools
  • SEND centres for post-16 education and early years
  • Expansions/new builds to meet basic demand in secondary schools
  • Sixth form expansion
  • Care leaver accommodation

Housing, local economy and regeneration: Total £104million

  • Continuation of Gorse Ride regeneration
  • Purchase of new council houses
  • Carnival Hub redevelopment (part of Wokingham Town Centre regeneration)

Roads and Highways: Total £108.4million

  • Safer routes to schools
  • Highways maintenance
  • Improving safety/crash barriers
  • Improvements to walking and cycling routes
  • Active travel and bus route improvement
  • Strategic Road Infrastructure

Adult Social Care: Total £25million, including:

  • New facilities, including older people’s dementia home
  • Additional supported living accommodation
  • Prevention support to reduce and delay need for long-term care by helping people in the community

Environment: Total £68million, including:

  • Investment in renewable solar energy
  • Rooks Nest Wood nature park (SANG) extension
  • Leisure centre improvements

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