Agenda item

Councillor John Halsall, Leader of the Council 2021/22, Budget Statement


Mr Mayor, who could have possibly known at last year’s budget what a year it would be.


The budget is our statement of our vision for the future.


We, Wokingham Borough Council, are the golden thread - the indispensable and fundamental partner joining all the institutions, businesses, and residents of the Borough. It is a measure of our prowess that the Borough is one of the first choices to live, work and grow.


We have no other purpose than to serve our residents. 


We strive to produce the optimal service for the minimum cost and seek to obtain our residents acclaim and affection for so doing, whilst diversity, equality, compassion, and fairness are at the heart of everything we do.


In short, we endeavour to be the natural and beloved, friend and partner of our residents, whose complaints, comments, and concerns are captured as valuable feedback and signals.


We are not a faceless monolith. We are some 1,100 members of staff and councillors, whose central purpose and mission is to continuously improve the lives of our residents.


We want the Council to be an employer of choice and pride.


We can only fulfil this role if our finances are strong; thanks to all our officers and councillors they are. I have constantly preached an ethos that officers are bold, take initiatives, try novel approaches, and learn from the inevitable mistakes; it is only someone who does nothing who makes no mistakes. I am delighted to say that this creed has taken root and we have achieved remarkable things.


Whilst the responsibility for all that is done (particularly the bad stuff) is mine; what is being achieved through innovation, risk, flexibility and hard work is a credit to all the officers and councillors, all of whom I am understandably proud.


As the lowest funded unitary in England, to be the best is hardly good enough.


This budget is ambitious, seeks to fuel recovery, maintain, and improve services. Our ambition is only tempered by our resources.


·           We will work tirelessly to help those in need across the Borough whilst continuing to deliver excellent and good value services to all our residents.

·           We will protect and look after our vulnerable children and adults both through the pandemic and afterwards.

·           We will keep our traffic moving and improve our highways by dealing with congestion, tackling the blight of potholes, and investing in intelligent traffic systems.

·           We will take bold and ambitious action to do our part to achieve a carbon neutral Borough. 

·           We will invest further in our schools and give our young people the best opportunities in life through a good education at a local school

·           We will continue to fight over-development and support building homes only in the right places. We will build more affordable homes and council homes.

·           We will ensure our Borough continues to be one of the best places to live. We will tackle anti-social behaviour, environmental health, air quality issues and fly tipping. We will work with our health partners to maintain resident mobility, combat isolation and mental health.

·           We will strive to help our residents stay safe during the Covid pandemic and do as much as we can to help them protect their families and livelihoods.


Furthermore, and most significantly in the context of this Council meeting, I am this evening putting forward a budget proposal that invests significantly in services much needed by our community, it remarkably avoids making any cuts to services, and still leaves our financial standing in a strong and sound position. General Fund balances are forecast to be just under nine million pounds at March 2022.


Ladies and gentlemen, the budget, I put before you, has capital investment of £445m over the next three years:


·           £160millionRoads and transport: including new park and rides, Nine Mile Ride extension, Highways Investment Strategy, flood alleviation schemes, and traffic signal upgrade programme.

·           £156millionHousing, local economy and regeneration: including Gorse Ride estate redevelopment delivering over 200 affordable homes.  

·           £71million Climate emergency: including developing solar farms to create a renewable energy infrastructure, energy reduction projects at existing properties to make them energy efficient, managing congestion by improving traffic flow and reducing incidents which cause delays.

·           £23million Environment: including refurbishment of leisure facilities, play area enhancement projects, andCarnival Pool redevelopment.

·           £13million Internal Services: includingupgrades to cyber security and IT, to improve services to residents.

·           £12millionChildren services and schools: including new schools (Arborfield Primary, Matthews Green Primary, and new Special Educational Needs at Winnersh Farm), maintenance of school buildings, and ICT equipment for children in care.

·           £11million Adult social care: including a new dementia home, community equipment, Learning Disability respite centre, and supported living accommodation.


Next year we will be injecting growth and special items budgets in Adult Social Care of approximately £2.5m and Children’s services of £3.2m. This will help us continue to respond to the needs of our growing elderly population and provides the resources needed to meet our objective of getting Children's Services to “Good”.


Our Capital Investment of a staggering £445m has only £11m of this falling on our council taxpayers. In fact, as a result of a numerous innovative commercial ventures over the years the impact of all the Council’s borrowing will actually be an overall credit of £13.64 per Band D Council taxpayer next year, rising to a credit of £62.86 in year three. I consider this to be an immense achievement and a further reflection of our outstanding financial management.


Our borrowings far from already being at £700m and running away from us as the opposition states, is budgeted to be just under £400m at the end of next year. In reality it is likely to be nearer £300m given the necessary level of slippage on the capital programme into future years. Our net borrowings after taking into account of our cash balances will be somewhere between £200m and £265m. It surely must give us great confidence that backing this debt, we have total asset value rising to £1.4bn. What an incredibly strong position to be in.


Our revenue budget proposals are equally impressive, whose cornerstone is recovery. We will be actively working to create new jobs with a variety of initiatives already advanced including attracting enterprises into the Borough and retraining erstwhile hospitality and retail to care sector.


We will be laying out the new local plan proposals in the midyear after having fought against our own Government’s white paper proposals on housing numbers, whose success was contingent on our being a Conservative Council talking to a Conservative Government and lowered the target from some 1,650 houses per annum to less than half – but still too much.


We will be taking decisive steps to improve our environmental health, licensing, and trading standards    for residents so that neighbourhoods, community safety, public protection and enforcement work together in an integrated way locally and that we are more effectively tackling the issues that are of utmost importance to residents. We will be reviewing in depth our waste collection and processing services, shared legal and other shared services.


Despite the financial impact of Covid, both this year and into the future, and despite still being the lowest funded Council in the country, we continue to significantly invest in our care services. We are proposing no cuts to services, something I am aware is being forced on Councils across the country who are having to vote on stark service reductions packages. We can protect our services and invest in them because of our strong financial management and innovative, commercial approach to how we run our services. We propose a further £6.3m in service efficiencies and income streams next year, rising to £16.2m in 2023/24.


The details are set out in my budget proposal. It is this relentless work that enables additional investment in services, with no cuts, whilst maintaining a safe and healthy general fund balance of just under £9m at March 2022.  


Although it gives me great satisfaction to propose this budget for our residents, I remain acutely aware we have a great responsibility to continue to respond to the needs of our residents as the impact of the pandemic is felt beyond this financial year. I am confident, with the competent Councillors and Officers of this Council, who have responded so immensely since the outbreak in early 2020, that we will step up to make whatever difference we can. Again, I stress, this is only possible because we have previously succeeded and will continue to succeed in strong and stable financial management of this Council.


It is indeed in the very spirit of this, I put forward the 2021/22 budget tonight and the Statutory Resolution (Appendix A) circulated by Democratic Services earlier this week. It is an investment in our community, which our indefatigable financial management endeavours have made possible.


Thank you, Mr Mayor.