From the Chamber - good financial management

9 Apr 2024
Imogen Shepherd DuBey

Good Financial management is vital for any organisation, especially when times are tough - and Wokingham Borough council is no different. Here are just some examples, since the Liberal Democrats have been in charge:

We have reduced the amount of money wasted on looking after empty buildings. We inherited several tired office buildings that were empty and had no rental interest for some time and even with considerable investment, it would have been difficult to find tenants. Instead of asking our council tax payers to pay full business rates and maintenance on these empty buildings, we have let our charity partners use them instead. Charities pay reduced business rates, if any at all - and are happy to cover the maintenance of these buildings and provide support to our residents. This is all while we are currently looking at what the best long term use of these buildings might be, but this is better than empty buildings losing millions as we were, before the Lib Dems took over.

We have almost halved the amount of predicted borrowing. Back in the financial year 2021-22, the previous Conservative Administration expected the Capital Financing Requirement for this year to be £684m. This is the money that they were expecting to borrow to cover the planned capital projects of this Council. We still need to build roads and schools and there is a large amount of debt to be paid off, but I am pleased to report that today we are looking at a much more modest £382M to cover our Capital Financing Requirement, this year, which has come after setting more realistic expectations. This reduces the burden on our Council Tax payers who are not having to pay back massive debts.

We have good Treasury Management. I realise that there has been some questions over the short term loans that we make to other Councils. This money is often money that can only be spent on a particular project, but if we don’t have all the money straight away, we can get a better rate of return by lending it to other Councils in the short term, rather than leaving it in a bank account. Also, WBC can borrow money at a lower rate and lend it on at a higher rate. It can look like a complex puzzle to the untrained eye, but our Treasury Management Strategy follows industry standards and makes a good, steady income for our residents.

On that note, there have been some negative letters in this very paper about the lending and borrowing that WBC takes part in. To clarify, the interest from the loan made to Woking council was £356,575.34 and the money was never at risk. This money will help fund services for residents, such as libraries, school transport and road maintenance. Subsequently, there were two follow up letters in Wokingham Today 14th March 2024, making an additional accusation about money being lost by WBC on a loan taken in June 2023. They missed the point that the money from this loan was re-loaned at a higher rate, making a total income of £41k for our residents and the services we provide them.

All of this is helping to keep Wokingham Borough Council moving forward, especially as we have to find over £16M of savings in the forthcoming financial year – and sadly, I am not seeing any potential future national government committing to supporting public services. I can only say that Wokingham Borough Council is much better equipped to survive the financial squeeze than it has ever been.

Cllr Imogen Shepherd-DuBey

Executive Member for Finance

Councillor for Emmbrook Ward


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