From the Chamber - the Need For Savings

17 Jan 2024
Ian Shenton

You can probably guess that our columns are written a little ahead of publication, and so it is that I find myself writing while in reflective turn-of-year frame of mind. In particular, I am reflecting upon what my tenure has achieved for residents.

The answer is bound up in the complex nature of local authority financing, particularly for a Unitary Authority such as Wokingham, delivering a full range of services. In simple terms, there are several separate budget pots, and we are not allowed to subsidise one from another. Furthermore, the pots arise from different sources.

My portfolio contains a range of everyday, ongoing resident services that are funded from the Revenue budget, which is derived largely from council tax income. And occasionally, my services require capital expenditure, not surprisingly from the Capital budget, which is funded by developer contributions, government grants and the council’s own resources.

The first two of those capital sources are tied to specific projects and may not be used for anything else, which is why we are sometimes in the illogical position of cutting spending on an everyday service while continuing with projects that some residents may see as extravagant.

Over the last 10 years, the Conservative government has repeatedly capped council tax rises below inflation while simultaneously taking away our Revenue Support Grant, so that our Revenue budget in real terms has little more than 70% of the purchasing power that it had 10 years ago.

That’s why I was happy to support the proposal to change the way in which we collect waste, because it will reduce our annual spend on waste management by around £1 million. That will allow us to continue to offer support to the increasing number of children with special educational needs or to the increasing number of adults requiring dementia care.

That’s also why I supported the transfer of BXGFit, the boxing gym, to Places Leisure management, with the aim of stemming the losses of that bizarre investment by the previous Conservative administration.

But there have been times when my portfolio has been able to escape the shackles of cost reduction by spending external grants on environmentally beneficial projects like the Covid Memorial Wood. We will continue to pursue external grants whenever we can, and we will also test the market for the sale to developers of Biodiversity Net Gain Units, as a source of funding for environmental enhancements.

Sadly, the government settlement for 2024/25 has yet again failed to deliver proper local authority funding, and so our ingenuity will again be tested to the limit. Meanwhile, the Borough’s Conservative Councillors continue to support the very same government that is knowingly undermining our ability to provide basic services to the residents that they allegedly represent.

Ian Shenton, Liberal Democrat Councillor for Evendons Ward and Executive Member for Environment, Sport and Leisure


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