1 Sep 2023

Most of us would agree that councils should prioritize helping those who most need help, such as children and adults with physical or mental challenges.  Most of us know of such members of our community - whether they are family members, friends, or neighbours.  We know that life for them is an ongoing struggle and our basic human instinct is to want to do all we can to make things easier for them.


Councillors and council officers feel the same way.  We, too, want to do what we can to help those whose challenges most of us can only imagine.


But in our case, what our consciences and moral compasses tell us we should do, the law tells us we must do.  Most areas of the council's responsibilities affecting children and adult social care are regulated by statute and so must be provided, come what may.


For the borough council to help children and adults with daily challenges - such as wheel-chair users, or children and adults with serious learning difficulties, or elderly people no longer able to look after themselves - is no easy matter in inflationary times.  


In the current financial circumstances, with high prices, high interest rates, high demand for services, and limited income putting great pressure on the council's ability to carry on as it has done before, there is inevitably not much money left over when we have covered our statutory obligations in children's and adult services.  Together, they account for just short of 60% of the council's total revenue spending. 


That means that the savings and income generation necessary to balance the books have to come in those areas of the council's activities that have a less profound impact on people's lives than the help provided by children's services and adult social care.


That's why Wokingham Borough Council is having to make savings and generate extra income in areas that are non-statutory - this is the only way we can ensure that we have enough money to cover the rising costs and increasing demand in the statutory areas of children's services and adult social care. 


This is why we have been reviewing all our non-statutory spending with great care to identify efficiencies and reduce costs.  This is why in some cases we have been forced to take tough decisions on how we deliver services.   


I understand why some of the decisions we are obliged to make are unpopular.  No one likes settled expectations to be disturbed; change can be stressful.  I wish we could avoid having to make these decisions.


But we, as councillors and council officers, have to keep at the front of our minds our obligations - moral and legal - to focus the council's limited resources on those who most need help.


Put in this context, I hope you can understand why we have to do our duty and make sure that there are sufficient resources available to support those in our community for whom that help is vitally important.


Tough as it is now, next week I want to share with you our thinking on how we can make things better in the years to come.

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