The Medium Term Financial Plan (Budget) for 2024-2027 has been agreed by Wokingham Borough Council

24 Feb 2024
The WBC council chamber with councilors preparing for a meeting.

The Liberal Democrat leader of Wokingham Borough Council, Cllr Stephen Conway, has highlighted the financial challenges for the council in the coming years, whilst commending councillors and officers for delivering a robust budget for 2024-2027.

The Medium Term Financial Plan (Budget) for 2024-2027 has been agreed by Wokingham Borough Council at its meeting on Thursday 22 February. At the meeting, the unprecedented financial pressure on the council was outlined. The council has been facing a double challenge of high inflation, caused by the Conservative government’s mis-management of the economy, and a rising demand for services. A significant number of local people are impacted by the cost-of-living crisis as well as mental and physical health challenges.

Per head of population, Wokingham is the lowest funded unitary authority in the country, and has been for many years. The budget document estimates that the reduction in the council’s spending power since 2010/11 is a staggering 50%. The
revenue savings target of £16m for 2024-25 is more than three times the historic annual savings requirements.

Additional funds from government of £1.6m are completely inadequate and still leave a £16m shortfall to be addressed.  £418,000 promised for road maintenance would pay to resurface around 0.37% of the roads the council is responsible for, whilst 14% of the roads are assessed as needing resurfacing.

The budget outlines that the £16m shortfall will be addressed by identifying £11m in specific savings with just under £5m funded by releasing reserves no longer needed thanks to good management by the council. Council tax will be raised by 4.99%, the
level which government has assumed in our funding settlement, to maintain the long term financial viability of the council.
In their leadership of the council, the Lib Dems have taken decisions which will benefit those most in need, including securing care home capacity and repurposing council property to provide accommodation for the homeless and for care-leavers. New schools are being opened, funded through successful bids for government grants, to provide additional places for children with special educational needs. We are working with partners in the voluntary and charitable sector to support those most in need due to the cost-of-living crisis. These invest-to-save decisions will also build for the future saving money longer term by, for example, increasing our control over costs for adult social care and reducing the costs of home-to-school transport.

Cllr Stephen Conway, Leader of Wokingham Borough Council said: “In these most testing of financial circumstances for all councils, we are focusing on two fundamental requirements – to do all we can to help those for whom life is a struggle now, and to lay the foundations for a better future. “While other councils are unable to meet their commitments, we are devoting the resources needed to help those most in need, putting our finances on a more sustainable footing, and at the same time laying the foundations for a better future for our borough.”

Clive Jones, the Liberal Democrat Parliamentary Candidate for Wokingham, reflected on the opposition’s position on the budget:
“Multiple Conservative council leaders told us Wokingham is the lowest funded unitary authority in the UK and that the council needed more financial support from the government. The last Conservative leader of the council Cllr. John Halsall said in 2022
that, “The financial future looks both extremely challenging and uncertain, currently we receive the lowest level of support per head of population in the country.” “Now in opposition, local Conservatives claim that Wokingham is no longer starved of funding, but is “well-funded”. Wokingham’s MP, John Redwood, having previously supported the council’s efforts to receive more money, now considers Wokingham to be a well-funded authority. “They won’t support local residents in their quest to get fair funding from the government. Fair funding for children's services and adult social care, to support the most vulnerable in our community and maintain the roads to a reasonable standard. The Leader of opposition and Wokingham's MP prefer to play party politics rather than standing up for Wokingham’s residents.”