Speech by Cllr John Kaiser, Deputy Leader of the Council and Executive Member for Finance and Housing, seconding the Budget:
“This year’s proposed budget is cautious, and I am pleased to see we will not be cutting any services. We have tried to either keep fees and charges to a minimum or where possible, like car parking charges, not increased them at all to help the borough’s economy recover.
We as a party don’t take decisions to raise council tax lightly but with inflation running at over 5% it’s been a difficult decision this year, especially as the rising costs of living is impacting everyone.”
This past 2 years has been tough for everyone, and the Covid-19 pandemic has affected us all, with the impact being felt far and wide and not just locally. To assure residents not only have we the highest rate of council tax collection in the country but we do it with humility and respect for residents.
Don’t believe me. This is a quote from Wokingham Citizen advice: “I've just finished a meeting with our debt adviser and debt specialist volunteers. They have a monthly meeting about the debt breathing space initiative. They were overwhelmingly positive about their engagement with your council tax team. Saying they are 'super responsive', always helpful with any requests, and are regularly seeing residents sent our way for further debt support, not just trying to get the council tax in.”
Wokingham Borough Council has ploughed additional money in to support the community during the pandemic from supplying much needed Personal Protective Equipment and support to care homes, schools, and social care as well as support to the voluntary and community organisations like the extra £1m we agreed last January to fund things such as free school meals for the school holidays.
We also helped to administered much needed grants and discounts to businesses and residents on behalf of the government of nearly £80m as well as the furlough scheme which has paid tens of millions of pounds direct to residents.
The impact of the pandemic is still being felt but Wokingham Borough Council remains a good place financially this is despite facing uncertainty in terms of government funding and adult social care reforms.
This is a robust and balanced budget for 2022/23 as I should know and it is only possible due to a position of relative strength even despite being the lowest funded unitary authority in England.
Sound finances must underpin everything the council does for its residents being rated by Chartered Institute of Public Finances among the 20 highest rated unitary council.
Despite getting very little support compared to other authorities, our strong reserves and successful financial planning has made it possible to support the community through Covid-19.
But I am glad It shows ambitions to invest in improved services, meet the needs of the most vulnerable and prioritise social housing and look to deliver more homes at social rents, as even affordable housing is out of the reach for many in our borough who are on low incomes as Covid has seen an increase in the number of local people struggling with making ends meet or, in some cases, at risk of homelessness.
The budget sees the council reducing its costs to be more efficient offsetting inflation. Something we have a track record of having in the past six years reduced costs by almost £30million in real terms.
Nevertheless, the council will continue to offer value for money and continued to deliver high quality services to residents but to do this we must remain solvent. as I have said on numerous occasions a council that is broke is no use to anybody.”