The Liberal Democrat leadership of Wokingham Borough Council are very proud of the Budget they set in February. We know this because they tell us.
So, why can’t they keep to the Budget they set and why are they proposing to make stringent cuts to everyday services the Council should be providing, like litter bins?
Under the previous Conservative administration, Wokingham was rated in the top 20 for financial sustainability by the Chartered Institute of Public Finance & Accountancy. This meant it was clearly in a better position to weather financial difficulties than many other Local Authorities.
Indeed, the Budget we set in 2022 was so strong, that last year the Liberal Democrats managed to underspend, saying that at the end of the financial year, there was “a small amount leftover”.
At a Council Overview and Scrutiny Committee meeting earlier this month, the Council’s Chief Financial Officer confirmed that the Budget is currently on track.
On top of this, the Liberal Democrats’ Budget included £11 million set aside for inflation, calculated at 8.7%.
In June inflation had fallen to 7.3% – crucially below the figure that the Council had predicted when setting the Budget. So why is there such a sudden need to cut services just two months after the local election?
When the Budget was agreed in February the Conservative Group made a number of proposed savings which together came to £2.1 million.
The savings were prudent and focused on back-office efficiencies – however, they were rejected out of hand by the Liberal Democrats and their coalition partners.
These savings would have meant no reduction in services to residents, and we committed in our manifesto to make no cuts to frontline services.
Instead, the Liberal Democrats went ahead and increased spending on back-office costs, PR and communications.
They also pressed on with schemes like fortnightly bin collections, in the face of clear public opposition.
Despite the Liberal Democrats’ claims that it will save money – though without a business case, we have no way of knowing this – implementing fortnightly collections is expected to cost £1.96million in the first-year, with the only predicted savings based on assumptions that residents’ behaviour will change.
Incidentally, the Liberal Democrats rejected my motion earlier this month for the Council to produce business cases so that councillors and residents can clearly see the costs and benefits of all projects above £1 million.
So, what does this all tell us about the Liberal Democrats’ attempts to scrap some public litter bins and collect the remainder less often? Either, the administration is so incompetent that it managed to put together a Budget that has fallen apart in a handful of months, this seems unlikely considering the Chief Financial Officer says the Budget is on course.
Or else they were planning to cut services after the local election in May when they drew up their spending plan in February.
The end result is rubbish overflowing from unemptied litter bins and the associated smell across the Borough.
The good news is that it’s not too late to put a stop to the Liberal Democrats’ plans.
In the latest sign of their casual approach to governance, the administration went ahead with removing bins without actually taking a decision through the proper processes and oversight. This means that it’s still possible for the Liberal Democrat leadership to think again and reverse their decision when it comes to a future meeting of the Executive.
If you agree with us that the Liberal Democrats removing litter bins and reducing collections is the wrong priority for the Council, send a message by signing our petition calling for an end to this policy: wokinghamconservatives.org.uk/campaigns/save-Wokingham-borough-litter-bins
Cllr Pauline Jorgensen is the leader of Wokingham Conservatives on Wokingham Borough Council and ward member for Hillside