THE NEW budget, which sees council tax rise 5.49%, is “a realistic one that addresses our challenges, invests in our residents while making us fit for the future”.
That’s the verdict of the leader of Wokingham Borough Council, Cllr Charlotte Haitham Taylor, given at the full council meeting held at Shute End on Thursday, February 22. The Wokingham Paper was the only media present for the meeting.
She said that setting the budget under the austerity regime imposed on all unitary authorities by Conservative cutbacks “has never been tougher”.
Since 2011, the council’s spending has been reduced by £45 million and council tax payers account for 90% of its revenue. And she warned that in the next financial year, 2019/20, “the Government will ‘tax’ us”, saying that it will receive just £40 per resident as opposed to the £192 she said Reading Borough Council will get.
“Our residents’ needs are no less than Reading’s,” she said. “This borough faces an ageing population and an increasing number of children coming into care that we need to look after. This costs the council significant sums of money.
“I raised these issues with the Secretary of State at the end of last year and discussed them here at the council with the Prime Minister just a fortnight ago.
“I’m pleased to say that we have been invited to discuss further with the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government our ideas on how to make the Revenue Support Grant allocation system fairer and how to enable us to become the model for self-sufficient councils across the country.”
She pledged to maintain services and invest in the borough.
“We’re investing a grand total of over £500 million over the next three years on things that matter to local people,” she promised.
“Going forward, we will build a whole community approach that brings on board residents, public sector partners, businesses and the voluntary sector. We will set out our partnership how we provide the services our residents need how we support our most vulnerable, and how we advance equality of opportunity.”
As she sat, she received a large round of applause from her Conservative colleagues.
However, Liberal Democrat leader Cllr Lindsay Ferris said that the budget showed that the Conservatives were running out of ideas.
“The Conservatives have now been in control of Wokingham Borough Council for 16 years and it badly shows,” he said.
“The Council has been drifting for the last 18 months or more, it is rudderless.
“The ruling group has run out of ideas, is split on many issues, in-fighting has been rife, but more importantly they have lost their focus, we have thought for some time that the ruling Group put self-interest and the Tory Party ahead of the residents of Wokingham Borough – now it seems even more the case.”
He called for the council to look again at temporary staffing on the council, looking to employ staff on short-term contracts instead of paying agencies.
He also warned that the financial implications of the town centre regeneration projects.
He said: “Costs for this self-contained project have increased significantly these past couple of years from under £80 million to over £120 million thereby reducing any financial benefits that were originally budgeted for.
“Its continued viability must now be questioned.”
And Cllr Andy Croy, Labour, said: “The increasing reliance of this borough on its own council tax receipts is deliberate.
“It shifts the burden of taxation from more progressive taxes, such as income, corporation and inheritance taxation to one of the most regressive taxes, council tax.
“Again, this is entirely consistent with the Tories long term economic plan – reduce taxation for the rich and increase taxation the rest of us.”