Cllr Oliver Whittle, Executive Member for Finance, 21st Century Council,
Internal Services and Human Resources looks at how Wokingham Borough Council allocates your money
Local government finance – even mentioning this topic can put the most committed politics-watchers to sleep.
Nonetheless, it is a key part of what we do as your elected representatives on Wokingham Borough Council.
In order to provide you with services – bin collection, building social housing, repairing the roads, renovating leisure centres – we depend on money coming to us from a variety of sources.
Council Tax is something nearly everyone is familiar with: a charge made to households based on the value of your property.
Business rates are also charged to local businesses, and there are fees and charges for various activities, from car parking to making planning applications.
For bigger projects, such as a new road, the Council also receives ‘capital’ contributions to pay for materials and construction.
Finally, we receive a Revenue Support Grant: a pot of money given to us by Central Government.
You may have heard councillors and Council officers describe Wokingham Borough as “the worst-funded authority in England”.
We put it like this because, where we used to receive enough Revenue Support Grant that it made up the bulk of our income, we now get so little that the majority of our funding comes from you, via Council Tax.
Indeed, by 2019/20, we will receive no Revenue Support Grant at all, and we will be expected to give most of the money we get through business rates to Central Government.
It is important for the Government to continue to reduce spending in order to eliminate the national deficit and start paying off the country’s debt.
In this context, the Council has had to make a lot of savings over a number of years, cutting out waste to balance the books. The 21st Century Council project currently underway is about changing how the authority works to ensure that as much money as possible is directed towards providing services for you.
In order to make sure that your services are protected, we are now looking at other ways that we can bring in revenue.
We have had a great deal of success with the companies owned by the Council, which both provide services at a lower cost and generate funding for Council services.
On top of this, as my Executive colleague Cllr Munro discussed in a previous column, the Council is looking to more innovative ways of raising income or providing services.
Later this year, we will be running our third successive budget engagement exercises, where we will ask you, as residents, to give your thoughts on how we should prioritise what we spend and ways we can generate income.
I would urge you to respond and provide your views and see how your Council currently spends its budget – details will be available closer to the time.
In these difficult financial times, it is important that we work together, residents and elected representatives, to secure a Council that lives within its means while providing the services you need.