Budget Blog 2018/19 – plus bonus questions

Find out why Cllr Da Costa loves Windsorians and, what he said at Council on 20 February 2018 in his Budget Blog 2018/19. You could be in for a shock.


I love Windsorians

I have been very impressed by the hard work of RBWM Finance Officers in preparing the 2018/19 Budget and, the approach of Cllr MJ Saunders in making himself available and, talking candidly about the budget and the inherent risks associated with it. Risks associated with the longer term effects of a failure or delay in the Borough Local Plan and the possible non-deliverability of the development at the Maidenhead Golf Club.

I have also been impressed by a growing group of residents, taking it upon themselves to read reports, check issues, submit Freedom of Information requests. Basically proving what I have always said that, “Democracy does not end at the Ballot Box but, starts with your vote and continues with your involvement” – if you don’t self interested parties will.

Have I also mentioned how proud I have been of Windsorians who not just have a heart, but show their care in practical ways to, for example homeless people in the Town, or Baby Bank, or the Windsor Food Share, to name but a few.

You bring a lump to my throat.

 

PS Tomorrow, I will publish some of Cllr Lynne Jones’ insightful comments – indeed, here it is, “Cllr Lynne Jones Budget Comments – RBWM 2018/19 Budget Blog

 

You can also find out more about questions I put to Lead members yesterday and, a “How to guide” to asking questions at Council at, “Questions to Council 20 Feb 2018 – plus advice for residents

 

Summary

I voted against the 2018/19 Budget because of;

  1. Grave concerns that our children could be made to pay for a Budget which heralds a medium term commitment to spend £430m on capital projects, where the main source of income, to balance the books, is the speculative development at the Maidenhead Golf Club, which is being undertaken in a market downturn.
  2. We have failed to provide for our homeless residents or, budget for either the care we are even required to provide
  3. We have failed to plan for homeless people despite having
    1. Received an extra grant of £1.1m in 2017/18
    2. Receiving a further grant of £1.2m for 2018/19 and
    3. Having £3.79m of developer contributions to spend on appropriate long term housing solutions – instead we ship them out of the Borough to stay in expensive temporary accomodation
  4. I consider that our rainy day reserves are inadequate to cover the known risks and the value of the risks facing us even next year, let alone the risk of the MCG development hitting problems, or the BLP needing representation to the Inspector, or consequential speculative planning applications and pursuant judicial reviews, or the increasingly large demand for temporary accomodation etc..

Click here to watch the meeting in full on Periscope

 

RBWM’s 2018/19 Budget: Cllr Da Costa’s Speech

Click here to read the Budget document in full

My Budget thanks

I would like to thank Russell O’Keefe, Rob Stubs and the Finance team for putting together this report and responding to questions.

Thank you to Cllr Saunders for his approach in holding briefing meetings with residents and Councillors at early stage and, discussing things openly.

My thanks to these individuals

Budget concerns about the big picture

My comments and concerns, as with those of my collaborators, is more to do with flawed and failed policy, rather than the out workings of officers and Cllr Saunders.

We have heard that the errant Conservative policy to drive down Council Tax and revenues when most other comparable authorities saw the need to increase. We didn’t follow the market.

This budget is predicated on development plans. The plans put forward between now and 2026, are an ambitious and cunning, balancing a £430m Capital Investment programme with revenues from property development.

What we missed out on

“Pause for a moment and consider Conservative Bracknel Forest, with its wonderful new town centre.

Using them as a benchmark, if we’d followed the money we would have collected £20m more Council tax this year.”

“If we look to the end of the time horizon of our £430m capital programme, you might be surprised to know that, with compounding interest at between 1% & 3%, we would have generated around £300m – £400m of revenue to pay almost entirely for the capital investment,

  • or maybe also for services,
  • For genuinely affordable housing,
  • A decent homelessness and rough sleeper strategy,
  • Improvements for ALL our schools,
  • Subsidised transport & buses that serve people, reduce pollution and revitalise our businesses and communities.”

“But we are presented today with major concerns about services, debt and project risks; if the MGC development doesn’t work, even as hoped for we will have lost green belt land, have no affordable housing and, be substantially in debt; your children will pay.”

But there are more concerns about this plan;

  • Homelessness & rough sleeping
    • 2017/18 Budget included £440K
    • We have received an un-budgeted £1.1m for services, staff and capital
      • All of this was used on temporary accommodation
      • Total spend of £1.54m
    • 2018/19 Excluding the FHSG, and before Cllr McWilliam’s new report, the budget for Homelessness drops in Budget to £423K
    • I am told that all of the £1.2m FHSG will also be used for temporary accommodation
    • We have a big demand, an increasing demand, without proper plans and without adequate budget
    • This Budget has failed on homelessness and rough sleeping
  • Our failure to plan means that money is probably being badly spent;
    • Cllr Dudley said in December that we have 80 families in temporary accommodation with the figure, “rising inexorably”
    • Cllr Bicknell said last week (at the Windsor Town Forum) that there are 120 families with 130 children in temporary accommodation.
    • Given the going rate to private landlords of between £100 and £140 per night, that’s a cost of around £5m per anum
    • If thee figures are correct, that’s a 50% increase in two months 
  • And it’s not because we don’t have the money to create accommodation
    • We have £3.79m of unused developer contributions, specifically for affordable housing, which has not been spent, or mentioned, or considered.
  • There seems to be a lack of joined up thinking

Concerns about our (rainy day ) Reserves

  • Given that the number of homeless RBWM families, residents & voters, is rising inexorably
  • Given that they have apparently risen by 50% in two months, according to Cllr Bicknell’s figures
  • Given that the going rate if between £100 and £140 per night,
  • Given that we are not using the £3.79m of unused developer contributions
  • Is it realistic to make a provision of only £100K in reserves for temporary accommodation?
  • If the BLP fails or is delayed, is it really only going to cost the Borough £500K to engage with the Inspector,
    • What about lost developer contributions from speculative applications plus the costs of the court cases?
  • Perhaps our reserves should be £2m-£3m higher, but that would put another £43 on your Council tax bill.

 

Budget conclusion

In short, the numbers don’t stack up instead, there is a lot of wishful thinking by the administration.

 

I hope you found this useful.

 

Remember, tomorrow, I will publish some of Cllr Lynne Jones’ insightful comments – you are in for a treat.

 

Accountably yours,

Wisdom

WWRA Councillor, Wisdom Da Costa, Clewer North, Windsor

 

Caveat

This post is part of Cllr Wisdom Da Costa’s regular series of Blogs to inform and empower local residents; as he promised in his election leaflet

The views expressed in this article are not necessarily the views of the West Windsor Residents Association (WWRA).