OWRA Cllr Lynne Jones made some interesting comments highlighting Concerns about the RBWM 2018/19 Budget and its premises. Worth a read.
Following my recent article in, “Budget Blog 2018/19 – plus bonus questions“, I am delighted to be able to report the comments of the experienced and regarded “opposition” leader, CllrLynne Jones, OWRA/Independent, Old Windsor.
Some of the key points she mentions are;
- It’s a technically sound document
- The rapid and major changes in the Council’s operations from last year make it difficult to fully analyse – this is a red light for scrutiny
- There are a few misstatements and tricks
- There are problems with our car parking provision
- Services to children are actually reducing
- Use of agency social worker continues unabated, with the ensuing problems of cost and continuity
- Pressure on our school’s finance is increasing
- Patronage seems to be proliferating with a doubling of senior posts for Conservative Councillors – all paid off course
- The Council’s key strategy, if it works, is to fund development via a high levels of short term debt, predicated on a speculative development in the context of an uncertain planning regime in the Borough Local Plan.
- High levels of debt with high debt service costs and, uncertain receipts to pay them off is putting the Council at risk so, should be reviewed and cut back
- The key reason for the above is the historic policy of reducing or keeping Council Tax “artificially” low.
So, in short, there are dark clouds on the horizon caused by a continual depletion of council tax income, which has resulted in a high risk roll of the dice development strategy.
In the opinion of many, these risks now need to be managed very carefully and extremely skill fully, with a good slice of luck, to limit the negative effects on the Council budgets and, the services and infrastructure, like affordable housing and schools, that a Council’s finances pay for.
We will keep you updated.
Thank yous & recongition
I would like to thank officers for their hard work to produce the budget, express my thanks to Cllr Saunders for bringing a draft budget to scrutiny at the end of last year and also add my thanks to both Rob Stubbs and Cllr Saunders for the discussions we have had.
In the seven years that I have been presenting the response to the budget, this is the hardest analysis that I have had to undertake, the restructuring, outsourcing, partnerships and moving of departments with service areas has made comparison with previous years impossible…..
What I can say is that we have before us what I would see as a technically competent budget for the next year.
I would like to draw your attention to some areas that may be of concern
So the 18/19 budget …..It balances
It allows for service demand increases
In the report summary it sets out that to balance this budget we will need to make another 5.4m of savings in 18/19
I have been told that the 5.4m expected savings to be made (Pages 148 to 151) have been pronounced achievable by officers, although there is 100k on Page 149 that is a ‘one off’ saving that will have to be found again next year, and the year after that…….because it has been taken off our base budget.
It also says that Advantage Card holders will not be affected by parking charges
Not quite….. if you are an Advantage Card Holder who finds it cheaper to buy a season ticket (you may work in one of our town centres) then you will see an increase
If you normally park in carparks that do not have the machines that can take Advantage Cards, then you will be affected until those machines are installed.
Again it is heralded that we will maintain our street wardens (we use to call them community wardens,) I wonder…… could this be a nod totheir expanding role. Although …. Wasn’t the commitment by this administration to double the community wardens.
And ….Yes we do offer a range of services at our 10 Children centre locations (not sure they could all be called centres?) unfortunately the range in some locations is decreasing year on year.
We must ensure that the still concerning use of agency social workers does not continue to impact negatively on our resources – I was told that entering the AfC partnership would resolve this issue
Law and governance must be adequately resourced, and I look for reassurance that this is dealt with.
Our schools are under pressure to cut costs, smaller schools (of which Windsor has many) have already cut as much as they can and still deliver the education our children deserve but the impact will be felt. Despite this drastic underfunding we still require our schools (even those who cant use the program) to repay us the Apprenticeship Levy – this comes off their usuable funds.
Doubling of the paid executive post for Councillors (All Conservative)
In 2011, when I joined the council, there were 8 members of Cabinet
Now we are entering 2018 there are 19 in the extended Cabinet. Cabinet Members, Deputy Leaders and Principal members.
Paid a total of £203,00 per annum, given the amount of outsourcing, joint partnerships (with cllrs paid to sit on boards) and the reduction of in-house services how can this situation be justified?
However assumptions have been made that could significantly impact the financial position going forward
The Bigger Picture: speculative investment funded by borrowing
Policy decisions taken in preceding years have an effect as do decisions taken for activity in the future……so now I am going to focus on the ‘bigger’ picture
The background to this budget is the policy decision to push forward with Maidenhead regeneration, to borrow to facilitate development, with the express desire to pay back borrowing with capital receipts from development of council owned land.
We are looking at our borrowing reaching 230m in 2020, reducing to a net debt of 4m in 2025
So….. where are these capital receipts coming from? Obviously our 4 Joint Venture sites in Maidenhead will bring in receipts, but developing brown field sites is expensive and we have some major infrastructure such as the Leisure centre and multi story car parks to provide. The most significant receipt that would consolidate the financial situation is from developing Maidenhead Golf Course.
To do this we need the site to be removed from Green Belt protection by acceptance of our Borough local Plan. If the site is not removed from the Green Belt then extraordinary circumstance must be proven to allow development
If the BLP is not accepted or is delayed then we will not receive those receipts and we will have 133m of debt by 2025, interest of over 5m per year that will have to be serviced by council tax.
Lost opportunities due to Conservative Policy
To put that into context
RBWM Council Tax for a band D in 2010/11 was £1054, next year it will be £1008. So, comparatively, since 2010 Band D council tax has reduced by £46 per year 90p per week…. But…… that also means that we have had approximately £55.5m less to invest in the future of our borough over those 9 years
Yes we are told we are the lowest council tax outside of London…. However if we look at our neighbour, Bracknell, who has a current Band D council tax of 1194 (£186 more than us per year, If we had levied as Bracknell we would have an extra 79.3m over those 9 years. Bracknells decision has enabled them to ensure adequate infrastructure was in place that enabled development and a brand new town centre.
The policy decisions this administration took was to reduce council tax, take the odd photo outside the town hall with a big banner, and not have anything left to pump prime the regeneration.
So what does all this mean…. We need, as a council, the estimated 287m receipt from Maidenhead Golf course to pay back our borrowing or we are left with a large debt……….then there is the huge question of affordable housing. For every affordable unit we stipulate will be in the developments we are told our receipt will diminish. We don’t know the full effect of providing adequate truly affordable housing so how can we be sure of the receipt?
I would recommend that the council does not commit to any more major infrastructure projects until we are sure that the BLP is secure.
The budget sets out a 4.95% increase to the Band D collection amount, from 961.46 to 1008.16
It is down to each individual councillor whether they are happy with the risk of an unsuccessful BLP and the resultant 133m debt. I am told that we are committed to all our Capital expenditure included in the budget but have also been told that Plan B (should the receipts not be forthcoming) is that we will ‘cut our cloth accordingly’– the detail of how this would be achieved is not in the budget.
So yes it is a competent budget for the next year, but has the council, over the years, built the foundations to ensure that we will deliver the aspirations promised by the administration, underpinned by a deliverable and stable financial position.
Like it or not we are where we are, I wish we were in a more positive position but whatever the outcome of the budget debate we are not talking about options that will make any significant difference to the underlying risk going now forward.
I hope you found this useful.
WWRA Councillor, Wisdom Da Costa, Clewer North, Windsor
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).