Latest Savings and Income Proposals Provide A Balanced Budget

THE latest package of saving and income proposals totals nearly £12 million over a three-year period and will be considered at a meeting of the Council’s Policy Committee on February 19.

If agreed, it enables the Council to set a balanced budget for 2018/19, which it has to by law.

Reading Borough Council is one of many local authorities with little option but to continue to make very difficult budget decisions in order to provide a balanced budget. This includes proposing to raise Council Tax by 5.99% next year – the maximum allowed without a referendum.

The cost of caring and protecting the most vulnerable adults and children in Reading is expected to rise by more than £10 million next year. A 5.99% Council Tax increase in Reading raises less than half of that, at £4.9 million.

With very little new Government funding to cope with the rising demand adults and children social care, as well as pressure on other services like housing, the Council will now consider another round of savings at February’s Policy Committee, in advance of final budget setting on February 28th.

Reading Borough Council Leader, Councillor Jo Lovelock, said:

“Once again the Government has completely failed to address the huge shortfall in vital care services every Council faces. The cost of caring and protecting the most vulnerable adults and children in Reading will rise by at least £10 million next year. That is more than double what a 5.99% Council Tax increase will raise.

“This lack of proper funding means the Government has firmly placed the burden of paying for these vital services on to local Council Tax payers. Council Tax rises are no substitute for properly funded public services. Until the Government addresses this issue, every local authority will continue to face very difficult decisions to balance the budget which – unlike the Government or NHS Trusts – we have to by law.

“Last week Northamptonshire County Council became the first local authority in 20 years to impose emergency spending controls because it could not balance its books. Councils from across the political divide, and the Local Government Association, have been repeating for a number of years now that the huge underfunding of public services is unsustainable. Unfortunately we are now seeing this come to fruition.

“Government funding for Reading will have been cut from nearly £58 million between 2010 and 2020, leaving the Council with a Government grant of under £2 million. That grant may be removed entirely by 2020 and there still remains little clarity on how Government will fund local authorities beyond that point.”

Cllr Lovelock added:

“This week we saw a last minute panic by the Government which announced £150 million in funding towards social care pressures.  That money is to be shared among each and every local authority responsible for adult social care. It is far too little and far too late. As Lord Porter of the Local Government Association said, that figure needs to be compared against an annual social care funding gap of £2.3 billion by 2020. It is no more than a sticking plaster, and a very small one at that.”

The full list of savings and income proposals which form part of the Council’s Medium Term financial strategy, and which will be considered on February 19, can be found at

http://www.reading.gov.uk/media/8322/item15-budget/pdf/item15-budget.pdf

They include:

·        Increasing Council Tax to 5.99% – the maximum allowed by Government without a referendum

·        Further reductions in library opening hours across six branches

·        Extending the number of residents parking areas, where there is demand

·        Rationalising the use of the reducing public health grant

·        Maximising online and digital services available to the public

The latest package of savings and income proposals follow on from savings agreed in July 2017, 93% of which are on course to be delivered. The Council’s Medium Term Financial Strategy however shows a predicted funding gap of £43.2 million over the period to 2020/21, if it continues to deliver public services as it currently does.

Notes To Editor:

The Local Government Association predict that by 2020, 60p in every £1 of Council Tax will be spent on the spiralling cost of children’s and adult social care.

Speaking following the announcement of the Local Government Finance Settlement just before Christmas, Lord Porter, Chairman of the Local Government Association, said: “Years of unprecedented central government funding cuts have left many councils beyond the point where council tax income can be expected to plug the growing funding gaps they face. Local government faces an overall funding gap of £5.8 billion by 2020. Children’s services, adult social care and homelessness services are at a tipping point as a result of funding gaps and rising demand and increasingly little is left to fund other services, like cleaning streets, running leisure centres and libraries, and fixing potholes. While some councils will receive extra funding next year, the Government needs to provide new funding for all councils over the next few years so they can protect vital local services from further cutbacks.”

The full Local Government Association response to the Local Government Finance Settlement for 2018/19 can be found at: https://www.local.gov.uk/about/news/councils-responds-local-government-finance-settlement

Investing in Reading

The package of Council savings and income proposals sits alongside a programme of investment in key infrastructure in Reading. Reading Borough Council has a strong track record in identifying, campaigning and bidding for external funding opportunities, and working with partners. This enables the Council to continue to invest in key infrastructure in Reading, even at a time of severe budget constraints. It should be noted however these are external funding streams the Council has successfully bid for. The money is ring fenced against specific projects and cannot be used to balance the Council’s budget.

Examples include:

·        New bus priority measures made possible through successful funding bid to the Local Enterprise Partnership are making journeys on the Council-owned bus company quicker and more reliable.

·        The Council this year successfully bid for Department for Transport funding for the new rail station at Green Park, set to open in 2019.

·        Working with Network Rail, work to widen and lower the road under Cow Lane will be complete this summer. The traffic bottleneck will disappear with two-way traffic and buses travelling under the new bridge for the first time ever.

·        This June, the Council will open up the historic Reading Abbey to the public following a major restoration scheme, creating a major regional tourist and visitor destination.

Reading Borough Council has also been included in the Berkshire Business Rates pilot for 2018/19. The pilot is for one year only but it means more of the contributions made by Reading businesses will be invested locally in important things like transport infrastructure, to further boost our local economy.

Oscar Mortali

For media enquiries about this release email oscar.mortali@reading.gov.uk or call 0118 937 2301