Draft Council Budget Proposes Investing in Reading

MAJOR Council investment proposals will provide better services, modern new facilities and a cleaner and healthier environment for Reading residents, its proposed new budget plan shows.

Reading Borough Council has worked hard to successfully stabilise finances after a decade of reductions in funding and increased demand for services. It is now in a position to deliver a three-year programme of essential investments which every resident in Reading will benefit from.

A draft Medium Term Financial Strategy (MTFS) was approved for public consultation at a Policy Committee meeting on Monday this week (Dec 16th). The proposals maintain the Council’s programme of modernising facilities, infrastructure and services for residents. It also includes further investment to help the Council achieve its net zero-carbon target by 2030.

Reading Borough Council’s proposed budget for 2020-2023 includes:

  • An extra £9 million on Reading’s biggest ever road repair programme, with new road surfaces and pavements
  • More than £40 million on modern and new leisure facilities built to high environmental standards, including the replacement of Rivermead Leisure Centre, a new community pool at Palmer Park and improvements at both South Reading and Meadway
  • £20 million on the continued delivery of new school places to meet demand, and improved school sites and facilities
  • £10.3 million towards the new £20 million Green Park Station, opening in 2021, and £3.2 million for the refurbishment of Reading West Station
  • An initial £7 million on better adult social care facilities for the elderly and vulnerable adults
  • £7.5 million on energy saving measures in our buildings and renewable energy infrastructure to reduce costs, generate income and contribute to the goal of achieving net zero carbon emissions
  • £5.9 million on a modern new environmentally friendly fleet of Council  vehicles
  • £3.2 million on disabled facilities grants, allowing adults and children to remain in their own homes as long as possible, and a further £1.5 million for similar facilities for residents in Council properties
  • £1.5 million for the introduction of a new doorstep food waste collection service next year to drive up recycling rates across Reading
  • £2.5 million on better customer service, including digital improvements, 24/7 self-service and ‘single sign in’ for residents.

The investments are funded from the Council’s £357 million General Fund Capital Programme. This is funded form a combination of successful bids for grants, cheaper borrowing available to councils, developer contributions, infrastructure funding and capital receipts, which are received when the council sells a building it no longer needs. It is different from the money the Council uses to run services and cannot be used to pay for day to day services or to balance the Council’s revenue budget.

£33.1 million of savings, made up of efficiencies and increased income, are still required across the three year period to deliver a balanced budget. Contingencies are built into the budget to mitigate possible slippage on the savings which may be more difficult to fully achieve. The Council has already delivered £12.5 million and £13.4million of savings in 2017/18 and 2018/19.

The draft budget for 2020-21 includes a proposed 1.99% general council tax rise and an additional 2.00% rise to fund extra spend on adult social care. The majority of properties (40%) in Reading are Band C and the proposed overall 3.99% rise is the equivalent to £1.11 per week on a band C property.

Reading Borough Council today (Dec 19th) launches a one month public consultation on the draft budget for 2020-21, to allow residents, businesses and organisations in the town to have their say. People can examine the detail and complete the consultation form at www.reading.gov.uk/budgetconsultation2020. The deadline for public responses is Sunday January 19th.

Funded separately from the General Fund, the Council is also proposing to continue its affordable house building programme which has already delivered 163 new homes in Reading since 2015 from within the Housing Revenue Account. The Council plans to invest a further £33.3 million in its new build and acquisitions programme over the next three years. It will also invest £32.7 million in its existing housing stock, including £3.2 million on fire safety works, post Grenfell.

Councillor Jason Brock, Reading Borough Council Leader, said:

“This is an ambitious and forward-thinking budget which will benefit every single resident in Reading over the next three years. Having worked hard over many years to protect services in the face of massive central Government cuts, we have now achieved a platform of financial stability from which we are able to invest in our town and communities.

“Reading’s biggest ever highway improvement programme will see an extra £9 million spent on new road surfaces, particularly on residential streets. We are investing more than £40 million on modern new leisure centres, including two brand new swimming pools. We will continue to provide new school places, including brand new schools, to meet rising demand and we are investing in better facilities for elderly and vulnerable adults in our town. We also plan to continue our programme of building desperately needed new affordable homes in Reading.

“Earlier this year the Council promised to do everything it can to deliver a net zero-carbon Reading by 2030. This budget continues to deliver on that promise, with a range of initiatives including a new cleaner Council fleet of vehicles, new energy efficient buildings which meet the highest possible environmental standards and developing schemes to improve air quality and health.”

Councillor Brock added:

“We know that big challenges remain. Reading’s population continues to grow, particularly in terms of children and older people who rely heavily on Council services. Coupled with sustained reductions in the money we receive from central Government, the rise in demand for essential services, like children’s and adult social care, continues to put real pressure on our budget.”

The draft MTFS and spending plans for the three years 2020/21 to 2022/23 can be found at: https://democracy.reading.gov.uk/documents/s9629/Budget%20and%20MTFS%20Report.pdf

The report makes clear a number of factors outside of the Council’s control can still affect it including the result of the General Election; the Provisional Local Government Finance Settlement; Brexit; the future of Business Rates distribution; and future changes to the Local Government finance system.

Following the 4-week consultation period, a final budget and associated Council Tax level will be recommended to Full Council on 25th February 2020.

Notes To Editor:

Reading Borough Council’s proposed Medium Term Financial Strategy is informed by and supports delivery of the Council’s Corporate Plan priorities. These are:

  • Securing the economic success of Reading
  • Improving access to decent housing to meet local needs
  • Protecting and enhancing the life outcomes of vulnerable adults and children;
  • Keeping Reading’s environment clean, green and safe (includes tackling the declared climate emergency)
  • Promoting great education, leisure and cultural opportunities for people in reading
  • Ensuring the Council is ‘fit for the future’.

The Strategy is also informed by the Council’s Vision: “to ensure that Reading realises its potential – and that everyone who lives and works in Reading can share in the benefits of its success.”

Oscar Mortali

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