04:25PM, Thursday 18 November 2021
The council has released its draft budget for 2022/23 which it hopes is less controversial than last year’s – saying there are ‘no fundamental changes’ to services.
In the 2021/22 budget, residents were rankled by proposed changes in bin collections, closures and reduced hours in libraries, cuts to arts grants and less money for community wardens, as well as proposals to begin charging in rural car parks.
One challenge the council faces is fluctuations in income as a result of the pandemic, as well as different cost pressures – yet despite this, leader of the council Andrew Johnson said there are fewer ‘tough decisions’ to make this year.
“Because of the work we have done over the past two years, this (budget) is less difficult and painful,” he said.
He said there are ‘no changes’ to libraries or community wardens – nor any other ‘fundamental changes.’
However, the opposition has said the draft is a ‘holding budget’, too dependent on assumptions made about future Government grants.
The new budget will see council tax increase by 3 per cent – £33 more a year for Band D households, up from £1,131 to £1,165 – the equivalent of about 64p a week.
Despite this, it will remain one of the lowest council taxes in the country, said the leader, ‘hundreds of pounds cheaper than our Berkshire neighbours.’
Decisions under previous Conservative administrations to freeze or lower council tax over a number of years were criticised by CIPFA in its damning report into the Royal Borough’s finances in 2020.
The draft budget states the borough’s main focuses are to tackle climate change, with £250,000 committed for 2022-23. This is part of an initial investment of £1m in businesses over 4-5 years, which will eventually pick up the costs themselves.
The second and third priorities are the town centre regeneration and ‘high quality infrastructure’, including outside of Maidenhead.
“We have invested a lot of money in Maidenhead but we really keen to share that more evenly across the borough,” said Cllr Johnson.
For the arts, the council is looking to introduce a community lottery, which it hopes could generate a ‘not inconsequential’ amount of money.
“We have thought long and hard about how to support the sector in ways which don’t necessarily involve grants,” said Cllr Johnson.
“It might even result in a bigger range of organisations getting some money.”
The budget also aims to create more support for households struggling with debt.
To reduce expenditure on temporary accommodation, a new officer is being brought in who will assist homeless people into settled accommodation, costing £60,000 initially.
The costs of the borough’s domestic abuse support service sits at £985,000. The budget earmarks investment of £325,000 in 2022/23.
There is also a three-year plan to reduce reliance on agency workers, costing £465,000 in the first instance and similar amounts for the following four years.
Two new officers are also set to be hired to improve parking enforcement around the borough, collecting income from penalties. It’s expected that this will bring in £50,000.
Overall, its investment package for 2022/23 is £5.3million in total.
For capital schemes – longer term, one-off investments – the council is looking at ‘major schemes’ budgeted at nearly £24m in 2022/23.
These include ‘new money for new schemes’ on affordable housing (making 1,000 new affordable homes) plus new car parks at Broadway and Vicus Way.
£10million is also going on flood prevention measures in the ‘most vulnerable’ parts of the borough, including Datchet, Horton, Wraysbury and Old Windsor.
The council has come under fire previously for pulling out of the River Thames Scheme, which would have seen a collaboration construct of several flood relief channels running through several local authorities.
Highways investment will include work on bridges such as Cookham Bridge, in need of a ‘significant amount of TLC’.
In terms of savings, the Borough is looking at more than £3.3million.
By far the largest area of saving is in adults, health and housing – with 725,000 being saved overall – but the borough says this ‘will not represent any loss of services.’
A spokesman said: “The focus for the coming year is to continue to ensure that packages of care are appropriate for people’s needs and support their independence.
“(This includes) the appropriate use of technology, building on the work we started in this financial year, and that we review our resources to build our permanent workforce.”
The next largest saving is in children's services, with savings totalling £380,000. However, this is offset by raft of expenditures.
There is a ‘COVID legacy’ in children’s services – an increased amount of family break-up, emotional stress and trauma, requiring the council to spend more on services for those who are struggling.
Other savings will be made by increasing fees for corporate services traded with schools and other local authorities, to ‘get a fair price’ – it is hoped this will create savings of around £165,000.
The council is also moving some services back in-house – including temporary accommodation management, making savings of £65,000.
Overall, the administration is ‘confident’ it will finish this year on a balance and is ‘making good progress’ in improving its financial situation.
The draft budget will go before cabinet next Thursday. If approved, an Overview and Scrutiny Panel will review the proposals in December 2021.
A public consultation is planned for early December until the end of January, with additional scrutiny that month.
Final budget proposals will be considered by cabinet on February 4, with recommendations going to full council February 23.