Royal Borough of Windsor & Maidenhead
Press Release 05.12.23
Cabinet to consider draft budget proposals (2024-25) ahead of public consultation
Next week, Cabinet will consider draft budget proposals for the 2024-25 financial year, ahead of public consultation.
At this stage, the budget proposals provisionally set out a balanced position for 2024/25. The final funding position from government will not be known until later in December, and further due diligence will continue ahead of the final budget being presented to Full Council in February for agreement.
The council has taken swift and decisive action to address the serious financial challenges it faces. This included introducing a spending control panel which reviews all avoidable spend over £500 and working with each directorate to create robust and deliverable plans to increase income, reduce costs and deliver transformation. Tough decisions are required to reduce the projected budget gap for 2024-25 down to zero, which was over £6m back in September.
Whilst good progress has been made, the council remains in a weak and serious financial position which will take time to turn around.
The situation has been driven by a number of historic decisions and wider financial pressures including low levels of Council Tax relative to other councils, low levels of reserves (£10.2m) relative to its budget, high levels of debt, and high inflation and interest rates.
Although inflation is falling, it remains high and uncertain. It is difficult to predict changes in interest rates, which affect how much the council needs to spend on paying interest on its debts. It is in this context that Cabinet will consider proposals for achieving a balanced 2024-25 Budget and its Medium Term Financial Plan next week.
Despite the challenges, the draft budget provides for investment and increased spending in a number of priority areas, such as new homelessness accommodation. It proposes additional staff to address capacity gaps in areas such as procurement, to promote better value for money and better outcomes from our contracted services. Funding for transformation is prioritised where possible, including a new case management system for children’s services, which will reduce the amount of time staff spend on administration.
The proposals set out over £13m of capital investment in the borough’s critical infrastructure, including to resurface highways and fix potholes, maintain the borough’s schools, improve energy efficiency and protect the environment. The council is determined to avoid increasing levels of debt and interest payments. The capital programme has been re-prioritised, and the vast majority of new investment is funded by external grants or CIL and Section 106 infrastructure funding.
The council remains ambitious for the borough and is spending almost £100m next year on delivering services. Of this, around three quarters (£74m) is spent on adults and children’s services. These services deliver high quality care and support for the most vulnerable people in the borough. A further £23m is spent on services within neighbourhoods and town centres, including parks, waste collection, roads, leisure, and on libraries and customer services.
The budget includes proposed increased spending on:
Adults social care – £5.7m additional spending to meet the rising costs of care and to ensure that the budget is based on the numbers of adults requiring support. This is alongside transformation of the service.
Additional investment into children’s services to meet rising demand, costs of care and legal fees.
£400,000 additional funding for temporary accommodation to meet rising demand and costs.
Like most councils, the proposals include increasing Council Tax by 4.99%, in order to fund vital local services. This was built into the Medium Term Financial Plan published last year. The alternative would be significant further reductions to those services and would risk the quality of care provided. Full details of the budget proposals have been published today, in advance of next week’s Cabinet.
Councillor Lynne Jones, Cabinet Member for Finance and Deputy Leader of the Council, said: “The council’s financial position remains challenging and continues to require tough decisions. The focus from Cabinet and hard work done by officers over the past few months means that we are now in a position to present a balanced budget for next year.
“This is an important step, but there is still much more to do. There is no quick fix for historic decisions taken around council tax, high debt, and low reserves, which have weakened the organisation’s resilience.
“However, the council is still spending almost £100m delivering services next year, increasing adults and children’s budgets to meet rising costs and demand, plus investing in critical infrastructure. We are fully committed to achieving financial stability, to ensuring that our most vulnerable residents receive high quality care, and to delivering for the people and places of our borough.”