Wokingham Borough Council have reiterated their concern regarding their perceived lack of funding from central government, with the announcement of the Local Government Finance Settlement putting them at the lowest amount of funding per resident for any unitary authority in the country.
The council’s announcement states that they receive around £30 million less than the national average for local authorities in England, with the council believing that this is because of central government see the area as having lower amounts of deprivation.
Cllr Clive Jones, Leader of Wokingham Borough Council, said:
“This happens to us every year and it is not right. I understand that some areas do have more needs but all councils face spiralling basic costs because of inflation.
“We cannot raise council tax to a level that will meet the needs of the people who live here, nor would we want to , but this leaves us in the difficult position where we have to cover the gap in our funding, by postponing projects and increasing charges for our services – just imagine what an extra £30 million a year could do to benefit our communities.”
Social care is the sector that is funded by the highest percentage of money received by the council, with it taking up 60% of the council’s allocation. This funding covers numerous departments with different focuses to improve the quality of life in the borough, such as safeguarding or the team of occupation therapists. This funding also provides support for children with special needs, with their requirements varying from the more specialised, to something as ‘simple’ as arranging transport to and from school if that is needed.
Although many councils around the country are having to make hard funding decisions, those pressures seem to be heightened in Wokingham. The council did stress, however, that they are prepared to make tougher decisions if they are needed to ensure that every person in the borough feels supported and children have the best opportunity to flourish.
Aside from stressing the pressures that they are under, the council’s executive member for finance has made a call for a change to the funding model that local authorities work under. This call asks for a look into the “genuine costs of running a local authority” as well as a lengthening of the period of time that funding will cover in order for financial planning to become more effective.
Executive Member for Finance, Cllr Imogen Shepherd-Dubey, said:
“This year, Wokingham’s overall core spending power only increased 6.9%, well below inflation as demand increases meaning a further pressure on critical local services. The Local Government Finance Settlement must keep in line with overall levels of inflation and general cost increases.
“Local authorities also need to be given surety of the longer-term grant and funding arrangements. Without that understanding it is impossible to effectively plan its future financial strategy, service impacts and to invest key resources appropriately.
“Forward planning is key and shorter-term approaches are often more expensive and therefore place additional financial pressures and impact ultimately value for money.”
Whilst the council has released an announcement of these developments, council leader Clive Jones has also written to the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government to stress the pressure that the council is under, as well as the impact that the decisions being made at central government will have on the services being provided by the council for the people of Wokingham Borough.