Issue - meetings

General Fund Budget 2024-25 and Proposed Savings

Meeting: 08/02/2024 - Council (Item 9)

9 General Fund Budget 2024-25 and Proposed Savings EXE24-001. pdf icon PDF 548 KB

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Councillor Roberts, Portfolio Holder for Finance, introduced the recommendations of the Executive in respect of the General Fund Budget for the coming year which identified service savings of £8.4m.  In doing so, the Portfolio Holder drew attention to an amendment by Councillor Forster which had been published on the previous day.

It was noted that, despite the savings, the Council still had a deficit on its business-as-usual services, even before the debt issue was taken into account.  The deficit in the coming year was £12.4m, though most of this could be attributed to interest on debt and the deficit on the commercial estate. 

Further savings would have to be identified for the remainder of the five-year Medium Term Financial Strategy (MTFS) period and significant work had been undertaken with the Government on how the Council could set a legal budget given the scale of its debt problem.  Without the support of the Government, the Council’s budget deficit could reach up to £785million.  The size and complexity of the debt was such that the Council would have to push back its final decisions on setting the budget and Council Tax to an Extraordinary meeting of Council on 4 March 2024. Details of the Government’s support, which would include capitalisation and the treatment of the Minimum Revenue Provision (MRP), would be presented to the Council at the Extraordinary meeting.

Following the introduction by the Portfolio Holder, Members discussed the implications of the proposals, noting that the scale of the debt was such that all services of the Council had to be reviewed.  The measures proposed would however take the Council to a position where it was able to operate within its means.  The Leader of the Council referred to the funding proposal for Citizens Advice Woking which would provide support going forward, and to Woking Community Transport which would continue to provide a transport service to the community centres and a reduced dial-a-ride service.  It was further confirmed that the Pool in the Park and the Lightbox would remain open.

Councillor Will Forster moved and Councillor Barker seconded an amendment, details of which had been published on the previous day.  The amendment proposed the addition of two new recommendations as set out below:

“(iv)   in accordance with paragraph 12.4, a hardship co-ordinator post is proposed. Subject to final agreement with Citizens Advice Woking the role will be employed by them.  This post would be employed by CAW and funded by the Council.  It would support the transition of CAW’s business model and create a network of support and advice, utilising the voluntary capacity in other charities and voluntary organisations across the borough.  This will be funded to the value of £50,000 for 2024/25 from the provision made for hardship as a result of the level of Council Tax increase proposed.

(v)     this Council agrees to ask residents to voluntarily contribute to the Woking Community Fund to support the Borough’s voluntary sector.  The Woking Community Fund is managed independently by the Community Foundation  ...  view the full minutes text for item 9

Meeting: 01/02/2024 - Executive (Item 6)

6 General Fund Budget 2024-25 and Proposed Savings EXE24-001 pdf icon PDF 548 KB

Reporting Person – Eugene Walker

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The Leader of the Council, Councillor Ann-Marie Barker, provided a short update regarding the Council’s budget savings.  In order to achieve a balanced budget, the Council faced the difficult decision to remove all grant funding for charities and voluntary bodies.  The Leader advised that the Council was working with Citizens Advice Woking and Woking Community Transport, two charities which provided an invaluable service in the Borough and had been the most significant recipients of funds in the past, to try and find a way ahead in which they could continue to deliver a reduced service for local people.  The Leader urged both groups to collaborate with the Council rather than campaign against the Council, stressing that there was no money in Council budgets for grants.  The Council would continue to provide office accommodation where it could and seek to find funds that could be used to deliver new business models that enabled a revised service from these charities.  The Council would be speaking to both Citizens Advice Woking and Woking Community Transport again next week and the Leader hoped a way ahead could be found.

Councillor Roberts, Portfolio Holder for Finance, introduced the report which recommended to Council service savings of £8.4m and provided updates on the processes for Equality Impact Assessments (EIAs) and public consultation which had been part of the decision-making process.  It was noted that the Overview and Scrutiny Committee had considered the report at its meeting on 29 January 2024.  The Portfolio Holder explained that an Extraordinary meeting of Council on 4 March 2024 would receive a report finalising the treatment of the Council’s debt in 2024-25 and the level of Council Tax.

The Executive discussed the regrettable but necessary proposed savings for 2024-25 which included a staff reduction programme of up to 20% across most Council services resulting in the loss of some 60 employees, the removal of community grant funding, the closure of public toilets, transferring sports pavilions and community centres to community ownership, reductions to street cleaning and grounds maintenance services, and increasing fees and charges for non-statutory services.  The savings had been subject to public and staff consultation, benchmarking with statistically similar councils, and had been reviewed by the Overview and Scrutiny Committee, Finance Working Group and at Member Briefings.  The Portfolio Holder thanked all Members for their input.  The Executive was informed that, despite these savings, the Council still faced a deficit on its business-as-usual services of £12.4m and required Government support to set a legally balanced budget.  Without Government support, the Council’s budget deficit next year could be up to £785m given the scale of its debt problem.  The Extraordinary Council on 4 March 2024 would receive a report on the Government’s support mechanisms; a Capitalisation Directive and Minimum Revenue Provision (MRP) exceptional support.

The Executive welcomed the work undertaken by the Portfolio Holder for Leisure, Officers and residents to find a viable option to keep the Pool in the Park open in 2024-25 by increasing fees and charges.  ...  view the full minutes text for item 6

Meeting: 29/01/2024 - Overview and Scrutiny Committee (Item 8)

8 General Fund Budgets Update 2024-25 OSC24-004 pdf icon PDF 61 KB

Reporting Person – Eugene Walker

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The report separated the deficit in the Council’s ‘business as usual’ budget from its historic investments.

Interest payments were expected to be £8 million for 2024/25 if Government support was provided.  Without the support the Council would be required to repay an additional £97 million in debt repayments.  Additionally, the Council would need to make another £67 million in interest payments on the remaining debt.  The Council would also need to account for minimum revenue provision, both backdated at £356 million and for the year 2024/25 of £97 million.

The Council was due on paper to receive £44 million in loan interest payments for 2023/24.  However, £43 million would not be received as two of the borrowers, ThamesWey and Victoria Square Woking Ltd, were unable to make payments.  The same outcome was expected next year.  Work was being undertaken by the two companies to identify if any repayments could be made.

Appendix 4, setting out the service savings, was yet to be published.

Eugene Walker, Section 151 Officer and Interim Director of Finance, highlighted the savings that had been identified, approximately £8.4 million, and recognised the scale of the savings against the Council’s overall budget and the speed in which they had been identified.  The Section 151 Officer was confident that the savings that had been identified were deliverable.

The overall budget pressures on the Council had risen to £20 million which therefore left a deficit of approximately £12 million.

Following consultation on Council restructure approximately 60 posts had been removed across the organisation as the Council refocused on delivering statutory services at the minimum viable position.  Staff and the trade union had been kept informed throughout the consultation.

Local Partnerships had benchmarked the cost of the Council’s services against other local authorities which helped inform the savings targeted.  It was subsequently recommended by the Committee’s Finance Working Group that a more significant, invasive exercise be performed that reviewed how the Council delivered several statutory services in comparison with other local authorities.

A channel shift project was underway at the Council to modernise and make more efficient many of the Council’s customer-facing services.  The intention was to enable more self-service by those with the facility to do so whilst maintaining support for those that could not access digital services.  It was intended that the frontline contact centre be reoriented to resolve queries at first contact rather than direct customers to specific services.

Public consultation had demonstrated the public’s interest in raising prices to keep Pool in the Park open.  Consequently, the Council had raised charges and expected to generate an additional £460,000 revenue.

A number of community groups had expressed interest in taking over community assets and work was being undertaken to assess each.  £140,000 of UK Shared Prosperity Fund (UKSPF) grants had been allocated to aid the process.

The Council had invited all recipients of grant funding to meet the National Lottery.  16 Organisations had attended.

Citizens Advice Woking (CAW) and the Lightbox had both agreed to review their  ...  view the full minutes text for item 8

Meeting: 11/09/2023 - Overview and Scrutiny Committee (Item 10)

10 MTFS OSC23-043 pdf icon PDF 60 KB

To follow the Member workshop held prior to the meeting.

Reporting Person: Section 151 Officer

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[Note 1: All Councillors were invited to attend and contribute to the item and the Committee was joined by Members of the Executive: Councillors Ann-Marie Barker, Will Forster, Ellen Nicholson and Dale Roberts. Apologies from Executive members were given by Councillors Peter Graves, Ian Johnson and Liam Lyons].

[Note 2: By the Council’s Constitution, Council meetings are required to end after three and a half hours unless members of the Committee agree to extend the meeting.  At 9:13pm the Committee held a vote to extend the meeting which was agreed by majority.]

Whole Council & Budget Deficit

Julie Fisher, Chief Executive Officer, introduced the MTFS noting that the savings identified totalled approximately £8.5 million and a further £4 million was required to reach the £12 million target.  The report explained that following further investigation, the in-year deficit had grown from £12 million to £19 million.  The increased deficit was due to several sources:

           the Council’s need to reservice short-term loans, of which the Council had approximately £200 million.  The Council was no longer able to borrow money from other local authorities and could only borrow from the Public Works Loan Board (PWLB).  The PWLB interest rates were higher than those offered by other local authorities and therefore contributed £5 million increased deficit.

           A parking management fee to be paid to Victoria Square Woking Limited.

           Reductions to rental income from the commercial estate.

Officers recognised the requirement to set a balanced budget and were committed to saving the previously identified £12 million target.  However, it was not yet known how the additional £7 million would be bridged and Officers did not consider it possible for the Council to achieve.  The setting of the balanced budget excepted the amount of money required for Minimum Revenue Provision (MRP).  The Council’s total income was insufficient to cover MRP.

The calculations that led to £12 million of savings, were derived from the cost of delivering services less the Council’s income.  The cost of delivering services was not fixed and dependent on demand and inflation.  Similarly, certain incomes, such as rent, were variable.

The identified savings had been revised down from an estimated £8.8 million to the £8.5 million figure due to a re-evaluation of leisure costs, which were revised down by £300,000.

The Council had total core funding of £16 million and received funding from other sources for a total income of approximately £49 million.  Officers undertook to provide Councillors with more details on the cost of delivering services.

Due to the scale of the deficit, it left no space to consider less savings in any area.

Officers were actively addressing the in-year deficit but recognised that the scale of total deficit, £1.2 billion, brought about by a re-evaluation of historic investments, was beyond the Council’s capabilities to address.  Support for the larger figure would be sought from central Government; however, it was imperative that the Council demonstrated a strong resolve to savings and working efficiently.

The future of the Council’s companies and  ...  view the full minutes text for item 10