Agenda item

General Fund Budgets Update 2024-25 OSC24-004

Reporting Person – Eugene Walker


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 business models.  The Council had allocated UKSPF funding to aid each review; £30,000 and £130,000 respectively.

It was discussed why CAW and the Lightbox had been allocated such different amounts and the Chief Executive noted that UKSPF funding could not be provided for revenue purposes.

CAW was in receipt of other grants from the Council, provided from funding received from central government, notably the Syrian and Afghan refugee and Homes for Ukraine funds.  The Council had also allocated £10,000 of funding for the court desk operated by Citizens Advice.

Although referenced in the reports and links provided concern was expressed that notice of the publication of the Equality Impact Assessments had not provided.

Concern was shared that withdrawing funding from CAW would equate to an increased cost to the Council greater than the savings from withdrawal of the grant.  The Portfolio Holder for Finance, Councillor Roberts, noted that it would not be representative to approximate the increased cost to the Council as the Council’s services were not efficient.

Should the Lightbox cease operation the Council would face substantial costs including from business rates liability as well as security costs for the empty site.

A benchmarking exercise had revealed that the Council spent significantly more on arts and sports than similarly sized local authorities.

Work on the street maintenance and sports ground contract was underway, simultaneously looking to deliver in-year savings as well as a new contract at a reduced cost.  The new contract would still ensure that minimum service requirements would be met.

The Business Liaison team had been identified through the structural review to be shuttered.  The Council intended to work with Surrey County Council to continue the work of the Business Liaison team.

10 public toilets were proposed for being mothballed, none of which were in the Town Centre.  The Council was engaged with community organisations to provide alternative locations for those closed.

The Minister for Local Government had written to the Leader granting permission for the Council to raise its proportion of Council Tax by 10%, which was approximately equivalent to a 1% rise on a household’s overall Council Tax bill.  The rise equated to £1.1 million additional revenue per year.  The Leadership had submitted a proposal to the Minister for a smaller increase, but this had not met with approval.

Although the Council organised the billing process it received precepts from Surrey County Council and the Police and Crime Commissioner on their required tax levels.  The 10% from the Borough contribution would make Woking the most expensive lower-tier authority in Surrey.

A new fixed-term debt coordinator post that would work with organisations providing debt advice was proposed in the papers.  The role had been suggested in part to respond to comment from central Government for hardship mitigation for those unable to pay the increased Council Tax costs.  Officers undertook to provide a job description for the role along with the budget papers when submitted to Council.

Concern was expressed that the organisations signposted by the Council to provide advice would do so only to specific populations or in a doctrinal manner.  Officers would review any cases reported to them but considered that as part of due diligence any specific provisions would be accounted for.

The Woking for All strategy was under review in recognition of the Council’s situation.  Work had already begun with Councillors and the Corporate Leadership Team on the Council’s vision and mission.


that the report be noted.

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