Budget pressure from axed Government revenue support
A draft budget for Buckinghamshire County Council 2018/19 passed its first milestone yesterday (Monday, December 18) with the approval by the Cabinet of the financial plan for the next four years.
The four year plan will now be considered by the Council's Finance, Performance and Resources Select Committee in the New Year.
Next year's revenue budget - the pot that pays for regular day-to-day services - of £333.5 million will be funded by council tax, various Government grants and retained business rates. Importantly, for the first time Buckinghamshire will receive nothing by way of Government Revenue Support.
This makes Buckinghamshire one of the first two - along with Dorset - county councils in the country to receive absolutely no government support for day to day services.
As a result of this, and the increased demand for key services such as children’s safeguarding and support for vulnerable adults, the County Council will still need to make savings of £46 million over the next four years; £13.2m of this must be found next year in 2018/19 to balance the books.
Council tax will, therefore, need to rise. It is proposed to increase this by 1.99% to cover inflation and other cost pressures, with an extra 3% specifically to cover the growth in demand and cost increases for adult social care. This will make a total of 4.99% - the maximum allowed by national Government.
Even with this increase in council tax, difficult decisions would need to continue to be taken, although the Cabinet was determined to prioritise supporting the most vulnerable and protecting key services residents value.
The capital programme includes an increase to £15m a year, in each of the coming four years, of investment in roads maintenance. This reflected the continued priority given to improving roads and footpaths by residents in their feedback on the budget consultation.
There would also be £10.2m invested in flood defence schemes, £3.8m extra for maintaining schools, and £65.9m investment in targeted infrastructure schemes across the county. These infrastructure schemes support planned growth in the county and are funded from the government through Buckinghamshire Thames Valley Local Enterprise Partnership, along with developer contributions.
Leader of the County Council, Martin Tett, said he believed the way in which the County Council prepared and set its budget was one of the most vigorous and challenging processes in the country, describing it to Cabinet as a 'unique and tough' process.
Martin said: "Our aim is to make sure we deliver the absolute maximum value from each pound we spend. This means listening to customers, local people, businesses and organisations, as well as making tough decisions about targeted savings, investments and using innovation and new techniques to improve services."
The draft budget has been set following a wide-ranging online consultation with residents and businesses, who were asked what the County Council should take into account when planning for services next year.
A total of 2,297 Buckinghamshire residents responded, supporting the County Council's proposal to live within its means, and highlighting roads maintenance and safety, supporting vulnerable adults and children, and education as their highest priorities.
More than 120 organisation representatives who responded cited improving skills and employment opportunities a high priority.
Martin added: "Testing and re-testing our assumptions and plans is the key to delivering the best budget we possibly can in what continue to be extremely difficult financial circumstances."
IN THE PICTURE:
Martin Tett, Leader, Buckinghamshire County Council