Just a few days before Christmas we have an utterly irresponsible decision from the government both to keep changing the target and to attack local authorities’ ability to find them. I know my fellow councillors am determined to find ways around this and to keep making a difference for our town, but we’re also furious, as this will hugely undermine the ability to plan for the medium and long term – as well as cause a short term crisis.
Council press release:
Reading Borough Council has added its name to the growing list of local authorities concerned about how further cuts to grant funding levels, announced by central Government last week, will affect local services.
The Council had been working towards making £39 million of savings between 2016 and 2019. That is on top of the £57 million of savings already made since 2011.
Last Thursday’s (Dec 17) Local Government Finance Settlement is much worse than expected. Initial estimates are that Reading now needs to save £44 million – instead of the July estimate of £39 million – for the 3-year period to 2018/19.
The extra £5 million in savings needs to be built into the budget for the next financial year. It leaves Reading Borough Council with a matter of weeks to identify and agree the extra package of savings before February, when it has to agree a legal budget for 2016/17.
Reading Borough Council Leader Jo Lovelock said:
“The scale and seriousness of the budget challenge we face is now significantly worse than even we anticipated. This Council has just been through the lengthy and painstaking process of identifying, consulting on and agreeing more than £7 million worth of savings. This involved many tough decisions. Last week’s Government announcement now means we have to agree another £5 million in savings, all before February 23 when we have to set a balanced budget for next year.
“The rationale for penalising towns like Reading appears to be that we raise more of our income from Council Tax and Business Rates. Council Tax rises are limited, and the move towards local councils keeping all of Business Rates does not come into effect until 2020, and the Government has yet to decide the detail of this scheme. In the meantime there is no doubt the impact will be felt on local Council services, and we intend to make that clear to Government in our consultation response.
“Reading is by no means the only local authority in this position. We know many of our close neighbours face similar challenges. This Council has worked hard to protect front-line services, but demand for those services is rising at a time when funding is being drastically reduced. Last week’s announcement has now brought those tough decisions into even sharper focus.”
Reading Borough Council has made savings of nearly £57 million since 2011. In that time the Council workforce has been cut by more than 600 posts. Savings have also been achieved by finding more efficient ways of working, including making better use of technology. The process of identifying further savings will now continue.
The Council is considering a number of options to fill the estimated budget gap. Some of the savings will be delivered by changing the way the Council deliver services, and where they are delivered from. In some cases that will mean making better use of Council buildings and increasing income.