Buckinghamshire Council has published its proposed budget for 2022/23 showing how it plans to balance the books amidst an extremely challenging financial environment.
While many other councils are struggling to meet the financial pressures, Buckinghamshire Council can balance its budget whilst continuing to allocate funds to key projects residents have asked for. However, this is only possible by making some difficult funding choices.
All councils are operating in a highly uncertain financial landscape, coping with significantly increased demands on services, alongside the added pressures of the Covid pandemic, whilst seeing reduced funding streams from areas such as car parking and leisure centres. In Buckinghamshire we are managing many competing challenges, from higher costs, because of inflation, to the financial pressures many of our key providers are facing. It’s also a big challenge recruiting and retaining staff in vital areas such as social work, where we need to be able to offer competitive wages to hire and keep staff in these critical roles.
Our prudent financial management through these challenging times means Buckinghamshire is in a positive position of being able to bring forward plans to balance the books while still delivering the service improvements in areas our residents have asked us to prioritise, such as committing over £100 million to roads and pavement improvements and our plans to open a new Household Recycling Centre in the north of the county.
As with all local authorities, the biggest budget pressures come from those services we are legally required to provide, particularly social care for both Adults and Children. Overall, 57% of our net budget is spent on these services. In total we budget to spend approximately £295 million on social care services in 2022/23. Protecting the vulnerable and helping those that need the Council’s services the most is arguably the most important work we do. We need to balance this alongside spending on the biggest priorities for our residents, like roads and pavements maintenance and improvements, tackling climate change and supporting our residents and businesses to build back from the pandemic.
It means difficult choices are being made and the budget proposals include the following ways of raising the necessary revenue for 2022/23:
- Increasing Council Tax in Buckinghamshire by 3.99% (a rise of £1.23 per week for the average Band D property). This includes a 2% precept to help pay for Adult Social Care
- Reducing some of the funding for our sixteen Community Boards
- Continuing the significant savings being made as a result of becoming a single unitary council
- Using a one-off sum of £1.36 million from the General Fund to balance the budget and mitigate risk in 2023/24
Making these decisions allows the Council both to balance the books (a legal requirement) and still continue many key projects such as:
- Fighting Climate Change by planting more than half a million new trees in Bucks, one for every resident
- Again next year, cleaning out every one of the 85,000 gullies in the county
- Spending more than £100 million on our roads and pavement improvement programme
- Enhanced street cleaning in local communities – part of our ‘Big Bucks Tidy Up’ programme
Our capital budget spans the next four years and proposes spend in the following key areas:
- £37.9m to support Economic Growth & Regeneration
- £136.4m on schools, and school improvement projects
- £117.9m on overall transport and Strategic Highways maintenance including i) £61.6m on major highway resurfacing schemes; ii) £17.7m on smaller planned surface repairs (known as ‘Plane and Patch’ repairs); iii) £8.5m on pavement repairs; iv) £8.4m on Street Lighting repairs, replacement and maintenance; v) £8m on drainage works to reduce flooding on our roads
- £120.5m on Strategic Infrastructure
- £24m investment in Waste, primarily on vehicle replacement
- £21.7m to support Housing and Homelessness including affordable housing action plans and disabled facilities grants
Buckinghamshire Council Leader and Conservative Councillor for Little Chalfont & Amersham Common, Martin Tett said:
“These are tough times and we are having to make really difficult choices as a result. There is no wriggle room in local authority budgets and I truly understand the pressures households are under with rising costs and increasing bills. I do want to stress that there is help available for people who are suffering severe financial hardship.
Due to careful financial management, I must say that Buckinghamshire is in a better position than many other councils – we are able to dedicate funds to key capital projects that I know our residents have asked us to prioritise and many other local authorities simply aren’t able to do that. We’re spending more than £100million on improving our heavily used road network and we are committed to opening an extra Household Recycling Centre – residents have told us that’s what they want, and we have listened.
I urge residents to look at all the details of our proposed budget on the Council’s website. I know it’s not easy hearing about another rise in Council Tax but I really hope by looking at the details, the reasons behind our proposals are clearer. We have done our utmost to keep this necessary rise to the minimum and have managed to get this to a £1.23 weekly increase for the average Bucks household.
I really hope as many residents as possible feedback their views to us on the budget plans through the scrutiny process.”