Buckinghamshire Councillors Report for January 2024

Council plan to balance the books for the next three years

Buckinghamshire Council has published its medium-term financial plan which details how it will balance its budget for the next three years.

In an acutely challenging financial context for local government, the council has worked hard to identify the savings needed to balance the books until 2027 and where spending reductions will be needed over the next three years. It’s also produced a detailed budget proposal for 2024/25 including how much it’s proposing to spend on major projects and services, following consultation with residents.

With many local authorities increasingly unable to produce balanced budgets, we are not yet in that position in Buckinghamshire. We have already made considerable savings from becoming a single unitary authority in 2020. The council forecasts that by 2027, it will have saved a total of nearly £172 million from both savings and additional income.  

However, the council is still facing very significant extra financial pressure because of rising costs and demand particularly for services that help the most vulnerable, such as social care, providing temporary accommodation for people who have become homeless and home to school transport (particularly for children with special needs). All of these are critical services that people depend on, and which are statutory, meaning the council is legally obliged to fulfil these services.

It means that to balance the budget, the council has put forward solutions to ultimately reduce costs, including:

  • investing in additional children’s homes to reduce the heavy cost burden of external placements
  • making savings in Adult Social Care through providing help for some residents, where it fits their need, to live more independently
  • rationalising the council’s office space, such as closing the King George V site in Amersham
  • investing in more housing and temporary accommodation units to bring down the spend on costly nightly-paid accommodation

Residents were asked their views during the autumn on where they wanted the council to prioritise spending the budget and this feedback is now reflected in the financial plans.

The budget proposals include spending the following amounts over the next four years:

  • £105 million on the highways network
  • £25 million on supporting housing and homelessness
  • £14.7 million on climate change and flood management projects
  • £37.6 million on economic growth and regeneration projects

Overall, the plan proposes that the council spends £656.4 million on capital projects over the next four years.

The council raises the money needed to pay for these projects and services through grants and income streams. The biggest of these by far is the income from council tax, which makes up 80% of how council services are paid for. Because the cost of providing services has risen so significantly due to added demand and high inflation, the council can only balance the budget by raising council tax again next year. The budget proposals put forward a 2.99% rise in the base rate of council tax, with a further 2% rise to be spent on Adult Social Care, meaning a total rise of 4.99% – or an extra £1.69 per week for the average Band D property.

Underpinning this overarching financial plan are a number of key principles, including how it will allow the council to keep delivering on the priorities residents have asked for, while not making over-ambitious savings or excessively using reserves in the process.

Councillor Derek Town 

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