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10 per cent Tax Hike for Woking Agreed by Government Minister

Published on: 16 Jan, 2024
Updated on: 18 Jan, 2024

By Chris Caulfield

local democracy reporter

Bankrupt Woking Borough Council has all but confirmed a 10 per cent tax rise as part of an agreement over a government support package that will help the bust borough balance its budget.

Details of the plan, however, will not be made public until the papers are presented to its Executive meeting on Thursday, February 1.

Cllr Ann-Marie Barker

It comes after the borough’s leader, Cllr Ann-Marie Barker, and Minister for Local Government Simon Hoare met last week to finalise recovery plans.

Woking Borough Council’s share of tax will go up by 10 per cent. In Surrey council tax bills come in three or four parts parts. As well as the borough or district council’s share, the largest part goes to Surrey County Council with the Surrey Police and Crime Commissioner and, where applicable, parish councils also charging their share.

In December, the government commissioners sent to help the council through the crisis said a legal budget could not be set for next year “without a significant and carefully structured government support package”.

Simon Hoare, Under-Secretary of State for Local Government

According to Woking Borough Council, that package has been agreed. Council leader Barker, said: “I have written to the Minister for Local Government, Simon Hoare, to confirm the support package from Government that allows us to set a budget next year.

“The government considers that an increase in Woking Borough Council’s proportion of council tax of up to 10 per cent from April is appropriate and proportionate.

“Alongside the service changes and staffing reductions the council needs to make, this will allow us to live within our means in future.

“I know residents will find any increase difficult in the current economy. It is not an increase that I want to make, but is necessary to ensure the council can set a balanced budget.

“However, Woking Borough Council does receive only a small proportion of the council tax paid by local people. The overall increase will be 1 per cent on the bill. The average Band D property will pay 50p more a week.

“There is already support in place for those who find it difficult to pay their council tax and the council will put further measures in place to support those in serious hardship.”

Woking has more debt than any other local authority in the country. Surrey councils Spelthorne and Runnymede also feature in the BBC’s “top ten” chart.

The borough went bust last year after the collapse of its failed £2.6 billion investment strategy.

It announced it could no longer afford to run day-to-day services and told residents to expect a vastly trimmed down council service for years to come.

Staff were told to slash about £10 million from annual spending, including cuts to services, closures of community assets, and job losses.

Save Our Services in Surrey (SOSIS) campaigners

Despite this, overspending got worse due to £3.4 million in capital financing costs and £1.1 million from the loss of a major tenant.

Writing to government in December, the commissioners said urgent progress was needed to ensure the council could deliver budget savings and balance its books – even though the council had already slashed £8.4 million of the £12 million needed.

This does not include the additional £70 million needed annually just to pay interest on its loans.

The commissioners noted in their report: “Woking Borough Council remains in an extremely vulnerable position due to its overhanging debt and its historical lack of rigor in its commercial activity and will need support from government to be able to balance a budget by March 2024.

“Capacity to meet this challenge remains a risk.”

Any formal increase still needs to be agreed by full council, expected to next sit on Thursday, February 8.

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Responses to 10 per cent Tax Hike for Woking Agreed by Government Minister

  1. Ben Paton Reply

    January 17, 2024 at 10:50 am

    This is the price of political apathy. Or, to put it another way, the cost of electing people who boast of ‘vision’ and ‘ambition’ but lack practical experience in the matters they are promoting.

    Worst of all the people who created the white elephant that is central Woking are unaccountable.

    Putting hundreds of millions of pounds of public money into bricks and mortar retailing capacity after the advent of online selling was not in the public interest. It defied common sense. But it massaged the egos of the local politicians. And no doubt some building firms made a lot of money from it.

    The Guildford Local Plan is another scheme from the same mould.

  2. Dan Hammond Reply

    January 19, 2024 at 10:23 am

    I think Mr Paton is wrong. Guildford, with its white elephant Walnut Bridge (recently a skating rink), The “Pop Up Village” (twice!) and all the rest of it, will turn out to be much worse than Woking

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