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As Council Cuts Loom, Residents to be Consulted For Their Views

Published on: 27 Nov, 2020
Updated on: 30 Nov, 2020

Guildford residents will be asked for their views on where to prioritise spending in the face of inevitable cuts to services, the council Executive decided at their November 24 meeting.

They were considering the latest outline budget for 2021-22 and ways to help with the council’s medium-term plans up to 2025.

Council leader Joss Bigmore (R4GV, Christchurch), said: ‘Even with our continued focus on savings, together with investment and effective management, our funding situation has become more challenging, with a predicted budget shortfall of £2 million for next year, rising to a total of £4.4 million in four years.

Cllr Joss Bigmore

“We also have a significant gap between our additional spend of £13.4 million supporting our communities through the pandemic, and the £4.7 million government support we have received so far.

“We are expecting a further £2 million from the government which would make £6.7 million in total, leaving us with a £6.7 million shortfall, and we are using reserves to ensure we can maintain our response and continue to provide vital services to those who most need our help.’

“We have not received any general grant funding from the government since 2017/18 and since 2013 we have had nearly £4 million less in overall government funding support. We make up this loss with commercial activities such as investment property, car parking and income from sports facilities which provide about £21 million of income each year.

“As businesses across the commercial sector are also experiencing, these activities have been severely impacted by the pandemic as we continue to follow necessary government guidance in order to reduce the spread of the virus.”

Cllr Bigmore gave a breakdown of council tax. “From the average Band D property payment we keep just 9% of the total for our own services. The Police and Crime Commissioner receives 13% and parish councils 2%, with the remaining 76% going to the county council.

“This means for a Band D home we receive about £200 per property each year and for this we have been able to provide £450 worth of services to our residents across a wide range of activities.

“But despite careful financial management and maximising what we can do to earn and borrow money within the limits of public sector rules set out in the Local Government Act 2003, we need to save more.

“I’m afraid this is not as easy as selling a building. We need to make revenue savings [ongoing running costs] not capital [one-off fixed costs such as property] as we are unable to borrow money to fund day-to-day services.”

Cllr Tim Anderson

Cllr Tim Anderson (R4GV, Clandon & Horsley), lead for finance, added: “We will have difficult decisions to make in the days ahead and we will continue to put our residents at the heart of everything we do while working closely with other Surrey councils to lobby the government for fairer funding and for greater freedom to create commercial income.

“Any decisions we need to make on changes to our excellent services will fully involve our residents and they will be asked to have their say to inform those decisions. We aim to start consultation as soon as possible.

“The present position shows a shortfall of £2 million for 2021/22 and we anticipate this will increase to £4.4 million by 2024/25. We now receive no government grant, and as business rates are redistributed to other parts of the country, we retain just 5% of business rates in our borough.

“To address this gap, we continue to build on the £11 million of savings made in the past five years and with our ongoing Future Guildford Transformation Programme to make our services more efficient and cost-effective.’

Cllr Ramsey Nagaty

Ramsey Nagaty (GGG, Shalford), said:It was good to see the Cllr Bigmore and Cllr Anderson explain the financial situation, aided by Claire Morris, the director of finance.

“Sadly, GBC cannot under existing rules use reserves to support continued expenditure on services. GGG want to maintain services but as GBC income has been cut, it is clear due to Covid 19, that savings must be made.

“Services to the poor and needy should be maintained wherever possible. Where savings need to be made, GGG are supportive of public consultation done in the right way at minimal expense.”

Sallie Barker

Sallie Barker chair of the Guildford Conservative Association, said: “Guildford Conservatives fully support GBC’s involvement of residents in the decision-making process and look forward to hearing about the consultation process, which we, and our members, will engage with.

“It was good to hear the Independent administration acknowledge that, in addressing the gap, GBC plans to build on the £11 million savings made by the previous Conservative administrations. This also meant that in 2018/19 Guildford had the second lowest council tax in Surrey.

“Strong fiscal planning from successive Conservative administrations at Guildford Borough Council has meant that the Council was left in a good financial state in May 2019 with significant reserves and strong plans for investing into residents and services.

“We were delighted to hear that Angela Richardson MP, has been able to secure £25m from the Government’s spending review towards the Weyside Urban Village to help build affordable housing in Guildford.”

Guildford Labour Party in a statement, said they recognised the serious state of the borough finances and that government promises of support have, as usual during this crisis, been overstated.

“We fear for the most disadvantaged in our deeply unequal borough as the impact of these deficits mounts. The most effective saving would be to reduce the three layers of councils to one, which will both save a large amount of money and make local government more transparent.

“Surrey Labour has long favoured a system of three unitary authorities. But what is really needed is a Labour Government which will start to fund local government properly and increase tax for the richest 1% who can afford to contribute more to our community.”

Howard Smith

Howard Smith, Labour parliamentary candidate in 2017, said: “Local government finances are a mess and the only route to proper funding is a Labour government. Difficult choices will have to be made and our councillors will play their part.

“But fundamental change is necessary and this needs to happen at the ballot box, and the elections in May will be the first opportunity for residents to make their views known.”

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test 7 Responses to As Council Cuts Loom, Residents to be Consulted For Their Views

  1. Jim Allen Reply

    November 27, 2020 at 8:51 pm

    It would be easy to save on ‘bottom line’ scrap Walnut Tree Bridge and cancel the move of the sewage treatment works off Woking Road. Plus employ real people and stop employing temporary and consultant staff.

    • Martin Elliott Reply

      November 28, 2020 at 9:32 pm

      Although I agree, the Walnut Tree Bridge Bridge and the Weyside Urban Village project are from the capital budget.

      Temporary and consultant staff can be very cost-effective if the usage is competently managed. It’s just another urban myth that they are more expensive than full-time staff with overheads and benefits.

      This concern/discussion is about the Annual Revenue Budget, ie the day to day running costs of the council and its services.

      It would be much easier, tactically, to dismiss ideas such as “modal shift”, a dogma costing over £500,000 every year.

  2. Martin Elliott Reply

    November 28, 2020 at 9:37 am

    Dare I be first to make a suggestion?

    The Park & Ride service is said to be an integral part of the “modal shift” dogma of Local Authority. However, it still has to be heavily subsidised. GBC has said again in its annual Parking Business plan that costs will be reduced and income rise.

    On/off-street parking is meant to be budgeted to break-even and any excess has to be used for transport. It strangely always makes a profit. Around £200k each year goes to Park & Ride.

    That still not enough; it takes a further £400k pa from the GBC budget.

    So a suggestion, look at the benefits and drawbacks of suspending the Guildford Park & Ride during this emergency.

    As well as revenue saving, the electric buses could operate on other routes, and defer some SCC project spend of £49m on more electric buses.

  3. Janet Moorhouse Reply

    November 28, 2020 at 2:18 pm

    As the car park by St Nicolas Church (reserved for GBC staff Monday to Friday) is underused, because staff are working from home, open it to the public on weekdays. This would bring in some cash to the council and give a welcome boost to the shops and businesses in the town centre.

    • Dave Middleton Reply

      December 2, 2020 at 11:36 am

      Is the Portsmouth Road car park (the former Farnham Road Bus Station site), next to the George Abbott pub, really reserved for GBC staff?

      My understanding is that it’s used for commercial contract parking from Monday to Friday up until 6pm and is a much-needed source of income for GBC from the annual permits issued.

      Cllr James Steel, lead councillor for the Environment responded: “Spaces in the Portsmouth Road car park are allocated to those working in the town via their employer through annual permits, valid from Monday to Friday. The car park is not used by our employees.

      “This month, Portsmouth Road car park will be used in a different way to safely host a series of Christmas markets in December for everyone to enjoy and buy those essential and special Christmas items and gifts.”

      Saturday 5th 10am-5pm: Christmas Craft Market

      Sunday 6th 10.30am-4.30pm: Festive Vegan Market

      Saturday 12th 10am-5pm: Christmas Craft Market

      Sunday 13th 9.30am-3.30pm: Antiques and Brocante Market

      Saturday 19th 9.30am-4pm: Christmas Farmers’ Market

      Sunday 20th 10am-5pm: Christmas Craft Market

      “We have also changed our parking charges to make staying in town longer, better value for money. To find out more please visit: http://www.guildford.gov.uk/carparkcharges

  4. Sue Hackman Reply

    November 29, 2020 at 4:10 pm

    I suspect it will be hard for people to make suggestions without knowing the comparative costs of different services. Well done Jim, Martin and Janet (so far) for having something sensible to suggest.

    What surprises me is that the people we have elected to make these difficult decisions have ducked responsibility. After all, they have an inside view into the budgets, an overview of services and have professed political priorities. Yes, it’s hot in the kitchen, but it’s your job. It’s what we elected you for.

    No doubt the ruling parties will eventually blame the public for everything they cut.

    Guildford Labour Campaign Manager

  5. Dave Middleton Reply

    December 2, 2020 at 2:24 pm

    Thank you Guildford Dragon for presenting the facts and correcting the mistaken information in Janet Moorhouse’s comment.

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