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Council Starts Public Budget Consultation: Where to Save, Where to Spend?

Published on: 3 Dec, 2020
Updated on: 5 Dec, 2020

The borough council are asking residents to have their say on where they should prioritise spending after medium-term budget plans considered by the Executive last week predicted a shortfall of £2 million next year, rising to a total £4.4 million in the next four years.

They want to know where residents think we should save and where we should spend. The survey will run until January and will show which services are most important.

Council leader Joss Bigmore (R4GV, Christchurch) said: “Despite effective management and careful savings of £11 million through our ongoing Future Guildford Transformation Programme, government cuts and supporting our communities through the pandemic mean we are using reserves to maintain our services and this is not sustainable.

Cllr Joss Bigmore

“Some residents may feel their council tax payments should provide us with all the income we need. From the average Band D property payment we keep just 9% of the total for our own services.

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

“We’ve done this through commercial income such as investment property, car parking and income from sports facilities which bring in about £21 million per year.

“This year, with the Cornavirus outbreak and most of us staying safe at home, this additional income has been severely impacted.

“We expect to lose about £8 million income and expect to spend an additional £5.4 million providing extra services such as hot and cold meals and helplines to support our vulnerable communities.

“We’ve had £4.7 million in government support and expect a further £2 million which makes £6.7 million in total, leaving us with a £6.7 million shortfall.”

Cllr Tim Anderson

Cllr Tim Anderson (R4GV, Clandon & Horsley), lead for Finance, said: “Another misconception is that we earn substantial income through our borough’s business rates. We actually keep about 5% of this and the rest is distributed throughout the country.

“Local authorities need to work within the limits of public sector rules, for example just selling a building won’t solve the problem. It is a fixed capital cost.

“We are unable to borrow money for day-to-day running costs so this is why we must make savings to bridge the deficit. There are difficult decisions ahead and our residents will be part of our decision-making process every step of the way.”

The online survey is available here and there is a telephone survey of approximately 1,100 residents.

Cllr Ramsey Nagaty

Ramsey Nagaty, leader of the Guildford Greenbelt Group, said: “GGG welcome as wide as possible involvement of residents, businesses and the community.

“Where GBC are spending proportionately more on particular services than other similar-sized local authorities the reasons need to be identified.

“If the government does not increase compensation for the extra expenses and loss of revenues due to Covid-19, consideration should be given to enabling borrowing or short-term use of reserves. A more sustainable solution has to be found for local funding by the government.”

Brian Creese, for Guildford Labour Party commented: ”It is down to elected representatives to make the hard decisions in line with their overriding political views. We all know Labour will always favour the disadvantaged rather than the already wealthy.

“Consulting residents is always a good idea, but the responsibility must be with elected councillors.”

Cllr James Walsh

Cllr James Walsh (Lab, Stoke) added: “The big scandal is the amount of money councils have lost with the revenue support grant being scrapped from 2008 on, with no allowance for councils to keep more of their business rates.

“The Tories have hollowed out local government, and we were down to the bone even before Covid.”

Sallie Barker, chair of the Guildford Conservative Association said: “Guildford Conservatives continues to believe that it is important to consult and talk with residents about their priorities.  This is something that has been done every year in setting the budget not only under the Conservatives in Guildford but also at Surrey County Council, (click here to view).

Under successive Conservative administrations on Guildford Borough Council, Guildford always had a balanced budget, through the last financial crisis and in planning for the reduction of direct Government funding, which invested in our frontline services of homelessness, social housing, environment and arts. In addition, the Conservative administration built substantial reserves to prevent any cutting of services in Guildford.

We do not believe that the government should relax the rules [on council spending] as these have been put clearly in place for many years in order to prevent financial mismanagement in local authorities.

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