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GBC Approves Cost-Cutting Budget With Maximum 2% Council Tax Rise

Published on: 11 Feb, 2022
Updated on: 14 Feb, 2022

By Emily Coady Stemp, local democracy reporter

and Martin Giles

Guildford households will pay more council tax from April after the borough council agreed a cost-cutting budget for 2022-23 on Wednesday evening (February 9).   

The borough council’s 2022/23 budget was approved at a full meeting of its council, as was a £5 rise to council tax on the average property.

Council tax on the average band D property in Guildford will go up from £181.82 to £186.82 from April.

This follows a confirmed rise this week from Surrey County Council of £77 a year for its portion of council tax.

District councils can raise council tax by a maximum of £5 or 2 per cent, following the Local Government Finance Settlement announced in December.

Cllr Tim Anderson

The lead councillor for Resources, Cllr Tim Anderson (R4GV, Clandon & Horsley) said: “We continue to operate in extremely challenging times and, like councils throughout the country, we face ongoing budget deficits.

“Our collaboration with Waverley is part of our savings strategy and will mean we realise tangible benefits from cost saving to greater resilience. Despite being on track to achieve our target of £8 million savings through our Future Guildford Transformation Programme, we need to save around a further £6 million over the next four years in Guildford alone.

“Last year, the net impact of the Coronavirus pandemic on our budget was £6 million, and although we received government grants, we had to use reserves to fund the difference.  

“These challenges will not just impact 2022/23, but years to come. While we will have difficult decisions to make, our residents remain at the forefront of everything we do.”

Cllr James Walsh

Cllr James Walsh (Lab, Stoke) said spending on council housing was welcomed by the Labour group and that the council planned to use capital receipts to fund transformation programmes such as the collaboration with Waverley Borough Council.

But he said: “We are concerned about the proposal to agree another increase in council tax this year to meet the £12.9milion requirement.

“We accept that sufficient measures are in place to help those who are most in need and trust that this support will be effectively advertised.

“Our deeper concerns are focused around the cumulative impact of the cost of living in Guildford, which this year will also include a 4.1 per cent increase in council house rents and increased interest rates, higher food and energy costs and the never-ending mess [of] universal credit.”

Cllr Joss Bigmore

Council leader Joss Bigmore (R4GV, Christchurch) said at the end of last night’s meeting he was encouraged that everyone seemed to agree that there was a problem to solve and he could not deny it was a difficult budget where difficult decisions had been made.

He said: “I think we all agree, we are in financial difficulties.

“I don’t think there’s any point pointing the finger why, it is what it is and we have to come up with solutions.

“Everyone’s going to agree or disagree with whether we’ve caused harm or not with the decisions we’ve made.

“But to my mind, we have debated a lot of these a lot of different venues and come up with a menu of reductions in funding to balance the budget.”

Councillor Jan Harwood (Con, Merrow), who last October left his role as deputy leader of the council to join the Conservative party from the Liberal Democrats, called the budget “the wrong budget for Guildford at this time”.

He said he was disappointed not to see specific money allocated in the budget to climate change, though he also admitted he had failed to change the culture when he had previously held the climate portfolio on the council.

He said: “I was reminded on a daily basis that the council had declared a climate emergency.

“So the house is on fire and yet the budget still does not allocate funds for fire extinguishers. Clearly not a real emergency in the eyes of this Executive.

“In fact, on the contrary, the council just approved seconds ago a £24.5 million gold-plated upgrade to our housing stock.”

He said he accepted that a large amount of that money came from changes to legislation, but asked where the timetable of inspection and surveys was to determine what should be replaced and when.

He added: “Not for one second am I advocating for substandard conditions for our tenants.

“However, such replacements have huge carbon implications, and an administration that cared about such things would have factored this in.”

Guildford Borough Council has more than 5,000 council houses that the council acts as landlord to, and the £24.5 million will go towards repairs and refurbishments as the council plays catch up after the coronavirus pandemic.

Responding to Cllr Harwood, Cllr George Potter (Lib Dem, Burpham) called for suggested solutions from the Conservatives, or even alternatives for what could be done differently in the budget.

Cllr George Potter

He called it “particularly outrageous” that Harwood referred to “gold-plated” refurbishment to council house stock adding: “I would ask Cllr Harwood, whether he would think it was gold plating if he was living in some of these properties, some of which are well past the length of their predicted service lifespan and which are long overdue for renewal and upgrading.”

Cllr Barras (R4GV, Clandon & Horsley) highlighted the £3.8 million shortfall in the council and the need to make savings.

He suggested that the decisions having to be made by the council were not difficult compared to some other parts of the world where people were starving and without food or water.

He said: “We are in the fortunate position of having to make some decisions about public toilets rather than whether or not we’re eating and I think the sooner we get on with this, the better and I commend the budget.”

Cllr Ramsey Nagaty

Today the leader of the Guildford Greenbelt Group (GGG), Ramsey Nagaty, said: “GBC had tough choices as they had to balance service delivery, council-owned housing maintenance against other funding requirements in a cash-constrained council who face, like others, reduced funding from central government.

“GGG does not support all the funding choices made but felt they had to support the budget overall.

“Those who did not support the budget were unable to provide any alternative solution other than to try and claim the Town Centre Masterplan was a vanity project. This is clearly a long-overdue requirement for the town. They chose to abstain rather than vote against, which would be difficult to defend to their constituents.

“GGG did note the council were still providing a large grant to the Yvonne Arnaud Theatre for the next few years and stressed that assistance in obtaining alternative funding should be offered and, through GBC capital works, maybe the way forward. We regret the need for a reduction in the number of public toilets but savings are necessary. We are pleased to note SCC are allocating funds for CABs [Citizens Advice] and trust Guildford and Ash CABs will benefit.”

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test One Response to GBC Approves Cost-Cutting Budget With Maximum 2% Council Tax Rise

  1. Keith Francis Reply

    February 14, 2022 at 9:21 pm

    Putting Guildford Borough Council’s finances to one side and looking at Surrey County Council’s agenda for the Strategic Investment Board meeting on, Tuesday, February 15 2022, do its property investment companies’ latest published accounts to March 31, 2021, give a clue as to why part of the meeting is being held to the “Exclusion of the Public” when the subject of 12-15 High Street, Winchester, was discussed. Are property investments the reason for bad debt? I don’t expect any SCC Councillor will want to provide an answer.

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