Fringe Box



R4GV Leader Gives Grim Warning in the Wake of GBC’s Latest Financial Settlement

Published on: 22 Dec, 2023
Updated on: 22 Dec, 2023

By Martin Giles

The announcement on Wednesday (December 20) of the government’s  provisional finance settlement for Guildford Borough Council has led to the leader of the Residents for Guildford & Villages group warning that councils were increasingly becoming “operational entities with no spare money for discretionary service”.

Following the discovery of a £10 million accounting error in March, and the earlier increased spending demands of Covid, not all covered by government grants, GBC has been struggling to balance the books.

See articles on GBC’s accounting error here.

It recently forecast it would be able to do so for this financial year but the medium-term, with committed expenditure on major projects, remained a challenge an there will be significantly reduced funds available for any spending on services the council is not legally obliged to provide.

Richard Bates, interim CFO

Richard Bates, the interim chief financial officer at GBC, said: “We will be receiving a 5.1 per cent increase. This includes an assumed 2.99 per cent increase in council tax and 1 per cent growth in the number of households that will pay council tax next year.

“The remaining increase is therefore marginal, but in line with our expectations. The national average is 6.5 per cent, but that figure includes authorities, like Surrey County Council, that have a statutory duty for social care.

“There is a small increase in the government grant of around £150,000. It will be a small help toward funding our remaining budget gap for 2024 to 2025.

“The grant is once again a single year settlement with no indication on the future of our funding streams. These normally include the New Homes Bonus, Funding Guarantee, Fair Funding review and council tax limits. This is unhelpful when trying to plan and deliver council services and finances over the medium-term.”

Cllr Joss Bigmore

Joss Bigmore, leader of the Residents for Guildford & Villages group, said he thought it was as as good as we could have realistically hoped for. “The government coffers are empty after the economic support given to residents and businesses during the pandemic and we are facing years of budget pressures as the national finances are rebuilt.

“However, its clear borough councils are becoming increasingly operational entities with no spare money for discretionary service or the major projects of the past. It begs the question about how much longer we will need councillors as all monies will be needed for statutory services that require minimal political oversight.”

Cllr James Walsh

The leader of the Labour Group, Cllr James Walsh, pinned the blame on the government saying the CFO’s announcement followed “the depressing underfunding of local government – underfunding of everything – since the Tories formed their first government in 2010.”

“This so-called ‘settlement’ is just another kick in the teeth for local people and comes no doubt with an expectation that local government and voluntary organisations will provide a gamut of services funded largely through magic.

“You’ll have guessed that irritation and anger are my key feelings about this and, whatever government is in place this time next year, it really needs to look at how local democracy and decision-making is to be funded. This cannot go on.”

The Conservative and Guildford Greenbelt groups were also invited to comment.

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Responses to R4GV Leader Gives Grim Warning in the Wake of GBC’s Latest Financial Settlement

  1. Ben Paton Reply

    December 23, 2023 at 12:56 pm

    When it comes to the parties that have been running Guildford, most electors will agree with Mercutio’s comment: “a plague on all their houses”.

    The most equitable way of allocating responsibility for this mess is to pro rate it over the length of time the council was controlled by the respective parties.

    On that basis the Guildford Conservatives and their former leader (Cllrs Mansbridge/Juneja and Cllrs Spooner/Furniss) take the lion’s share of the blame.

    None of them emerge with any credit when it comes to basic financial prudence.

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