Fringe Box



Scale of Woking’s Debt ‘Almost Inconceivable’ – ‘We Are a Council in Intervention’

Published on: 9 Feb, 2024
Updated on: 10 Feb, 2024

By Chris Caulfield

local democracy reporter

Woking Borough Council  has approved  £8.4 million of savings, including closing most public toilets, ending grants to voluntary and community groups and the loss of up to 60 staff.

The council is to shed 20 per cent of its workforce, with discretionary leisure and care services taking the biggest hit.

Grant funding to community groups is going, replaced only with a one-off payment to help them find new sources of funding, Thursday’s meeting heard (February 8).

Street cleaning will be cut back  to “minimum levels of hygiene”, public toilets outside the town closed, and day centres also cut back as the borough seeks to claw itself out of the financial black hole of its own making that turned it into “the most indebted authority relative to its size in the UK”.

Cllr Ann-Marie Barker

Council leader Ann-Marie Barker (Lib Dem, Goldsworth Park) said: “The financial crisis we face is complex and cannot be resolved in the short term. Adoption of these proposals is an important first step towards our objective to live within our means and return Woking to long-term financial sustainability.

“We have listened to resident feedback and looked for innovative solutions wherever possible.”

Pool in the Park to remain open

Pool in the Park swimming pool prices are going up and brakes have been applied to the borough’s  dial-a-ride with a much-reduced service being offered.

Cllr Barker added: “We have found a way to keep Pool in the Park open, put in place arrangements for community groups to take ownership of important facilities, whist supporting valued organisations’ transition away from council funding to achieve their own long-term sustainability.

“I particularly welcome the improved financial package for Citizens’ Advice Woking, who do great work to support the most vulnerable in our borough.

“I’m also pleased to confirm that Woking Community Transport will provide a day care service to Hale End Court and, a reduced but equally highly-valued, dial-a-ride service for 2024/25.

“I know residents will find any reduction in services difficult at this time. These are decisions I did not want to make.

“However, they are necessary to ensure that the council can continue to provide essential services to residents whilst supporting the delivery of a balanced budget in March.”

The anticipated 10 per cent council tax bombshell has been pushed back until March 4 to allow for more time to work with the government for the treatment of debt  – while a petition to allow the St Mary’s day centre to remain open for three months to allow volunteers to take over its running succeeded in giving the popular Byfleet site a stay of execution.

Cllr Dale Roberts

Introducing the budget to the full council meeting was Cllr Dale Roberts (Lib Dem, St John’s), portfolio holder for finance.

He said: “Before us this evening are papers that no one wished to write, based on work that no officer wanted to carry out to proceed with recommendations on which no member wants to decide.  Yet they did, and they were, and we must.

“This administration made a commitment to deliver responsible finances.”

In May last year the government sent commissioners to take over the running of the council due to the scale of its debt. A month later it declared itself effectively bankrupt with a debt spiralling towards £2.6 billion and a deficit of £1.2 billion and expected to grow to £1.5 billion by 2025.

Cllr Roberts said: “Those numbers are staggering.

“In short the full horror of Woking’s finances was only truly revealed eight months ago.”

Without further government support the council still expects to be in £780 million of unpayable debt.

He said: “The sheer scale of these numbers, billions of borrowing, hundreds of millions in deficit are almost inconceivable.

“It’s easy to be indifferent to those numbers. I can feel it already in this chamber…It’s game over, man.”

Cllr Roberts closed the debate saying: “The money-go-round has stopped.

“The reality is we are a council in intervention”.

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Responses to Scale of Woking’s Debt ‘Almost Inconceivable’ – ‘We Are a Council in Intervention’

  1. Caroline Turnbull Reply

    February 10, 2024 at 10:02 am

    Woking Council is also saving by cutting funding to the Citizens Advice Bureau, forcing it to close. This is disgraceful! CAB provides a vital service to residents and being run mainly by volunteers is good value for money. Surely savings could be found elsewhere?

  2. John Perkins Reply

    February 10, 2024 at 10:09 am

    As Jim Allen points out elsewhere, the Local Government Act 2000 repealed surcharges on the recommendation of the Committee on Standards in Public Life. Since then councillors have been free to gamble with other people’s money with few, if any, consequences to themselves.

  3. John Perkins Reply

    February 10, 2024 at 10:14 am

    Now that the council are taking the toilets, will they be employing someone to hide behind bushes in order to fine those going alfresco?

  4. Phil Grainger Reply

    February 12, 2024 at 4:07 pm

    With austerity funding cuts to local councils, gambling with funds from taking low interest debt was seen as a way to keep services going. Yes councils were reckless, but remember that central government put in place the conditions for this to be more likely.

    • Martin Cull Reply

      February 17, 2024 at 2:14 pm

      Time for Woking Council to tell World Wildlife Fund a few home truths and get some rent from them for their building.

      Like they would with other council tenants.

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