Fringe Box



Woking Council Tax Rise

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

By Chris Caulfield

local democracy reporter

The “scale and severity” of Woking Borough Council’s “significant failings” means its council tax could go up by 10 per cent.

The news that Woking residents, and in particular vulnerable people, would be hit in the pockets to help bail out the bankrupt authority was confirmed by Local Government Minister Simon Hoare, who said national taxpayers “must not foot the bill for local failures”.

Council tax in Surrey is made of three parts. The largest goes to the county council, with an additional amount paying for policing. Woking Borough Council accounts for about 12 per cent of the total.

The council declared itself effectively bust this year with a deficit of more than £1 billion and an overall debt expected to reach £2.6bn.

The government has now pledged to support Woking Borough Council set a balanced budget for 2024/25 and confirmed the council can increase its share of tax by 10 per cent  – without the need to ask residents.

Under normal circumstances the maximum a council can increase rates without going to a referendum is about three per cent but “exceptional financial circumstances” in Woking forced the government to step in.

Cllr Tim Oliver

In a double blow for those already reeling from the cost of living crisis, Surrey County Council leader Tim Oliver (Con) said this week it was likely its share of council tax would increase by 4.99 per cent following the local government funding announcement.

Writing to Woking Borough Council, Local Government Minister Hoare said: “The scale of the council’s financial liabilities remains of significant concern and the level of support that the government may need to provide over time is unprecedented.

Simon Hoare, Under-Secretary of State for Local Government

“As such, it is right that the council continues to take all necessary steps to support its own financial recovery, including the role that council tax can play in that recovery.”

He added: “In consideration of the scale and severity of Woking’s position it is the Government’s view that an increase in council tax of an additional seven per cent above general referendum principles is appropriate and proportionate.

“In light of this, government has proposed a bespoke core council tax referendum principle of 10 per cent for the council within the provisional local government finance settlement.

“I am conscious of the impact on local taxpayers, particularly those on low incomes, of having to foot part of the bill for their council’s significant failings.

“As per last year, it is government’s view that in implementing the additional increases, the council should take steps to mitigate the impact on those least able to pay.

“You will also recognise that due to the scale and unprecedented nature of the council’s financial liabilities, Woking will need ongoing support from government for several years to come.”

He confirmed that the tax rise was being allowed solely “as a consequence of the financial failure of the council” and the council could not “reasonably meet the cost” of servicing its debt.

Formal decisions on any council tax rises will be made as part of next year’s budget process. This usually happens in February.

Cllr Anne-Marie Barker

Ann-Marie Barker (Lib Dem), leader of Woking Borough Council, said the letter reflected “the positive and collaborative approach that we have taken to working with Government and the steps that we are taking to ensure we live within our means.”

She added: “The letter outlines the principles government will follow in working towards our shared objective of returning Woking to long term sustainability and enable the council to set a legal budget in February.

“The letter also makes it clear that in consideration of this support to the council to deal with its exceptional financial circumstances, the minister considers a council tax increase of 10 per cent to be appropriate and proportionate.”

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