Fringe Box



Woking Services Judgement Day Set – Where Will the Cuts Be Made?

Published on: 24 Jul, 2023
Updated on: 24 Jul, 2023

By Chris Caulfield

local democracy reporter

Judgement day for Woking Borough Council services has been set.

The date for the axe to fall on non-statutory services at the bankrupt council was confirmed during a testy three-and-a-half-hour meeting on Thursday, July 20.

The road out of its £11 million annual budget shortfall,  £1.2 billion deficit, and £2.6 billion forecast debt will involve hundreds of council staff placed on notice of redundancy, council tax rises and a major 20 per cent increase in money from parking charges.

There will be 14 guiding principles that will underpin every decision the council makes going forwards (see below).

Cllr Anne-Marie Barker

The meeting began with an address from Woking Borough Council leader Ann-Marie Barker (Lib Dem, Goldsworth Park) on where the authority was heading.

She said a recovery and improvement plan would be agreed upon and sent to the government in August, while the big date to keep an eye on was  September 28.

Cllr Barker said: “That’s where we will need to take decisions on specific service changes.

“The September meeting will be informed by the public study we are doing on discretionary services and further consultation with staff and a budget.”

So far more than 3,000 people have taken part in the survey.

The process, she said, was to turn the ship around and become a “council that lives within its means’.

“We can’t solve Woking’s financial problems alone” and hoped councillors and officers could work together to find a solution to the  “unprecedented debt levels”.

How it gets there, the mid-term financial strategy, was agreed by 22 councillors with none against – despite the flared tempers and finger-pointing.

Short-term cuts to its annual budget will now begin in September with a wider suite of savings to follow in February.

The longer-term £1.2 billion deficit, built on years of failed investments including the Victoria Square development and ThamesWey energy company, is another matter.

Cllr Dale Roberts

Cllr Dale Roberts (Lib Dem, St Johns) said discussions with the Department of Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, were  “expected to begin in the weeks ahead”.

The government has told the council that any bailout would require the authority to demonstrate it had done everything in its power to raise income and cut spending.

Conservative opposition member, and chairperson of the overview and scrutiny committee, Cllr Josh Brown (Byfleet and West Byfleet), said the report made for  “sorry reading as a part of consequences that the council has been living beyond its means for many many years.”

Cllr Josh Brown

He said he backed the timetable and was pleased special scrutiny sessions would be held – to ensure the administration could answer questions and revise the budget accordingly.

However, on plans to raise parking charges, he said: “I do have some concerns, the report states that parking charges are assumed to rise by 20 per cent in 2024 and then a further 10 per cent in the following years.

“I do fail to see how skyrocketing any parking charges will somehow increase revenue.

“People will simply stop parking. This will decimate our high street, potentially decimate our local business and I can’t see how plucking up a percentage out of thin air in the hope to increase revenue, will work.

“I certainly hope this will not be the case following the parking review strategy due to come to council in autumn.”

Cllr Will Forster

Deputy council leader Cllr Will Forster (Lib Dem, Hoe Valley) responded: “The proposed parking increase is not a 20 per cent increase in individual parking charges.

“It’s about the budget envelope.

“To make our budget balance we need to raise 20 per cent more from parking to do that and there’s a parking strategy to look at what is the best way to do that.

“It’s very different from individual charges.”

Residents will be consulted on spending cuts worth up to £8.7 million a year with a further £4 million decided on a working level.

The council said it was looking to trim £11 million from its budget and expects some of the potential cuts to not make it through the consultation process.

The 14 guiding principles Woking Borough Council will adopt

  1. Fees and charges reviewed annually and adjusted for inflation, comparability, and competitiveness.
  2. Vulnerable groups will be considered carefully.
  3. Service level spend will be benchmarked regularly with a suitable peer group and proposals to align with the benchmark will be brought forward.
  4. Digital First service delivery but mindful of the risks of exclusion.
  5. A rolling programme of service reviews to ensure operating models, organisational design and cost footprints are adjusted across the council.
  6. Service developments, savings and investment will be brought forward and all business cases demonstrate feasibility, deliverability, and appropriate financial payback.
  7. The council will consult with residents and other stakeholders in the borough on budget proposals.
  8. Business cases will include rigorous application of investment appraisal techniques, peer review and scrutiny function before being adopted.
  9. The council will welcome approaches from regional and other partners for joint working and joint management initiatives.
  10. Rebalance the general fund through its own endeavours, property rationalisation, and Government support. Reach for unearmarked reserves of 5 per cent net expenditure – £800,000 based on current core funding of £16 million.
  11. Maximise receipts from all funding streams including council tax and income.
  12. Service budget growth funded from grants or other contributions, commercial income or fees and charges, or revenue savings. No other growth will be adopted.
  13. Improve risk assessment at both strategic and operational levels to inform the budget process.
  14. Make value-for-money decisions and obtain the best value for the ‘public purse’ generally.

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Responses to Woking Services Judgement Day Set – Where Will the Cuts Be Made?

  1. David Smith Reply

    July 25, 2023 at 7:12 am

    Have we become the Woking Dragon? There seems to be an extraordinary amount of articles on Woking and its financial woes. There is lots going on in Guildford.

    Editor’s response: There have been seven articles on Woking out of 104 published in July, so far. There is particular interest in the situation in Woking as it tackles its severe financial problems and the lessons other local authorities should learn.

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