Council unveils its spending plans for 2024/25
Find out more about how we'll be spending money delivering services and investing in local infrastructure next year.
West Berkshire Council has unveiled its budget for 2024/25 - setting out how it will spend £174m delivering services across the district and £50m on infrastructure and improvement projects.
Delivering investment across the district, the £50m capital programme will see more than £10m invested in schools and education, £4m on improving our roads and £1m on active travel schemes.
Specific projects earmarked for spending includes:
- The introduction of contactless payments on local buses to make journeys even easier
- Work on byways in Lambourn and Winterbourne
- The final phase of the Thatcham flood alleviation scheme programme, funded by the Environmental Agency
- Exploration of the feasibility to generate clean energy through a solar farm and micro-hydroelectric station; and
- Improvements to the biodiversity on Speen Moors alongside a reduction in maintenance needs.
The longer-term budget sets out a proposal to invest £331m on capital projects over the next ten years.
Alongside that is a net budget of around £174m this year which will be spent delivering more than 700 statutory services for local residents. Used by residents every day, these include support ranging from collecting bins and providing recycling services, and maintaining parks and open spaces, to keeping children safe and families together. In the 2024/25 budget is:
- A reduction in the garden waste collection charge from £58 to £55 - which is a start to the Administration's commitment to phase out the garden waste collection charge
- An increase of £700,000 on the provision of Home to School Transport; and
- An additional £12.3m spent on social care; helping to keep children safe and families together and ensuring older people and vulnerable adults are looked after and supported to live independently
The budget also reflects the outcome of the consultation on budget proposals - which saw around 2,500 responses from residents. As a result of that consultation, and after listening to residents feedback, decisions have been taken to continue the current service levels in relation to emptying gulleys, litter and dog waste bins, and weed spraying. Community Transport funding continues at current levels and the proposal to close Willows Edge will be amended as the Council seeks to find an alternative provider for all three of its care homes.
Speaking about the budget, Councillor Iain Cottingham, Executive Member for Finance said:
"This is an ambitious budget which will see us continue to deliver services we can be proud of whilst also developing our infrastructure to be fit for the future.
"Local authority finances will continue to change and to come under pressure as councils adapt to the changing needs of our communities, and how we are funded. It has been a challenging process, however we've identified ways to mitigate these risks and build a balanced budget which is realistic but also helps to deliver our Council Strategy.
"One of the ways we're adjusting is by looking at opportunities to work differently and the transformation of our services is an area we are investing which can deliver significant savings for us over time. Not only will it provide more efficient, cost-effective services for West Berkshire residents, but it will help provide a better customer experience as well. It is something we're very excited about and look forward to progressing in the year ahead."
One of the key areas of investment has been an investment into social care - which supports more than 2,000 of the district's most vulnerable residents.
Demand for the Council's social care services has been increasing for a number of years, with the cost of delivering these services rising from £58m in 2014 to £97m in the current year, representing a £39m increase (68%) in ten years. Spend on these services equates to 56% of the Council's overall revenue budget, compared with 47% a decade ago. The Council has also seen sharp rises to costs charged by social care and Home to School Transport providers, resulting in a forecast overspend since early in the financial year. This year an additional investment of £12m into social care and £700,000 into Home to School Transport will go towards setting budgets which reflect the true cost of delivering those services to meet local need.
"We faced a very difficult situation; a budget challenge of £14.5m - over 8% of our annual spend; increasing demands for social care for vulnerable people and Home to School Transport as well as continuing inflationary pressures. We are very pleased to be able to tell residents that we have managed these pressures and are putting forward a balanced budget that invests in transforming ways that the Council works, delivers efficiencies and also continues to deliver on our Manifesto pledges whilst protecting our most in need residents."
The budget is due to be considered for approval by Council on Thursday 29 February. Ahead of that meeting it will be reviewed by both Scrutiny Committee on Tuesday 6 February and Executive on Thursday 8 February. Each of these is open to the public to attend in person at the Market Street offices in Newbury and to stream online via the Council's YouTube channel.