Buckinghamshire Council sets budget for next three years

Councillors in Buckinghamshire have approved the council’s Medium Term Financial Plan, which sets out its spending plans and how these are budgeted for over the next three years.

The budget has been set amidst a volatile economic environment and outlines where the council will make savings to balance the books over the next three years, while committing spend to the priority areas residents have asked for.

Councils across the UK are facing acute financial pressures, particularly in four key areas that support vulnerable residents; social care for both adults and children, temporary accommodation for homeless people and transport for vulnerable children to get to and from school. These services alone make up 71% of Buckinghamshire Council’s budget, leaving only 29% of the budget to pay for all the other services the council provides, from fixing and improving roads, to collecting bins and providing libraries and leisure centres.

The costs of providing some of these services have also risen well above already high inflation rates, for example, a 20-30% increase in road construction and repairs costs. With council tax funding 80% of the council’s net operating budget needed to pay for these services, councillors have agreed to raise the base rate of council tax by 2.99% with a further 2% increase in the adult social care precept. This means an overall rise of 4.99% in council tax bills, or an extra £1.69 per week for the average Band D household.

The budget also sets out how much the council proposes spending as part of its £666 million ‘capital’ programme, which is shaped by what residents have told the council they want to see prioritised.

Councillors have also voted through an amendment put forward by Councillors Gareth Williams and Diana Blamires to make an extra £5 million from Reserves available directly to address the deterioration of local roads caused by the severe weather conditions in recent weeks. It means a total of £110 million is now set aside for roads repairs and improvements over the next four years.

Overall, the final budget includes spending:

  • £110 million on roads with a further £8.4 million on footways
  • £26.1 million on services to support housing and homelessness, including affordable housing action plans and disabled facilities grants
  • £14.7 million on climate change and flood management
  • £37.6 million on town centre regeneration and economic growth

The final budget has been agreed following rigorous cross-party scrutiny of the plans that were originally put forward in January. The financial plans for each portfolio area were looked at in detail during a series of meetings last month. The final plans have also been adjusted in recent weeks after the government made some extra funding available to councils, meaning a further £5 million can now be set aside for Social Care, the majority of which has been allocated to a contingency fund for this service.

The council has also agreed to additional council tax charges on homes that have been empty for more than twelve months. While savings across the board are still being found to balance the books, this additional income has allowed the council to reverse a small number of savings measures originally put forward. For example, for now we will not need to shorten opening hours at our Household Recycling Centres and the council can continue the gully cleansing programme and reinstate a round of weed spraying and litter picking.

However, overall, the council still has to deliver considerable savings to balance the books, over and above the £75.4 million already saved since becoming a unitary council. Some of the savings measures include difficult decisions, such as allocating less money to our community boards and some local voluntary organisations.

The council has also put forward long-term solutions to reduce costs including:

  • investing in additional children’s homes to reduce the heavy cost burden of external placements
  • making savings in Adult Social Care through providing help for some residents, where it fits their need, to live more independently
  • rationalising the council’s office space, such as closing the King George V site in Amersham
  • investing in more housing and temporary accommodation units to bring down the spend on costly nightly-paid accommodation

Buckinghamshire Council Leader Martin Tett said:

“This is the by far the hardest budget we’ve ever set during my years in local government, and the challenges facing us are acute. However, I’m pleased that we can balance the books over the next three years. We remain prudently run and are not in the same position as a growing number of councils who are becoming bankrupt with some having to put council tax bills up by as much as 10%. We do our best to keep the rise to a minimum but the 2.99% increase in our basic precept and the 2% increase in the adult social care precept reflects the reality of the situation we are in with council tax covering 80% of our net budget. I urge anyone who’s worried about paying their council tax bill to contact our team in the first instance to discuss options.

"A key part of this budget is about managing the considerable risk and continuing turbulence, which is why we’ve put most of the extra funding we have had from government in recent weeks into our adult social care contingency pot. We’re making some tough choices to deliver the savings we need to balance the books and we’re also closing under-used office space and examining the best ways to maximise efficiencies from our activities overall – but there really is very little room for manoeuvre indeed as we’ve been finding savings year after year already.

"It's a tough but realistic budget and as we cannot run in deficit like central government, I truly believe this is the best we can do, that continues to deliver for our residents.

"This budget underpins our over-arching priorities of protecting the vulnerable, strengthening our communities, improving our environment and increasing prosperity.”