Monday, 4 March 2013

Comment on Wokingham Borough Council's Budget

At a full council meeting of Wokingham Borough Council the Borough's Conservatives have confirmed they will increase Council Tax by 1.9%.

Cllr Prue Bray, Lib Dem leader at Wokingham Borough Council, made the following comments on the (Medium Term Financial Plan) budget:
  • The other main message from the budget was that the Conservatives intend to spend the best part of £100 million on Wokingham town centre over the next 3-5 years.  The whole of the rest of the Borough has about 1% of that between them for their communities. 
  • Children’s Centres and the youth service are to be remodelled to save £570,000 a year.  There will be consultation on the changes we have been told.  No further details are available at the moment.
  • The Conservatives are still claiming they have saved nearly £1 million on the new waste collection service.   But that is only true if they look at it in isolation.  If they look at the knock-on effects of the new contract in costs for Wokingham Direct, fly-tipping and increased usage of the tips in Reading and Bracknell, the figure is much reduced.  And of course, they are not comparing like with like.  The council may be saving money, residents aren’t, in that they are now having to pay for green waste, which was previously a free service.
* The budget and council papers discussed at the meeting can be viewed here on Wokingham's website: 

Prue also criticised Wokingham's Conservatives the week before, expressing frustration at their lack of openness and transparency in regards to the Borough's finances :
"I would love to be able to tell you what is in the budget and what the implications are for residents, but unfortunately I only got sight of the documents yesterday afternoon and am still working my way through them.  Bear in mind that involves reading about 150 pages of detailed figures. 
In most councils the budget is openly discussed for months before the council meeting at which it is set.  In Wokingham, opposition councillors get to see the papers at the same time as the public.  We have a week to go through them to try to figure out what the figures mean.   It’s ludicrous, and means the budget gets no proper scrutiny from anyone outside the officers and ruling Conservative group. 
So if Conservatives start criticising the Lib Dems for their lack of alternative budget, bear in mind that the Conservatives have had 8 months, 43 members and the entire officer corps to put their budget together.  It’s kind of hard for a group of 9 councillors plus 1 part-time officer to replicate that in a week.
I will post more about what’s in the budget when I’ve had time to go through it all.