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Councillors clash over Royal Borough budget at cabinet meeting

Tory councillors remain confident about the Royal Borough’s finances – but the opposition has warned ‘there is only so much fruit you can pluck from the tree’.

With less than two weeks before the council’s new budget goes to full council, the cabinet met in York House, Windsor, on Thursday to discuss the main budget reports due to be considered on February 25 at Maidenhead Town Hall.

These were: the capital programme; fees and charges; the revenue budget; and a ‘treasury management’ report.

Cabinet voted unanimously to approve each, put forward by the Royal Borough’s lead member for finance Cllr David Hilton (Con, Ascot and Sunninghill).

The Royal Borough is facing a £3.7million overspend, and savings of nearly £6million are being proposed.

Council leader Andrew Johnson (Con, Hurley and Walthams) said at the meeting: “This budget puts us back on the right track to long-term financial stability.

“It will enable us to continue investing in frontline services, deliver an ambitious capital programme, seeks to support housing growth and carries our commitment to carbon neutrality.”

The council’s total capital programme for 2020/21 is £56.6million, of which the largest share (£48.5million) relates to cost of existing schemes.

New capital investment amounts to just over £8million and after funding from a range of sources, the net cost of the 2020/21 programme funded from borrowing is £34.6million.

A total of just under £15million income will be available to the council to help fund programmes such as the Vicus Way car park.

Also discussed at Thursday’s meeting was the council’s revenue budget for 2020/21.

More than £48million and £23million will be spent on adult social care and childrens services respectively, mostly funded through council tax.

But the council has come under fire for cost-saving measures, including scrapping Advantage Card parking discounts.

Cllr Lynne Jones, leader of the local independents, said: “There is only so much fruit you can pluck from the tree.

“If we do not find that £4million then we go below. We need to be transparent, and none of us want to go back to the council tax payer, but I do not think we should rule it out because we can’t given the figures.”

She added: “I know every effort is being made to protect key services. But it will. And I think residents need to know.”

Cllr Hilton responded: “I think you underestimate the ability of this administration to make savings.

“The track record is there and you may not choose to believe it, but that is the case.”

Cllr Ross McWilliams, (Con, Cox Green) lead member for housing, said: “I would trust in the staff of this organisation to deliver the transformation that we need.”

But Cllr Jones said: “I have heard the word ‘transformation’ for the last five years. Sorry if I am not leaping around with joy, because transformation has been thrown down our throats for years.”

Also at Thursday night’s cabinet meeting, Cllr Johnson set out the council’s policy for electric cars.

Speaking to his administration and the public gallery, Cllr Johnson announced that if someone is a resident of the borough and they can prove they own an electric car (not hybrid) – they will be able to park for free in all council-owned car parks.

This will come into policy later this year, he added.

“We are making significant investment in services that matter most to residents, we are starting the process of unlocking opportunity and innovation through some of the radical new work that is going on,” Cllr Johnson said.

Another topic discussed at the York House meeting was the increase in parking permit costs in the borough within the new budget.

Lead member for parking Cllr David Cannon (Con, Datchet, Horton and Wraysbury) said: “We are working together to see if we can mitigate for other things that delivers the same outcome but will have less impact on residents if it is possible.”

It was also revealed that the council will be contributing £52million towards the Jubilee River flood alleviation scheme, in conjunction with Surrey County Council.

Cllr Johnson said: “We remain committed to delivering this scheme.

“We are in active discussion with Government and Surrey County Council about the best mechanism to do that.”

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