Council leader praises draft budget despite plans to cut services and raise tax

The leader of the council has called the draft 2021/22 budget the ‘best budget’ to protect the borough’s financial future, despite targeting cuts to key services.

In a bid to save almost £8million, major services like switching weekly bin collections to fortnightly and reducing community wardens on the streets could take effect from April next year.

Council tax is also set to rise as the borough attempts to navigate its way out of economic trouble caused by the COVID-19 pandemic and past financial mismanagement.

Pending the draft’s approval by cabinet tonight (Thursday), a public consultation will be launched on Monday where residents can share their views.

Speaking to the Express on Wednesday, council leader Andrew Johnson (Con, Hurley and Walthams) backed the proposals.

He said: “It was never an easy budget to put together and we are having to reduce a lot of things that I would have liked to continue.

“We face coming out of the pandemic with the best budget to not only preserve our financial stability, but also continue investing and protecting the most vulnerable by delivering core services.

“I will be asking people that do respond to the consultation, if they want to, say, keep weekly bin collections, what we’re going to need is a proposal that counters that.

“If residents rise to that challenge that would be absolutely fantastic.”

One of the most significant savings included in the draft budget is switching black bin collections from weekly to fortnightly, saving £175,000 but going back on a Conservative manifesto pledge. Collections for food and recycling bins would remain weekly.

According to Councillor Johnson, there is evidence that reducing general waste bin collections helps to increase recycling, something he hopes would help the council meet its climate change objectives.

He added that if the council were to receive additional financial support from the Government, a review of this saving may be possible.

Meanwhile, a saving of £300,000 could be made by ‘remodelling’ community warden services in the borough.

According to Cllr Johnson, the council would not cut all of the wardens, but reduce the number, and focus them on ‘hotspot areas’.

Despite the savings, more money is expected to be spent in next year’s budget than in 2020/21. This will be funded by increasing the overall council tax bill by 5 per cent, in the form

of a 2 per cent council tax rise and a 3 per cent increase to the adult social care precept.

To increase council tax by any more, the council would have to hold a referendum, but Cllr Johnson continues to lobby the Government to remove the cap and allow a greater rise.

He said: “I’m still very much of the view that local authorities, particularly such as ours who are so far down the scale of council tax charges, should at least be given the freedom to potentially increase council tax to a level more akin to our near neighbours.”

Under the proposals, Band D council tax would rise by £54.32 to £1131.73.

Other proposed savings include reducing library opening hours, making a saving of £118,000. Funding for arts centres including Norden Farm and The Old Court will also be reduced.

A total of £800,000 is expected to be saved in children’s services and more than £2million would be saved in adult social care by transforming and streamlining services.

This will include closing the Windsor Day Centre and Oakbridge Day Centre.

On the transformation of services, Cllr Johnson said: “There’s a lot of innovative and very clever thinking going into a lot of these proposals, particularly in the field of adult social care.”

On the two closing day centres, he added: “The reality is that hardly anybody uses them and we think there a far better ways of providing some of those support and outreach services that don’t include hosting them in those particular buildings.”

If cabinet accepts the proposals, the consultation will begin on Monday online and in paper form. A final proposal will then be presented to full council in February.

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  • Pursuer

    11:43, 17 December 2020

    How about cutting councillors 'allowances' ?

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