Council chief defends financial strategy amid ‘considerable pressure’ on reserves
The board’s financial strategy came under scrutiny at a meeting on Tuesday evening.
At a full council meeting, it was revealed that the council’s reserves, which are under ‘considerable pressure’, may not be sufficient to ‘absorb the financial pressure’ forecast for next year, unless significant savings are made.
Opposition leader Simon Werner lambasted the administration for its strategy which “will devastate the council’s finances”.
However, he was opposed by Tory advisers for providing ‘no credible alternative’ after the council negotiated ‘very difficult circumstances’.
At Tuesday’s meeting, Senior Finance Member David Hilton (Con, Ascot & Sunningdale) gave an update on the Royal Borough’s medium-term financial strategy and plan for the next five years.
“The most significant change is that the plan now reflects the priorities included in the 2021-26 corporate plan, which guides resource allocation decisions and takes into account [the] rising energy costs and inflation levels,” explained Cllr Hilton.
“The board has a number of risks that should be well known to members, and as always the risks are described in the report.
“These include low reserves, although these have been strengthened over the past two years, low levels of income, increasing pressure on services for children and adults, and others, including the impact pandemic longer term unknown.
“Government funding has stopped, but the full economic and health effects have yet to be revealed.”
Cllr Hilton’s report added that there was a ‘considerable level of uncertainty surrounding financial plans for 2023/24 and beyond’, and that the council would be required to deliver £7.306million in savings during the next fiscal year.
The Council’s reserves are “insufficient to absorb the expected financial pressure for 2023/24 and beyond unless significant savings are achieved on a continuous and sustainable basis”.
Cllr Werner (Lib Dem, Pinkneys Green) said it was ‘absolutely shocking’ that the Tory Cabinet had ‘denied’ his ideas and those of other councils across the country.
“We have a CIL (community infrastructure levy) rate across the whole borough except in Maidenhead town center where most of the development is obviously ridiculous. I’ve seen figures of £40m lost to the council,’ said Cllr Werner.
He added concerns about the board’s lack of internalization, not selling “our expertise to other boards and organizations” and getting the most out of the board’s assets.
“Unfortunately, in your hands, we are seeing finances go down cup by cup,” he added.
“There’s one line I think I need to pick up, which in my opinion sums up your complete inability to realize the mess you’re making day in and day out.
“4.10 – ‘Making the most efficient use of resources – delivering best value for money is included as an underlying principle of our approach’ – when will this start?”
“If it’s profitable to pay more for less for waste collection or, according to the Maidenhead advertiser at least, selling land at low prices to developers, or even the transfer we’re going to have later, that’s is just waste, waste, waste – really not good value for money.
However, council leader Andrew Johnson sought to defend his administration’s handling of the financial situation, pointing to the fact that his cabinet had underspent its budget since taking office in 2019, thanking Cllr Hilton and the officers for the report in ‘what have been very difficult circumstances’.
“[Over] over the last three years we’ve had a global pandemic, we’ve had war in Europe, we’ve had runaway inflation and we’ve also seen significant external cost shocks to authority,” said Cllr Johnson.
“But during those three years, we brought financial stability and financial rigidity back to his board.”
The head of the council referenced his cabinet’s work with CIPFA (Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy) and highlighted the council’s budget underspending.
“Yes, this year is tough – for those coming into the firm you will see the numbers for yourselves – but I just want to say we have a clear and credible plan, contrary to some of the comments from [the opposition],” he said.
“Again, naked opportunism. Think back to all those budgets I led as head of this council: No credible alternative was offered. »
Cllr Johnson added that there was no clarity on ‘wild pre-election spending commitments’ and added that the council will begin to review CIL pricing in the borough after the local d plan is passed. ‘borough.