Agenda item

Budget Report 2019/20

To consider the above report


Members considered the Budget 2019/20.


Members noted that the following petition, with over 1000 signatures, had been received by the council on 21 February 2019


‘We the undersigned petition The Royal Borough of Windsor and Maidenhead to censure the Cabinet and reject the proposed budget for 2019/20.’


David Knowles-Leake, lead petitioner, explained that the petition had originated before Christmas when members of UNISON had been presented with a council document that purported to have budget pressures or cuts in services of £9m, therefore a number of people were told their jobs were at risk. The figure subsequently reduced to £6.8m as the government provided a grant of approximately £2m for children’s services. Mr Knowles-Leake explained that he was Chairman of the local Labour Party. There had been a lot of support for the petition; at one point on a Saturday it was being signed by 200 people per hour.


Mr Knowles-Leake stated that in his view the proposed budget was not fit for purpose. It was important for what it did not say rather than what it did say. The budget was presented with cuts or savings of £6.8m and increased spending of £11.2m. In reality the overall increase in spending was just £0.9m. Despite the £2m government grant, council tax would increase by £1.9m and £3.5m was being added to reserves. Appendix O provided an analysis of risks. Mr Knowles-Leake commented that it was actually an analysis of uncertainty and assumed probability attached itself sensibly to the discussion of uncertainty. With percentages rounded off, three appropriate levels were given for reserves. At the bottom was £4m appropriate for one year. £5.8m was deemed appropriate for 18 months. £8.9m was deemed appropriate to cover all manner of risks. He asked why did reserves need to be set at £11.8m? What was the council not telling the public as to why such a high level was needed? What kind of problems were envisaged down the line? Were all the development projects going as well as they could? Was a negative result of the planning review expected? There were a lot of people who would like to look at the budget and take a different approach that related to the benefits of people, not property.


Councillor Saunders paid tribute to all of the Directors and Heads of Service from across the council, and their officer teams, for the diligent and professional manner in which they had worked with their respective Cabinet Lead Members, and to the expertise and devotion of the Head of Finance, the Senior Accountancy and Finance Ops Lead and the Finance Team to assemble the budget for next year.  It had been a truly collaborative effort and he saluted all of the officers and Members involved.


The budget proposed that base Council Tax would increase by 2.99% to £961.33 at Band D, remaining the lowest Band D Council Tax outside of London by some distance.  The Adult Social Care Levy was proposed to remain at £74.74 at Band D, bringing the additional funding to support the needs of the elderly to £20.7m over four years, and enabling a spend of £21.4m more on these vulnerable and deserving residents, over the same period.

Increases in spending were anticipated next year by £5m on children’s, adults and public health services, largely to support children in care, with additional government grants of £1.3m and £2.8m of targeted efficiencies and smart buying of services identified by officers, to help fund the growing needs of some of the most vulnerable young residents in local communities.


It was anticipated that £700,000 of additional income would come from parking, whilst continuing to support residents by investing £1.3m to pay for no increases, for the second year running, in time-based parking charges for Advantage Card holders. An additional £1m would be invested in residents’ refuse and recycling, to remain firmly one of the dwindling number of councils to still provide weekly emptying of every resident’s bin.


The budget planned for £600,000 more income from property investments and officers had identified and verified £2m of efficiencies outside of children’s, adults and public health services, including those arising from a somewhat reduced number of councillors.  The Conservative administration proposed to reinvest this by spending more on other resident priorities, in environmental health, enforcement, trees, libraries, leisure centres, Norden Farm, the Guildhall, York House Windsor resident access, and maintaining unprofitable but important bus routes,  and continuing to allocate £300,000 each year for the critical grants the council awarded on residents’ behalf to charities and other organisations supporting the vulnerable, the homeless, the mentally and physically challenged, the old and the young, and arts, sports and community groups across the borough, many of whom depended on these council grants to continue their great work.


Of some significance to the budget next year was a plan to contribute an additional £4m into the employees’ pension scheme, bringing the effective employer pension contribution rate to 27.2%, a level which most in the private sector could only dream of being invested in their pension. Noting that the required contribution rates into statutory auto-enrolment schemes were 3% for the employer and 5% for the employee. The council’s employee rate was between 5.5 and 6.5%.


Councillor Saunders explained that the future for business rate retention beyond next year remained ambiguous, which would answer some of the questions raised by the lead petitioner, although the council anticipated receiving £2.2m, through the decision to be part of the Berkshire retention pilot group.  Beyond that it was genuinely unknown. Given this, and the other uncertainties evident in the economy, the administration proposed not to plan to spend this income, and instead use it and a further £1.3m to prudently increase reserves by £3.5m.


Total gross capital investment of £30.4m was proposed for the next year, including £12.7m in highways, pavements and bridges, £10.3m in resident facilities in education, schools, leisure, trees, libraries and green open spaces, £4.5m in new refuse collection vehicles and £2.9m in other infrastructure. These investments, when added to those already underway or likely to arise during the coming year, indicated that the £57m of borrowing inherited 12 years ago from the previous administration would rise to £85m at the end of the next year.  However, unlike the £57m, the council had a clear expectation that the capital receipts from regeneration investments and developer contributions would fully fund this and the future infrastructure investment the borough required, leaving the council debt free in the medium term future, should it wish to be so.


This was a budget for all in the borough: the young, the elderly, the vulnerable, the council’s employees and every Council taxpayer, who expected their council to tax them fairly, and expected the council to prioritise the services they valued and help those less able or unable to help themselves. This was a budget for today, tomorrow and for many years to come.


Councillor Dudley thanked officers from all departments and Councillor Saunders for the wonderful job done in producing the budget. There were only two political parties that could run the country and the Royal Borough, the Conservative Party or the Labour Party. The Liberal Democrats, as could be seen in any poll, had been destroyed. The Independent Group was taking its votes every day. The petition had been submitted by the local Labour group. In Slough, Band D council tax for 2018/19 was £1578.53 whereas in the Royal Borough it was £933.42. This was a difference of £654.11. The council tax contribution rate for low earners or those on benefits in Slough was 20%; in the Royal Borough it was 8%. In the Royal borough SWEP had been invoked in November 2018 regardless of temperature and had just been extended for another month at a cost of £50,000.


Councillor Jones thanked officers, especially the Head of Finance, for their hard work and forbearance with the onslaught of her questions in the last four weeks. Producing a balanced budget for next year would have been challenging.


In Full Council in February 2015 she had warned against cutting council tax. She had brought attention to a graph produced by the Independent Commission on Local Government Finance that stated that as far as to 2019/2020, central funding would continue to reduce and the costs relating to children’s social care, adult social care and waste management would continue to rise. The administration did not listen then and she doubted that they would listen now. It was actually too late for them to listen to her or to residents.


The budget consisted of two parts: the revenue budget and the capital budget

The revenue budget (sometimes called the services budget) paid for all the operational services of the council: waste collection, social care, school admissions, planning etc. The revenue budget must balance each year, it was not possible to borrow money to prop up the revenue budget. Last year Members had heard from the Lead Member that ‘The council’s innovative and prudent management enabled it to propose only a 1.95% increase in base council tax alongside the 3% social care levy’. The council had shouldered a rising demand to support more young and older vulnerable residents and the ‘council entered these challenging few years with finances fit for purpose….The projected budget for 19/20 was currently balanced with a 1.95% increase in council tax.’


Twelve months down the line and it was forecast by the end of March that the budget would be £7.7m overspent before mitigations, necessitating £4m of savings. This overspend was mainly made up of fatuous savings targets and unrecognised demand.


Councillor Jones reminded Members of the ‘balanced’ budget in 19/20. To achieve that now would require mitigations against another £10.6m of extra service expenditure on a net £81m service budget. That was 13% of the total net services budget, and £3.6m of that was the rising demand in children social care that she had warned against but the Lead Member had reassured her was ‘shouldered’. This was also in light of a 2.99% council tax rise, not the 1.95% stated by Councillor Saunders the previous year. This was the result of what the administration called ‘innovative and prudent’ management.


This resulted in another round of forced and completely unexpected mitigations.

In this context it meant redundancies, reductions in services and capacity within the council. The council had outsourced over half its officers since 2011 and had lost approximately 200 employees completely. The council now operated with one third of the directly employed officers than it did in 2011. This could be seen as a good thing, a lean machine. However in some departments this had meant a loss of skill set and a loss of the capacity to cope with the non-routine. The council did provide some very good process driven services such as waste collection, but when it came to the more challenging aspects for instance the BLP, the Waterway, Stafferton Way, solutions for homeless reduction, and addressing the need for social housing, it was severely lacking in the capacity of officers to ensure a strong outcome.


Unexpected and unplanned-for redundancies and tasking officers to ‘find’ savings (when the council had already gone through substantial ‘transformation’) were indicative of a loss of control and could not be dismissed as due to the national pressures.


In children’s services the millions of savings needed would obviously mean reductions in the non-statutory areas such as children’s centres, youth services and school improvement and the increase in parking charges for those without an Advantage card may not yield the increased income. There had already been a change in parking habits following the previous year’s rises.


There was a great deal of emphasis on the capital budget in the report, not surprising given the state of the revenue budget. The capital budget was to provide the infrastructure, the buildings, the roads, the parks and open spaces. Next year the council would spend (excluding external funding) £19.5m on capital compared to £65.6m this year. This then reduced to £8m in 20/21 and £3.9m in 21/22. There was no other capital funding indicated, no funding for the Oaks leisure centre, no funding for schools physical expansion beyond the existing program. This was because the council did not have the money to spend and would need to borrow to fund these projects or realise receipts from selling assets.

In fact there was no extensive capital programme detailed in the capital summary (up to 2022) but in Appendix L it showed that the capital financing requirement increased up to a possible £228m by 2021, resulting in interest payments of £8.1m by 2022.


There was also an estimated rise in the council tax of 1.95% to 2.99% a year for the next three years. With the increase indicated in the budget, council tax on a band D property would rise to £1036.07 including the adult social care levy, close to the highest council tax rate in the last 10 years, and it was expected to continue to rise by another £88 by 2022 to a RBWM council tax record busting £1124.90 .


Councillor Jones stated that she believed the savings had gone too far. The Opposition would like to ensure the non-statutory services such as youth services, schools support and early years were not impacted by these savings as they were such an important prevention service. The Opposition would also like to ensure that there was a more sustainable plan put in place to deal with the underlying causes of homelessness and to offer more support to those who found themselves anticipating homelessness.


There should be an in-house highways planning resource and an in-house highways engineer resource to filter queries and provide first-line viability decisions. The Opposition would like to reverse the decision to allocate the Apprenticeship Levy to schools that had no opportunity to take advantage of the Levy for the year 2019/2020 and look to review it in the next budget. These were not all re-occurring costs. Some were one off impact/outcome based investments, some were preventative measures ensuring early intervention and would therefore reduce costs further down the line, and some were just the right thing to do to not add to the financial pressures schools were under.


Councillor Jones tabled an amendment to the budget comprising an additional recommendation which would leave a minimum of £10.66m in reserves, which was 4.86m above recommended levels:


x) Deputy Director and Head of Finance in consultation with the Lead Member for Finance and the Leader of the Opposition to transfer up to 1,039,000 from reserves (dependent on detailed costings by officers)  to the revenue budget to ensure the non-statutory services such as Youth Services, Schools support and Early Years are not impacted by these savings, to put in place a more sustainable plan to deal with the underlying causes of homelessness and to offer more support to those who find themselves anticipating homelessness, to put in place an in-house highways planning resource and an in-house highways engineer resource to filter queries and provide first-line viability decisions, reverse the decision to allocate the Apprenticeship Levy  to schools that have no opportunity to take advantage of the Levy for the year 2019/2020.


Councillor Jones explained that this was a budget that had had to put right the decisions made by the administration in past years: council tax reductions to look good, decisions that had led to non-achievable savings targets, a reduction in capacity within the council, overspending on projects and projects not being delivered within a timescale due to a lack of control and capacity, and an administration that now needed to borrow for any major new capital spending decisions it made and pay it back from the receipts from Maidenhead Golf Club.  Given the status of the BLP and the call for sites made only the day before she did not think that was going to happen any time soon. Innovative and prudent certainly were not the words she would use for the last eight years of political budgeting strategy.


Councillor Hill seconded the motion.


Councillor Saunders stated that he did not accept the amendment in its current form, therefore Members debated the proposed amendment. He deeply regretted that this was the first time he had seen the motion as there were a number of elements that would require clarification. He could not support the suggestion that Members present should make such a transfer regardless of any discussion with relevant Lead Members or Heads of Service. Therefore he would be encouraging his colleagues to vote against the amendment but he would be willing to meet with Councillor Jones to discuss the issues raised.


Councillor Hill stated that he was disappointed that every attempt by the NTA made to put something right was thwarted by the Conservative group. Councillor Jones had put forward an excellent proposal to preserve services and the response given was simply ‘no’.


Councillor Jones stated that unfortunately Opposition Members were only able to see the budget when it was published for the public. If it had come to the Opposition in December or early January they may have been able to make more suggestions. Instead they only had six weeks to get there head around something that the administration had been working on for six months. She had made a number of suggestions at Overview and Scrutiny Panel meetings.


Councillor N. Airey commented that no Opposition members had come to her to discuss any issues in children’s services.    There were good reasons behind what was proposed. For example, 91% of pupils attended the 88% good and outstanding schools whereas it was 72% ten years previously. Money was being invested into schools: £100,000 was being invested in the seven schools requiring improvement. There was a natural saving as 72% became 88%. There was an in-year saving in school improvement as work was being done. To say more money needed to be transferred for the schools support budget did not reflect reality. She would have been happy to explain this to any of the Opposition Members if they had attended the Overview and Scrutiny Panel meetings or had requested a meeting with her directly.


Councillor Quick commented that the Opposition always said they did not have enough time to read reports, yet had not given any time for Members to consider their complex amendment. Members had heard the reassurances that the reserves were needed and if further costs arose they could be drawn upon.


Councillor E. Wilson commented that he had sat on two Overview and Scrutiny Panels and had not heard one single proposal from an Opposition Member.


Councillor Stretton stated that she had raised questions at the Culture and Communities Overview and Scrutiny Panel whereas not a single Conservative Member had raised any issues.  The amendment proposed was a perfectly reasonable recommendation to make the budget more palatable and to support the vulnerable.


Councillor Carroll commented that the Homelessness Strategy had been updated and was a robust and comprehensive document. A number of partners and stakeholders had been involved.  Documents such as the JSNA and Joint Health and Wellbeing Strategy were public documents that helped codify the Homelessness Strategy. 


Councillor Walters commented that he was sick and tired of people on the left saying the Conservatives did not have a heart. He provided the example of a homeless person he had encountered on Holyport Green the week before. He had engaged the man in conversation and found that he knew the family. The man had not eaten for four days. Councillor Walters phoned the councillor line who said they would send someone from the support team straight away.


Councillor Werner commented that Councillor Walter’s story revealed that if you knew a councillor or they knew your family, you were more likely to get help. If the councillor knew the special number to call you were also more likely to get help. Councillor Werner commented that there were many more people not in this situation who also needed help.


Councillor Bicknell commented that Councillor Walters’ story was not the only one. He had encountered a homeless person after a council meeting in November. SWEP had been invoked ten days previously. Councillor Bicknell had called the control room, which was the usual out of hour’s number, and got help for the individual within one hour. The borough had invoked SWEP regardless of the temperature. If this individual had been in the neighbouring town he would likely not have received any help.


Councillor Jones commented that to go through the budget in five weeks, to fully understand and ask questions of officers, was not an easy task. She was one of the few councillors who had gone through every page of the budget. She had proposed a motion because she believed in it. She commented on the case of a resident who had reported to housing three weeks before she was due to be evicted; she had waited until one day before eviction for a call back due to capacity issues. There were good things in the budget but she would like to discuss a number of areas. The administration may say they could be done but the recommendation would give the commitment.


Members voted whether or not to accept the amendment by Councillor Jones:

x) Deputy Director and Head of Finance in consultation with the Lead Member for Finance and the Leader of the Opposition to transfer up to 1,039,000 from reserves (dependent on detailed costings by officers)  to the revenue budget to ensure the non-statutory services such as Youth Services, Schools support and Early Years are not impacted by these savings, to put in place a more sustainable plan to deal with the underlying causes of homelessness and to offer more support to those who find themselves anticipating homelessness, to put in place an in-house highways planning resource and an in-house highways engineer resource to filter queries and provide first-line viability decisions, reverse the decision to allocate the Apprenticeship Levy  to schools that have no opportunity to take advantage of the Levy for the year 2019/2020.


Nine councillors voted for the motion: Councillors Beer, Da Costa, Hill, Hollingsworth, Jones, Majeed, Sharma, Stretton and Werner. 38 Councillors voted against the motion: Councillors M. Airey, N. Airey, Alexander, Bateson, Bhatti, Bicknell, Bowden, Bullock, Burbage, Cannon, Carroll, Clark, Coppinger, Diment, Dudley, Gilmore, Hilton, Hunt, Ilyas, Lenton, Lion, Love, Luxton, Mills, Muir, Quick, C. Rayner, S. Rayner, Saunders, Sharma, Sharp, Sharpe, Shelim, Story, Walters, D. Wilson, E. Wilson and Yong.


The motion therefore fell. Members returned to debating the recommendations in the report.


Councillor Carroll stated that this was a crucial budget as it set the financial future for the council. It was residents’ money and it was therefore councillors’ incumbent responsibility to spend, invest and allocate that public treasure wisely and prudently.  Crucial, because at its core was a critical focus on his great passion, building on the administration’s strong and uncompromising record of protecting the vulnerable and delivering high quality services to the best possible standard.

As Lead Member for Adult Social Care and Public Health, he wished to focus his remarks on this imperative and what the budget meant in this regard. Since 2016-2017, the council had increased funding in adult social care. Additional resource for adult social care had been made available through various means, including the option to apply a precept through the council tax, the Improved Better Care Fund and adult social care grants, including winter pressures funding.  In the case of the precept, the administration, unlike other councils, took the full precept at the earliest opportunity allowing it to invest early in critical capacity and infrastructure upfront.  For additional grants, this was something himself and the Leader had lobbied hard for, and secured, from the Government following direct discussions with the constituency MP for Maidenhead, the Prime Minister Theresa May. 


The council had used the new resource to invest in services, which also showed that the council had maintained investment in those services, in excess of the new resource. Through Optalis, the contract for the Royal Borough for the delivery of adult social care services was £33 million.  The overall investment in adult social care was around £50 million.


The total amount of new funding for adult social care since 2016 totalled £20.72 million.  This included three years of precept through council tax, and three years of Improved Better Care Fund funding.  In addition, the council received the aforementioned one-off grants totalling £1.74 million.  In the same time period, the Royal Borough allocated a net £21.4 million to adult social care activities, which was £675,000 in excess of the new resource.  The strategy was to invest early to build the resilience and capacity to cope with increased demand driven by the fantastic reality of people living older, but indeed with increased chronicity of conditions and expense. 


Additional funding was important, but strategy and delivery were just as important.  First, the Royal Borough recognised the importance of prevention and self-care.  It had ensured that a significant amount of funding from the new investment had been allocated to these areas, particularly in relation to mental health and drug and alcohol services, in order to prevent needs escalating to statutory adult social care services. In the case of the excellent drugs and alcohol service, Resilience, Public Health England recently ranked it one of the best services in the area. 


Additional investment had been allocated to a number of areas for the benefit of vulnerable residents including:


·         Increasing the number of nursing dementia beds in Queen’s Court, Windsor, to support reduction in delayed transfers of care. A one-off investment of £170,000 secured the conversion, funding specialist equipment and furnishings to support people living with dementia.  Having recently visited, he had been impressed to see how personal and homely this wonderful facility was and this had been confirmed by CQC who had now rated it Good.


·         The council had funded a dedicated Home from Hospital Programme including an ‘IRIS’ hospital discharge multi-agency team at an additional £120,000 ongoing annual investment, a seven day Short Term Support and Reablement team, and additional Occupational Therapists, an ongoing £143,000 per annum, to ensure that people were discharged from hospital in a timely manner.  As a result, the borough was one of the highest performing councils nationally in preventing delayed transfers of care. Overall performance to date was 0.5 against a target of 1.5.  This was an awesome performance by the council’s tremendous staff. 


·         The council valued its staff, therefore it had have funded inflationary increases for providers where many other boroughs had not done so. This was in addition to funding performance payments for provider staff committing to work guaranteed shift patterns over the winter period. This additional funding had ensured that providers were able to respond quickly to requests for support so that people had care where, and when, they needed it. This had driven the excellent delays performance so that people needing support in their own home had zero delays. 


There was no more important responsibility than protecting residents, particularly those most vulnerable.  The petition was misleading, misrepresentative and misplaced. No cuts had been made in his service area. There was more investment, more focus on prevention and outstanding delivery by staff. As the Lead Member and therefore one of the foremost advocates for vulnerable people, would continue to do this and follow the vision to ensure that those who needed care always received it.


Councillor Sharma commented that the focus should be to bring people together and to look after residents. It was incredibly sad to see homeless people in the town centre and people relying on foodbanks and charities. Some of the most vulnerable would be hit by the callous cuts and increase in council tax. The increases over the last three years including the current year amounted to a 12% increase. For the next three years there was a proposed 3% rise. If added to the 12% already in place this equated to a 21% increase. He had heard so many times that council tax was a regressive tax and the administration did not want to take money from people’s pockets. What could be said to the elderly and those on a fixed income who already struggled to pay? Council tax bands were linked to historic property values and therefore could be false. Most of the properties on the borough were likely to be in higher bands.


Councillor Sharma commented that buses were central to the future of communities, they were a lifeline for some people. A long term investment strategy in buses was needed to maximise benefits. Improvements could be made through technology, for example through a demand response service. The Highways and Environment Overview and Scrutiny Panel had received a number of presentations but to date nothing had happened due to a lack of political will to bring initiatives forward. There was no allocation for funding of buses in the budget. He feared that after the election services would be scrapped if they were not commercially viable.


Councillor N. Airey commented that here were so many rumours that the council was trying to expose, undermine and leave the vulnerable in children’s and adult services but this was so far from the truth. The council was investing £3.1m more in children’s services, evident in the contract with Achieving for Children (AfC).  Across the country the demand on services to protect vulnerable children was increasing.  There were 75,420 looked after children in England, the highest level since the 1980s. This was reflected in the local position with 45 more Education Health and Care plans than a year ago (6%) and additional workload at the front door requiring 16% more staff.

The council was working to prevent children from coming into care and protect those in care or in vulnerable situations; the funding followed and was in place to deliver. The majority of the spend within children’s services delivered on statutory duties to keep children safe and have access to education.  The council spent £8m alone on placements, never mind the child protection and associated services.  Approximately £2.4m was spent a year on home to school transport for both mainstream and additional needs pupils  Development of Education, Health and Care plans (943 at the 31/1/2019) wasin addition to the DSG funded placement costs.

Despite the financial pressures, performance of children’s services had steadily improved year on year since transferring to Achieving for Children, and the Royal Borough was meeting or exceeding targets including:

  • Children receiving a review within six weeks of birth.
  • Single assessments completed within 45 working days; and
  • Initial Child Protection Conferences held within timescales.


There had been many reports that there were cuts to children’s services in the budget which would particularly harm the most vulnerable. These were fundamentally untrue. As was evident in the budget papers there was a net increase in the contractual arrangements with AfC of £3,170,000, from £21,356,000 to a total of £24,526,000.

The contract with Achieving for Children was for the delivery of all statutory and discretionary children’s services in the Royal Borough. The budget met the level of expenditure required to protect vulnerable children and continued to invest for the benefit of all children in the Borough. It supported 279 FTE staff which was the same number of FTE as a year ago, because that was the resource necessary to fulfil our duty to vulnerable children.

Councillor N. Airey highlighted a number of investments:

·         £100,000 of support for seven ‘Requires Improvement’ schools that were striving to be Good or Outstanding.

·         £93,000 to develop and support an offer for care leavers up to the age of 25

·         £60,000 for continued investment in social worker training units each year to sustain a vibrant workforce

·         £100,000 for provision of youth sessions for ages 8 to 18 across the borough

·         £100,000 for provision of Children’s Centres sessions for families and young children

The most significant factor in the additional £3.2m going into the budget was the spending required to meet demand. This had been made up of elements of increased cost, offset by some efficiencies and savings in delivery. Growth elements were estimated at almost £3.5 million for 2019/20, a
reasonable forecast of a net growth of one more child coming into the care of the local authority each month. This was also based on an estimated inflation figure for the costs of external placements and continued investment in the SEND service resources.

While facing the increased demand, council officers had worked very hard to secure reductions in cost whilst delivering the same service to vulnerable children, young people and their families. The £1,452,000 of targeted efficiencies shown on the savings appendix of the budget report were ongoing for example:

  • Reducing the proportion of social care and early help posts covered by agency staff from 21% to 10%
  • Securing better rates for long-term placements for young people who need stable non-family placements


There was so much going on to protect children, as well as investment in schools and council tax exemption for care leavers. There was so much in the budget that was good for children and families; she therefore commended the budget to council.


Councillor Hill stated that the previous year he had dismissed the budget with a word that was now banned in the chamber.  He had been proved right to be so scathing since the budget overspent by £7.4m showing the most appalling mismanagement.


In relation to this year’s budget he commended the officers for putting together a good budget under the most difficult of circumstances.  He noted the need to put right last year’s excesses but questioned the level of circa £10.4m of cuts.


There were more cuts to the officer cohort, commensurate worries about service delivery with potentially real cuts to services with only statutory services surviving unscathed.  This was surely not a good way to run the borough.


Some of the factors contributing to the wasted cash were:


·         Outrageous legal costs fighting residents over the Vicus Way planning application

·         The incredible HR mystery with the loss and re-hire of the Head of Paid Service

·         Profligate spending of tax-payers’ cash on North Korean style self-congratulatory banners, a glossy pull-out in Around the Royal Borough, and a Maidenhead regeneration movie, all just before the May elections. The daddy of them all, the failing Borough Local Plan.


There was also a forecast debt loading of circa £228m within a few years’ time. Councillor Hill questioned how this would be paid for. One of the ways the selling off the family silver in the form of taxpayer owned land.  With the big one being the sale of Maidenhead Golf Couse which is far from a done deal, despite what some would have people believe.  Without a massive injection of cash or cuts, upon cuts, upon cuts RBWM was heading for the financial rocks like the good ship Titanic.


Councillor Hill supported Councillor Jones’s common-sense approach and implored the administration to think again about their approach.


Councillor Da Costa May commented that for the last six weeks it had been the churches in Windsor and 120 volunteers operating the ‘More Than a Shelter’ project, and not SWEP, who had kept 80% of the homeless off the Windsor streets, offering them shelter, care, hot food, cleaning facilities, friendship, a community and fun.


In relation to the budget there were just three lines of figures for complicated services like AfC, parking, highways maintenance etc; income, expenditure, and one minus the other. There was a lack of information to allow councillors to do their job properly, to see trends and patterns, to recognize anomalies and discrepancies, in other words to effectively scrutinise the complex services contained in the budget.  


Despite requesting information, some weeks ago, this information had not been provided, preventing him from scrutinising the budget on behalf of residents.


Last year’s budget had got the parking income woefully wrong. It predicted too great a usage of parking spaces. The result was an unexpected loss of £800,000 which was made good by cutting costs and services in other areas. In this year’s budget, he would expect parking income to therefore be lower than last year’s incorrect budget but it was £400,000 higher. It seemed this would be achieved by increasing parking charges by 20% to non-Advantage card holders, and visitors to the borough.


Councillor Da Costa questioned whether the steep price increases would further depress car park usage and so result in further losses of £800,000 later in the year. Would the council then have to cut more costs and services unexpectedly, say to children and young people, the elderly or staff, who were under greater pressure than ever before? What effect would price increases have on visitor numbers and footfall in the retail areas? Would this result in a further drop in retail income and the closure of more shops on the high streets and town centres and a loss of business rates and jobs?


Councillor Da Costa addressed Councillor E. Wilson to say even the proposal for £180,000 of Dedworth Road/Hatch Lane/Parsonage Lane improvements did not trump these concerns and uncertainties. As a result, he would be forced to abstain.


Councillor M. Airey outlined some of the priorities in relation to homelessness:


·         Reducing the number of people becoming homeless

·         Reducing the number of households in temporary accommodation

·         Supporting people into good quality safe accommodation

·         Reducing rough sleeping


Utilisation of the homelessness prevention and relief fund and grants in a creative way to prevent people from becoming homeless was very important.  The coordinated project Making Every Adult Matter had required a specialist role in the council. SWEP had already been spoken about. The Grants Panel had agreed a grant to the Windsor Homelessness Project to help in their endeavours.


Councillor M. Airey thanked the officers, in particular the Housing services Manager and the Head of Communities, Enforcement and Partnerships for working collaboratively to support local residents.


In relation to parking Councillor M. Airey apologised for the issues people were having with the new parking machines. The barcode problems had now been resolved.


Councillor Werner commented that Councillor Saunders would not be at the council to deliver the budget therefore he would not have to take the rap when things started to go wrong or explain when ridiculous targets were set. Councillor Werner had called the previous year’s budget a ‘gambler’s’ budget; Councillor Saunders had lost the bet with a £5m overspend. The increased income from parking charges was fantasy. Income in the current year had been £800,000 less than predicted and now charges were being increased. Councillor Werner could not see how a saving of £1.5m could be made with AfC. Spending had been rocketing in children’s services therefore this was not a credible prediction. Councillor Werner commented on the fantastic services at Pinkneys Green Children’s Centre. He requested the Lead Member’s assurances that the services at the centre would not be at risk over the next four years.  Councillor Werner commented in relation to the saving of £200,000 for temporary accommodation that there has been examples of people almost being bullied into leaving and intimidatory practices.


Councillor M. Airey cautioned Councillor Werner to be careful about referring to individual resident cases in the public domain.


Councillor Hilton commented that when the Conservatives took over from the last Liberal Democrat administration, within three weeks he had found a £1m hole in parking revenue income. Councillor Hilton commented that transparency was very important to the administration and on page 59 of the report Councillor Saunders had provided a table that showed budget variances in the current financial year and budget changes for 2019/20. Despite some financial headwinds reserves were broadly as they were at the start of the financial year and in excess of £7m. At the same time throughout the year the council continued to do what it did best, delivering excellent services to residents. This was what the residents’ survey told the council.


Members had listened to Lead Members advise of their plans to maintain and, in many cases, improve services to residents. The Opposition may say the council was not doing enough but it was interesting to compare with other councils. Councils up and down the country were struggling to make ends meet. The State of Local Government Finance Survey 2019 published by the Local Government Information Unit demonstrated that many councils were planning cuts in services:


·         50% were proposing cuts in arts and culture.

·         45% planned cuts to parks and leisure spending whilst the council was building a new leisure centre at Braywick and had longer term plans for a leisure centre in Ascot.

·         38% would cut road maintenance whilst the council had increased investment to £12.7m next year and planned to maintain this for 4 years.

·         33% would be cutting library services which the council believed were vital not only to support the cultural offer but as community hubs.

·         22% were reducing waste collection. Councillor M. Airey would be making a proposal to secure weekly bin collections for the next eight years. The borough would be amongst just 25% of councils who continued to do so.

·         18% were cutting support to the CAB whilst last year the council entered into a 3-year agreement to support the vital work of Maidenhead CAB by increasing their grant by one third to £132,000 a year.

·         Lastly more than 50% of councils planned to use reserves to support their 2019/2020 budget whereas the council planned to increase reserves by £3.5 million to put the council in a strong position to manage the considerable uncertainties of the coming year.


It was an excellent budget and deserved unanimous support.


Councillor Ilyas explained that in addition to being a Member of the council, he had held responsibility of being the Chairman of the Adult Services and Health Overview and Scrutiny Panel over the previous four years.

Members may be aware that making projections or predictions for budgeting for Adult Social Care was not an easy task as small variations in the health of vulnerable adults in the borough could result in additional provision being required for those individuals. This was a responsibility that the Royal Borough took very seriously and it was what residents deserved.


Over the last four years there had been times where additional funding had been needed both in Adult Services and Social Care Services. As a borough, the council was fortunate to have excellent officers and Lead Members who had put into place sources of funding that meant that the most vulnerable citizens were not ever disadvantaged. They had responded positively to scrutiny from the panel that he chaired.


It was pleasing to note that in the budget the council had increased its reserves. Should other streams of funding be exhausted or unavailable due to uncertainties, the council would still have ample funds to ensure that residents of the borough could continue to receive the excellent services which were provided to all. In the budget, the council had increased funding and in Adult Services had made efficiencies without compromising on the standard of services to residents Councillor Ilyas believed that through the budget, the residents could be confident that they would continue to receive the excellent services that they deserved.


Councillor Gilmore welcomed the budget and drew attention to the increase in Adult Social Care. This brought much benefit to the residents of Pinkneys Green. He also welcomed the additional security measures that the investment of £1.4m in CCTV would deliver including an additional camera site in Oaken Grove.


Councillor Gilmore read out a speech by the absent Councillor McWilliams:


All local authority ships were sailing into the difficulties of ever-increasing pressures on adult social care and children’s services, however not all ships were sailing with as strong sails as RBWM. There had been examples across the country of local authorities facing substantial financial uncertainty, which put into perspective the success locally. Nothing simply happened in politics, everything was a choice. The council had chosen to protect funding to the most vulnerable and invest in huge new infrastructure projects to support the growing borough. 


There were a number of good news stories for Cox Green in the budget: not least the continued upgrading of the local road network, which had seen £500,000 spent on the Cox Green Road Improvement Project and the £350,000 investment in Ockwells and Thrift Wood Park. 


There was also £20,000 set aside for Cox Green Community Centre. Councillor McWilliams had been campaigning for the last two years to have the Community Centre car park expanded. Cox Green Community Centre was a popular and well-used facility providing space for community events, groups and activities for residents of all ages. As the population of Cox Green had grown and Cox Green School had been expanded, the popularity of the Community Centre had increased and the car park had become increasingly full. This had resulted in numerous occasions where residents, particularly older residents, who were less mobile, had not been able to attend events at the community centre. The car park was regularly at capacity and without additional car parking spaces the community centre may not be viable in the long-term, which would be a great loss to the local community. Last year, he had organised a series of round table meetings between RBWM, Cox Green Parish Council, Cox Green Community Centre and Cox Green School. They had met to discuss the pressure on the car park and decide on a solution to the problem. A draft scheme was presented and agreed to deliver 51 new spaces in two phases.  Officers had confirmed that the first phase would cost approximately £150,000. There were a number of details that needed ironing out and the £20,000 would enable necessary feasibility works to be carried out. Cox Green Parish Council had signalled their willingness to explore contributing to the scheme and the Community Centre management committee, of which councillor McWilliams was a member, gave their support to the scheme. It would be a tragedy if the momentum behind delivering the much needed expansion were lost. With this in mind, Councillor McWilliams asked Cabinet to consider committing to deliver the project subject to the feasibility study and negotiations with Cox Green Parish Council on their contributions, both of which may reduce the overall cost to RBWM.  


The project has been long in the making and he hoped a commitment could be agreed to deliver the much needed new car park extension. He was happy to continue working with Cabinet colleagues and the other key stakeholders involved to deliver the scheme for our residents. 


The council was on the cusp of something special in Maidenhead, there could be no doubt that the town was approaching a critical moment. If the council kept the course, kept is resolve and continued with a resolute focus on delivering the the long-held dream of regeneration the town residents had long desired could be created.


Councillor E. Wilson focussed on the audit and risk elements of preparing a budget. Councillor Saunders had generously given his time when Members asked questions. The budget had been set against a difficult background but had been prepared with the advice of the external auditors.  There was a robust and improving approach to risk management. A very strong surplus in collection services was an indicator that the council was able to collect the taxes it was setting. It was clear things were working well in terms of the Cabinet managing emerging issues along with commissioning partners. He agreed with Councillor Sharma’s point on bus subsidies; an extra £150,000 was proposed in the budget. In relation to the capital programme he had seen a leaflet by the West Windsor Residents Association a few years previously saying the Old Windsor Firestation Arts Centre was about to close. With £0.5m investment from the council, it was open for business. Dedworth needed investment; the budget delivered for Dedworth.


Councillor S. Rayner commented that Councillor Saunders had delivered the budget with integrity and commitment to residents.  She highlighted a number of areas within her portfolio:


·         A planning application for the Oaks Leisure Centre would be put in shortly.

·         £65,000 would be invested in road improvements in Eton Wick

·         £300,000 would be invested in tree planting and maintenance

·         She was proud of progress at the Old Court; a further £63,000 of investment was planned.

·         Investment in libraries included £40,000 in Eton, £11,000 in Datchet, £15,000 in Cox Green and £23,000 in Dedworth.

·         £50,000 had been allocated to redecorate the Register officer

·         £150,000 would be invested in improving the external walls of the Guildhall


Councillor Beer commented that there had been a number of comparisons with Slough Borough during the debate but it had been overlooked that Slough did not have the tax base that the Royal Borough had and therefore it was not a fair comparison. Councillor Beer had been lobbying for safety improvements at the Guildhall as people were putting flags up on slippery wet surfaces; no improvements had been funded in the budget.


Councillor Stretton welcomed the funding for the Old Court. She also noted funding for Norden Farm. However, community theatre groups who used the Desborough Suite theatre were being ignored. A few years previously a number of improvements were identified to bring the theatre up to modern standards including disabled access to the stage and to enable it to be a community entertainment centre in the town. She had been assured that £2m was in the budget for these improvements however this had then been reduced to £650,000, then £8,000. The town hall car park was due to be turned into flats, therefore she questioned where theatre goers would park, many of whom were elderly. The council was not building a borough or a town for everyone.


Councillor Bicknell highlighted that £4m was invested in highways in 2018/19; a further £3m was proposed for 2019/20. Funding was also available from the LEP including £4.5m for Maidenhead station improvements. £200,000 had been allocated for ‘find and fix’ items outside the Volker contract.  A new permits team had been set up at Tinkers Lane to issue permits to utility companies who wished to undertake roadworks, to minimise overruns. £1.5m of funding had been identified for Windsor public realm.


Councillor Saunders concluded that after 12 eventful and fulfilling years as a Borough councillor, leading Planning, Regeneration, Corporate Performance and now Finance, most would know he was not standing for re-election this May.  It was time for him to focus elsewhere the talents that had been generously acknowledged. He sincerely hoped that he left his Cabinet Finance position in good shape for the future.


Councils up and down the country were facing significant pressures, for example Northamptonshire, Birmingham, Lancashire, Suffolk, Torbay, and Hartlepool. The inevitable and sometimes unforeseeable demands, particularly in council care services, had overtaken their resilience and skills and had left them unstable.  RBWM was not immune to unexpected substantial financial variances, as had been seen in the last year, but the challenge was whether the officers and Members collaborated professionally and, with a cool head, maintained the financial clarity and confidence required.  His colleagues have shown last year how this was done, and done well.


Councillor Saunders highlighted how the council compared now to the financial intentions of the average English Council in the areas most important to residents. According to a recent and reliable survey from the Local Government Information Unit:


·         53% of Councils planned to tap into their reserves in the coming year; the Royal Borough did not.

·         24% intended to reduce children’s care services; the Royal Borough did not.

·         45% planned reductions to parks and leisure; the Royal Borough did not.

·         38% expected to spend less on roads; the Royal Borough did not.

·         22% intended to reduce their waste collection; the Royal Borough did not.

Hartlepool Borough Council was working towards a Band D Council Tax which exceeded £2,000 next year, twice that of the Royal Borough. Their recent statement said ‘When your Council Tax bill lands on April 1st, remember this is not the fault of your Council.  You are paying the price for years of under-funding by this Tory Government.’ This was an apparent complete abdication of any responsibility. The Royal Borough’s equivalent statement might read ‘When your Council Tax bill lands on April 1st, we accept full responsibility, and hope to continue our successful efforts of the last 12 years, to tax you only what is needed to continue to deliver, with the efficiency you have come to expect, the services you tell us you value, and our commitments to all of the vulnerable in our communities.  Please help us do this on May the 2nd.’


It was proposed by Councillor Saunders, seconded by Councillor Dudley, and:


RESOLVED: That Full Council approves the:


i)             Detailed recommendations contained in Appendix A which includes a base council tax at Band D of £961.33, including a 2.99% increase of £27.91.

ii)            Adult social care precept to remain unchanged at £74.74.

iii)          Fees and charges contained in Appendix D.

iv)          Capital strategy in Appendix G.

v)            Capital programme, shown in Appendices H & I, for the financial years 2019/20 to 2021/22.

vi)          Prudential borrowing limits set out in Appendix L.

vii)         Business rate tax base calculation, detailed in Appendix P, and its use in the council tax requirement in Appendix A.

viii)       Deputy Director and Head of Finance in consultation with the Lead Members for Finance and Children’s Services to amend the total schools budget to reflect actual Dedicated Schools Grant levels once received.

ix)       Delegation to the Deputy Director and Head of Finance and Lead Member for Finance to include the precept from the Berkshire Fire and Rescue Authority once the precept is announced.


39 councillors voted for the motion: Councillors M. Airey, N. Airey, Alexander, Bateson, Bhatti, Bicknell, Bowden, Bullock, Burbage, Cannon, Carroll, Clark, Coppinger, Diment, Dudley, Gilmore, Hilton, Hollingsworth, Hunt, Ilyas, Lenton, Lion, Love, Luxton, Mills, Muir, Quick, C. Rayner, S. Rayner, Richards, Saunders, Sharp, Sharpe, Shelim, Story, Walters, D. Wilson, E. Wilson and Yong. 1 councillor voted against the motion: Councillor Hill. 7 councillors abstained from the motion: Councillors Beer, Da Costa, Jones, Majeed, Sharma, Stretton and Werner.

Supporting documents: