Wiltshire Council’s proposed budget for 2022/23 has been published, outlining how the council is planning to bridge a budget deficit of more than £27m, which is 7% of its net budget, while ensuring residents, businesses and communities still get access to vital and high quality services.
The proposals also outline the investment that will deliver on the council’s new Business Plan priorities.
The council is legally obliged to set a balanced budget and the proposed measures are intended to ensure there is a strong financial foundation in place for the long-term.
The long-reaching impact of the ongoing pandemic is still being felt, but despite this the council, through sound financial management, is forecasting an underspend at the conclusion of the 2021/22 financial year. This will put the council in a strong position as it heads into the 2022/23 year, but amid the ongoing uncertainties of the pandemic, this continues to be a very challenging time financially for the public sector.
Despite Government confirming that Wiltshire Council will receive £12.5m in additional grant funding to support the delivery of local services, the budget gap before implementation of resourcing plans stood at £27m.
COVID-19 isn’t the only challenge though, with demand for key services, such as those that support children and adults, continuing to increase.
The council has also had to manage rising inflation pressures, including hyperinflation of up to 60% on some energy bills, as well as managing increasing demand for key services, particularly in social care. Adults and Children’s Social Care will see growth for inflation and service demand of over £11m in 2022/23, and over the life of the medium term financial strategy net spending is forecast to increase by £20m on People services from £235m to £255m which is a rise of nearly 9%, to ensure that children get the best start in life and adults get the care and support they deserve.
The council will also continue to invest in the improvement and maintenance of the county’s infrastructure, with £308m due to be spent on capital projects in 2022/23.
Some of the capital projects include:
- Over £3m for Leisure, including £800k investment in fitness equipment
- £2m as part of an overall £25m commitment to new Trowbridge Leisure Centre provision
- More than £10m in Future High Streets projects for Salisbury and Trowbridge
- More than £27m in the council house building programme and more than £17m in refurbishing of council house stock
- More than £46m invested in education and skills, including £6.5m investment in school maintenance
- More than £8m being invested to make council properties more energy efficient
- More than £16m on highways structural maintenance
- Inclusion of improvements to the A350 M4 Junction 17 at a total of £27.8m
To close the budget gap, while ensuring that vital services are provided, the council is proposing a number of measures. They include a 1.99% general increase in council tax, plus a 1% council tax levy to be spent solely on adult social care; changes to car parking and green waste collections fees, and increases in some other fees and charges; and a reduction in Wiltshire Council staffing budgets which includes delaying recruitment to some vacancies, deletion of certain vacant posts and changes to some terms and conditions.
Cllr Richard Clewer, Leader of Wiltshire Council, said:
“This continues to be an extraordinary time to plan for a balanced budget. The Government has provided us with funding during the pandemic to help mitigate some of the huge challenges we have faced, however it has still not been enough to close the gap completely.
“There was also rising demand for services prior to COVID-19, so this continues to be a very challenging and uncertain time for local authorities up and down the country.
“It is not a time to make short term fixes, it’s vital we look at the bigger picture and ensure we can provide services that we will be able to sustain for years to come.
“We’ve had to make some really difficult decisions in putting together our proposals, but we need to do what is right for the long-term so that we continue to have a strong foundation going forward, as the next few years will only bring more challenges.
“So much has changed for public services over the past decade and it’s vital we are agile and try to stay ahead of the curve. There’s a bright future for our county, and we’ll do what we can to support the people of Wiltshire to be empowered, ensure our communities continue to be exciting places to live, help our local economy to thrive, and lead the way in how councils mitigate against the challenges of climate change.
“These proposals will be robustly scrutinised over the next few weeks before they are formally presented to Full Council and I very much welcome this transparent and important process.”
No final decisions on the proposals have been made, and prior to being discussed and debated at Full Council on 15 February, they will be scrutinised by various groups including members, group leaders, trade union representatives and the council’s Overview and Scrutiny Management committee.
Wiltshire Council will be hosting a COVID-19 and 2022/23 Budget public webinar on Tuesday 18 January at 5:30pm. If members of the public have any questions about the ongoing pandemic or the council’s budget proposals they should email them to firstname.lastname@example.org no later than midday on 17 January. The link to join the webinar on 18 January is COVID-19 and 2022/23 budget webinar.
The budget proposals can be found at 2022/23 draft budget papers.