A COUNCIL tax spike and a spending plan worth over £123 million have been approved by Slough councillors.
The ruling Labour members green-lit the 2021/22 budget, which sets out how frontline services will be funded in the next 12 months – but was met with heavy criticism from the opposing Conservatives.
From April, the total council tax bill for households will be 4.99 per cent, or £70.83 for those living in Band D households (the average) – with the total Band D bill being £1,490.30 for 2021/22.
This increase comprises a 1.99 per cent rise for all council services, with an additional three per cent ring-fenced for adult social care.
Councillor James Swindlehurst (Lab: Cippenham Green), leader of the council, said even with this increase, Slough will have the third lowest council tax charge in Berkshire – only beaten by Bracknell and the Royal Borough of Windsor and Maidenhead.
The £123 million revenue budget is also based on the government granting Slough Borough Council a capitalisation directive – effectively giving the council greater flexibility to use capital funds for day-to-day services – of £12.2 million in order to fill a £10 million financial black hole.
This could mean the council may need to sell off some of its £100 million-worth of assets.
The government said the council would’ve had a balanced budget if it wasn’t for two one-off repayments – which includes the Slough Children’s Services Trust’s £5.5 million deficit and repaying a business in the town £5.3 million after it was issued an incorrect valuation certificate in 2010.
Ten million from this directive will be used to fill that gap, while the remaining two million will be put into reserves.
Other highlights in the budget include:
- Allocating £53.6 million to adults and communities as well as nearly £43 million to children, learning and skills
- Plan to reduce borrowing to its lowest since 2014
- ‘Strengthen’ the council’s reserves by increasing it to £21 million by the end of 2024
- Needing to make savings worth £15.5 million in 2021/22
- The separate capital budget will be set to £309 million for the next few years to cover new investments or building projects
Cllr Swindlehurst said this was the most ‘challenging’ budget he has set, saying: “There’s no shying away from the difficult context of this budget. It’s true nationally and in other councils.
“We’ve seen that two-thirds of them are putting their council tax rise to maximum and raising their adult social care precept by three per cent.
“The government itself encouraged councils to levy that charge and said that was the answer in increasing our spending power to deal with the pressures in adult social care.”
Despite the challenges, Cllr Swindlehurst added: “We have better services as well as good value for money.
“We have a weekly bin and recycling collection that is valued and loved by our residents, a green waste collection that continues to be free, we have excellent libraries, ten children centres with all of their services in the main are free.
“We have significant investment in this budget. £2 million on highway maintenance and improvement, huge sums of money in repairing and improving the stock of our council properties, and significant investment in changing the way the town is in terms of environmental improvements, the measures in the hands of individual councillors to shape the future of their wards.”
In response to the budget proposals, the leader of the opposing Conservatives, councillor Wayne Strutton (Haymill and Lynch Hill) blamed the council’s financial situation on ‘bad governance’ and ‘mismanagement’.
He said: “When you hear the words from the leader of council, others, and read the financial papers, there is a striking misalignment.
“Nearly £1 billion of debt by 2023/24 with reserves which are amongst the lowest in the country with the fifth-highest short-term borrowing in the country, and no real plan that I can see with these to challenge.
“[This] makes two words come to mind, financial mismanagement, and who will suffer the consequences? The residents and businesses of Slough.
“It is clear to see that this Labour budget, our residents are being asked to pay an additional two per cent for this financial mismanagement.”
He added: “It seems to me that this council is reliant on ever-increasing taxes on our residents. After the year our residents have had and facing greater adversity, the leader of the council cannot seriously look the good people of Slough in the eye and say they should have to pay more council tax to fund his and Labour’s fantasy projects.”
The Conservatives set out a number of amendments to the budget, including free parking in Slough town centre from November to January, increasing council tax by 3.75 per cent, expanding provision of free school meals, and many more – but were defeated by the Labour majority.
The revenue budget was approved alongside the capital budget at a Slough Borough Council meeting held on Monday, March 8.
Only the Conservatives voted against the budget.