Budget 2022/23 Consultation Closes on 31st January

Is there any point in you commenting on the Budget 2022/23 Consultation?

I think there is… because when the council asks for your input in a formal way they have to be seen to analyse and consider the responses. And while they might not be able to implement ideas you submit this year, they could very well be picked up by officers and used in future years.

Now heading into my 3rd budget, I find myself understanding the process better each year.

CIPFA being called in a couple of years’ ago after I raised concerns about over spending in Clewer & Dedworth meant that the books were analysed and recommendations were made to improve governance across RBWM. The CIPFA report made it clear there had been too much influence allowed by members and so empowered officers to take back control.

So while the Tories present it as their budget via social media and the press, behind the scenes it is actually brought together by officers to ensure it balances.

The council has to present a balanced budget every year. If they can’t then, as I understand it, they have to essentially say to the government, “we can’t do our job” by issuing a Section 114 Notice and then government officers will have oversight and only essential items will be paid for.

Last year a reserve fund was set at £7.1m, just over £400,000 above the minimum threshold!

This is on an income of just over £100m… think about that for a moment… £400k cushion on £100m… that’s very tight!

We don’t yet know what this year’s looks like but it is likely to be similar when it should be, if we had the right revenue streams coming in, nearer £15m to cover any major incident, like a flood on our stretch of the River Thames.

In this week’s newspaper, a letter from Cllr Hilton, Lead Member for Finance, talks again of the “lowest council tax outside London”. This constant mantra means this year funding gets pulled on Norden Farm and The Firestation to make up half this year’s cushion. The other half being made up from proposed income streams from the RBWM websites, an RBWM Lottery and other commercialisation ideas officers have put forward to balance the books.

Hasn’t the CIPFA Report and their inability to pay for things like the arts made them realise that statement is nothing to be proud of? Good news is they can’t afford new banners this year 😉

If the officers had had more power in years gone by then it is likely the annual income would be £20-£30m more than it is right now. We’d have something like £25m in our reserves and our officer base would be full of confidence and second to none, evolving policies for the betterment of RBWM residents.

Instead we are short staffed with officers forced to focus on squeezing the pennies. 

There is hope. Led by Duncan Sharkey, who only joined us a few years ago, he is laying the foundations for a brighter future if only he can hold on to his key officers and inspire others to join us. Then it’s down to the residents to make better decisions at election time to ensure they vote for Councillors who will take a long term approach to RBWM and help get us into a better shape than we are right now.

Perhaps you take a longer term approach with the budget consultation. What direction of travel would you like to see? … All your submissions will be put into a spreadsheet and considered by officers and who knows, you may say something that resonates with them and in a few years you’ll read the budget papers and there it is, that suggestion you gave in a slightly different format but yours all the same.

Do make the effort to add to the Budget Consultation but best be quick, consultation ends at the end of the month.

Thank you.

Jon

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