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Cabinet considers budget plans

News release issued:

Budget proposals to help close Wyre Forest District Council’s funding gap will be discussed by the Cabinet tomorrow.

Members will consider the draft Medium-Term Financial Strategy 2022 – 2025 and Capital Strategy 2022-2032 when they meet on Tuesday 21 December. The Cabinet is looking to make the council a smaller organisation which focuses on protecting front-line services. This is to help close the funding gap, which is estimated to be £1.68 million by 2024-2025. To do this it is  mainly focusing on progressing the approved transformation plan, which is reviewing how services are delivered. It also wants to look at ways to fund its priorities on supporting the local economy and a green living environment.

Consultation on the Cabinet’s proposals took place at the end of November and into December and this has helped shape the plans.  There were almost 800 survey responses.

Respondents (49%) backed plans to fund additional resources to deliver the externally funded projects for the Future High Street Fund and the Levelling Up Fund. The money for this would come from the closure of the small business grants scheme.

There was also strong support (62%) for reallocating a loan fund to a generic capital expenditure fund. It is proposed that this would be used for the council’s priorities which could include capital projects such as the green agenda, housing and to support regeneration.

66% of respondents supported the proposal to purchase the council’s first electric vehicles in the next financial year. The  council will undertake a review in 2022 to establish whether funding for future years is adequate to move to a fleet that is not dependent on fossil fuels by 2030.

47% of respondents also supported a move to green only tariffs of electricity and gas when the council’s current contracts expire.

Opinion was divided on whether the council should extend the area where it purchases properties as part of the Capital Portfolio Fund. 39% supported and 39% were against the proposal to invest further afield. The report suggests that the council should make acquisitions in the Wyre Forest’s ‘economic geography’ as it could strengthen the fund’s performance and mitigate risks to the portfolio.

The Cabinet is proposing to end funding for some discretionary sport and leisure facilities from April 2023. This would mean the phasing out of involvement in Bewdley Leisure Centre and Stourport Sport Club if alternative partners cannot be found. A narrow majority of respondents opposed this, with 48% against and 41% for it. The Cabinet report stresses that every effort would be made to secure alternative partners, including the town councils, to secure a viable future for these local facilities.

The Cabinet is proposing a modest increase in the district council’s element of council tax by £5 a year or 2.23% for 2022-23. In 2021 a band D property paid £224 for district council services, that is 12% of the total bill. Between 2010 and 2020 households within Wyre Forest enjoyed sub inflation increases across that period. With inflation already running much higher than 2.23%, it seems likely that next year’s council tax for the district council will involve a real terms cut.

Councillor Mary Rayner, Wyre Forest District Council’s Cabinet Member for Finance and Capital Portfolio said:

“Thank you to everyone who took part in the consultation. Almost 800 responses were received and they have been reflected in the proposals set out in the reports.

“The council has done an excellent job at transforming over the past few years. Services have been remodelled, savings made and more income generated. This work is continuing to help us balance the books, but the funding gap is such that we need to do more.  We are focussing on becoming a smaller council and protecting frontline services. The proposals in the reports are further measures we feel we need to take achieve the savings required.”

The provisional local government settlement for 2022-23 was published on Thursday 16 December. This single year settlement contained some good news for councils, including this Council: New Homes Bonus Funding has been preserved for one final year, Lower Tier Services Grant has been maintained and there is a new one-off Services Grant in 2022-23. Overall, in 2022-23 the Council should receive about £787,000 of Government funding, £624,000 more than had previously been estimated. While the one-off extra funding is welcome, the Government has provided no further flexibility on council tax and there is uncertainty about the position beyond 2022-23, given the Government’s plans to reform local government funding.

Overall, the settlement is not enough to cover the substantial cost and income pressures Wyre Forest and other councils face.

The Cabinet agenda, which includes the reports and consultation results can be read on the council’s meeting diary page on the website.

Once the proposals have been considered by Cabinet on Tuesday 21 December they will be scrutinised by the Strategic Review Panel in January 2022.

The final proposals will then go to full council at the annual budget setting meeting in February.

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