Labour’s Response to the 2022/23 Budget Consultation
Labour’s Response to the 2022/23 Budget Consultation

These budget proposals reflect the very tight finances experienced by all Local Councils. The papers of the consultation are clear and, in most cases, comprehensible. These proposals have again had to be publicised for consultation before the actual Provisional Finance Settlement figures from the Government have been received. They have therefore been proposed based on past grant levels. We acknowledge the expertise and experience of the officers will have enabled accurate predictions, as has proved to be the necessary case in the last few years, due to the late publication of the Government Settlement.

Government funding for local Councils has been severely cut in recent years and past budgets have reflected streamlined departments and efficiency savings so that there is now very little ’fat’ left. Indeed, the potential gap of around £3.013m or £4.877m depending on the best- or worst-case scenarios, identified in December, cannot be made by just efficiency measures. The need to include the ‘best case’ and worse’ case figures highlight the uncertainty of future needs and costs.

It looks unlikely that the Government will provide any in year extra funding to support any new pressures from Covid.

This budget, like those of the recent past, is dominated by the pressures due to Social Care Services for both adults and children. Extra Council tax can be raised to cover these costs, but this is a year when so many residents will also be funding a predicted 6% rise inflation, with huge hypes in energy bills and rent increases.

Government funding to Local Councils is said to increase by 3%, assuming all Councils raise their Council Tax to the maximum permitted level. This is to cover any future Covid-costs, funding for adult and children’s social care, and the increased National Insurance payments for every employee, increased funding for Supporting Families, cyber security and…. and …..The Council can raise its Tax by 2% without a referendum, an extra 1% this year and the left over 1.5% for Social Care not used last year. This 4.5 % would be proposed when residents are experiencing such financial pressures to cover living costs for their homes, their heating, their food.

This cannot happen.

Every 1% rise in tax in BF is said to raise £677K. BF has many band D properties and many properties rated in higher bands. Raising the Council tax here will give a good return but in a locality with few band D properties, the money raised will be much less BUT the pressures on Social Care are the same, or worse. Using Council Tax to cover the increasing costs in Social Care is a postcode lottery. This cannot be fair and equitable. Nor can it be sustainable in the long term. Central government should resource this with adequate increased Revenue Support.

We understand the need to prioritise maintenance and trust the contingency allows for any emergency.

Priority Planned Maintenance for schools is said to be £2.353m. £2m is expected form the DFE to finance this but this leaves £353K of identified priority work not covered. Moreover, in the papers it states that due to a revised capital funding formula, there will be no DFE funding provision for Bracknell Forest for 2022/23.

If this funding is now based on the perceived ‘need for school places in Bracknell’, then there is unlikely to be any such funding in the next few years either.  What happens to our schools in the meantime?

More information should have again be included, to explain why the Council must pay for the repairs to the Leisure Centre, Coral Reef, and the Downshire Golf Course now that Everyone Active is running them. Explaining that, in the contract, BFC decided to retain ownership of the buildings and just outsource their management, so retaining responsibility for structural issues, would help answer residents’ concerns. Large sums were spent on Coral Reef roof in the last few years. Is this to be an annual requirement?

There is no mention in any of these items as their effect on reducing the carbon footprint. But surely when roofs are repaired, insulation should be checked/enhanced, and the reduction monitored.

The same is true for thew replacement of fascia- items C11 and C23

The inclusion of the ‘N/A’ beside these items is concerning.

Hopefully the refurbishment of the housing stock -C!5- will also result in improved insulation and reduced heating costs. If this is not planned, then it should be.

A good use of ‘Invest to Save’.

£50K seems an awful lot of money to provide reactive repairs on the Depot before it is replaced in the Spring of 2023

The need for expenditure on pages73-773 is clearly explained and the detail included is appreciated. We support the Vehicle Monitoring System as it will hopefully end the need for Staff to deal with the traffic management issues and subsequent confrontation.

Whilst the detail included on these pages is appreciated, we condemn the detail included for the Garth Hill College Atrium Balconies and were appalled when we read it. The insurer’s risk assessment should surely not have been included in public papers.

This information is detrimental to the school and to the Council that has maintained the building for all these years.

The re-consultation on migration by the Warfield School should now have been completed and the outcome determined. This proposal predicts that the outcome will be for migration, once all the Highway changes have been explained. If this is not the case, will this £0.7m be withdrawn?

The highway maintenance seems to depend almost entirely on applying and achieving Government Grants, which mainly serve the more major roads, and developers’ contributions.

Residents are also very concerned about roads nearer to their homes and trying to park near their houses. Some residents do not leave their home after 5.00pm because they will have nowhere to park on their return. There is no mention of any increased funding to provide more estate parking bays. These are so desperately needed in the parts of BF where the houses are built in pedestrianised squares, with no driveways.

We note that £4.400m has been included to cover the expected 2% pay awards for this year and to cover the unexpected 1.75% for 2021/22; and any extra needed to cover a short fall for the 1.25% increased NI contributions, not covered by the additional grant settlement.

We ask that when contracts are renegotiated to minimise inflation, the pay and conditions of the contracted staff is also considered, so that all are paid a living wage.

We support the increase in fees and charges in line with the BF policy and are pleased to note that the inflation increase is mainly 3%. However, we are concerned that the increased rate the replacement for windows and the installation of solar panels have had their fees increased by 27% and 22.4% respectively.

Similarly, their regulation certificates have increased by 14.6% and 19.9% respectively.

This is a poor example of the Council encouraging residents to improve their homes to reduce the carbon footprint.

It would have been a very positive headline to announce that these fees are being subsidised by the Council, to encourage the uptake by residents, so supporting carbon reduction.

The promised government review into Business Rate Retention has not happened.

This is probably good news for BF as the Council has benefitted from the present arrangement. The big multinational company that presently pays its rates to BF -£4m of support to the revenue budget a year – has not yet joined the Central Rating list, so BF will still benefit this year.

The huge ‘windfalls’ achieved by the Bracknell Forest Director of Finance in the past years from the Berkshire Wide Business Rates pilot is not mentioned in these papers. However, without winning the bid to run this pilot, the Council would not have been able to bank these bonuses, to support this and future budgets.

We understand about Spending on Schools being ring fenced.

Although, schools will receive an average increase in funding of about 2.8% per pupil,  schools are still experiencing huge financial pressures and will have to provide the extra 1.25% NI for all their employees.

The big deficits come from trying to support the High Needs Block. Expenditure has been greater than income for several years, and whilst there is an increase of £1.56m   to £20.7m the forecast for spending this year is £7.5m. This comes as a result of more students needing support and with greater complexity of need, often not available with in Bracknell forest. The overall deficit for this provision by 2023 is predicted to be £20m

The Government has previously stated that this accrued deficit is not a liability on the council and remains a DFE responsibility. Now, however, this underwriting is said to be just a three- year time limit period to enable the Council to plan to manage the debt from their own resources- by April 2023. £20m in a year! No time scale for the repayment or how the money will be found is known.

No plans were presented to the latest School’s Forum- indeed no papers on this were presented at all. Was this an oversight?

We understand most of the high costs come from educating our young HN children out of the borough because BF does not have enough suitable placements.

We support the work being done to enable more placements in BF for both primary and secondary children. If the provision is right, this must be better for the child as well as reducing costs in transport and charges. Will this be enough? The Home

e to School Transport costs is predicted to be at least £650K.

It states that the High Needs deficit is to be funded from the Schools Earmarked Reserves, but last year there were no funds in the Schools’ Reserves. Has this changed?

This is a National Crisis and more money from central government is desperately needed to support Special Education. The Government’s promised SEN review is urgently needed.

We welcome the contribution to the schools’ budget of £182K to reduce the pressure on all our existing schools to finance the new builds as stated, but see this is included in the 2023/24 column?

Several of the one-year initiatives included last year have now been removed but surely, they still need funding as the issues themselves have not gone away.: –

Staff retention initiatives; support for the local economy; mental health issues; climate change/carbon reduction initiatives

No funding seems to be included for the Youth Facility at Braccan Walk. How will this be funded?

We do not think this is yet open for use but would dearly like a visit if it is. This Youth Hub is very much welcomed.

We celebrate the reduced cost of recycling as a result of the superb response by Bracknell Forest residents to the Food Waste collection’

Why is there still £60 included for the Bracknell Town Council Neighbourhood plan when this happened last year and has been removed from this year’s budget, but added again for next year?

The reduction in the NEET prevention budget is concerning as this is so valued by the schools and the outcomes are positive. After the experience of Covid, I think this support and expertise is even more important for our vulnerable young people.

The Welfare support of £327K and the Council Tax Support of £500K

Is added then removed on page 101, so I guess this means both have gone.

This is difficult to understand.

Are these provided elsewhere?

We note that more staff are being employed to fill gaps in expertise, but some vacant posts are no longer being funded, mostly in the IT department. Some 4/5 staff will face redundancy because it is said their skills are no longer needed to support the new operating model. Can training not be offered for them to work elsewhere?

There is also an Initial Equalities Screening Record Form describing the transfer of the Libraries to ‘Community Management’ to reduce the cost. Certainly, this has been kept very quiet and no discussion had so far with the Labour members, if with others. Real consultation was held a few years ago when the future of the libraries was threatened. Meetings were held in each community and the Executive member and the officers were there to explain the plans and listen to the residents.

All the arguments included in this form are those presented by the residents at that time and support the reason the libraries should not be run by Community Managements. – reduced service, reduced activities, reduced support.  We passionately oppose this proposal. We cannot find it anywhere else in the budget so how would anyone know this is being suggested.

Not many residents would make it all the way to these pages, tucked at the back.

This is certainly not being transparent.

There is also a suggestion in these Equality Screening papers about the closure of the R-Bus. This is a door-to-door service for adults with learning difficulties, all known to CTPLD. Users can use it at any time Monday – Friday until 9:30 pm, to attend organised groups or individual activities, reducing social isolation and loneliness. This also takes pressure of their careers and provides respite.

We understand the use of this bus many have been negligible in the past two years because of COVID but surely Bracknell Forest can afford to support this provision.

Also included in these papers is the proposal to relinquish the Zone Youth Centre for letting and to provide a session in an alternative location in a nearby Community    Centre. This is in a public document out for consultation and yet no one has had the decency to consult those who run the said Community Centre.

Apparently, this document should never have been included in the budget papers.

A truly unnecessary cause of stress and concern.

The biggest pressures are, as always from Adult Social Care Costs and Children Looked. The uncertainty of these budgets is reflected in the difference of the best and worse case for the Children Looked After provision. The ‘worse case’ is almost double the ‘best case’.

The £71K addition to the Schools Budget shows the Council is again having to pick up the cuts from central government- this time to replace the funding to support vulnerable pupils.

We support the proper funding for the Family Group Conferences as these prevent expensive future expenditure.

We also support every effort to avoid the use of bed and breakfast accommodation for emergency housing.

The one-off schemes including to consider moving the library, a new Leisure centre, the biodigester, are all to be supported.

The one Savings Proposal that demands a response, is the proposal to cut the library staff by 2,2 full time equivalent by increasing the number of Open+ hours. The Inequalities Screening Form on library changes included in these papers explains why this must be opposed. The Librarians provide a welcome to so many of our residents. They run ‘story time’ and ‘book clubs. They encourage a love of reading in all who visit. Entering an empty building to change a book serves some of our residents but not those who see the library as the hub of the community.

All libraries will be affected,  There is no separate Inequalities Screening form  for this  included, although staff will be made redundant- another error!

Heathlands will be a very welcome provision

The Social Care Resourcing Campaign to attract permanent staff and reduce the reliance on agency workers is welcome for the good of all our clients, as well as for the budget.

At the last Council meeting, the Council were told that £180K had been allocated towards a Financial Hardship Fund. I can find no mention of this in the budget, but it will certainly be needed.

There is no mention of £76K to support South Hill Park, but we assume this is because there is no change and the funding remains.

We are fully aware that balances can only be used once but the balances are large and some of the above decisions will certainly unnecessarily affect the quality of life of our residents.

The Council Tax will have to be raised to cover the NI contributions and the Social Care demands, but it cannot be raised the full 4.5%. Many of our residents will find this next year incredibly hard. We need to ensure support is available and well publicised.

Mary Temperton

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