An update from Martin Tett, Leader of Buckinghamshire Council image

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26 Feb 2024
Dear resident
I hope this finds you well. I explained in my email last week that I’d write again to update you on the council’s budget, which has now been finalised following a meeting of full council last week. The proposals that I first wrote to you about in the new year have not changed much.
We are required by law to set a ‘balanced budget’; in other words for our income to cover our expenditure. We continue, like all councils with similar responsibilities, to have enormous financial pressures from demand and costs in Adult Social Care, Childrens’ Services, Home to School Transport for vulnerable children and providing Temporary Accommodation for residents who are homeless. These services alone account for about 71% of our expenditure. There was some welcome news at the eleventh hour when the government announced recently that a bit more funding would be available to councils for social care for the next year.
In all honesty, that extra money hasn’t made much difference to the overall landscape, and we have, as required, allocated this to our adult social care contingency fund, due to the level of both spend and risk in this service.
More money for roads
Importantly, in recognition of the impact of the recent terrible wet weather on the local road network (it is apparently the wettest February for 248 years!), we voted during the meeting to accept an amendment put forward by two backbench councillors, Gareth Williams and Diana Blamires, to make an extra £5 million available to help fund badly needed repairs. We also agreed that this funding should be deployed as quickly as possible. It means that in total, we’ve now committed £110 million to road repairs and improvements over the next four years. It is important for me to stress that although we have some 30 repair teams out working now, permanent repairs are very difficult in wet weather. The repair material will not stick when the roads are wet. As a result, most repairs are temporary ones to make the road safe. These temporary repairs will not last very long. Permanent repairs will be scheduled for when the weather is warmer and drier.
Savings and increased income
The first priority for funding the 1,300 important and legally required front line services that residents rely upon, is to try to make additional savings and increase our income. Over the past four years we have saved over £75 million from our budget. In the next four years we plan to save an additional £95.3 million. I want to be frank that this will be very difficult and involve taking some really tough decisions, such as allocating less money to our Community Boards and some local organisations and voluntary groups.
We will also have to increase costs for many services we provide, such as support and car parking.
Council Tax
With some 80% of our income coming from council tax, councillors have agreed to raise the base rate of council tax by 2.99%, with a further 2% increase in the adult social care precept. This means an overall rise of 4.99% in council tax bills, or an extra £1.69 per week for the average Band D household.
In addition, the council has also agreed to additional council tax charges on homes that have been empty for more than twelve months. This should also help bring these back into use for people who desperately need homes.
While savings across the board are still being found to balance the books, this additional income has allowed the council to reverse a small number of previously planned savings measures. For example, we will not now need to shorten opening hours at our Household Recycling Centres and the council can continue the full gully cleansing and litter picking programme and reinstate a round of weed spraying.
Help is available
I am aware this paints a challenging picture for households already struggling with bills and I want to urge you that, if you are worried about meeting the cost of your council tax bill, please do reach out and contact our team (
) in the first instance so we can discuss your options. Please do also make note of the information and advice in our dedicated ‘cost of living’ web pages (
) if you need to.
Overall, this has been an immensely difficult budget to set - the hardest in all my time in local government. I must however underline that we remain a prudently run council and we are not in the situation that unfortunately, an increasing number of other councils are facing. A growing number of local authorities are becoming effectively bankrupt with some cutting services and putting up bills by as much as 10% this year. We have done everything we can to keep our rise to a minimum and I’m pleased we can produce a balanced budget for the next three years. We have also been able to commit the following spend to the areas residents have told us they want to see prioritised:
£110 million on roads with a further £8.4 million on footways£26.1 million on services to support housing and homelessness, including affordable housing action plans and disabled facilities grants£14.7 million on climate change and flood management£37.6 million on town centre regeneration and economic growth
This budget has been agreed following rigorous cross political party scrutiny. The financial plans for each portfolio area were looked at in detail during a series of meetings last month.
Key for me too is that we continue to look to the future here in Buckinghamshire. Now we have set our budget, while times are undoubtedly tough, we are putting forward long-term solutions to reduce costs including:
investing in additional children’s homes to reduce the heavy cost burden of external placementsmaking savings in Adult Social Care through providing help for some residents, where it fits their need, to live more independentlyrationalising the council’s office space, such as closing the King George V site in Amershaminvesting in more housing and temporary accommodation units to bring down the spend on costly nightly-paid accommodation
We are also focussed on plans for growth and regeneration and a brighter future overall here in Buckinghamshire, pushing forward key projects and programmes such as our exciting regeneration plans (
), ambitious Climate Change and Air Quality strategy (
) and ‘Opportunity Bucks (
)’ – our local answer to ‘levelling up’.
While I wish we could hope for less turbulence overall this year, I suspect there are more ups and downs to come in the immediate future. However, I remain 100% committed to continuing to deliver for our residents, spending your money in the wisest and most efficient way that we can, to secure a brighter, long-term future for us all.
You can see the full detail of the agreed budget on our website here. (
Please keep safe in this cold, wet weather.
Martin Tett
Leader of Buckinghamshire Council
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