Article by Pauline Jørgensen from the Wokingham Today newspaper
Looking at the Chief Financial Officers report, Wokingham Borough Council’s finances are in strong shape. I have talked to the Deputy Leader who is responsible for Finance and read the CFO’s reports.
This financial year is forecast to end with an underspend, even after the extra money we have spent helping residents during the pandemic, and the revenue we have lost from being forced to shut down non-essential services such as our leisure centres.
Efficiency improvements have reduced costs by over £4m and we have plans in place to save an additional £6m next year without needing to cut any services.
We have seen headlines in opposition political leaflets of £700m worth of debt, which increased to £750m in subsequent stories, this is a complete misunderstanding.
The last time our net debt was reported in November it was actually £83m and we entered this pandemic rated by the Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy as one of top 20 most financially sustainable councils in the UK. Our capital funding, which is made up of Government Grants, developers’ contributions and borrowing, pays for new roads, new schools, new parks and leisure centres and all the supporting infrastructure that our community requires.
It is also worth remembering the Council has about £130m of usable reserves and deposits and over a £1bn of assets.
Wokingham Borough Council also owns around 3000 homes and we are proud to be increasing this number. These houses help people who could otherwise not afford homes, either through council house rents or our various help to buy schemes. These are protected in a ring-fenced fund and the rent we receive covers their costs and any surplus pays for new council house construction.
Wokingham town centre is another excellent council asset and 95% of the redevelopment’s units are now either rented or under offer. The income from this Conservative-led regeneration project already covers not just interest but capital repayment as well. We do have other investments in local property such as the Waitrose buildings in Twyford and in Woodley both of which make a return of about 5% annually. All these investments generate income to help reduce the cost of council services to all of us.
Under the Conservatives the Council has established a housing company, which is profitable, to build affordable homes. Following the successful completion of Phoenix Crescent and other affordable housing units elsewhere in the Borough, for example Finch Road in Earley, the latest project is the replacement of every home on the Gorse Ride estate in Finchampstead. This is the biggest housing project ever embarked upon by the Council. And I’m delighted to confirm it is progressing well.
If you don’t want to trust me, the Chief Financial Officer, who is a professional impartial senior officer at the Council, will be happy to confirm all of this.
The Council is an open book and if you go to the Council’s website you can see the accounts. Every quarter, a financial update is presented at a Council meeting or Executive meeting, both of which are open to the public and the press.
The CFO’s annual report is also available on the Council’s website. Unlike a normal company the people who benefit are not shareholders, investors or even directors but our residents, all of whom share in the success of good Conservative financial management which brings with it the rewards of better services and facilities.
Conservative-led Wokingham Borough Council is in a far better financial position than many councils and as such we have been able to extend a helping hand; working with charities to deliver COVID testing, protection equipment, support services, food and prescriptions.
We look forward to continuing this vital work as we all get back on our feet again and move back to business as usual with strong council finances and robust fiscal controls.
Conservative councillors are here to serve you and to make sure every resident gets good value for money and high quality services.
We all share the same ambition – to make all parts of the Borough the best places to live, learn, work and raise families.
(This was published last week in the Wokingham Today newspaper.)