Budget agreed with challenges ahead
The Executive approved the budget for the next two years and other financial plans at last night's meeting (26 January). These decisions will go to Full Council to be ratified next month.
Lead Councillor for Finance, Cllr Tim Anderson says: "We started off this financial year in a good financial position with diverse income streams and a good level of reserves. However, despite achieving savings through our ongoing Future Guildford Transformation Programme, supporting our communities through the Coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic means we have a projected £8million overspend this financial year and we are using reserves to maintain our services, which is not sustainable. As we move into 2021-22 we initially had a predicted shortfall of £2 million, additional funding provided by the Government as part of the finance settlement and a significant review of the capital programme has meant that we now expect to balance our 2021-22 budget, but we are projecting a significant deficit of £1.6million in 2022-23 which may rise to £5.9million by 2025-26 if we do not take action.
"We have received government funding to cover some Covid expenditure but our commercial income such as retail and hospitality, car parking and income from sports facilities which brought in around £21 million each year has been severely impacted. For us to maintain a strong financial position it's important that we continue with our forward-thinking approach through our new finance and saving strategy. We need to avoid any further reductions in our general fund reserves for a medium-term balanced budget.
"While we continue to face further financial challenges in the next 2-4 years due to the continued reductions in government funding and the ongoing pandemic, we must remember it is later in 2022-23 when we expect to face the most significant impact and while we will have difficult decisions to make, our residents remain at the forefront of everything we do."
Capital Programme Investment
We have an ambitious capital programme to invest in the Borough and our services and meet the targets within our Corporate Plan. The budget for 2021-22 includes projects from our existing Corporate Plan and some new projects such as investment in services to address climate change, housing and infrastructure which will feature in our next Plan due to be published later in 2021.
We are adopting a new, more rigorous approach to our projects so the decision to fund each future scheme will become part of a more detailed business case to help us evaluate the relevance and need of the project.
We have reduced part of our capital programme after a review but will continue to invest in the borough - particularly in regeneration schemes to deliver housing on brownfield land.
Key projects for 2021-22 are:
- · Guildford Economic Regeneration Programme
- · North Street Regeneration Scheme
- · Strategic Property Acquisitions
- · Town Centre transport schemes
- · Town Centre Masterplan
- · Ash road bridge
- · North Downs Housing / Guildford Holdings
- · Midleton redevelopment
- · Weyside Urban Village
- · Sustainable Movement Corridor
The following schemes will be removed from the capital programme subject to the Full Council's approval next month:
- · Museum
- · Public realm
- · Bike Share
- · Town Centre gateway regeneration
If all planned schemes were to continue to go ahead within their predicted timescales, then there would be an underlying need to borrow £400 million by 31 March 2025. The consultation, with Guildford residents detailed below, has helped shape our decision to remove these projects.
The provisional local Government Finance Settlement (LGFS) for 2021-22 included giving local authorities the ability to increase the level of Council tax by up to £5 without the need for a referendum.
To set a balanced budget, our Council Tax will be increased by up to £5 this year. The Council Tax requirement for 2021-22 is set at £10,392,720.
We receive around 5% of the Council Tax that we collect. For an average 'Band D' property Council Tax payment we keep £200 a year. Surrey County Council receives the majority receiving 76% with the Police and Crime Commissioner for Surrey receiving 13% and Parish Councils 2%. For this £200 we have been able to provide around £450 of services per household through commercial income such as property investment, car parking and income from sports facilities. Before Covid-19, these brought in around £21 million each year.
Investing and maintaining services
We have been streamlining and modernising our services to become more efficient through our Future Guildford Transformation Programme, which enables us to save £4.9 million a year in 2021-22 compared to our spend 2 years ago.
In December 2020 we asked our residents where we should prioritise our spending for the medium-term. An independent, experienced research company called SMSR Ltd undertook this work on our behalf. We asked our residents by phoning a representative group of 1,100 people aged 16-65+ years-old who were selected by random sampling. We also provided an online survey with the same questions which 381 residents completed. We promoted this through our website, the local press and radio and through our own corporate media channels. We also shared the survey with all of our councillors, parish councils, residents' associations and other partner agencies. The services which residents told us they didn't feel were high priority for our spending were arts and heritage, and tourism. They also felt transport and parking and public facilities such as public toilets were less important. These results will inform our savings strategy.
Climate Change is a global issue that affects everyone. Over the last 10 years we have invested approximately £10 million on initiatives on our own estate and in our social housing which has achieved significant carbon reductions in our borough.
Last year (2020) a new high-level action plan was agreed that will help us to continue to work towards achieving net-zero carbon by 2030. This will include developing a series of projects that aim to reduce carbon emissions through our operational services across the borough. To help reduce emissions and improve air quality, we will be installing 20 new Electric Vehicle Charging Points in Guildford town centre and putting additional charging points in our car parks.
There are also new initiatives in place to help residents across Surrey reduce their carbon emissions and save money. A new Green Homes Grant of up to £15,000 will help eligible owner-occupied households to improve the energy efficiency of their homes and save money.
Affordable homes to buy and rent
Cllr Caroline Reeves, Lead Councillor for Housing and Development Control says:
"We reinvest all surplus' on the Housing revenue account along with profits from the sale of our Council houses under the Right to Buy scheme (RTB) into new affordable new build housing and regeneration. There are plans to expand our Housing Revenue Account (HRA) Capital Programme across a range of sites and there is considerable capacity to build new homes across our 30-year business plan.
"We understand the need for affordable, energy-efficient housing in our borough and we have some really exciting projects on the horizon including Weyside Urban Village and the North Street Regeneration Scheme. Both projects involve regenerating brownfield land which will protect our green belt and prevent urban sprawl while providing some affordable housing and attractive environments for all ages both from the borough and attracting new residents to Guildford.
"We also have Housing schemes in place to continue to redevelop town centre brownfield sites such as Guildford Park and Bright Hill car parks to allow us to increase our own housing stock, while offering affordable town centre housing. This is an exciting new chapter in Guildford's future."
Published Wednesday 27 January