To report any issues with the information below please email

Agenda item

Revenue Budget 2024/25

Purpose: To consider and recommend to Council the 2024-25 Revenue Budget.


Councillor Iain Cottingham (Executive Portfolio Holder: Finance and Corporate Services) and Joseph Holmes (Executive Director – Resources) presented the Revenue Budget (Agenda Item 6).

The following points were raised in the debate:

·       It was noted that the report quoted different figures for the Council’s tax base in the executive summary and introduction.

Action: Joseph Holmes to check the figures for the tax base.

·       Members asked about the state of the Collection Fund. Officers confirmed that the collection rate was holding up well but was slightly below pre-pandemic levels. Although the assumption about the number of new properties completed had been overly optimistic, it was expected that this would catch up in the following year. Business Rates had seen a £3M surplus in the previous year, but a £1M deficit this year. This was due to a number of factors, including revaluations.

·       Members commended the work that had gone into reviewing the budget.

·       It was highlighted that data was missing for parish expenses. Officers confirmed that figures would be added as soon as they were available.

·       Members noted proposed cost savings on grass / verge cutting and expressed concerns about the road safety implications of this, particularly in rural areas. It was also noted that previous proposals to make savings by reducing gully clearing had been dropped – this was welcomed by Members, since recent flooding events had highlighted the importance of this activity. It was explained that the public consultation had proposed around £1.5M of cost savings, but around £300,000 of these had been dropped in response to consultation feedback, including those related to gully clearance and waste / dog waste bins. Useful feedback had been received around location of dog waste bins.

·       Recent conversations related to recent flood events had highlighted that many landowners were not aware of their riparian responsibilities. It was suggested that this had implications for reducing Council costs for clearing ditches in future.

·       It was highlighted that the Council was looking at the ‘adopt a street’ initiative, which could help to reduce grass-cutting costs.

·       In relation to the ‘green bin charge’, Members noted that it was proposed to stop printing the stickers that showed which residents had taken out the subscription in order to achieve a saving. They asked how operatives would know who had paid their subscriptions. It was explained that the contractor had details of all subscribers. Members asked if the £3 reduction reflected the cost of the stickers. It was confirmed that the cost of the reduction was £100,000 and the saving from not printing the stickers was £43,000, so there was a net impact of £57,000.

·       It was suggested that the public may have ideas about where additional savings could be made. Officers agreed and indicated that discussions were ongoing with parish councils about where services could be devolved. Members highlighted some parish councils’ concerns about the Continental contract, where bins had gone unemptied. It was suggested that if services were to be devolved, then parish councils would need sufficient notice to be able to make appropriate provision within parish precepts.

·       It was noted that spend on home to school transport was expected to increase by £700,000. Members asked if this was due to higher costs or service extensions. A review of the Home to School Transport Service was also proposed, which could result in a saving of £100,000. Officers confirmed that the changes reflected increased costs to the Council and the £700,000 increase included the £100,000 saving. Any changes would be subject to consultation.

·       It was highlighted that Reading Borough Council used approved drivers for home to school transport rather than taxi operators, which was proving more cost effective. It was confirmed that opportunities would be taken to learn from best practice and make savings when contracts were reviewed at the end of the school year. It was noted that expenditure was particularly high for individuals with complex needs. Members also noted that demand in some villages exceeded the capacity of school bus services, so taxis had to be used to accommodate excess demand.

·       Members asked what the Customer Experience Officer would do. It was confirmed that they would support the move towards online services.

·       In relation to dedicated schools grant, it was noted that schools had agreed to transfer 0.25% to the high needs block. It was explained that the maximum that could be transferred was 1%. 0% had been transferred in the previous year. There was a significant deficit in the high needs block. The Council was part of the Department for Education’s Delivering Better Value Programme, which looked at how to reduce the growing deficit.

·       Members queried proposed savings on bridge maintenance. It was confirmed that this would be a one-off saving of around 44%. This was possible because the condition of bridges in West Berkshire was generally good, which allowed for a temporary maintenance holiday. Members asked how this related to the £400,000 allocated in the capital programme for bridge maintenance. It was explained that revenue funding was for surveys, while capital funding was for improving assets.

·       It was noted that there were no bullet points under ‘A Prosperous and Resilient West Berkshire’ on page 109. Officers explained that this was not an area where investment was proposed in the coming year.

·       On page 295, Members highlighted concerns in relation to proposed changes to transport services to day services, and asked for guarantees that access for service users would not be adversely affected. It was confirmed that options were being considered to ensure that the most vulnerable were not penalised. It was recognised that there would be knock-on impacts on parents and ultimately on care needs if clients could not access these services. These could result in additional costs that would be much greater than the initial savings.

·       Members noted that temporary housing costs were rising and asked how these could be reduced in the long-term. Officers confirmed that the Council was purchasing properties for displaced persons through the Local Authority Housing Fund and officers were looking at other opportunities within the wider market. It was highlighted that until the current financial year, this had not been a significant financial pressure, but it would remain an issue unless the Council acted.

·       Members asked when houses purchased for displaced people would become available for local people. It was noted that some of the tenants were already in the district. It was anticipated that these would become available as temporary accommodation for local residents in the medium term.

·       The district’s ageing population was highlighted, which would have implications for adult social care. Noting previous comments about the cost of high-need individuals, Members asked if it would be possible to have some anonymised case studies about individual care needs and costs incurred, which would help to provide context for the financial challenges.

Action: Paul Coe to provide a briefing on adult social care cases.

·       The value of reviewing adult social care was recognised, including prevention, getting people out of care, and achieving the best outcomes, as well as understanding the cost base. Members stressed the value of prevention and highlighted the work of the Healthcare in Major Developments Task Group, which was seeking to ensure that new housing developments had the necessary health facilities.

·       The Chairman noted that the Commission had a review of SEND services on its programme, which would be timely given current pressures on the High Needs Block. It was suggested that this should come to the May meeting. It was noted that the Delivering Better Value programme would have commenced by then. An update on the Adult Social Care Strategy was also requested.

Action: Gordon Oliver to programme reviews of SEND services and the Adult Social Care Strategy.

RESOLVED to note the report.

Supporting documents: