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Council continues along prudent and preventive path as budget proposals published

Wiltshire Council's draft budget proposals for 2024/25 have been published, with its prudent and preventative approach putting it in a strong position to deliver on its Business Plan priorities and deliver high quality services for Wiltshire's residents, businesses, and communities

Published 18 January 2024

Wiltshire Council's draft budget proposals for 2024/25 have been published, with its prudent and preventative approach putting it in a strong position to deliver on its Business Plan priorities and deliver high quality services for Wiltshire's residents, businesses, and communities.  

Last year, in anticipation of the various national financial challenges that are impacting local authorities up and down the country, Wiltshire Council set out its financial strategy for the three years, from 2023/24 to 2025/26. This strategic approach ensured the council was well placed to meet those challenges head on, with a balanced budget set across the next three years.

Through continued sensible financial management and action to mitigate the impact of the inflationary pressures, Wiltshire Council is forecasting a modest under spend position of approximately £634k for the 2023/24 financial year.

From this strong position, the council has mapped out its budget for the next three years, which isn't reliant on reserves to balance budgets. The council's planning and long-term approach to finance provides sustainability and ensures it works within its means. This approach has had a positive impact on the reserves and overall financial resilience of the council. For 2023/24, the general fund reserve level was £28m and for 2024/25 this has increased to £34m, a level that covers the assessed financial risks the council faces (which is estimated at £33.9m for 2024/25).

This coming financial year, 2024/25, an additional £36m has been added into the council's service budgets, with nearly £25m of that going on adult & children's services. Overall, the council's proposed budget for 2024/25 stands at around £486m. More than half of that is spent on adult and children's social care services. The recent Ofsted inspection into the council's children's services recognised the positive impact that the focus on prevention is having, with an overall Outstanding grading achieved.   

The most significant spending in 2024/25 will be:

  • Adult services - £179.4m
  • Families and children - £70.8m
  • Environment - £49.5m
  • Highways and transport - £43m
  • Education and skills - £35.1m

Cllr Richard Clewer, Leader of Wiltshire Council: "As a council our ethos is driven by prevention and early help, and favouring the long-term approach, not quick fixes. This is all underpinned by the strong foundation and clear direction our Business Plan provides. That approach is paying dividends, as demonstrated by our recent Outstanding Ofsted grade and consistently balanced budgets.

"Our prudent and preventative way of working doesn't just ensure we simply maintain services; it means we can invest in our county and communities - from children's and adult services through to highways and infrastructure.

"We are acutely aware there are still challenges to overcome and savings to be made. Like councils across the country, we receive limited government funding and are impacted by high inflation and energy prices. However, we never assume that central government will provide funding, or that grants will be maintained, so that means we haven't been left with any unexpected issues or massive funding gaps unlike many other local authorities. However, we know things can quickly change and are always on alert, with our robust financial management putting us in good stead to mitigate such risks.

"Like households, we too are experiencing higher costs but we're confident our budget proposals will allow us to continue to support residents as much as possible and provide the services they rely on. Proposals such as increasing council tax, although not easy decisions, are necessary in order for us to continue to tackle inflation and deliver quality services.

"This is a budget that supports residents, communities and businesses and I look forward to talking more about it over the coming weeks ahead of Full Council in February."  

Despite the challenging financial climate nationally, Wiltshire Council will still be investing in key services and programmes. The council has allocated an extra £10m over the next two years to spend on filling potholes and a road resurfacing programme that will help to prevent potholes and other highways defects in all areas of the county. The investment will also fund more small, local repairs to the highways and verge repairs on rural roads. This funding is in addition to the £20.7m the council receives from the Government's Highways Maintenance fund for 2024/25, plus the £5.2m from the Department for Transport's recently announced Road Resurfacing Fund. The budget proposes an additional £1 million investment into extra gully cleaning work and reactive pothole filling. This is on top of the £1 million that was invested into improving drainage in 2022 and will effectively treble drain-clearing work since 2021.

Another £1m has also been allocated in 2024/25 for the Wiltshire Towns Programme to help create and support vibrant town centres. The council is also focussing on strengthening its work around enforcement, building on the significant reduction in fly-tipping as a result of its work since 2021. A total of £650k a year will be invested in this area, with £250k of that allocated to increase the capacity of the planning enforcement team to address and resolve complex cases more effectively. 

The council will always look for innovative ways to provide high quality services at the best value for residents. The rolling out of Technology Enabled Care (TEC) is a project that will revolutionise the way support services may be delivered to adults which will deliver savings but ensure people are still empowered to live full healthy and enriched lives.

The council's capital programme outlines the authority's commitment to invest over the next seven years. The capital programme for 2024/25 has been budgeted at around £285m and details the council's investment in the improvement and maintenance of the county's infrastructure. It is likely the capital budget will change throughout the year as it's common for time frames on major capital projects to evolve, particularly taking into consideration the scale, logistics and complexity of the work typically involved - made even more so by the unpredictable nature of inflation at this time.

Some of the capital spend in 2024/25 will be:

  • building and refurbishing council houses - £45m
  • structural maintenance and bridges - £21m
  • A350 Chippenham & Melksham bypass ongoing work - £18m
  • Trowbridge and Salisbury Future High Streets - £11m
  • highways investment plan - £7m
  • property carbon reduction programme inc. solar canopies - £5m
  • investment in leisure centres - £3m
  • Trowbridge Leisure Centre - £800k (with more than £20m allocated in subsequent financial years)

Wiltshire Council is not immune to any of the challenges that other local authorities are facing. It continues to be a challenging time with inflation and increasing energy prices, which puts pressure on financial assumptions and contract management, made even more so by increasing demand for services, impacted by the ongoing pressures caused by the continued cost-of-living crisis. There is particularly high demand for adults services, children's social care and SEND.

Within the proposals the council has outlined how it is planning to make £19.7m in savings, the majority of which were approved in last year's budget setting process and are due to higher-than-expected inflation. This total also includes £4.9m of new savings proposals which came out of a cost containment exercise by the council's management team, helping the organisation run as efficiently as possible in a preventative way and getting the most out of every penny it spends.

The council receives nearly 84% of its corporate funding from local taxes, business rates and council tax, and is dependent on increases in these to deliver services to Wiltshire's residents, communities, and businesses. Therefore, Wiltshire Council is proposing a 2.99% for its element of council tax, plus a 2% levy to be spent solely on adult social care. This will mean an increase of £1.65 per week for those with a Band D property at an annual charge of £1,805.73.  

A number of other measures are proposed by the council during 2024/25, including an increase in some fees and charges for some services such as leisure, some planning services and the garden waste collection cost going to £70 per year (around £1.34 a week). The council will also look to continue to work as efficiently as an organisation as possible by removing some vacant posts and reducing agency budgets. It will also look to lease vacant space across its estate where possible, making the absolute best use of its buildings.

No final decisions on the proposals have been made, and prior to being discussed and debated at Full Council on 20 February, they will be scrutinised by various groups including members, group leaders, trade union representatives and various committees and task groups.

The budget proposals can be found at Document Budget Papers 2024-25 (opens new window).

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