Bracknell Forest Council’s decision making Executive will consider proposals for the council’s 2018/19 budget at its meeting this evening (Tuesday, 13 February).
During the last five years, the council has achieved savings of £30million whilst continuing to provide effective services for residents, businesses and communities but the council faces a further budget gap of around £20million over the next two years.
This is due to a combination of two key factors; further reductions in Government grants of £5million and increasing demand for services, particularly for children’s social care, due to rising numbers of children being taken into the council’s care, and adult social care. In the last 12 months alone the costs of supporting vulnerable people have increased by £4million, which reflects rising demand for social care services across the country.
To bridge a gap of this scale the council has no choice but to make significant changes to the way some services are delivered as well as looking at all opportunities to raise extra income. It launched a transformation programme 18 months ago, aimed at fundamentally reviewing all service areas by 2020.
The budget proposals for 2018/19 include £6.5million of savings identified through the transformation programme and £3million of other savings and additional income, mainly through changing the way we deliver services. Through careful financial management, the council is also able to use £2.5million of reserves to support front line services.
Despite these actions, the 2018/19 budget also proposes increasing council tax by 5.99 per cent, in line with the Government’s grant settlement calculations. The increase in council tax comprises a 2.99 per cent general increase in council tax and a further 3 per cent increase to fund adult social care pressures. Overall, the increase equates to £1.38 extra per week for a Band D council tax payer and will raise £3.2million. However, this is not enough in itself to cover the increase being experienced in social care costs, hence the need for further savings and changes to the operation of some services.
While the council recognises that it cannot afford to continue delivering all services in the same way, the budget proposals rule out closing any existing facilities. Instead, it is committed to working with other specialist operators to ensure services are delivered in more cost-effective ways, for example by outsourcing management of leisure facilities, which is set to happen in March.
It has also introduced innovative ways of supporting the care needs of individuals, such as the introduction of the ‘conversations approach’ where our staff will work with a person contacting the council for help with something affecting their wellbeing and help them build on their strengths and identify options to meet their needs. This means more people receive short-term support sooner and, as a result of the conversations launch, the council predicts a 15 per cent reduction in the number of people needing long-term support services.
In addition, the council doubled the number of people who receive support via a personal budget - a payment made by the council to help people manage their social care needs. This means people are able to choose and manage the care they receive themselves to ensure it works for them, using the council’s new online resource, “Bracknell Forest Help Yourself”, to help them find the right support to meet their needs while increasing their independence.
Cllr Paul Bettison OBE, leader of Bracknell Forest Council said:
“In line with other local authorities, Bracknell Forest is facing real financial challenges. As always, we will address these in a measured way, recognising that there is no simple solution.
“We have a council-wide transformation programme in place to bring about positive change and efficiencies for residents and our services and we are making real progress with this. We cannot continue doing everything the same way and there will be different ways of accessing services, in particular making more use of technology where it makes sense to do so.
“Delivering the programme will also make many services more easily accessible than they are today, whilst creating savings for the council and allowing us to focus our remaining resources on those areas that need it most.”
Cllr Peter Heydon, executive member for transformation and finance said: “Our proposals are essential to achieve a balanced budget in time for the new financial year in April.
“With the challenges we face, the speed at which we need to deliver savings has increased. Our efforts have identified almost £10million of savings that can be delivered for 2018/19 and we are also able to use some of our carefully accumulated reserves to help balance the budget.
“However, we have been left with no choice other than to increase council tax to meet our legal responsibility to set a balanced budget. Despite the increase proposed, the level of council tax in Bracknell Forest is set to remain the second lowest of any unitary authority in England.
“While we recognise that no tax increase is popular, we believe that the level and quality of services delivered in Bracknell Forest compared to the level of council tax in the borough is unparalleled and we continue to provide excellent value for money.”
The Executive will discuss the revenue and capital budget proposals when it meets on Tuesday, 13 February. If the Executive agrees to the proposals, these will be considered at full council on Wednesday, 28 February.