Woking Borough Council has published a report setting out the strategic financial approach required to deliver the council’s Improvement and Recovery Plan (IRP) and tackle its severe financial challenges.
The council faces a critical financial shortfall owing to its historic investment strategy that has resulted in unaffordable borrowing, inadequate steps to repay that borrowing and high values of irrecoverable loans.
Amongst a range of far-reaching proposals, the Medium-Term Financial Strategy recommends a revised 2024/25 budget which proposes plans to identify £12m of savings to address the budget shortfall. This includes internal measures such as reducing ‘back-office’ services, management costs and reviewing Civic Office provision.
It also includes proposals to reduce or remove public-facing discretionary services, unless they can become ‘self-funding’ through the introduction of higher fees and charges.
Proposals also include safeguarding certain discretionary services for residents, such as family centres and living well services, by transferring delivery to alternative public sector organisations.
Analysis of the recent resident engagement on how the council should deal with its budget shortfall has informed the development of these proposals that, if adopted, will be presented for further public consultation in October.
The resident engagement analysis, and data collected, is available for review on the Woking Community Forum.
Cllr Ann-Marie Barker, Leader of Woking Borough Council, said: “This report proposes a series of stark options that will significantly impact the delivery of public services in Woking. These are not easy proposals to make but, due to the financial challenges that my administration inherited, we have little choice.
“Wherever possible, we have taken account of resident and stakeholder concerns and I want to thank them again for their feedback. These views have helped inform the proposals that, if adopted by council, will be presented for further public consultation in the autumn. However, the severity of the council’s financial situation means that in some cases decisions may be taken that do not align with residents’ views.
"I want to stress that at this point no decision has yet been made about the future of services. It will be for councillors to determine at a meeting of Full Council in February once further consultation work has concluded.
“It is clear that the future course we must follow is challenging. It requires the determination and resolve of councillors, the staff that support them, residents and stakeholders.
“The coming months will be difficult and I expect things will get worse before they get better. That said, I firmly believe Woking will recover stronger to become a council that delivers for its residents.”
The Overview and Scrutiny Committee will scrutinise the report and strategy during its meeting on Monday 11 September before the Executive on Thursday 14 September makes its recommendations for adoption to Full Council on Thursday 28 September.