Bucks County Council has approved a programme involving spending £25 million on restoring roads and improving protection of vulnerable children at its latest cabinet meeting today (Monday).
Council tax will rise by 1.99% to help provide the much-needed investments into roads and vulnerable children.
The proposals for 2015/16 have been agreed despite an expected £11.2m reduction in government funding and growth demands of £20 million, mainly relating to children’s aervices and providing services to elderly adults as well as a big increase in demand for school places.
The county council has to manage with a budget gap of over £31 million just for next year alone.
The large increase in spending on road resurfacing from a previous level of £15 million to a proposed level of £25 million next year has been achieved by bringing forward planned spending from future years.
Council leader Martin Tett said: “I need to be clear that this is not ‘new money’ but what we have done is listen to feedback from the budget consultation where people said that the state of the county’s roads continues to be one of their top concerns.
“Therefore we are bringing forward planned capital spending from future years to have a major ‘blitz’ next year.
“This is sound financial management because it will enable us to contract for work in bulk and also prevent further deterioration of many roads.
“There will however be some reductions in planned spending in subsequent years to compensate for this.
“Our other key priority is protecting the vulnerable and in particular children’s safeguarding and we have invested heavily this year with money from our reserves.
“From 2015/16 onwards an increase in spending is built into the children’s services budget.
“In our very difficult financial situation, the only way we can fund these changes is by reducing budgets in other areas.
“We’ve had to make some very difficult decisions with increased charges and cuts both in the ‘back office’ but also in areas that people value but we have no choice.
“We’ve also reluctantly reached the decision to increase council tax from a planned 1.5% to 1.99%.
“This extra increase mirrors the feedback from the budget consultation where seven out of ten residents backed a reasonable increase to protect priority areas. “The extra 0.49% increase will generate £1.1 million more to go into children’s services.
“That said, we were equally conscious not to increase council tax more than absolutely necessary at a time when many people are still struggling with the everyday cost of living.”
Mr Tett added: “Although we’re continuing to make a huge number of internal efficiency measures, inevitably, we’ve had to propose service reductions to get the books to balance.
“Examples of these include reduced support for Police Community Safety Officers (PCSOs), less funding for local improvement schemes, reduced support for economic development and reductions in our ‘Supporting People’ service.
“Not all our proposed reductions have yet been finalised but these demonstrate the reality of how tough things really are.”
“The situation would have been much worse had we not already taken difficult decisions like introducing new charges for home to school transport and reducing street lighting.
“We’ve also significantly reduced our staff and reformed terms and conditions.”
The draft budget will now go for further consideration by the business community and other agencies and during December and January, it will also be subject to scrutiny by the county council’s finance, performance and resources select committee before cabinet recommends the final budget to full county council on February 12 2015.