Budget agreed with challenges ahead
The Council agreed the budget for 2021-22 and other financial plans at last night's meeting (10 February).
Lead Councillor for Resources, Cllr Tim Anderson says: "Despite achieving savings through our ongoing Future Guildford Transformation Programme, supporting our communities through the Coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic means we have a projected £8million overspend this financial year and we are using reserves to maintain our services, which is not sustainable. As we move into 2021-22 we initially had a predicted shortfall of £2million, additional funding provided by the Government as part of the finance settlement and a significant review of the capital programme has meant that we now expect to balance our 2021-22 budget, but we are projecting a significant deficit of £1.6million in 2022-23 which may rise to £5.9million by 2025-26 if we do not take action.
"We have a good diversification of commercial income such as rents from our industrial estates and investment properties, car parking, income from sports facilities, and service fees which brought in around £21 million each year before Covid-19. This has been severely impacted by the pandemic. Due to less support from central government over previous years we are more reliant on our local income streams. For us to maintain a strong financial position it's important that we continue with our forward-thinking approach through our new finance and saving strategy. This will give us financial sustainability with a low reliance on government funding, a good diversification on income streams and a significant level of reserves but we need to avoid any further reductions in our general fund reserves for a medium-term balanced budget.
"While we continue to face further financial challenges due to the continued reductions in government funding and the ongoing pandemic, we must remember it is later in 2022-23 to 2024-25 when we expect to face the most significant impact and while we will have difficult decisions to make, our residents remain at the forefront of everything we do."
Capital Programme Investment
The budget for 2021-22 includes projects from our existing Corporate Plan and some new projects such as investment in services to address climate change, housing and infrastructure which will feature in our next Plan due to be published later in 2021.
We have reduced part of our capital programme after a review but will continue to invest in the borough - particularly in regeneration schemes to deliver housing on brownfield land.
Key projects for 2021-22 are:
- Guildford Economic Regeneration Programme
- North Street Regeneration Scheme
- Strategic Property Acquisitions
- Town Centre transport schemes
- Town Centre Masterplan
- Ash road bridge
- North Downs Housing / Guildford Holdings
- Midleton redevelopment
- Weyside Urban Village
- Sustainable Movement Corridor
The following schemes have been agreed to be removed from the capital programme:
- Public realm
- Bike Share
- Town Centre gateway regeneration
If all planned schemes were to continue to go ahead within their predicted timescales, then there would be an underlying need to borrow £400 million by 31 March 2025. Our consultation with Guildford residents helped shape our decision to remove these projects.
To set a balanced budget, our Council Tax will be increased by up to £5 (2.83%) this year. The Council Tax requirement for 2021-22 is set at £10,392,720. View the Council Tax charges for 2021-22..
We receive around 5% of the Council Tax that we collect. For an average 'Band D' property Council Tax payment we will keep £181.82 a year. For this £181.82 we have been able to provide around £450 of services per household through commercial income such as property investment, car parking and income from sports facilities.
Investing and maintaining services
We have been streamlining and modernising our services to become more efficient through our Future Guildford Transformation Programme, which enables us to save £4.9 million in 2021-22 compared to our spend two years ago.
We asked our residents where we should prioritise our spending for the medium-term in December 2020. The services which residents told us they didn't feel were high priority for our spending were arts and heritage, and tourism. They also felt transport and parking and public facilities such as public toilets were less important. These results will inform our savings strategy.
Last year (2020) a new high-level action plan was agreed that will help us to continue to work towards achieving net-zero carbon by 2030. This will include developing a series of projects that aim to reduce carbon emissions through our operational services across the borough. To help reduce emissions and improve air quality, we will be installing 20 new Electric Vehicle Charging Points in Guildford town centre and putting additional charging points in our car parks.
A new Green Homes Grant of up to £15,000 will help eligible owner-occupied households in Surrey improve the energy efficiency of their homes and save money.
New and existing homes
Rents for our housing stock will increase by 1.5%, which is in line with the government rent policy set in September 2020. Our garage rents will also be increasing by 3.4%.
Cllr Caroline Reeves, Lead Councillor for Housing and Development Control says: "We reinvest all surplus' on the Housing revenue account along with profits from the sale of our Council houses under the Right to Buy scheme (RTB) into new affordable new build housing and regeneration and invest in our tenants' homes. During 2020-21 we have seen an increased up-take of Right to Buy Scheme with 40 homes being purchased. There are plans to expand our Housing Revenue Account (HRA) Capital Programme across a range of sites and there is considerable capacity to build new homes across our 30-year business plan. We will be reviewing our business plan in 2021-22.
"We understand the need for affordable, energy-efficient housing in our borough and we have some really exciting projects on the horizon including Weyside Urban Village and the North Street Regeneration Scheme. We also have Housing schemes in place to continue to redevelop Guildford Park and Bright Hill car parks. All of these projects involve regenerating brownfield land."
Published Friday 12 February