During the General Election I explained that the government had been borrowing far too much. I was clear that we needed to curb the rate of increase in borrowing and public spending, and warned that would mean cuts in some areas, and a tight set of budgets. I promised to do my best to ensure Wokingham did not suffer unduly. I was keen to see increases in both schools and health budgets.
So let me today give you some good news. As other MPs keep reminding the nation, Wokingham Borough Council got the best settlement of any Council for next year. Successful lobbying by MPs representing the Councils that get the least from the government has led this new government to give our Councils better protection from the cuts. Councillors locally rightly point out that Wokingham still gets a low settlement for its general non educational spending, but it is good news that this has been recognised in next year’s figures. As I have urged, schools and health spending will rise next year.
According to the Council’s website the Council is spending £260 million this year on general items, on education and on capital projects. £158 million of this, or 60.7%, is paid or from national grants.
Next year I am very pleased that the Council plans to go along with the government’s scheme to freeze Council Tax. I know this will be popular with many voters, and means the Council like others will be receiving a special grant from the government in addition to other funding.
Local budgets allow for a variety of new projects despite the national financial squeeze. This year a new fire station is being built on the old site in Wokingham. A large programme of safety works to help the railway is being undertaken on railway bridges and roads adjacent to railway lines. I read in my Wokingham Times that next year the Council intends to make payments to build a new station and improve the railway crossing, at a cost to the Council of £1.5 million. This is to be followed by a new road link near the station in the following year, at a cost of £5 million. This year, of course, the Council has found large sums to buy a substantial interest in the Town Centre redevelopment.
I am very supportive of the Council’s plan to keep the Council Tax down. I am surprised at how it has been possible for the Council to commit to so many new projects at a time of financial stringency. A new station further down the railway line, and a much better transport interchange and new link road would be good for Wokingham. I look forward to work starting, as they have set a tight timetable for it. I just hope the railway has consented and is fully on board for this initiative.
We also all look forward so feeling benefits from the £9.5 million the Council is spending on “transformation”. We wish them well in ensuring this money does deliver a lower overhead more efficient Council.