Council announces proposals to set balanced budget

25 Jan 2024
Cllr Ann-Marie Barker outside Woking Borough Council

Detailed proposals that will deliver over £8 million in council service-related savings and support the delivery of a balanced budget for the next financial year have been published.

During a meeting of the Executive (Thursday 1 February 2024), elected members will discuss these saving proposals, ahead of a final decision being taken by Council on Thursday 8 February 2024.

The Executive report outlines the work undertaken following public consultation in the autumn to identify robust, deliverable savings, whilst considering the impact that service changes would have on local residents and community groups.

Speaking ahead of the meeting, Cllr Ann-Marie Barker, Leader of Woking Borough Council, said: “We should be under no illusion. The financial crisis we face is complex and cannot be resolved in the short-term.

“These proposals are an important first step towards our objective to live within our means and return Woking to long-term financial sustainability.

“We have listened to resident feedback and looked for innovative solutions to respond to their concerns. Most notably finding a way forward to keep Pool in the Park open; supporting stakeholders’ transition away from council funding; and putting in place arrangements for community groups to take ownership of important facilities, ensuring that many of our community centres and sports pavilions will continue to operate in the future.

“I know residents will find any reduction in services difficult at this time. These are decisions I did not want to make but they are necessary to ensure that the council can continue to provide essential services whilst setting a balanced budget.”

Details of the key proposals outlined in the Executive report are below.

Pool in the Park

Following consultation and significant public interest, the report proposes that Pool in the Park will remain open and continue to operate.

Analysis revealed Pool in the Park was one of the cheapest local swim facilities. Instead of a phased closure, operating shortfalls of approximately £400,000 will be met through increased swim fees and charges.

Centres for the community and day care facilities

Older people’s day care services will continue to be provided at Hale End Court in Old Woking.

However, in the wake of extensive consultation with service users day care services provided at The Vyne in Knaphill and St Mary’s in Byfleet will cease.

As part of this project, £140,000 of UK Shared Prosperity Funding has been allocated to allow time to find alternative service providers to run these community centres on a cost neutral basis or through community asset transfers.

Sports pavilions

The council is exploring ways to keep as many of the borough’s 13 sports pavilions open through community asset transfers. Following consultation, a number of groups have already expressed an interest in running these facilities.

As part of this project, £150,000 of UK Shared Prosperity Funding has been allocated to keep sports pavilions open whilst the community asset transfer process takes place.  

Voluntary organisation grants

Grants to voluntary and community groups would cease from 2024/25.

Voluntary and community groups have already received assistance in finding alternative sources of funding. In particular, UK Shared Prosperity Funding has been allocated to The Lightbox (£130,000) and Citizens’ Advice Woking (£30,000) to support them in transforming their business model and transitioning away from Woking Borough Council funding. The Lightbox building is owned by Woking Borough Council and providing these one-off funds represents a saving on costs that the council would otherwise incur for the premises.

Meanwhile, discussions are continuing with Woking Community Transport on options for support next year after their grant ends.

Neighbourhood services

The current high standard of grounds maintenance and street cleaning services will be scaled back to statutory levels. Litter bin emptying, tree works and other public safety related works will continue unaffected.

Economic development services

Business liaison and support services will be scaled back. Instead, the council will work with Surrey County Council’s economic development team, along with local business networks such as Woking Chamber of Commerce.

The council has also allocated £50,000 of UK Shared Prosperity Funding to facilitate the creation of a Woking Place Board to bring together businesses to work collaboratively to promote Woking as a place to do business.

Public toilets

All public toilets will close, except those located in Victoria Place and Wolsey Walk in Woking Town Centre. The council will instead signpost to alternative locations, such as participating cafes and other council facilities.

Fees and charges

To meet increased service pressure and inflationary costs, it is necessary to increase fees and charges across a variety to services. A benchmarking exercise against councils of comparable size was undertaken to ensure increases are fair and reasonable.

Council staff

To reflect these service changes a council-wide staff restructure is underway. Through the redeployment of staff to vacant posts and core service areas, the need for redundancies will be kept to a minimum. However, there will be a loss of up to 60 staff.

These proposals will be discussed at a meeting of the Executive on Thursday 1 February 2024, ahead of a final decision being taken by Council on Thursday 8 February 2024.

This year’s Council Tax and budget will be set at a meeting of Council on Monday 4 March 2024.

Read the General Fund Budget Executive report

Watch the Executive meeting at 7pm, Thursday 1 February 2024