Cabinet agrees last ever budget to include government support grant

County Council leaders have agreed the last budget to include the government’s main contribution towards day to day delivery of services, known as the Revenue Support Grant.

Government support, which only five years ago stood at £81.9m and amounted to 27.5% of the County Council’s spending, has fallen rapidly over the last few years as Whitehall has reduced funding as part of its strategy to balance the nation’s finances.

For the next financial year, which begins in April, the support grant will total £8m and in 2018/19 Bucks will become the first county council – alongside Dorset – not to receive it at all.

The budget will now go before full council on February 16.

Leader Martin Tett said the council had planned ahead and made ‘massive savings’, totalling over £100m in the last five years, including sharing back office functions with other councils, while also generating around £70m in income.

“As a result we are in a much more stable financial position. This really is a common-sense budget following challenging times, which will put Buckinghamshire on a sure footing going into the future.”

Cabinet members, who were subjected to three days of rigorous questioning over council finances by the budget select committee in January, agreed a 1.99% increase in standard council tax.

They also voted to implement the Government proposal for a 3% Social Care Precept to help cover the rising cost of social care. This is up from the 2% previously allowed and will raise a total of £7.5m during the next financial year.

However, use of the precept cannot exceed more than 6% over three years, so cabinet opted for 3% to be levied in both 2017/18 and 2018/19, but to not levy it at all in 2019/20.

Cabinet warned the spiralling cost of social care was a national problem due to a rapidly ageing population.

“The Government need to get a grip on this,” said Martin.

“The rising demand and cost pressures on social care won’t go away – we are in danger of having delayed the problem not solved it. The knock on consequences for the NHS of more older people needing to come into hospital and potentially staying there longer are immense.”

The council will have a £330.3m million revenue budget (excluding schools) for 2017/18, with a council tax requirement of £261.4m and a Band D county precept of £1,218.08 for the year. This equates to an £1.11p increase per week for Band D rate payers. Council tax remains below the average for county councils in the country.

There is also a capital budget of £324.0m over the next four years. This includes £15.9m to spend on highways maintenance in 17/18 and £13.5m in 18/19, up from what was planned in the draft budget.

Cabinet accepted the majority of the scrutiny committee’s recommendations, including a commitment not to further cut the number of local area technicians who act as the eyes and ears of the council on road and street lighting issues; that more funding is allocated towards maintaining the county’s drainage in order to avoid where possible the far higher costs associated with flooding; and that the wellbeing project, which has improved the life chances of disadvantaged residents in Wycombe and Chesham, be extended into Aylesbury, subject to a business case.

Budget scrutiny select committee chairman Bill Chapple said: “Overall I’m very impressed that the cabinet has listened to our recommendations and I’m pleased to see that the vast majority have been taken on board. The work done in this review has shown the budget to be robust.

“The budget was examined in an open and transparent way – for the first time members of the public were able to submit questions which were then put to the relevant cabinet member during the hearings.”