Conservative led Wiltshire Council has provided an update on its finances as it seeks to meet the ongoing challenges brought on by the pandemic, while continuing to invest in quality services and programmes to improve the county and strengthen communities.
The first quarter of the financial year has now passed so Wiltshire Council can report on its revenue budget monitoring, capital programme, and medium term financial strategy. The updates will formally be presented at the council's next cabinet meeting on 14 September.
Revenue Budget monitoring
Wiltshire Council's revenue budget of £412.526m for 2021/22 was agreed by councillors in February this year. Currently, after the first few months of the financial year, there is a forecasted annual underspend of £1.762m. The budget for this financial year is supported by £20.301m of one off Hardship and Emergency Funding Grant from Government.
Due to the uncertainty of the circumstances and the demand on certain services, this budget was set as a one-year holding position which recognised the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on funding and income generating services in areas such as car parking and leisure.
It is likely any forecasts at this stage may fluctuate throughout the year as circumstances and demand change, but the council's Cabinet and corporate leadership team constantly monitor the situation and will be quick to react as and when required.
At the meeting on 14 September, an update will also be provided on the council's capital programme. The programme's budget was agreed as £214m in February, and the revised forecasted figure after quarter one currently stands at just over £224m. The purpose of the capital programme is to acquire, develop, improve or maintain various facilities and other infrastructure to the benefit of residents.
The pandemic has impacted the capital programme, with schedules changing and some money reprogrammed into future years. One of the proposed additions to the 2021/22 programme is the possibility of purchasing additional residential care provision to further support looked after children in the county and give them the best opportunities to thrive. The Department for Education has launched a brand-new capital funding programme to aid local authorities to establish or develop current children's home placements, with the goal of improving provision to meet the needs of young people in their care. The DfE capital grant will require 50% match funding from the local authority which members are asked to approve at the meeting. There is only limited funding available from the DfE, so successful applications will need to meet the objectives of the funding. These are in relation to innovative approaches, ensuring sufficient provision for children with more complex needs, and ensuring sufficiency in geographic areas with fewer children's homes. Should Wiltshire's application not be successful, Cabinet will be asked to consider funding two new children's homes and if so, a further costed evidenced business case will be shared.
Some of the other projects earmarked for capital funding include:
- repairs to school buildings
- school building expansions
- phase two of Porton Science Park development
- Salisbury and Trowbridge Future High Streets Fund work
- Silverwood School build
- completion of the council's LED streetlight projects which will see 40,000 lights converted
- flood prevention and pothole prevention maintenance
- completion of Melksham Community Campus,
- energy efficiency project work on the council's estate
Medium term financial strategy
An update on the medium term financial strategy, which will also be discussed at the upcoming cabinet meeting, currently forecasts a budget gap for 2022/23 of £40.9m. The council's cabinet will soon publish its first business plan since being elected in May, and this will outline their strategy and priorities going forward. The business plan will help inform how the funding gap will be bridged and ultimately closed altogether. The Government is also expected to undertake a comprehensive spending review in the Autumn, and the outcome of this will affect the council's finances going forward.
Conservative Cllr Pauline Church, Cabinet Member for Finance, Procurement and Commercial Investment, said:
Due to the ongoing impact of the pandemic, and all the unpredictability that comes along with it, the next few financial years will be crucial. Through our stringent planning and reporting we will continue to be transparent so that as a council we can all work together to ensure the communities of Wiltshire continue to be provided for with high quality services, despite the challenges we face.
Ultimately, tough decisions will need to be made and we are developing a clear strategy on how we will achieve balanced budgets in the future while not sacrificing our aim for the county to emerge as strong as possible from this unprecedented time.
We will look to find creative solutions which, in our experience, will see new innovative service delivery opportunities present themselves.
The agenda for the cabinet meeting on 14 September can be found at Link to cabinet agenda - 14 September 2021.