Published: Wednesday, 13 December 2023
Oadby & Wigston Borough Council (OWBC) has made a number of key and difficult decisions in order to deliver a balanced budget for 2024/25.
Like many other councils across the country, OWBC is facing unprecedented financial challenges due to continuing long-term cuts to funding in addition to more recent pressures around inflation, homelessness and national pay awards for staff.
At its Full Council meeting on Tuesday 12 December, councillors agreed to a number of interventions to move the council closer to delivering a balanced budget in 2024/25.
These include an increase to car parking charges and resolving to introduce alternate weekly household bin collections in the second half of 2024, as opposed to the current system of collecting both waste and recycling every week.
It is also proposed that the council will increase its portion of council tax by 2.99% - the equivalent of £7.38 per year for a Band D household - from 1 April. Housing rents for council tenants are pencilled in to increase by 7.7%.
Cllr Samia Haq, Leader of OWBC, said: “We have reached a point where our budget gap for 2024/25 alone is in excess of £1million and we simply no longer have enough money in our reserves to balance the books.
“Raising extra income, changing the way we deliver services and increasing council tax are the only options open to us at this point and this is a painful reality for our councillors.
“However, we must survive and protect our key services, which our officers strive to deliver with passion and dedication day in and day out. To do this, difficult decisions have to be made.
“For some time, there has been a strong argument for reducing the regularity of waste collections. This supports our green agenda, encourages people to reduce, reuse and recycle, while also improving the council’s carbon footprint in terms of fuel usage.”
The council expects to spend £8.81million in 2024/25 but will raise only £7.54million from funding, council tax and other sources of income, creating a predicted negative budget gap of £1.26 million.
Its reserves – funds primarily used to be held for emergency use – will stand at £1.6million by 1 April 2024. In approving its budget proposals for 2024/25, councillors have agreed that using any more of those reserves would put the council at an intolerable risk.
Other councils, most notably Birmingham City and Nottingham City, have been forced to issue section 114 notices, effectively declaring themselves bankrupt. This is something OWBC is keen to avoid.
Leicestershire and Leicester City have also issued serious warnings over the state of their finances in recent weeks.
Cllr Haq continued: “Issuing a section 114 notice, as we’ve seen other councils forced to do, isn’t a solution and will simply force us to make the changes that are already inevitable in an even more drastic way.
“We are one of just many councils that have been pleading for a fairer funding deal in recent years, and I’ve written to Michael Gove to express that the current system simply isn’t fit for purpose.
“Unfortunately, until we see change, it is the general public that will continue to count the cost, not only in Oadby & Wigston, but across the country. It is with an incredibly heavy heart we are agreeing to these service changes and increases for our 2024/25 budget, but we simply have no alternative.”