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Royal Borough overspend is 'reality of what is happening in the world' says finance councillor

Councillors discussed the ‘very open, detailed and precise financial paper’ detailing the Royal Borough’s overspend of £4,179,000 at a cabinet meeting yesterday evening.

The meeting at Maidenhead Town Hall was the first chaired by new leader of the council, Cllr Andrew Johnson (Con, Hurley and Walthams), following Simon Dudley’s resignation on September 19.

To open the meeting Cllr Johnson said: “I just want to reinstate my commitment to adopting a slightly different approach to my predecessor both in terms of tone, style and vision going forward.”

“It is of course no secret that I inherit a challenging position as leader of this authority,” he said.

“But I will say right from the out-set this council is committed to pronounced improvements and delivering a balanced budget going forward.”

Cllr Johnson then announced a cabinet shake-up with councillors given new responsibilities including himself who is now cabinet member for business, economic development and property.

Cllr Ross McWilliams (Con, Cox Green) was given a place back on the cabinet and is member for housing, communications and young people engagement.

The council’s financial troubles came to light in a report published by The Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy (CIPFA) – which was commissioned by the Royal Borough’s managing director Duncan Sharkey.

Cllr David Hilton (Con,  Ascot and Sunninghill) said: “We had concerns that were raised in the report, confirmed those concerns, and we are working to address the issues that CIPFA raised.”

The biggest overspends have come from children’s services (£1,421,000), adult social care (£1,430,000) and reduced parking income (£490,000).

Cllr Hilton said the overspends encountered by the council are just the ‘reality of what is happening in the world’.

“We are not immune from the demographic growth in the demand for adult social care and children’s care – we are affected in exactly the same way as other counties up and down the country.”

The adult social care overspend is  driven by the number of elderly people in need (about 2,000 in the borough) and increased costs– which is driven by the growth in need.

Cllr Hilton said: “In these circumstances it seems very appropriate to announce there will be no member capital bids.”

That refers to requests councillors put in for the borough to spend on various projects.

He added: “Capital does impact the revenue budget and spend must be fully aligned with the council’s, and not individual councillors’, priorities.”

Cllr Carroll expressed his view that going over budget for adult and children’s services is not something to apologise for but recognises the monetary impact.

He said: “Let’s be really clear about this, we will protect vulnerable people, that comes at a cost – cost comes second, the protection comes first.

“We will work through that, we will deliver a balanced budget but we’re not going to sacrifice vulnerable people, 100 per cent no.”

Cllr Carroll said it’s ‘a fantastic thing’ that people are living longer and ‘we’ve got to look at this as a positive challenge.”

Looking at distribution in the Royal Borough he said it is ‘at the higher end of that aging population’.

He said he is ‘delighted’ that the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, Matt Hancock MP, has bought forward a ten year plan and a ‘prevention’ green paper.

He said: “It’s crucial that we start placing much greater emphasis on prevention and not just reaction and cure.”

The council is working on a five year transformation plan for adult social care and will be liaising with central government.

He said: “I’m sure that there’s an appropriate funding model coming through to assist us with these imperatives.”

Cllr Carroll also said the Royal Borough has an ‘excellent children’s services team and a fantastic social services team’ which has greatly improved over the last six years.

He said: “What that does mean is we are frankly better at identifying vulnerable children, I make no apology for that, that’s a good thing, that’s a positive thing, because there’s nothing more important than that but of course that does come at a cost.”

On the parking overspend Cllr Johnson referred to the recent changes to parking operations in pay and display car parks.

“Do I think that was handled to the best of all abilities, I do not, a review is currently underway as has been reported in the press a while ago that an independent investigation was being implemented.

“The result of which will be available in due course and we will be taking action to improve the situation.”

He said that on a longer term basis Cllr David Cannon (Datchet, Horton and Wraysbury) will be taking parking forward parking ‘as an integrated approach in both strategy and enforcement’ giving a ‘much more unified and sensible structure to how we manage that particular department’.

He said: “We are still remaining committed as an administration to deliver those additional car parking spaces within Maidenhead.”

Cllr Helen Price (TBF, Clewer and Dedworth East), an opposition councillor who does not sit on the cabinet, said: “There’s nothing there that I didn’t know about people living longer about the needs of children and so I can’t understand why this wasn’t known when the budget was set.”

She said the ‘forecasting must be very poor’ and that she was ‘totally perplexed by this’.

Cllr Carroll said the forescast was at the higher end but ‘the inflationary pressure and the cost of places is higher than anticipated’ combined with economic uncertainty nationally.

He said the high-risk cases which cost most money are ‘impossible to forecast’.

“Unless you are a tarot reader or you’re clairvoyant it’s very, very difficult to know when you’re going to have those high risk cases,” which he said the borough has had recently.

Cllr Hilton said: “There is nothing that this council can do to stop people coming into Windsor and Maidenhead, with families, and when they do we are obligated to provide them the services that they need.”

He also said the budget is set in November/December and this is the budget which officers work with for the beginning of the financial year in April but that ‘things can change within that period of time’.

“I believe that one of the thoughts that is in the mind of Mr Sharkey is that we might just review these key points that make sure that we are in absolutely the right position going forward.

He added: “If something bad has happened then we can hopefully make some adjustment so that we don’t report overspends.”

Leader of the Lib Dems Cllr Werner (Lib Dem, Pinkneys Green) asked how much of that £4 million overspend would be carried over to next year, especially in light of council reserves ‘coming down considerably’.

Cllr Hilton said: “That is a really good question and that’s the question that I’m asking and that is the work the finance team are working on.

“So we do really need to understand what difference this is going to make to next year’s budget and we will have that information within the next month – that doesn’t mean to say that we’ll be publishing that in the next month.”

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