Reading Borough Council (RBC) is planning to use £3 million of reserves “out of necessity” to make sure it delivers a balanced budget this year.

All local authorities must deliver a balanced budget every year by law but the council’s draft budget, released in December, left it with a £5 million gap for 2021/22.

The finalised budget, which will be voted on next Tuesday alongside the medium-term financial strategy, February 23, sets out how the council plans to plug the £5 million gap, including increases to council tax.

READ MORE: Reading households could pay £84 more in council tax hike

This council will balance the budget with £2.8 million of reserves, an increase to the adult social care council tax precept of three per cent and additional savings made by children’s services company Brighter Futures for Children (BFfC).

Council tax is set to increase by 4.99 per cent

Council tax is set to increase by 4.99 per cent

Assistant director of finance Peter Robinson, speaking at RBC’s Policy committee, where the plans were endorsed ahead of next week’s vote, said the reserves had to be used “out of necessity” as the council did not want to “put forward unnecessary savings and there were a lot of savings already”.

He added: “I am pleased the council has put money aside like this for years like this. This can only be on a one-off basis.”

RBC has been unable to balance its three-year medium term financial strategy budget fully, with a further £3.6 million of savings needed in the next two years.

Mr Robinson said the council tax increase increase of three per cent for adult social care, which will be combined with a 1.99 per cent increase in council tax, is “something a majority of councils have done” this year.

The budget for 2021-2022 includes £14 million of savings, with £28 million across the three years, while spending plans include:

  • £9 million road and pavement resurfacing
  • More than £40 million on leisure facilities including pools in Rivermead and Palmer Park
  • £1.5 million on the new food waste collection service
  • £7 million on energy saving measures in buildings and renewable energy infrastructure
  • £20 million on Green Park Station, and £3.2 million on the refurbishment of Reading West Station
  • More than £30 million for estate regeneration and new affordable council homes, including accommodation for rough sleepers
  • £43m on “modern and fit for purpose” sheltered housing for older people, and supported accommodation and day facilities for vulnerable adults
  • £9m on Hamilton School to provide spaces for children with special educational needs, alongside £4.5m on the conversion of The Avenue offices to provide additional Special Education Needs school places

Commercial property spending has been removed from the budget ‘due to restrictions on borrowing and risks’.

The councils commercial property portfolio

The council's commercial property portfolio

READ MORE: Council scraps £180 million commercial property spending spree

Assistant director of finance Peter Robinson said the budget is “robust” but said the public consultation response had been "disappointing" and "quite low".

The plans also include a new one-off additional grant for people on the local council tax support grant, giving residents in need £70.

RBC will also review the council tax support scheme again “to make it more generous”.

Mr Robinson also confirmed that the leisure contract with GLL for two new swimming pools in Palmer Park and Rivermead will go ahead, and said this “will produce savings in the long-term”.

Green councillor Rob White raised concerns about the budget, saying he wants “people and planet put first” and the climate policies “don’t go far enough”.

He also called the budget consultation a “sham”, citing a lack of detail on what the council planned to do.

Cllr White said: “If RBC had consulted on the detail of what it planned to do, there would have been a far greater response… As usual, RBC consult but don’t listen.”

And he raised concerned about plans to cut some care packages, cuts to public health services such as the drug and alcohol services, cuts to pay and conditions of some of RBC staff and the amount of BFfC savings planned.

Other councillors chose not to speak on the budget, with a full discussion to take place at next week’s Full Council meeting.

However, Cllr Brock did respond to the comment on BFfC, saying its budget would be set separately at a later date, with details to come at a future Policy committee meeting.

There were no objections to ‘nodding through’ the budget for a decision at Full Council next week.

At the meeting, councillors approved new penalties for failing to inform the council about changes to council tax or housing benefits that could affect eligibility.