Financial difficulties, mounting care pressures and rules for where new homes can be built are among the biggest challenges that Reading Borough Council faces in 2024.

Just before the end of the year, the Local Democracy Reporting Service spoke with councillor Jason Brock, the leader of the council, about the issues he hopes to tackle this year.

Cllr Brock (Labour, Southcote) has written before about declining council finances.

Despite an increasing financial burden, he is confident that the council is not in a position of bankruptcy.

Other councils around the country have issued Section 114 notices, where a council declares itself bankrupt, with government commissioners being appointed to manage the council's finances.

These notices have been issued by Birmingham City, Nottingham City, Croydon and famously in Slough in 2021.

Cllr Brock said: "We are fortunate in Reading that relative to the other councils around us that we are in a financially robust position but all the same it is a very challenging period.

"So, look up and down the country you see local authorities issuing Section 114 notices, effectively declaring them bankrupt and others considering that option.

READ MORE: Pressure mounts on council services such as childcare and tackling homelessness

"In Reading we had a moment of acute financial crisis and actually since 2016 we've been very prudent and rebuilt our reserves, so we're finally well placed to weather the storm.

"But frankly the way in which the government has gone about the funding of local authorities for a great number of years now means that it is going to be a continual struggle to ensure that our budget balances as it must do by law."

While the council has had success in its capital programmes such as securing funding for the Central Library and Hexagon upgrade, but continued difficulties with funding frontline services.

The council has come under financial pressure due to the mounting cost of looking after children under the council's care, and support for adults in care as well.

Cllr Brock said: "The vast majority of what we do comes from the revenue budget and we cannot borrow for day-to-day expenditure.

"So delivering adult social care services, children's services, picking up the bins, running the libraries, all of this requires the revenue budget, which is where we have the biggest challenge."

A major priority for the council will be getting approved housing and social care facilities built.

This year, the council's planning applications committee approved four council developments at Battle Street, Hexham Road, Dwyer Road and Amethyst Lane.

Cllr Brock said: "We want to deliver as quickly as we can acknowledging the construction sector is not quite as quick as it used to be. There is a shortage of labour and an increase in costs in the construction sector, so it's definitely challenging getting those things over the line but we want to do all we can to deliver as quickly as possible.

"They are very high quality homes as well so they are not the kind of thing that you can throw up overnight. But as a country we need to take this much more seriously.

"There was a time after WW2 when we built a phenomenal number of homes very quickly.

"Some were perhaps not as high quality as others, but if you look around Reading you can see the evidence of that building work in areas like Southcote that were entirely built after WW2, but that requires a national effort.

"I don't think the present government show any interest in really dealing with the issue at all."

The council is currently engaged in updating its Local Plan as well.

The Local Plan update will see sites that could contain hundreds of apartments earmarked for development.

While cllr Brock is eager to see more family-sized homes built, a number of proposed sites involve conversions from offices to flats.

READ MORE: Five huge Reading offices could be converted into flats in the near future 

He said: "We've very sceptical about office conversions and we would like to see fewer occurring under permitted development rights, because they are not high quality developments and they are often on the smaller end of the spectrum both in terms of bedrooms and in terms of physical space.

"The way that one might design and build an office is rarely suitable for the way that one would wish to have residential development.

"You can tell an office and a block of flats, and they don't look that similar?

"It's fairly obvious that they are built in a different way. So we would like to see fewer of those rush job developers who are just trying to make a quick buck."

A consultation on the Local Plan update closes on Wednesday, January 31.

There are hopes that a report on the consultation will be delivered before the local elections in May.