Described as 'incredibly difficult', the billion pound plans focus primarily on next year. This is due to the uncertainties over future funding levels given the on-going effects of the coronavirus pandemic and comes the day after a third lockdown was announced by the Government.
Cabinet's proposals, which factor in the increasing demand for services and loss of income to the council as a result of the pandemic, are being seen as a 'Covid-19 response and recovery' budget. However, the proposals also include investment in key service areas such as schools and school improvement, road maintenance, strategic transport and infrastructure projects, waste, housing and homelessness and leisure centres. A small amount of the council's reserves (£115k) is also planned to be used to help balance the books and reduce future identified risks.
Speaking after the Cabinet meeting, Leader of the Council, Martin Tett said the pandemic was having a momentous effect on budget planning. "While we are grateful for the significant Government grants we are getting to cope with the effects of the virus, it remains incredibly difficult to deliver a legally balanced budget. Yesterday's lockdown announcement just highlights the uncertainty and the difficulty of knowing what's round the next corner.
"That said, we believe these proposals are realistic, flexible, and most importantly, affordable to local taxpayers given the circumstances. Indeed, the Government proposes councils increase the amount they raise specifically for Adult Social Care by 3%, however, while there remains acute pressures in adult social care, we believe that this would not be reasonable given the pressure on residents' finances as a result of Covid. We are therefore proposing only to increase this by 2%, rather than the 3% allowed by Government.
"While I see this as a budget that manages current pressures, it's also a budget that paves the way for longer term economic recovery post-Covid, which invests in infrastructure and also puts us firmly in the starting blocks to help rebuild Buckinghamshire and importantly jobs, after the pandemic ends."
The proposals will now go on to be fully scrutinised next week by a special cross-party Budget Select Committee. Their findings will be presented to Cabinet on 16 February so Cabinet members can agree the final budget proposals to be presented to the full Council at its meeting on 24 February.