Winchester City Council approves two year balanced budget
Winchester City Council has approved a budget that delivers service improvements, and provides investment for ambitious plans to tackle the climate emergency.
Whilst the council has found £2.5m annually in savings in recent years and continues to identify further efficiencies, sustained government cuts have created a shortfall increasing to nearly £6m to the organisation’s budget by 2023. The budget passed at Full Council sets out measures to ensure the organisation can ‘balance the books’ for the next 2 years, reduce future deficits, whilst investing in its priorities.
The council will commit £750,000 to support ambitious plans to become a carbon neutral council by 2024 and a carbon neutral district by 2030. This will include installing additional solar panels on council owned sites, developing a council-led flagship ultra-low energy ‘Passivhaus’ housing scheme and investing an additional £1m per year on energy and water efficiency measures to council housing stock.
Over the coming year, improvements to services will include: enhanced household recycling services and greener bin lorries; expanded Park & Ride provision including a Sunday service; and the delivery of a network of electric charge points. The council is on track to deliver the state of the art Winchester Sport and Leisure Centre at Bar End in spring 2021, whilst also investing in sports provision at Meadowside Leisure Centre in Whiteley. Plans for the major regeneration of central Winchester will receive additional funds and commercial business units are being built in Bishop’s Waltham. The council is building more council homes for those who most need them, with 121 under construction and plans in train for hundreds more. Works on a new flood scheme at Durngate in Winchester will also start in April.
To address the forecast deficit, the council will increase its portion of council tax bills by three per cent. This means from April, a band D property will pay an extra £4.17p a year less than the maximum possible of £5.00. Following consultation there was support for an increase in parking charges to help fund improved public transport, including in Winchester, the introduction of a £2 all day Sunday parking charge in the central ‘air quality management’ area car parks - evening parking charges to 7pm will also be introduced and reviewed in six months.
The aim is to reduce pollution and support the delivery of greener transport choices, including the new Sunday Park & Ride service. There are also plans to provide an enhanced garden waste collection service from February 2021 using wheeled bins as a chargeable service for those who take up the service.
A public consultation in December 2019 asking for views on options to balance the council budget received over 3,000 comments.
Cllr Neil Cutler, Lead Cabinet Member for Finance & Risk, said:
“Our council plan sets out commitments to improve service quality and tackle the climate emergency, whilst taking the responsible step to ‘balance the books’. This budget supports all these aims, whilst addressing the shortfall in finances stemming from sustained cuts in national grants. Plugging these gaps has meant taking difficult choices. We asked people what matters most ahead of making these decisions in order to put the council on a sound financial footing.”