Rushmoor Borough Council’s Cabinet is recommending proposals that will allow it to set a balanced budget for the coming financial year, alongside a below-inflation council tax rise.
Like many others, the council is facing major financial challenges brought about by a number of factors, including current economic conditions.
These include increased running costs because of inflation, an on-going cap on council tax increases, and continued limited grant from the government, which is likely to reduce further in future years.
The council has also seen the interest rates it pays more than double on what was expected on its borrowing. This borrowing supports essential town centre regeneration schemes and the council’s commercial property investments that in turn bring in significant income which it uses to help fund services.
The Cabinet agreed at its meeting on Tuesday (6 February) to recommend to full council that Rushmoor draws on its reserves to be able to set a balanced budget for the new financial year beginning on 1 April.
This would allow for a 2.99% increase in its share of the council tax – or £6.56 a year more for a Band D property.
Recognising that many people are still struggling with the cost of living, the Cabinet also agreed to recommend an increase in council tax support to give more help to the most vulnerable in the borough.
To make sure that it can continue to operate on a sound financial footing in future years, the council has drawn up a financial resilience plan, with five key areas for action.
This includes reducing its level of debt overall, including a review of its commercial properties to make sure they are providing the best return.
The council will also review its capital programme for the next three years and consider the best approaches for bringing forward future regeneration schemes, including seeking further external funding opportunities.
The review of the capital programme will also include the future funding of the Farnborough leisure and cultural hub. This project has received £20 million of government Levelling Up funding and the latest designs will be shared with the public in late February and early March. During the next few months, the council will be continuing to make sure that the full construction costs are understood before it agrees to move forward to the next stage of the project.
The council will also continue to deliver its existing savings and transformation programmes.
Councillor Paul Taylor, Rushmoor Borough Council’s Cabinet member for finance, said: “Like many other councils, we face exceptional financial challenges this year and going forward. We have been living with this issue for several years and have already made significant efforts to make savings and efficiencies within the council, while at the same time doing our best to maintain the services that are important to our customers.
“Similarly like many councils, we rely on borrowing to help fund major projects including our much-needed regeneration schemes and prudent commercial property investments that generate longer-term income for us. We currently have £167 million in short-term external borrowing, and although we rigorously assess any risk before we borrow, we have seen 14 rapid interest rate rises in the last two years, which have had a major impact on our budgets.
“In addition to the Levelling Up funding, which shows the confidence of central government in us, we have also been successful in securing new external funding, including £1.8 million towards regeneration and £1 million from the UK Shared Prosperity Fund to support projects including town centre events and activities and projects in our neighbourhoods. We will continue to pursue these opportunities for funding and bring forward the most important projects for our local communities.
“While we can set a balanced budget for this year, and are confident of doing so next year too, we will take the prudent actions we have set out in the robust resilience plan to make sure we will continue to do so in future years.”
The Cabinet approved a series of recommendations to full council including the adoption of a revised medium-term financial strategy, the council tax requirement for 2024/25, and noted the actions proposed in the council’s financial resilience plan. The full council is due to consider the recommendations at its meeting on Thursday 22 February.