Wokingham Liberal Democrats are outraged that the Conservatives on Wokingham Borough Council have approved a budget which doesn’t stack up. Hidden in the budget papers was a reference to ‘significant supplementary estimates’. This means that the Conservatives have failed to put funding in the budget to cover all their planned spending.
Cllr Prue Bray, leader of the Liberal Democrats on Wokingham Borough Council, said: ‘The Conservatives know they are going to spend money that they haven’t put in the budget. This sleight of hand is unprecedented in the history of budget setting at Wokingham Borough Council. I just wonder what the Conservatives are trying to hide.
‘If the Conservatives had included this money in the budget, the Council Tax increase would have been much, much higher. By playing a trick like this, they are keeping the Council Tax increase artificially low. That might seem good to residents in the short-term, but the Conservatives must not sacrifice services after the local elections to pay for this budgetary illusion. I am sure that the Conservatives would rather have kept this ruse under wraps until after the local elections in May, when it will be too late for voters to do anything about it. Now it is out in the open, they cannot just magic it away.’
Wokingham Liberal Democrats are demanding that Conservative-run Wokingham Borough Council has a more open and honest budget setting process in place before next year, which provides more detail of what they plan to spend money upon.
Cllr Kay Gilder, Liberal Democrat Councillor for South Lake said: ‘Last year’s budget papers included the term “rationalisation of pavilions”. This turned out to mean leaving sports clubs who were playing on the council’s pitches with nowhere to change and nowhere to go to the toilet. Another was “savings on maintenance” which turned out to mean removing all the dog poo bins.
‘Nobody could possibly have guessed what was going to happen to those two services by reading the budget. There was no detail and no explanation, so how could anyone have understood what the figures really meant and how the cuts in spending would affect the services?
‘This year’s budget is equally mysterious. How can we have a sensible discussion about council services and the way money is spent if the necessary information is hidden away with no proper detail and no explanation of what the figures mean in practice for council services?
‘We need a little less concentration on transformation and a little more concentration on transparency.’
The Conservative’s £5.5 million ICT Strategy was voted through at the Council meeting on Thursday night. The strategy involves building up a more comprehensive database of information about residents and switching to providing Council services via self-help through the web, and is a key element of the Conservative’s transformation programme.
Speaking on behalf of the Liberal Democrats, Cllr Phil Challis expressed his doubts about the strategy: ‘We do agree that an ICT Strategy is required. You only have to look at the Council’s current website to know that. But is this the right strategy and has it been properly thought through?
‘ICT consultants are great at selling you the future but how often is that future actually delivered? Government and business ICT projects at all levels fail with amazing regularity. And they often cost a lot more than was first budgeted. This ICT Strategy lacks any analysis of the risks of the something going wrong.
‘Another of our concerns is about confidential data being lost. This Strategy does not properly cover the increased security that is needed if the Council is holding more of our residents’ personal data all in a single computer database.
‘The Tories are pinning their hopes for the future on the transformation programme, which is fundamentally linked to this ICT Strategy. I hope for the sake of all our Council Tax payers that their faith in this strategy is well-founded.’