Proposals that will deliver over £8 million in council service-related savings have been approved by councillors during a meeting of Council (Thursday 8 February 2024). The decision will support the delivery of a balanced budget for the next financial year.
During the meeting, councillors also agreed an additional package of support for Citizens’ Advice Woking (CAW) which will assist them in finding alternative financial streams and transition away from council funding.
In addition to £179,000 financial and in-kind support, the council is offering a further £50,000 to CAW to recruit a Hardship Coordinator on a 12 month contract bringing the total support package to £229,000 for 2024/2025.
Speaking after the meeting, Cllr Ann-Marie Barker, Leader of Woking Borough Council, said: “Let me be clear. The financial crisis we face is complex and cannot be resolved in the short-term. Adoption of these proposals is an important first step towards our objective to live within our means and return Woking to long-term financial sustainability.
“We have listened to resident feedback and looked for innovative solutions wherever possible. We have found a way to keep Pool in the Park open, put in place arrangements for community groups to take ownership of important facilities, whilst supporting valued organisations to transition away from council funding to achieve their own long-term sustainability.
“I particularly welcome the improved financial package for Citizens’ Advice Woking who do great work to support the most vulnerable in our borough. I know many residents had strong views about the impact of any reduction in funding, so I welcome a way for residents, who can, to show their support by financially contributing towards Citizens’ Advice Woking through the Woking Community Fund and support the borough’s voluntary sector.
“I’m also pleased to confirm that Woking Community Transport will provide a day care service to Hale End Court and, a reduced but equally highly valued, dial-a-ride service for 2024/25. This would be reviewed annually as part of the council’s Medium-Term Financial Strategy.
“These services have been secured within the budget proposed tonight and shows a strong, resilient and well-established partnership that is collectively focused on the needs of residents.
“I know residents will find any reduction in services difficult at this time. These are decisions I did not want to make. However, they are necessary to ensure that the council can continue to provide essential services to residents whilst supporting the delivery a balanced budget in March.”
Details of the key service-related savings agreed are outlined below.
Pool in the Park
Following consultation and significant public interest, Woking’s Pool in the Park will remain open and continue to operate. Instead of a phased closure, operating shortfalls will be met through increased swim fees and reduced concessions to community groups.
Centres for the community and day care facilities
Older people’s day care services will only continue to be provided at Hale End Court in Old Woking.
Woking’s four Centres for the Community (Moorcroft in Old Woking; Parkview in Sheerwater; St Mary’s in Byfleet; and The Vyne in Knaphill) will remain open to the public and available for community hire. £140,000 of UK Shared Prosperity Funding has been allocated to allow time to find alternative service providers to run these centres on a cost neutral basis or through community asset transfer.
The council is working positively with local sports clubs to take over the management of sports pavilions through community asset transfers that will ensure as many of these facilities can remain open.
As part of this work, £150,000 of UK Shared Prosperity Funding has been allocated to keep sports pavilions open whilst the community asset transfer process is undertaken.
Voluntary organisation grants
Grants to voluntary and community groups will cease from 2024/25.
Voluntary and community groups have already received assistance to find alternative sources of funding. In particular, UK Shared Prosperity Funding has been allocated to The Lightbox (£130,000) - without which it was likely that The Lightbox would need to close. As the building’s owner, the council would incur substantial ongoing costs of more than £170,000. Whilst an enhanced package of support for Citizens’ Advice Woking totalling £229,000 will help transform their business model and transition away from council funding.
Meanwhile, Woking Community Transport will operate a day care service to Hale End Court and a reduced dial-a-ride service for 2024/25. These services were secured within budget and will be reviewed annually as part of the council’s Medium-Term Financial Strategy.
The current high standard of grounds maintenance and street cleaning services will be scaled back to statutory levels. Litter bin emptying, tree works and other public safety related works will continue unaffected.
Services, such as independent living and family services, are in the process of being transferred to Surrey County Council or other boroughs which means they will continue to operate as normal with no impact to services users.
Economic development services
Business liaison and support services will be scaled back. Instead, the council will work with Surrey County Council’s economic development team, along with local business networks such as Woking Chamber of Commerce.
The council has also allocated £50,000 of UK Shared Prosperity Funding to facilitate the creation of a Woking Place Board to bring together businesses to work collaboratively to promote Woking as a place to do business.
All public toilets will close, except those located in Victoria Place and Wolsey Walk in Woking Town Centre. The council will instead signpost to alternative locations and other council facilities.
Fees and charges
To meet increased service pressure and inflationary costs, fees and charges will increase across a variety of services. These increases have been benchmarked against councils of comparable size to ensure increases are fair and reasonable.
To reflect these service changes a council-wide staff restructure has been undertaken. Through the redeployment of staff to vacant posts and core service areas, the need for redundancies will be kept to a minimum. However, there will be a loss of up to 60 staff.
It is expected that many of these council service-related changes will commence from Tuesday 2 April 2024.
This year’s Council Tax and budget will be set at a meeting of Council on Monday 4 March 2024.
The overall package of support provided by Woking Borough Council to Citizens’ Advice Woking is £229,000 for 2024/25 which consists of:
- £10,000 funding to provide the Court Desk Service from the Homelessness Prevention Grant.
- £24,500 funding for the Ukrainian Hub and Syrian and Afghan Refugee Support.
- £30,000 funding from UK Shared Prosperity Fund to support the transition to a new business model.
- £50,000 from the Council’s proposed Hardship Fund for a Hardship Co-ordinator post (exact name of post to be agreed).
- Continue to allow CAW to use office space at Provincial House, which has a rateable value of £41,250.
- Continue to cover £69k for services charges.
- Will provide up to £4,120.28 in discretionary business rates relief.