Alarm has been raised over the state of the council’s finances after the leader highlighted ‘serious issues’ affecting next year’s budget. 

Wokingham Borough Council leader Cllr Clive Jones talked of “very difficult” financial problems that the administration is facing during his opening remarks to the council’s executive last Thursday, for which he blamed the previous administration. 

He accused the Conservatives of “raiding reserves” to plug a £2.2m gap in this year’s budget, rather than taking the “tough decisions” to generate more revenue. 

Drawing the money from reserves for the current financial year meant the general reserve forecast was “reduced to £9m”, which Cllr Jones suggests means the “revenue hole remains” for next year. 

READ MORE: Bracknell Council says no cuts to services despite inflation

“We can’t use general reserves again because this will reduce them to below £7m which is something our finance director would not allow us to do. 

“It is of course something that we would not want to do. We don’t want the government to be crawling all over us,” he added. 

Leader of the Wokingham Conservatives, Cllr Pauline Jorgensen, denied this, claiming the reserves are “at a good level” and stated that the council is in the “top 20 most resilient in the country” for financial performance.  

“We did use some reserves in order to help cushion Wokingham Borough Residents from the impact of Covid and acted to protect local business by freezing car parking charges, this is after all what reserves are for, dealing with unexpected one-off events,” she added. 

Further criticisms were made against the previous administration regarding budgeting deficiencies, most notably in relation to 18 bus services, food caddy liners, and an £800,000 shortfall in car park revenue. 

READ MORE: More bullying accusations made against Bracknell Council

Cllr Jones also said there was “no provision” to complete the park & ride and made accusations that the Conservatives “knew about the overspend of £1.3m for six months” but failed to act and “didn’t budget to finish the project”. 

Cllr Jorgensen said there were “not serious budgeting issues” and pointed to £8m set aside in the budget for ‘growth’ and “an unprecedented £8m for inflation”. 

“We also allocated significant sums of money to support bus services as the Government Covid support for bus funding stopped in September.  

“When we left office, I am told that less than ten per cent of this had been spent. The Revenue budget also covered the cost of weekly waste collections and caddy liners,” Cllr Jorgensen explained.  

READ MORE: Bracknell Council appoint first female chief executive

Cllr Jones said the long-term impact of the pandemic, Brexit, inflation and interest rate rises provide the now Liberal Democrat run council with “unprecedented challenges”.   

Tough decisions to reduce costs or increase income, such as raising car park charges, “will need to be considered across all services” and Cllr Jones stressed this will be “extremely challenging”. 

“We don’t want to increase car park charges, but there is no alternative. […] It’s just as well we are running the administration now.”