West Berkshire Council Weeknotes #77
In this week's blog read more about our spending plans for the year ahead.
We would like to use this fortnight's update talk more about this year's annual budget. The papers relating to this year's budget will be released next week for our Executive meeting on the 10th February prior to Council debating and voting on this crucial item for the Council on the 3rd March. We wanted, however, to give a bit of an overview of our plans ahead of time and to encourage you to look out for them when they are published.
How the Council is financed and spends its money remains a crucial issue for us; the pandemic and our recovery strategy have highlighted the importance of continued investment in our district and the services we delivery to ensure West Berkshire remains a great place to live. We're proud of the draft budget we've put together and the benefits it will see for the district, if approved.
The Government has announced some welcome new funding streams this year, but the rising costs of inflation and increasing demand are putting significant financial pressure on the Council as well as all of us, bringing with them increased costs of goods and services. For this reason, we must plan our budget accordingly so that we can continue to deliver the strong long services our residents need.
The budget will also include our capital budget where the areas for long term investment in the district's infrastructure will be set out for the coming years, including for education, highways and the environment. In recent years, our capital investment has seen the opening of two brand new local schools with improvements in many others, the installation of flood alleviation schemes to protect hundreds of local homes and many other projects. Through careful financial stewardship we will continue to invest so that West Berkshire continues to be a great place to live, work and learn. From schools to solar farms, from roads to care homes, targeting funding where it's needed most and delivering on our priorities: helping local businesses thrive, ensuring we're carbon neutral by 2030 and securing better outcomes for everyone in the district.
This week has also seen the easing of some of the Covid restrictions which came in as part of Plan B arrangements late last year. While this can be seen as good news, as it takes us one step closer to a return to normal, we know that many of you are likely to remain cautious for some time as the virus has not gone away.
This easing, does, however mean that we can start to think about the year ahead in much more positive terms and about getting out and about in the district. Throughout the pandemic, supporting our local businesses has been a priority for us as we recognised they were likely to be among the most impacted. For this reason, we deferred business rates at the very start of the pandemic and have issued over 9000 grants totalling £53m to local firms in the past 18 months. As we look to the coming months, we can all help to get local businesses back on their feet. Whether by using the local shop, visiting the high street or dining out, we can show our support for our favourites as they look to recover from the most difficult trading period they will have ever experienced.
For our part, we continue to issue Omicron Grants and will also soon be unveiling the final version of the Newbury Town Centre Masterplan, which will recommend further investment in infrastructure and initiatives to help local businesses to thrive. As we have previously mentioned, similar exercises will soon commence in the district's other towns shortly to consider what investment they need and we will continue all the support we can to businesses who approach us for help.
One thing we are also considering at the moment is how we in West Berkshire can contribute to the national celebrations of the Queen's Platinum Jubilee. We've already begun to receive requests from some of our parish councils for road closures or licences and will be finalising our own plans in the next few weeks. This is likely to include information packs for local people who want to hold street parties as well as events at the Museum, Shaw House and across the district. We are very much looking forward to celebrating this momentous occasion and everything that has been achieved during Her Majesty's 70 year reign, which will undoubtedly be a great opportunity for the community to come together for the first time in some time.
We finish, as always, by wishing you a happy, healthy fortnight ahead.