West Berkshire Council Weeknotes #79
In this week's blog we reflect on the invasion of Ukraine, our budget for the year ahead and the Levelling Up agenda.
We begin this update after a tumultuous few weeks on the international stage. Like many of you, we have been horrified to see the events taking place in Ukraine and have this week publicly . We stand with its people as they face the unthinkable atrocities of invasion and war and are ready to help in any way we can. This may take the form of welcoming refugees from Ukraine or offering other support; we will wait to hear from the Government as to how we can best do this and will keep you up to date with developments.
Although the conflict is taking place almost 2000 miles away, we know that many of us are feeling very concerned about what will happen in the coming days, weeks and months and what this will mean in the long term. Some residents may be from Ukraine themselves or have friends or family who live there, which will be a further source of anxiety. Please see the www.gov.uk pages for support for family members of British nationals in Ukraine, and Ukrainian nationals in the UK.
Yesterday we raised the Ukrainian flag at our Market Street offices ahead of our Full Council meeting to show our support with the people of Ukraine and our Chairman made a statement of solidarity at the beginning of the meeting. We are very proud of our record of helping refugees to settle in the UK and have recently welcomed people from Syria and Afghanistan to West Berkshire. While no announcements have yet been made about resettlement schemes from those fleeing Ukraine, we stand ready to play our part when the time comes as we have done in the past.
During the pandemic, the extraordinary warmth and compassion of our local community has been clear and we know that many of you will want to help in response to the situation in Ukraine. Anyone who wishes to donate to humanitarian efforts could consider doing so via the Red Cross or the Disasters Emergency Committee. If there are any further appeals for support as the situation changes, we will keep residents informed via our social media channels (@westberkshire) and via our newsletter, which you can sign up to at westberks.gov.uk/signup
Closer to home, our annual budget for 2022-23 was passed yesterday evening. We were pleased to deliver such a positive budget in a difficult financial climate. It contains a range of commitments to enhance and maintain the services on which our residents rely, including new spending on schools, transport and other infrastructure to promote post-pandemic recovery and renewal. For instance, the budget includes an extra £5.2 million for social care staff and services and funding for a new solar farm in Grazeley which is a key part of our plans to make West Berkshire net carbon zero by 2030.
This investment will be paid for in part by an increase in Council Tax 1% on core Council Tax and a 3% precept for Adult Social Care, the council's greatest area of expenditure. This equates to an additional £1.22 per week for a Band D property. We are conscious of the impact this will have on local families, so worked hard to keep below inflation, however increase demand for social care made it necessary for the 3% precept. However, we are confident that we are spending in areas that our residents want us to focus on.
You may also have seen that the Government's Levelling Up White Paper has been published, which details how funding will be used to help the country build back better after the pandemic. We welcome this paper and the principles behind it, which we feel will bring welcome investment to areas of the country which are most in need. As an affluent part of the country, West Berkshire will not attract as much of this as the majority of other areas so it will be vital for us to make the case to Government for additional investment in Berkshire so that we can help local people who are experiencing deprivation and improve our infrastructure. If you would like to read more about this, Lynne has written a piece for our Forward Together blog on the subject, which can be accessed here.
We finish this update by urging you to be kind and to look after yourselves and each other as we navigate these uncertain times.