Bankrupt Woking Borough Council agrees £8.4m of service and job cuts - but 10% tax hike pushed back a month

Woking Borough Council has approved £8.4 million of savings, including closing most public toilets, ending grants to voluntary and community groups and the loss of up to 60 staff.
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The council is to shed 20 per cent of its workforce, with discretionary leisure and care services taking the biggest hit.

Grant funding to community groups is going, replaced only with a one off payment to help them find new sources of funding, the Thursday evening (February 9) meeting heard.

Street cleaning will be paired back to “minimum levels of hygiene”, public toilets outside the down closing, and day centres paired back as the borough seeks to claw itself out of financial black hole of its own making that turned it into “the most indebted authority relative to its seize in the UK”.

Woking Borough Council has approved £8.4 million of savings, including closing most public toilets, ending grants to voluntary and community groups and the loss of up to 60 staff. Picture courtesy of GoogleWoking Borough Council has approved £8.4 million of savings, including closing most public toilets, ending grants to voluntary and community groups and the loss of up to 60 staff. Picture courtesy of Google
Woking Borough Council has approved £8.4 million of savings, including closing most public toilets, ending grants to voluntary and community groups and the loss of up to 60 staff. Picture courtesy of Google

Council leader Ann-Marie Barker said: “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.”

Pool in the Park swimming pool prices are going up and brakes have been applied to the borough’s dial-a-ride with a much reduced service being offered.

Ann-Marie Barker added: “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, whist supporting valued organisations 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’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.

“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 of a balanced budget in March.”

The anticipated 10 per cent council tax bombshell has been pushed back until March 4 to allow for more time to work with the Government for the treatment of debt – while a petition to allow the St Mary’s day centre to remain open for three months to allow volunteers to take over its running succeeded in buying the popular Byfleet site a stay of execution.

Introducing the budget to the Thursday, February 8, full council meeting was Councillor Dale Roberts, portfolio holder for finance.

He said: “Before us this evening are papers that no one wished to write, based on work that no officer wanted to carry out to proceed with recommendations on which no member wants to decide. Yet they did, and they were, and we must.

“This administration made a commitment to deliver responsible finances.”

In May last year the Government sent commissioners to take over the running of the council due to the scale of its debt. A month later it declared itself effectively bankrupt with a debt spiralling towards £2.6billion and a deficit of £1.2billion and expected to grow to £1.5bn by 2025.

Cllr Roberts said: “Those numbers are staggering.

“In short the full horror of Woking’s finances was only truly revealed eight months ago.”

Without further Government support the council still expects to be in £780 million of unpayable debt.

He said: “The sheer scale of these numbers, billions of borrowing, hundreds of millions in deficit are almost inconceivable.

“It’s easy to be indifferent to those numbers. I can feel it already in this chamber…It’s game over, man.”

Cllr Roberts closed the debate saying: “The money-go-round has stopped.

“The reality is we are a council in intervention.”