Focus on Five: Safeguarding Finances
Cllr Christopher Hall explains what safeguarding finances means for the council and for residents.
My name is Christopher Hall. I'm the Liberal Democrat member for Broadwater and also the Portfolio holder for Finance and Performance. Safeguarding the Council's Finances is not surprisingly my principal mission in life, but it's something that touches every aspect of the work the Council does.
The Council delivers a wide variety of invaluable services, and these can only be supported if there's a solid financial base upon which to provide residents with what they need. Inflation has sky-rocketed which has an impact on our costs. Couple that with the withdrawal of funding from central government, and it makes the task of balancing the budget extremely challenging. We can't afford to spend more than we earn or draw on our reserves to plug the gap without running out of money. That's why we need to take action now to put the Council's finances on a stable trajectory for the next few years.
As a resident of Tunbridge Wells since the year 2000 I have seen the town change a lot. It's a wonderful place to live, but as society changes so do our hopes and expectations of what makes for a good quality of life. There are more demands for safer streets that encourage cycling and walking, good quality sports and leisure facilities, progress on de-carbonisation and a vibrant local economy. We can only make progress with any of these things if we have stable government finances.
We made progress last year on improving our income to pay for services. I appreciate it's never going to be a popular move but we had to take action to increase fees and charges as well as parking charges in 2022. Before that parking charges hadn't been raised since 2017 so were not even keeping up with inflation. This has helped us raise much need extra revenues to support services and helped us to turn the finances around in time for this coming budget year 2023 - 2024. I am mindful of the cost of living crisis and uppermost in my mind is also balancing this with trying to keep increases to an affordable level.
In my budget speech to the Council on 1st March I outlined a three point strategy for getting the finances on a sustainable footing. Increasing revenue was the first. Second was to look at any efficiency savings that could be made in the budget. The council gets audited every year, and one of the main recommendations was that the Council implement a savings plan. We're nearing the end of that process and will look at what savings we can make over the summer. This isn't as draconian as it sounds, as a sensible pruning of certain expenses is the most likely outcome. Thirdly, the Council owns around £102m worth of assets, maintaining them at a considerable cost. We need to look at disposing of any that are no longer showing good value for the tax payer.
If we can continue to implement the 3 point budget plan this year, I am confident that we can get to a position where the finances become less of a key focus and more of a stable platform that we can build from in the future. This will support the other 4 key areas of the Focus on Five as we strive to improve the quality of life for all our residents.
If you'd like to share your opinions on the way the council safeguards its finances, you can share them by taking part in our residents survey on Talking Point.