Agenda item

Draft Corporate Plan and Budget (Agenda Item 7)

Report of the Interim Corporate Improvement and Performance Manager.

Minutes:

The Executive Director Place gave a short presentation which provided Members with a high level strategic overview of the budget to give them an interpretation of the ‘big picture’.

 

For 2015/16 the Council had a balanced budget with no dependency on reserves, or ‘yet to be identified’ in-year savings and all services would be maintained, as would a healthy balance in the reserves.

 

When the budget had been set the previous year it had been expected that the Council would have a balanced budget but there had been a picture of increasing deficits and the strategy had been to use the reserves in the short term to reduce those deficits.  However, half way through that budget there were only small deficits and no dependency on reserves.  The reason for that was that the Council had been successful in delivering efficiencies.  Shifting the stance to a longer term strategic view the aim was to seek a sustainable financial position across the full Medium Term of the budget.  By maximising opportunities the Council would be in a balanced position over the next two years.  There would be a £1million deficit in four years, but there was time to address that.

 

In terms of the District, there would be no reduction in services; free parking would continue; there would be no increase in Council Tax; the Parish Support Grant would be maintained; and there would be additional investment in growth.

 

Local Government funding had changed.  It used to be based on need but it was now focused more on success.  Councils with the most growth and new homes would benefit the most.  It therefore made sense to focus resources on the growth agenda.

 

Members were shown a pie-chart which showed where the Council’s money came from.  The reason the Council was so well placed was due to its successful investment portfolio which gave an annual income which was equal to what the Council received from its Central Government Grant and from Council Tax.  It illustrated the healthy distribution of income sources, for example only 10p in each pound that the Council spent came from Council Tax.

 

Copies of the presentation were available for Members and would be given out at the Town & Parish Council Forum on 15 January 2015. 

 

With regard to the Revenue Budget, the Executive Director Place felt that the Council was well placed to secure a sustainable position with a balanced budget over the medium term and a realistic savings target for a planned and resourced transformation programme.

 

With regard to the £15million capital spending proposed, there was only £11million available in capital resources.  There were two kinds of money; capital could only be spent on capital, but revenue could be spent anywhere.  Due to prudent budgeting in previous years the Council would have revenue reserves of about £14million by the end of the Plan.

 

There was still the challenge of the £1million gap in four years to address but the Council had already secured three times that amount in savings in half that time.  With the new Corporate Plan and Transformation Agenda there was no reason why the gap could not be closed.

 

The financial plan was based on what was known now and there was a significant risk of future reduction in Local Authority funding.  It was also important to bear public sector pay in mind as the National pay settlement of 2.5% over 18 months could be a risk to the budget.

 

The LABV project had £6.5million allocated to it.  The proposals from the Partner could provide alternative financing options which would result in a significant improvement in the capital position and would give a sustainable position across the Medium Term.

 

Members were invited to ask detailed questions.

 

Councillor Kybird was surprised by the 4.3% growth figure in the tax base and the Finance Manager explained that when the tax base had been set the previous year it had been done before the effects of the Council Tax Reduction Scheme were known.  That had affected the tax base and housing growth had also done so.

 

The Executive Director Place noted that previous assumptions had been prudently based on a ‘worst case’ effect on Council Tax debt but that had not happened and therefore the figures had been adjusted.  Going forward a more standard format would be used.

 

Councillor Joel asked how the New Homes Bonus worked and it was explained that it had been brought in to meet a number of requirements including providing a mechanism to fund the cost of growth.  It could be spent as revenue or capital.  There would still be £3.6million New Homes Bonus at the end of the Medium Term Financial Plan.

 

The Vice-Chairman asked for an explanation of the table on page 26 and also why there was such a significant difference in the amount of Council Tax freeze grant in the next two years.

 

The Finance Manager explained that it had been confirmed in the settlement that the first grant had been over the full term and the recent settlement provided for another single year.

 

The Vice-Chairman was also concerned about streetlights which were referred to on page 33.  He had reported 50 streetlights in his Ward which were not working and they were still not working.  If the budget was set without provision for maintenance it would build up problems in the future.

 

The Executive Director Place advised that there was £989,000 capital allocated to that issue.

 

The Leader of the Council pointed out that the New Homes Bonus was not new money, it was just a redistribution of money that the Council used to get and it was now an element of the grant.

 

The Chairman said the budget news was impressive.  He asked why there was so much red in the traffic light system on page 63 and was advised that the red was against the delivery of the capital programme.  The money was available and now it was the time to do something with it.  That would move the indicators from red to green.

 

Members confirmed that they were happy with the budget part of the papers.

 

The Executive Director Commissioning & Governance then presented the Draft Corporate Plan.  The existing plan ran from 2011 to 2015 and expired in April 2015.  Alongside the Corporate Plan was the Delivery Plan and the four priorities in that were set out on in detail on pages 69 to 72.  To achieve those priorities there were a set of critical activities.

 

The draft would go out for external consultation along with the budget following the O&SC meeting and that consultation would close at the end of January 2015.  It would then be discussed by Cabinet and Council and the Performance Framework would be revised and a transformation plan would be prepared to address the budget gap.  The document would be updated and changed as necessary over the course of the four year plan and would be reviewed annually.  It would also be presented to the Scrutiny Commission each year where the achievements and plans for the following year would be explained.

 

Members were asked to provide feedback which would be used to provide a verbal update to the Cabinet when the report was presented to them the following week.

 

Members pointed out some minor amendments which would be addressed.  It was noted that some Members had already provided comments.  Those comments had been received too late for inclusion in the agenda but would be reported to Cabinet.

 

Councillor Kybird pointed out that the two pages on ‘Our District’ did not identify Thetford as a key area of growth and change.  He also suggested that the reference to outstanding schools on page 67 was incorrect.  On page 68 he suggested that Museums, the Stanford Training Area and the Centre of the Brecks should be included.

 

The Chairman thought it was wrong to say ‘Our Vision … Breckland is a place of opportunity and ambition for all.’ (Page 66)  A vision was something that was aspired to and that was not what the Council was aspiring to.  He thought that the vision statement should be more ‘gung ho’ but also said that there was a lot in the document that was superb.

 

He agreed with Councillor Kybird’s comments about Thetford. Breckland was the gateway to Norfolk and with the growth, etc, the Council should make more of it.

 

He suggested that the document should represent the Golden Thread.  It needed to be repositioned to show what the Council was aiming for and what it was trying to do and how it was trying to attract businesses.

 

With regard to detail he noted that the five year housing land supply was actually six years.  On page 74 he suggested that residents would not like to read that the Council’s arrangement with South Holland was to maintain a low Council Tax – it was done to drive efficiencies and low Council Tax was not the driver.

 

Finally he said that page 77 was the significant thing for the Corporate Plan.  Getting businesses into the District was entirely dependant on the digital age.

 

The Executive Director Commissioning & Governance thought the Golden Thread point was well made.  The Corporate Plan was front facing but the Delivery Plan, Team Plans and Individual Appraisals would ensure a Golden Thread approach.  She confirmed that all the feedback would be passed on to Cabinet.

 

The Chairman thanked the Officers for their presentation.

 

Supporting documents: