Agenda item

The Corporate Plan, Budget, Medium Term Plan and Capital Strategy (Agenda Item 6)

Report of the Executive Director – Commissioning & Governance and the Executive Director – Place.

Minutes:

Attention was drawn to the copies of the amended version of the Corporate Plan available in the room.  An additional Item 9 to the Recommendation had also been tabled.  There would be a Recorded Vote at the end of the item.

 

The Executive Member for Finance presented the budget with assurance that it was affordable, transparent and not reliant on reserves.  Due to the technical detail the report was not particularly easy to understand and she asked the S151 Officer to point out the key items.

 

The S151 Officer drew attention to the table on page 11 which showed the Council’s current position compared to previous predictions and indicated its financial strength and sustainability.  There was a clear plan to close the budget gap and a lot of work had already been done over a long period of time securing efficiencies and value for money.  In trying to forecast the future there were inevitable ‘unknowns’ and austerity measures would continue, but the Council was well placed to face any storm.

 

At the bottom of page 12 was a summary overview of what would be left if the budget was approved.  There was a healthy and improved balance from the last year.

 

The Executive Member for Finance thanked the S151 Officer and reiterated that the report demonstrated that the Council was well placed to face challenges.  It had been considered by the Overview & Scrutiny Commission (O&SC) and discussed at the Town & Parish Forum where feedback had been received and the Leader would elaborate on that.

 

She was happy to present a balanced budget with no reliance on reserves which included a freeze on Council Tax, continued support for Town & Parish Councils, no reduction in services and free car parking. 

 

The Leader of the Council referred to para 1.4 on page 11 regarding support for Neighbourhood Plans.  The suggestion had been investigated but was not considered to be the best route for all.  Funding was available from the DCLG and each organisation could apply for up to £8,000.  The additional recommendation that had been tabled was a proposal to match fund up to 50% of any successful bids for that funding to those organisations that pre-notified the Council of their intention to bid.  Any organisations that had already applied for funding would also be considered.  Those parishes which were not using the Neighbourhood Plan route could also apply for match funding.

 

He noted the headlines in para 1.8 on page 12 and asked the relevant Portfolio Holders to give an explanation of what they were going to do.

 

The Executive Member for Communications, Organisational Performance & Development said there would be changes through digitalisation and the transformation programme to make services available 24 hours a day.  Grant funding had been secured and he was pleased to announce an on-line book and pay scheme with supported digital access points available for residents with help from staff.

 

The Executive Member for Assets said that the Council’s entrepreneurial approach and its acquisition of assets provided an income of between £2-3million per year.  The partnership with Land Group for the regeneration of Thetford Riverside showed how the Council could be involved in local housing development.  There were opportunities to deliver a variety of projects for the benefit of the local community.

 

The Deputy Leader & Executive Member for Community & Environmental Services referred to the 100% take-up of new waste bins, the new recycling initiative and community safety.  Looking forward there would be match funding from the Health & Wellbeing Board for projects aimed at addressing obesity and dementia and supporting carers.  There would also be a farewell parade for the Light Dragoons.

 

The Executive Member for Planning, Building Control & Housing was delighted that the Council would be able to deliver affordable housing through the LABV project and that her Portfolio would be delivering all sorts of housing ensuring the right homes were in the right places.  The Council would use its own land holdings to move housing projects forward and would work with Registered Social Landlords to provide affordable housing.  Innovative proposals would be considered by Cabinet on 24 March.

 

The Executive Member for Democratic Services & Public Protection said that investment in internet technology would provide benefits for residents.  The Council was already accepting on-line payment and would be extending its facilities.  Training courses for food and licensed businesses were being expanded.  Officers were supported in achieving qualifications.  A new, lower cost Dog Warden Contract had been awarded.  The Democratic Services team were improving relationships with residents.  The Town & Parish Forum was a good example.

 

The Leader concluded by saying they had tried to put real context into the budget report.

 

Councillor Lamb questioned the accuracy of the headline that said there had been no reduction in services.  The Council had transferred responsibility for public conveniences and play areas to the Towns.

 

The Leader pointed out that that had occurred before 2011 and that when those facilities were transferred they had been accompanied by funding.  It had been up to the Towns how that funding was used.

 

Councillor Goreham asked what the Council was doing to actively support small and medium sized businesses.

 

The Leader responded on behalf of the Executive Member for Strategic Development & LABV who was not present.  The Economic Development team were very active and Grants4Growth supplied funding to a large number of businesses.  The Council was working with the Local Enterprise Partnership to get central government funding.  An Open for Business event had been held at Snetterton.  Rate Relief was available for small businesses.  There were a wide ranging set of initiatives to support businesses and the Council was striving to do more.

 

The Executive Member for Finance advised that there was an initiative to encourage speculative building for businesses which provided an 18 month rate relief holiday.

 

Councillor Jordan mentioned that Town centres needed looking after as out of town and e-shopping options were a danger to their vitality.  He agreed that small businesses should also be supported.

 

The Leader confirmed that the Council was involved in a number of things including the Thetford and Attleborough Development Partnerships.  The Retail Study which was part of the Local Plan evidence base would also be taken into account.

 

Councillor Gilbert hoped that the Planning Officers would be robust enough to ensure that the right houses were built in the right place and were able to stop unsuitable development.

 

Councillor Jermy offered an alternative view.  He thanked the Officers for the amount of detail in the report and the S151 Officer for her informative presentation to the O&SC. 

He was pleased the Council was in a good position but offered one improvement. He proposed the following amendment:

 

a)      the New Homes bonus income, as outlined in Appendix B, not required to support the revenue budget and currently being proposed to be transferred to reserves for an unspecified purpose, to be ring-fenced for ‘community housing projects’; and

b)      Officers be asked to investigate options for utilizing this money, with a specific focus on creating 1 and 2 bedroom properties, with options to be tabled to a future Cabinet meeting.

 

The proposal was seconded by Councillor Goreham.

 

The Leader of the Council pointed out that the Council had demonstrated flexibility in the use of its reserves and they could be utilised, under the direction of the S151 Officer, to do the projects suggested.  However, he did not think it would be good to ring-fence the money as flexibility was needed to meet the needs of the District.

 

Councillor Goreham pointed out that there might be a different make-up to the Council after the election which could change its future intentions.  The Council had a duty to provide good services and amenities for the community and to provide value for money.  It should do all in its power to protect the vulnerable and needy and to enable affordable housing to be built and targeted where it was most needed.

 

The Executive Member for Finance said that treasury management was very important.  The Council would work with partners to secure income and support from Registered Social Landlords to ensure the provision of housing.  Everyone was aware of the shortage of one and two bedroom properties and the Council was continually looking at appropriate ways to fund that, but ring-fencing the money might not provide the best outcome.

 

The Executive Member of Planning, Building Control and Housing was delighted to say that the Council spent more money doing its best than it got from the NHB.

 

Councillor Lamb asked how much money the Council got from NHB and the S151 Officer advised that it would total £2.66million by 2019.

 

The vote on the amendment was not supported.

 

The Executive Member for Communications, Organisational Performance & Development then presented the Corporate Plan, reminding Members that there was an amended version in booklet form.  He thanked everyone involved in its production.  At the heart of the plan was the Council’s vision and every organisation needed to have a vision.  It was still aiming to involve ‘all’ and would help residents, Members and Officers.  The Communications team was looking at ways of publicising the Plan to ensure that it was available to everyone.

 

Councillor Jermy had commented on the Plan at the O&SC meeting and was pleased to see that those comments had been taken on board and amendments made.  His only other comment was that at the Member Development Panel meeting it had been mentioned that the official photographs of the Councillors needed to be updated.

 

The Executive Member thanked him for that and said that they would be refreshed after the election.

 

A recorded vote was then taken on the recommendations for the combined budget and corporate plan, including the additional recommendation No 9.

 

RESOLVED that:

 

1)            the Breckland revenue estimates and parish special expenses for 2015-16 and outline position through to 2018-19 as set out in Appendix B be approved;

 

2)            the capital estimates, capital carry overs and associated funding for 2015-16 and outline position through to 2018-19 (as set out in appendix H) be approved;

 

3)            the fees and charges shown at Appendix D and D2, for adoption 1 April 2015 be approved;

 

4)            the Council Tax for a Band D property in 2015-16 be frozen at £69.03 (as set out in Appendix B)

 

5)            the financial Medium Term Plan at Appendix A be approved;

 

6)            the capital strategy at Appendix G be approved;

 

7)            the use of the Council’s discretionary power (S47 Local Government Finance Act ) to provide the transitional relief be approved and delegated authority be given to the Executive Director (Place), in consultation with the Executive Member for Finance, to determine the final guidelines for the operation of the transitional relief for 2015/16 and 2016/17 following the current scheme and guidance issued by Government

 

8)            the Corporate Plan and appendices be approved; and

 

9)            the Council encourages and supports town and parish councils to bid to central government for the recently announced 2015/16 basic grant funding for the delivery of local neighbourhood plans.  Breckland Council will match fund 50% of the successful bid (up to a maximum of £4000 per submission) for those organisations provided they have pre-notified this council of their intention to bid.  Any bids which have already been approved will be considered for the same match funding.
 

i)              The sum of £372,000 be earmarked from the Communities Reserve (Developing Stronger Communities Element) for the neighbourhood plan grant match funding for town & parish councils

ii)             A further £80,000 be earmarked from the Council Tax & NNDR Reserve to top up the Communities Reserve (Developing Stronger Communities Element) if required.

 

iii)           The sum of £50,000 be allocated from the Organisational Development Reserve for a fixed term planning resource to provide additional capacity within the Council’s retained planning function to support the development of the funded neighbourhood plans.

iv)           Any additional specific funding contribution the Council receives from Central Government for completed neighbourhood plans will be allocated to the Community Reserve.

 

A copy of the Recorded Vote record is attached.

 

Supporting documents: