Agenda item

Budget Setting, Medium Term Financial Plan & Capital Strategy (Agenda item 12)

Report of the Executive Member for Finance.

Minutes:

Councillor Gould asked the Chairman if she would allow Opposition Groups the opportunity to present their views on the budget first. 

 

Councillor Jermy reported that the Labour Group had discussed the budget papers prior to the meeting.  There were items in the budget that the Labour Group welcomed but there were some areas that he felt could be better addressed. He pointed out that on a number of occasions Councillors had remarked that they looked forward to and indeed expected budget proposals to be forthcoming from opposition Councillors. He felt it to be even more incumbent upon the official opposition to do so and to scrutinise proposals. Whilst the Labour Group was not the official opposition, it did want to offer suggestions on how it felt the budget could be improved so that the best outcomes could be secured for the District.

 

Councillor Jermy felt that securing well-paid jobs for Breckland residents needed to be one of the Council’s priorities. The District’s low wage economy locally and poor social mobility figures should be of particular concern.  In contrast, for many, Breckland was a great place to live, work and visit. Breckland’s environmental and heritage assets had much to offer and he felt the authority undersold itself.  The  economic benefits of tourism could be greater realised.

 

The proposed amendment from the Labour Group would see £5,000 allocated to support the provision of tourist information services in each market town in Breckland; a small and affordable sum but one that could reap significant benefits. Encouraging people to come here, or perhaps encouraging people already coming to spend more, stay longer and visit other parts of the District was of course being undertaken but often by volunteers, often with limited budgets – if visitors searched the tourist information for Dereham they were directed to a telephone number that was currently disconnected.

 

The second part of the Labour Group’s amendment concerned housing:

 

Councillor Jermy pointed out that housing was by far the most common type of casework that he dealt with as a Councillor – the lack of affordable housing, issues with repairs and maintenance, issues with private landlords, the impact of the bedroom tax and more. The Labour Group wanted to propose a link between right to buy receipts and investment in new affordable housing and if targeted correctly, this investment could help save the Council money

 

Finally, poor street lighting was a major concern in many areas. Poor quality, older street lights in Breckland were costly – failing repeatedly, inefficient use of electricity – the budget of proposed £90k was a welcome start but the Council should be moving much quicker to achieve the savings over a shorter period of time and providing a better quality service

 

He proposed the following amendments to the Council which were seconded by Councillor Clarke.

 

1.     Jobs

 

Allocate £5,000 for each market town in the District to support core-running costs associated with the provision of Tourist Information services to maximise the benefit to the local economy and jobs through tourism.  This funding to be a one off and taken from the Community Funding Reserve.

 

2.     Communities

 

Increase the budget set aside to upgrade street lighting infrastructure from £90,000 to £180,000 using funds from the Community Funding Reserve.  The improvements would therefore take place more quickly reducing running costs through greater efficiency and reduced maintenance costs whilst improving the quality of the service for residents.

 

3.     Housing

 

To ring-fence ‘right to buy’ receipts for the next 3 years (being the remaining amount of time that Breckland Council would receive a share of right to buy receipts) with income received being allocated to support affordable housing projects, including invest to save initiatives that would reduce on-going revenue costs to the Council.

 

The Deputy Leader felt that some of the aforementioned amendments had merit and he would be more than happy for Councillor Jermy to work through some of these with Councillor Cowen, the Portfolio Holder for Finance, at a later date. He could not support the amendments to the budget at this stage.

 

Councillor Clarke was pleased that a number of aspects could, in time, be discussed with Councillor Cowen and suggested that these discussions take the form of a Task & Finish Group.

 

Councillor Wassell congratulated Councillor Jermy on putting forward these proposals as he could see some merit in them all.

 

The Portfolio Holder for Finance echoed the Deputy Leader’s comments and felt that, going forward, the proposals identified were compatible with the Council’s plans.  However, again in agreement with the Deputy Leader, he felt that these amendments should be considered separately at a later date.

 

Councillor Jermy indicated that he would propose his amendments formally once the Portfolio Holder for Finance had presented the budget report.

 

The Portfolio Holder for Finance presented the budget report.  This budget had removed reliance on Revenue Support Grant and its reliance on the New Homes Bonus and the Council was now able to contribute to reserves to support its communities. Referring to Councillor Jermy’s proposed amendments, the Portfolio Holder for Finance advised that one of the key points from this budget was to increase community funding to allow Breckland’s market towns to thrive.  The increase in Council Tax, if approved, would be 9p per week for a Band D property and that additional income would enable the Council to do exactly that. He felt that this Council was fortunate to have a very healthy and positive income stream and the income generation from the business rates retention was vitally important as it related to employment, another point made by Councillor Jermy.  If Thetford thrived the rest of the District would thrive and the budget’s aim was to put Breckland Council in a strong fiscal position and be in control of its own destiny and he commended the budget to the Council.

 

Councillor Gilbert supported the vast majority of the budget but had concerns about the risks listed on page 55 and 56 of the agenda pack in relation to the New Homes Bonus (NHB) and the alternative to the Special Expenses Levy (SEL).

 

The Portfolio Holder for Finance explained that the SEL was an integral component within the budget and could not be removed but as it related to one of Councillor Jermy’s proposed amendments this would be discussed at a later date.  As far as the New Homes Bonus was concerned, dwellings had to be occupied before any NHB could be generated and that was the reason why the Council had to be in control of when, where and how many houses were being built and why it was so essential to have a Local Plan in place.

 

Councillor Wassell congratulated the Cabinet on the budget.  Breckland Council’s Band D was the lowest Council Tax in the Country and was lower than some parishes.

 

The Portfolio Holder for Finance stated that a balanced budget could only be achieved with very strict controls.

 

The Portfolio Holder for Growth pointed out that SEL’s paid for a service that assisted communities.

 

Councillor Jermy then put forward his proposed his amendments once more but with the last amendment at bullet point 3 above in relation to housing being removed.

 

The Portfolio Holder for Finance had difficulty in accepting any of the proposed amendments as written until the sums of money could be established against those items even though the principles and sentiment behind them were understood.

 

Councillor Clarke formally seconded Councillor Jermy’s amendments and thanked the Portfolio Holder for Finance for his supportive comments.

 

A vote was taken on the proposed amendments which were not supported.

 

The recommendations as listed in the report were proposed and seconded.

In accordance with the Local Authorities (Standing Orders) (England) (Amendment) Regulations 2014 a recorded vote was taken on the recommendations below. The vote was as follows:

 

FOR

AGAINST

ABSTAIN

Mr Ashby

 

 

Mr Askew

 

 

Mr Bambridge

 

 

Mr Brame

 

 

Councillor Bowes

 

 

 

Mr Brindle

 

Mr Carter

 

 

Councillor Chapman-Allen

 

 

Mr Sam Chapman-Allen

 

 

 

Mr Clarke

 

Mr Cowen

 

 

Mr Crawford

 

 

Mr Darby

 

 

Mr Dimoglou

 

 

Mr Duffield

 

 

Mr Duigan

 

 

 

Mr Gilbert

 

Councillor Gould

 

 

Mrs Hewett

 

 

 

Mr Jermy

 

Mr Joel

 

 

Mr Kybird

 

 

Mr Martin

 

 

Mrs Millbank

 

 

Mrs Monument

 

 

Mr Monument

 

 

Mr Nairn

 

 

Mr Oliver

 

 

Mr Robert Richmond

 

 

Mr William Richmond

 

 

Mr Robinson

 

 

Mr Rogers

 

 

Mr Sharpe

 

 

Mr Sherwood

 

 

Mr Smith

 

 

Mr Stasiak

 

 

Mr Taylor

 

 

Mrs Turner

 

 

Mr Wassell

 

 

Mrs Webb

 

 

Mr Wilkin

 

 

Mr Wilkinson

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

RESOLVED that:

 

1)        the Breckland revenue estimates and parish special expenses for 2018-19 and outline position through to 2021-22 (as set out in Appendix B and E to the report) be approved;

 

2)        the capital estimates and associated funding for 2018-19 and outline position through to 2021-22 (as set out in Appendix H of the report) be approved;

 

3)        the fees and charges shown at Appendix D and D2 of the report, for adoption on 1 April 2018, be approved;

 

4)        the Council Tax be set at £83.88 for a Band D property in 2018-19 (a £4.95 per annum increase on 2017-18 levels);

 

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

 

6)        the Capital Strategy at Appendix G of the report be approved; and

 

7)        the changes to the current pay scheme as detailed in Appendix I of the report be agreed.

Supporting documents: