Agenda item

Budget Setting Report (Agenda item 9)

Report of the Executive Member for the Corporate Resources Portfolio (Stephen Askew).

Minutes:

The Head of Finance presented the report which outlined the 2011/12 revenue and capital estimates for the General Fund, the proposals for the setting of discretionary fees and charges and the outline financial position through to 2015/16.

 

The Accountancy Manager and the Revenues and Projects Accountant were in attendance to answer questions.

 

Members were provided with a presentation which covered all key points and the recommendations within the report.  It was noted that under the fees and charges schedule the pest control service would be amended to show that the domestic rats and mice service in 2011/12 would be free of charge.

 

A question was asked as to how the Homelessness Grant compared to the previous year.  Members were informed that this grant had been increased from £60k.  A further question on this matter related to what these monies were spent on.  The Assistant Director for Housing and Environmental Health explained that the grant funding was used to prevent homelessness by working with those people to find solutions.  There were many schemes available which refrained from putting families into bed & breakfast accommodation.

 

The Executive Member for the Corporate Development & Performance Portfolio thanked the Finance Team for all their hard work throughout the year.  The Team had worked methodically with Members and had placed the Council in a much enviable position than many other authorities in the area. A number of years ago he had asked for growth to be looked at and was pleased that even though Council Tax had been frozen for three years prudent and sustainable growth had been maintained.  He felt that the Council had responded well to the Value for Money agenda and had over achieved in the efficiency requirement to balance the budget; however, with regard to the funding gap, where it was being asked that this shortfall be met from a one-off contribution from the General Fund, he agreed that this process was necessary to continue with productivity but would not agree to this course of action in future.  In concluding his discussion the Executive Member for the Corporate Development & Performance Portfolio wholeheartedly supported the budget.

 

The Chief Executive reminded Members that this was a draft budget settlement and with this in mind an opportunity had arisen for Breckland Council to make representations to Government.  He explained that when the spending review was announced, it had been declared that the headline reduction for local authorities’ budgets would be no more than 8.9% which included parish council precepts, this had in fact, brought Breckland’s actual reduction to 10.5%.  A meeting had been arranged with the Department for Communities and Local Government (CLG) to highlight this fact.

 

The Executive Member for Planning, Health & Housing asked where the Homelessness Grant sat within the budget.  In response, Members were informed that this grant sat within the General Fund.  The Executive Member was not happy with this response as he had concerns as to how the Housing Team was expected to deliver this service when the funding was in this particular pot.  He asked what the process was going to be to enable the Housing Team to continue with its preventative work. Members were reminded that there was over £900k in the Strategic Housing and Homelessness budgets for service delivery.  The Executive Member for Planning, Health & Housing still had great concerns and felt that this part of the Grant Settlement should be deferred.  The Executive Member for the Corporate Development & Performance Portfolio strongly supported the aforementioned points and reminded the Cabinet that the procedure had been changed a number of years ago to allow for a rapid response to certain members of the population (which had actually driven down bed & breakfast costs).  He urged Members to leave a certain amount in the pot to be used at the Housing Team’s discretion then return the remainder into the General Fund to be used if and when required.

 

The Chairman was surprised by the amount in the Strategic Housing budget and asked for a paper to be brought to Cabinet to gain a better understanding how this £900k was spent rather than taking a certain amount out.  He felt every service should be reviewed annually; therefore, justifying what this authority needed to put in the budget.

 

The Opposition Leader supported the aforementioned suggestion.  He felt that the Government settlement, in his opinion, had not been a clever was grateful for Reserves but felt sorry for the many authorities that did not have such monies to fall back on.  He knew that a decrease to the budget had been expected but felt that Breckland Council should not have been penalised as much as it had, as it had clearly demonstrated efficiencies.

 

The Overview & Scrutiny Commission Chairman echoed all the above sentiments.  He asked about key risks and was keen to know more about the New Homes Bonus as he was not able to understand how this would deliver funding to authorities.  The Chief Executive advised that this was a risk but a positive one, and although further details were awaited, the Government had indicated that the funding should be received in 2011/12 which should be equivalent to the Council Tax grant.  It was anticipated that District Councils would retain 80% of the funding whereas County Councils would retain 20%. A greater understanding of how this new bonus would work was required to be able to maximise finances.  The Executive Member for the Planning, Health & Housing Portfolio did not understand the element of the housing delivery and expressed his concerns.  The Chairman assumed that the Housing Minister would be able to clarify a number of these concerns.

 

The Vice-Chairman conveyed his thanks to the Finance Team for doing such a grand job in such difficult circumstances.

 

Options

There were no alternative budget options presented; however, the Cabinet was able to make amendments before recommendation to Full Council.

 

Reasons

 

To comply with the budgetary and policy framework.

 

RESOLVED that a report be prepared for the next Cabinet meeting on 22 February 2011 so that Members have a greater understanding of what and how the Homelessness Grant monies are spent.

 

Subject to the charges for domestic rats and mice being continued as a free of charge service; it was RECOMMENDED to Council that:

 

1)           the Breckland revenue estimates and parish council special expenses for 2011/12 and outline position through to 2015/16 be approved;

2)           the capital estimates and associated funding for 2011/12 and outline position through to 2015/16 be approved;

3)           the revised capital estimates and associated funding for 2010/11 be approved;

4)           the fees and charges shown at appendix 2/2B of the report, for adoption 1 April 2011, be approved;

5)           the Council Tax for a Band D property in 2011.12 be set at £64.05

6)           the changes to the Constitution for Reserves and Grants (detailed in appendix 6 of the report) be approved;

7)           up to £754,675 of the pre-incurred costs (detailed in section 3 of the report) relating to Thetford Enterprise Park (TEP) be written off to the General Fund; and

8)           the budget virements set out in appendix 8 of the report be approved.

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