Agenda item

Budget, Medium Term Plan and Capital Strategy 2019-20 (Agenda item 11)

Report of Councillor Philip Cowen, Executive Member for Finance and Delivery.

 

Minutes:

Councillor Cowen, the Executive Member for Finance & Delivery presented the report.

 

All Members had been given the opportunity to follow the budget process from the start.  The draft budget papers had been considered by Cabinet at its meeting on 27 November 2018.  The report was then taken to the Overview & Scrutiny Commission meeting followed by the public consultation period held during December which finished in January 2019.  At the recent Cabinet meeting in February, Members were provided with an updated paper and this Full Council meeting was the final stage of the budget process.  As it was such a significant and important issue for the Council and for its residents, the Executive Member for Finance & Delivery hoped that all Members had taken the opportunity to read the final report thoroughly. 

 

Attention was drawn to page 41 of the agenda pack where the ten recommendations were highlighted. The Executive Member for Finance & Delivery pointed out that this budget was an incredibly positive budget for any Council to review and this authority had achieved a budget, going forward, that was balanced and would provide the Council with Reserves with which it could support its local communities.  He conveyed his thanks to the Officers involved for all their hard work and commitment and commended the budget to Members.

 

Prior to any questions being asked and in response to the Chairman, Members agreed to take the 10 recommendations enbloc. The Chairman also reminded Members that under the Local Authorities (Standing Orders) (England) (Amendment) Regulations 2014, a recorded vote must be taken.

 

Councillor Jermy raised the following points. 

 

The Labour Group took its role very seriously within the Council; it raised opportunities when needed whilst also giving praise where it was due.  The Group also highlighted matters that could be lacking, not for the sake of it, but in the hope that it might be able to make some improvements. Looking back at last year’s Labour Group proposals, despite not being carried, Councillor Jermy had been really pleased to see some amendments around street lights where many had been or were being replaced with LED energy efficient lamps which had been welcomed.  

 

Similarly, another amendment proposed in the previous year, was to increase the availability of affordable housing which again was defeated; however, there had been a marked improvement in the focus of affordable housing that could be seen within the Annual Monitoring report and it had been confirmed that over 28% of housing within the District were affordable which again was to be welcomed. 

 

Another proposal in relation to tourism had been put forward in the previous year asking for £5k for each of the market towns to invest in tourism information services, which again was voted down; however, a few months later ShopAppy was launched but he understood that it would cost more than the Group’s initial proposal.    Its impact remained to be seen and he would remain sceptical as he would much rather have seen locally based community solutions.  He hoped that the Council recognised, in time, that tourism brought a great deal to the District and invest accordingly.

 

Turning to this year’s budget, Councillor Jermy pointed out that it was not many years ago that this Council prided itself on having the lowest Council Tax and whilst it was still relatively low, it could not be denied that it had increased significantly.  In his Ward alone, people were now paying 25% more Council Tax than they were 10 years ago and this was before this year’s increase had been factored in.  People on low incomes were struggling financially and Council Tax was the one bill that they struggled with the most.  The responsibility to fund local council services had shifted from local government to local people.  Councillor Jermy did not like Council Tax, he thought it was an unfair tax and he hoped at some point in the future it would be reformed but if he was to vote for this budget by default to increase the Council Tax, he wanted assurance that those people on low incomes would not suffer as a result.  As a Council, pensioners were protected by being provided with 100% relief but approximately 4,500 people on a low income, including work age disabled residents, were only being supported at a maximum of 92%.  Therefore, if he was to support he would like to see a relatively small amount of money of £40k to ensure individuals of working age were supported up to 100% of their Breckland share of the Council tax.  He was aware that this proposal could not be enacted immediately but asked if it could be actioned via the Localised Council Tax Reduction Scheme and he proposed that a budget allocation be requested. 

 

This proposal was seconded by Councillor Clarke who applauded the work of the Executive Member for Finance and the finance staff; however, people were paying more Council Tax for less services and he echoed Councillor Jermy’s comments.

 

The proposal was not supported.

 

The Leader felt that Councillor Jermy had raised an interesting point and was pleased that he recognised that Breckland was a listening Council in the sense that street lighting concerns had been picked up and that its focus remained on affordable housing.  He completely understood the Labour Group’s concerns in that the Council was doing all that it could, as rate support grants were being reduced, for those people that were without doubt finding this a difficult time.  However, this was happening across the whole public sector, doing what they could to make their budgets work. It was not an easy time and was probably more difficult now than it had ever been and he assured all Members that whilst the Labour Group’s proposal was not supported, this authority would do all that it could to ensure that it supported those who needed it most.

 

Councillor Taylor was aware that the Government had stated that if £39billion could be saved, £60m would be repaid to each constituency and wanted to know that if this was the case, would the Council be able to revise this budget in lieu of this possible decision.  The Leader felt that the chances of getting a rebate from Central Government were very slim but if it were to happen, then he had no doubt that the budget would be reviewed.

 

Councillor Clarke asked the Executive Member for Finance & Delivery not for an amendment but a marker for future years or a strategy for 2023.  The Council was very good at planning for the future and he asked what the Council was considering to do with its Planning resource once the Capita contract had come to an end and the implications of bringing Planning back in-house.  Although this question did not relate to finance, the Leader advised that the Council was in the process of reviewing all of its contracts, and as and when any contracts were due to be reviewed, the Officers in question, and indeed Members, would work very hard to ensure the best possible use of money and the best product for the Council’s communities.

 

Councillor Ian Sherwood asked the Executive Member for Finance & Delivery questions in relation to the budget.  The first question was in respect of the Council Tax setting and how much the Council asked its residents to pay for services, and the second question related to the Council Tax income, and what it enabled the Council to do.  He also asked if the Executive Member could provide him with some idea of how much money had been spent on services that the Council provided.  The Executive Member for Finance & Delivery was happy to respond and drew attention to page 127 of the agenda pack where it showed a schedule of Council Tax levels from a Band A through to Band H.  This information provided an indication of how much each resident in each of those Bands was paying in Breckland.  He pointed out that the Council’s Band D proposal was a little under £90 per annum and for that £90, the Council was delivering about £500 worth of services to everyone who paid Council Tax.  The Executive Member for Finance & Delivery drew attention to the fact that those in a Band A at Norfolk County Council level were being charged a great deal more than £59 as in Breckland; therefore, in terms of value for money, this Council delivered to its residents a benefit of paying £500 for £90 or £500 for £60 which he felt was very good value for money.

 

Regarding the issue of Council Tax, Councillor Borrett had been quite surprised at some of Councillor Jermy’s points raised as the Band D charge in Breckland was a lot less than in the Labour controlled Norwich City Council.  Norwich City Council was not charging £90 it was charging £264 for the same kinds of service that residents received in Breckland.  Breckland Council was trying to keep its Council Tax down and its services protected so that those less able to pay could still afford to pay.  Norwich City Council had put their Council tax up by 3% this year which was an increase in cash terms of £40 for every Band D Tax Band.  In response, Councillor Jermy reported that Norwich City Council did offer discounts to the most vulnerable in their society.  He also pointed out that the cost for his Band C house was overall, including the Police & Norfolk County Council’s share, the same as a Band C house under Norwich City Council.

 

The 10 recommendations were proposed and seconded and following a recorded vote it was:

 

RESOLVED that:

 

1)        the Breckland revenue estimates and parish special expenses for 2019-20 and outlined position through to 2022-23 (as set out in Appendix B and E of the report) be approved;

 

2)        the capital estimates and associated funding for 2019-20 and outline position through to 2022-23 (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 2019 be approved;

 

4)        the Council Tax be set at £88.83 for a Band D property in 2019-20 (a £4.95 per annum increase on 2018-19 levels);

 

5)        the Financial Medium Term Plan and associated staffing full time equivalents at Appendix A of the report be approved;

 

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

 

7)        the Business Rates relief for retail business premises contained in the guidelines at appendix I of the report be approved (this is offset by a Government grant);

 

8)        the additional one off income generated from the 2019-20 75% Business Rates Pilot scheme be set aside, 50% in the Growth and Investment Reserve to fund future feasibilities and funding applications and 50% to the General Fund (as detailed in paragraph 1.10 of the report);

 

9)        the establishment be increased by 1.0 FTE (shared with SHDC at 60% BC and 40% SHDC) to create a post that adds capacity to support the Chief Executive and Directors at a senior level to move forward a number of strategic priorities and help to identify the key impacts of emerging national and local policy on the organisation(s) from a corporate point of view, enabling effective mitigation as required (as detailed in paragraph 1.9 of the report); and

 

10)     the full time equivalent be increased by 5.0 FTE in ARP as agreed at ARP Joint Committee on 4 December 2018 (as detailed in paragraph 1.9 of the report) where the costs are fully offset by additional income and shared between the other partners.

 

MEMBER

FOR

AGAINST

MEMBER

FOR

AGAINST

Mr Ashby

X

 

Mr Joel

X

 

Mr Askew

X

 

Mr Kybird

X

 

Mr Bambridge

X

 

Mr Martin

X

 

Mr Brame

X

 

Mrs Matthews

X

 

Mr Borrett

X

 

Mrs Millbank

ABSENT

Councillor Bowes

x

 

Mrs Monument

X

 

Mr Brindle

 

x

Mr Monument

X

 

Mr Carter

X

 

Mr Nairn

X

 

Councillor Marion Chapman-Allen

X

 

Mr Nunn

X

 

Mr Sam Chapman-Allen

x

 

Mr Oliver

APOLOGIES

Mr Clarke

 

x

Mr Robert Richmond

X

 

Mr Claussen

X

 

Mr William Richmond

APOLOGIES

Mr Cowen

X

 

Mr Robinson

X

 

Mr Crawford

x

 

Mr Rogers

X

 

Mr Darby

APOLOGIES

Mr Sharpe

X

 

Mr Dimoglou

 

X

Mr Sherwood

X

 

Mr Duffield

X

 

Mr Smith

X

 

Mr Duigan

X

 

Mr Stasiak

X

 

Mr Gilbert

X

 

Mr Taylor

X

 

Councillor Gould

X

 

Mrs Turner

X

 

Mrs Hewett

X

 

Mr Wassell

X

 

Mr Hewett

X

 

Mrs Webb

X

 

Mrs Hollis

APOLOGIES

Mr Wilkin

X

 

Mr Jermy

 

X

Mr Wilkinson

X

 

 

Supporting documents: