Agenda item

2019-20 Full Year financial Performance (Agenda item 13)

Report by Councillor Philip Cowen, Executive Member for Finance & Growth.

 

This report has already been considered at the Cabinet meeting on 13 July 2020; however, due to there being recommendations to Full Council the report and appendices have been included on the agenda.

Minutes:

Councillor Philip Cowen, the Executive Member for Finance & Growth provided Members with a detailed overview of the actual full year financial position of the Council as at 31 March 2020.

 

Before presenting the report, Councillor Cowen reiterated and echoed the Leaders comments in respect of the tremendous work that all staff had carried out during this crisis.  The Finance Team had pulled out all the stops to produce all the detailed content within the report against a background of having to do much more than their normal day job over the last few months, particularly with all the grants that they had managed and dispensed to the businesses in Breckland.

 

He drew Members’ attention to a number of factors within the report to highlight where the Council had been and where it hoped and anticipated to head in the future, including:

 

Revenue

 

An above budget spend of £224k despite the fact that the Council had been able to mitigate overspend through judicious use of funds that the Council had and had managed to retain throughout the years. The key reasons for this overspend had been highlighted in paragraph 1.2 of the report. 

 

This was not a position that Councillor Cowen felt incredibly comfortable with, but he was delighted that due to the judicious husbandry of the Council’s finances over the last few years it was not as high as it could have been.

 

Paragraphs 1.4 and 1.5 were highlighted and explained.

 

Capital

 

The actual out-turn showed a spend of £4,579k (71%) against the budget which had been anticipated and the reasons and rationale as to why the 100% had not been reached could be seen in the subsequent tables attached to the report.

 

Page 37 of the agenda pack included the actual revenue outturn chart and the net effect of moving financial resources from various budgets and reserves meant that the Council was £224k adrift. 

 

Table 2 on page 38 of the agenda pack highlighted the significant variances and explained the reasons why the Council was in this position.  Housing benefit was by far the largest amount closely followed by the one-off retained business rates. 

 

The remaining figures contained in the appendices were explained in great detail.

 

There were a number of recommendations that Members were asked to consider, and it was suggested that these be taken enbloc.

 

Councillor Atterwill thanked the Executive Member for his comprehensive report.  His question related to the overspend in respect of temporary accommodation due to the lack of affordable housing.  He was concerned that, despite supporting the need for affordable housing, the Council seemed to concede to developers who sought to reduce affordable housing allocations.  He asked the Executive Member if he had any suggestions as to what the Council could do about this to protect the monies in revenue being spent on temporary accommodation.

 

Councillor Cowen advised that temporary accommodation covered a range of topics and affordable housing was not the Council’s responsibility; it was entirely in the hands of the builders/developers and whilst the Council set targets most came back with an ‘open book’ approach and the Planning Department and the District Valuer and Members would review and identify whether the scheme was viable or not.  Beyond that he knew, as a Cabinet Member, that the Council was looking at providing its own accommodation and continued to look for alternatives.  He deferred the remainder of the question to the Executive Member for Housing, Councillor Alison Webb.

 

Councillor Webb agreed with Councillor Atterwill’s comments and further agreed that all Members were trying their best to provide more accommodation.  The Housing Team was working very hard to find different ways of accommodating people.  She reminded Members of a change to the rules in 2019 that said local authorities needed to provide accommodation for single people, this was quite new, and obviously the numbers had fluctuated and increased whilst also taking into account Government’s recent ruling in respect of rough sleepers.  Councillor Webb assured Members that the Team was working with those people to try and find proper accommodation whilst also trying to get them back into work.  The Council was looking at every opportunity for all residents whether they were rough sleepers or not.  She agreed that there was a problem, but everyone was working hard to address these issues.

 

Councillor Webb said that she would be more than happy to send an email to Councillor Atterwill covering the points that the Housing Team had been looking at and to discuss this matter further in future.

 

In response, Councillor Atterwill thanked Councillor Cowen and Councillor Webb for their comprehensive answers and looked forward to receiving further data.  One further question asked, directed to Councillor Cowen, was if suitable premises became available for temporary accommodation in the north of the District did the Council have adequate capital reserves to put money into that. 

 

In terms of temporary accommodation, Councillor Cowen pointed out that the Council was working with social landlords to try and match any voids in the system with the needs in the community.  Beyond that, the Council was now in the process of putting its budget together for the coming year.  As part of that budget process, projects such as Councillor Atterwill had highlighted would be looked at taking into account the capital, reserves and grants that were or being made available.  The Council, together with the Assets Team and partners, would be looking at what the Council might be able to do with other property elsewhere in the District. This all had to be driven by need; therefore, the location might be suitable, or it might not.  Dealing with homelessness, housing etc was at the forefront of the Cabinet’s agenda but whilst finances were somewhat constrained, through circumstances beyond the Council’s control, these matters would be looked at imaginatively and constructively as to how the Council might deal with these issues.

 

Councillor Birt thanked Councillor Cowen and the Finance Team for the report, he would be voting for the proposals but wanted to express some significant concern.  He presumed that the figures in the report were pre Covid and to be able to make those capital investments in normal times was going to have a knock on effect and possibly reduce the Council’s on-going revenue and other matters such as the 5 year land supply.  He felt that the investments shown on table 2 of the report should be drawn down to fulfil the Council’s obligations. 

 

In response, Councillor Cowen pointed out that there was no doubt that the Council was progressing its requirements for electricity both in Snetterton and Thetford that would help to deliver the necessary power for the housing growth.  These were progressing at pace, but it had to be appreciated that progress also relied on engagement of third parties.  The Teams were keeping the pressure up and doing all they could to ensure that these matters were progressed. 

 

Following a roll call, votes were taken on the recommendations; and it was:

 

RESOLVED that:

 

1)     the capital budgets (and associated funding sources) of £2,194,668 be carried forward into2020-21 to support projects in progress.

 

2)     the final capital out-turn and funding for 2019-20 as detailed in appendix B of the report be approved.

 

3)     the revised capital budget and associated funding for the 2020-21 capital programme as detailed in appendix C of the report be approved.

 

4)     the NNDR Pilot gain is utilised to cover the over-spend and that £214,489 is contributed from the Organisational Development Reserve and a further contribution is made from the Revenues and Benefits Reserve to cover the remaining over-spend.

 

Supporting documents: