Agenda item

Draft Budget, Medium Term Plan and Capital Strategy 2023-24

Report of Councillor Phillip Cowen, Executive Member for Finance, Revenues & Benefits.


Councillor Cowen, the Executive Member for Finance, Revenues & Benefits introduced the report on the draft budget, medium term financial plan and capital strategy. He explained that budgeting within a local authority could be extremely challenging with many variables. A very difficult process involving choices that sometimes had to be made, the complexity of the income streams and the statutory or core service that still had to be provided.


Many authorities around the country had found themselves in untenable positions with finances stretched and sometimes compromised. However, due to the detailed work undertaken by Team Breckland this Council could propose a balanced budget. It had been a positive budget statement and placed Breckland Council in an enviable position and was testament to the prudent fiscal policies that Breckland Council had been following.


Alison Chubbock , the Assistant Director Finance, explained that there had been a late change within business rates that had affected the figures with additional funding, which would be subject to final checks. If the information was correct, Breckland Council would be receiving additional income for Business Rates of around half a million next year and a further one million next year, this is for a fixed term and not long term. A risk assessment needed to be carried out around the likelihood of appeals over the coming year as they were all increases to rateable values. Due to the lateness of the information and the need for debate, it had been suggested that the two amounts be contributed into reserve so that there would be time to decide how this could be used to best support the residents of Breckland.


Councillor Cowen agreed to the aforementioned suggestion.


Councillor Birt queried the bar chart on page 38 comparing different Councils but excluding the parish precepts and asked if this was a fair comparison between Breckland and Great Yarmouth in that Great Yarmouth did not have a Parish precept. Councillor Cowen explained that it was a fair comparison and analysis to make.


Councillor Birt also noted that on page 44 with the cost of living increase it had been raised to just 3% for years 2023-2024 and asked why the Council was budgeting for such a low figure when the Bank of England figures were so much higher. The Assistant Director Finance explained that the cost-of-living increase was an estimate put in each year, it was only part of the salary increase and what was not shown was that staff received an increment each year which brought the actual cost of living up to about 7% to 9% depending on where they were in the grading band along with other benefits that formed part of the negotiation.


Councillor Clarke asked if there were assumptions made on capital expenditure or income in respect of fees for car parking charges within the Breckland area for next year. Councillor Cowen confirmed that this was not included or taken into account.


Councillor Clarke suggested it would be useful to have KPIs on discretionary areas so that good work could be recognised, and funds could be invested into areas and services shown to be in demand and priorities driven residents’ needs.


Councillor Webb explained that the needs of the community changed constantly, and that Breckland Council would adapt to the requirements of the community and what the residents needed moving forward. She suggested that it might be useful for the Communities Team to attend a future OSC meeting with a presentation to explain the work that had been done, work currently being undertaken and work planned for future and what the legacy of Inspiring Communities meant..


Councillor Jermy noted that the budget for capital receipts and expenditure and disabled facilities grants was the same for the next ten years and said that if this was the case it would mean far fewer adaptations over the next ten years due to inflation and that would be a concern. Councillor Cowen explained that there were some constraints around governance and procedures and agreed it would be better for all if there was more funding passed to Breckland Council to support this, and it could be possible that in the future this funding may come from elsewhere or be increased.


Councillor Bambridge said that he had spoken to NCC to see if there could be additional grants but had been informed that this funding would need to come from central government. Councillor Jermy said that the Breckland Bridge small sites capital was a small amount of money with a lot of green site development for very little return and wondered if this represented best value for residents. He felt that Breckland Council had a responsibility as custodians of the land to keep it available for the good of the public. Councillor Cowen explained that the local plan consultation document was asking the right questions to establish residents’ needs. Councillor Hewett advised that the small sites disposal programme was not a money-making scheme but a scheme for the benefit of the community.   Breckland Council had a responsibility as a district to ensure that all of the assets within its area were for the benefit of everyone. Councillor Wilkinson reassured both Members and the public that all requests for changes to small sites would need to go through rigorous planning applications.


Councillor Jermy was pleased to see the hardship fund was still being utilised to help residents with Council Tax payments but had concerns about the way it was being administered and applied and felt it should be done by Breckland Council, possibly with the Communities Team who had the knowledge and expertise to help residents within this area.

Councillor Cowen explained that the hardship fund was administered by Anglia Revenues Partnership (ARP) who were in a good position, and had the experience of working with many councils on administering this fund which was very much data driven. However, there could be better ways to manage the fund within the Breckland area and he would be happy to have that conversation with ARP.


Councillor Atterwill said that the report showed projected income on the sale of assets and understood that some of the money was going to be put back into revenue and asked if this had happened. The Assistant Director Finance explained that this was shown in Appendix E, Organisational Development Reserve, with a comment in appendix A – Medium Term Financial Plan.


Councillor Land had concerns about further development of green small sites around Thetford and felt it was a real worry for residents within his constituency and asked for some reassurance on this matter.


Councillor Hewett explained that Breckland Council had to balance the rights and rewards for everyone across the area and stated that this would be done in the best way possible to suit all.


Councillor Birt asked if the Evolve Programme was achieving the goals set as it showed a potential future gap deficit in years 2025 through to 2027. He also asked about the red on the risk register for the garden waste income collection and what the impact might be in the future and, if Breckland Council was funding its statutory services efficiently.


Councillor Cowen stated that Breckland Council was funding its statutory obligations in the right manner as was shown by the budget. He said that risk was always a factor and that any risk would be managed accordingly. He explained that the Evolve programme was driven by the change in services provided both statutory and discretionary in a cost-effective manner.


Members of the Commission noted the report.

Supporting documents: