To consider and decide on the recommendations as set out in the associated report.
RESOLVED – That Full Council be recommended:
1. That the changes to the base budget along with the assumptions and approach set out throughout the report be approved.
2. That the responses to the budget consultation be approved.
3. That the use of £943,000 from reserves to balance the budget be approved.
4. That the rolling forward of the capital programme including gross funding of £620,000 for new schemes be approved.
5. That an increase in the Basic Amount of Council Tax of £5.71 per annum for a Band D property be approved.
6. That the implementation of Council Tax premiums on second homes from 1 April 2024 and the application of 100% Council Tax premium on properties that have been empty for at least 1 year from 1 April 2024, subject to the Regeneration and Levelling -Up Bill receive Royal Assent be approved.
REASON FOR DECISION: To deliver a sustainable budget to deliver the Council’s key objectives.
Robert Banks had registered to speak which included the following:
- The main areas that the respondents to the consultation wished to reduce the budget for discretionary services (contrary to those proposed by the Council) were, The Amelia Scott, Property and Development and the Assembly Hall Theatre.
- Respondents suggested reductions in all but one of the other areas and instead recommended increasing funding to recreation and climate change incentives.
- Although the results of the consultation had been presented, it didn’t look as though the report had been modified to incorporate those suggestions.
- Respondents to the consultation were not asked for their views on the statutory services.
- Respondents would have been unaware of the subsequent proposal for new collection rounds to be introduced, with the budget for waste and street sweeping to increase by £798k. This increase would include indexation and the cost of terminating the leases on a number of the existing fleet vehicles to facilitate a new fleet of 44 vehicles in 2023/24. The new 8 year lease would exceed Urbasers existing lease (which terminated in March 2027).
- The annual cost of the current contract could have increased by £2m.
- It was surprising that no details had been given regarding the annual cost of the new contract, the criteria for assessing any resulting improvement in the service, or whether any other Councils had adopted a similar business model.
- After 2027, the Council would be responsible for a further 4 years lease for half of the new fleet of diesel vehicles, which even if converted would still produce a carbon footprint that would need to be offset.
- Was it prudent to embark on this arrangement without evaluating the detrimental consequences and encouraging further public engagement.
Councillor Christopher Hall, Cabinet Member for Finance and Performance introduced Lee Colyer, Director of Finance, Policy and Development who presented the report as set out in the agenda.
- It was noted there was a slight change in Recommendation 5 of the report – the figure had been amended to £5.71 (from £5.72).
Discussion and questions from Members included the following:
- There was an excellent response to the budget survey with valuable feedback received.
- The Council was in a very serious situation with action needed in a number of areas, including:
o Increasing revenue
o Looking at the Revenue Budget to find ways to make savings
o The production of a Savings Plan, which was currently in progress but would take some time.
o Looking at the Asset Management Plan
- The 2022/23 budget was a ‘wait and see’ budget. To wait and see what the effects of Covid were and what the economic recovery would look like.
- That period had passed, and it was now clear that there were some very real structural issues that needed to be addressed.
- The Council was having to use £1m in reserves because it had a structural deficit that required the budget to be propped up ... view the full minutes text for item 113
To consider and provide a recommendation to Cabinet on the proposals set out in the attached report.
Lee Colyer, Director of Finance, Policy and Development introduced the report set out in the agenda.
A verbal summary of the results of the budget survey were provided. Full details would be included in the report going forward to Cabinet and Full Council.
- The budget survey closed on Friday 20 January 2023.
- 1,160 people responded to the survey, which made the budget survey statistically significant.
- Rubbish and recycling came top of the list of statutory services residents valued the most. Housing and Street Cleansing were 2nd and 3rd respectively.
- Residents were asked to allocate funding across the services to see how they compared to what had been included the in the draft budget. The areas residents were most likely to reduce the budget were:
o The Amelia Scott
o Assembly Hall Theatre
- The public were also asked to weight the Focus on Five – Vibrant and Safer Towns and Villages and Safeguarding Finances came out on top.
- 68% of residents replied that they thought the Council provided value for money.
- 57% supported an increase in Council Tax. However 67% were not prepared to make voluntary contributions on Council Services.
Discussion and questions from Members included the following:
- The £17.2m of employee costs shown on the graph on Page 54 of the budget report was the cost of a fully costed establishment i.e. it included all the current staff vacancy costs.
- Staffing levels at the Council was currently running at about 85%. The Council was currently experiencing very difficult staff retention issues, with a current staff turnover rate of about 25%.
- The information included in the Core Spending Power (Page 58) came from Central Government. The graph summarised the amount of income available from Council Tax and Government Grants. TWBC had been locked into a very low level of Council Tax rate, which when you multiplied it by the Council Tax Base, you then got the total Council Tax income. As an example, TWBC received between £2-3m less than Sevenoaks and Tonbridge and Malling, but were very similar types of authority.
- The 2022-23 budget was prepared following the pandemic which had significantly impacted on the Council’s finances. The financial focus was therefore more to see how income levels would recover and at what levels they would plateau before consideration should be given to addressing any deficit.
- It had been suggested that the Council’s finances were in a shambolic state and this was refuted by some Members. The Council had received 13 consecutive years of unqualified audit reports which was a remarkable achievement.
- All local authorities were financially stretched, however TWBC were in a better position than most. At Quarter 2, the Council was showing signs of recovery, with increases in car parking revenue and investment income.
- Inflationary pressures, especially increasing energy costs and the inflators built into contracts were a major concern. However the rush to implement higher fees and charges particularly in ... view the full minutes text for item 73