To consider and, if thought fit, to approve the recommendations set out in the associated report
The Mayor exercised his discretion under Council Procedures Rule 13.4.4 to allow leaders of each political party more than 10 minutes to speak.
Councillor Dawlings moved, and Councillor Scott seconded, the recommendations set out in the report.
· The pandemic had caused significant pressure on the council. However, it was felt with good financial management the Council had delivered well.
· The Council was only able to collect two per cent of the generated £85m in revenue from Council Tax, which equated to £8m and the balance was shared between Kent County Council, Kent Fire and Rescue, Kent Police and Crime Commissioner and Parish and Town Councils.
· For Business Rates, the Council only retained four per cent and the balance was paid to the government.
· £21m of the revenue generated from fees and charges set by the government did not cover all costs.
· £5m had been generated from new Business Rates which was credited into the Council’s reserves.
· Kent was part of a pilot scheme where it retained 100 per cent of the Business Rates growth, this had now been reduced to 50 per cent in 2021.
· Lockdowns effected the Council’s revenue stream, where a shortfall of £1m was forecast in Q1 per month, which was reduced to £500k in Q2.
· The government encouraged councils not to withdraw services and all shortfalls would be covered by government.
· Councils were to cover the first five per cent of losses and the government would cover 75 per cent of the remainder.
· Due to government funding, reserves and payments received, the Council did not have to draw on its reserves.
· Deficit was previously thought to be £1.5m however due to careful management, this was reduced to <£960k.
· The Council administered payments of over £54m in grants to local businesses this process was administered in house which reduced processing costs.
· An increase in New Homes Bonus had resulted in the Council receiving >£1m.
· 87 per cent of residents were in support of Councils approach.
· The Council had taken action to address surplus office space in the Town Hall. A co-working partnership had been agreed which would offer the Council a revenue stream.
· New office changes would bring new business to the town along with increased footfall.
· Other property assets would be reviewed.
· Car Park spaces would be reviewed, and consideration would be given to new revenue generation schemes or alternative use.
· Investment had been made in housing and rough sleeper projects along with hardship funds being made available. 80 per cent Council Tax Relief was available for those in need.
· £20.6m has been invested in the town to bring two listed buildings back into good repair, the Amelia Scott (including Library) along with Adult Education had been jointly funded by £9.5m from partners Kent County Council, National Lottery Heritage Fund and the government’s Let’s Get Building fund.
· The Council’s deficit position came from a lack of planning and strategic direction.
· There have been too many years of overreach and underfunding. Failure to grow had been the basis of deficit, not covid, covid just exposed the problem.
· Central government had for too long asked Councils not to make changes which had failed to be honest in what they can deliver.
· Operations need to be right sized or outsourced, too much money spent on salaries.
· Council needed to digitise its services and embrace the digital revolution.
· Council asset base was significant, the Town Hall was ideally situated to leverage revenue gap.
· Current asset base would require significant investment of £50m to maintain two sports centres, the source of which was unclear.
· Housing and business growth would help but will take time and front-loaded costs.
· There was a failure to do simple things such as raise car parking charges as an income stream.
· The budget was dependent on central government throwing money in the form of grants to help deficit rather than long-term planning.
· In 2001 there was £54m in reserves, and monies were still being received from development sites in Hawkenbury.
· Reserves had dwindled over the years.
· The Medium-Term Strategy was not good enough and the Council would continue to struggle.
· Change was needed.
· There was no Five Year Plan and development of a new one was too slow.
· Thanks were expressed for the hard work by officers which had gone into the compilation of the reports.
· 6 out of the 8 large projects been delivered to date.
· This administration wasted >£10.8m, on a project that was over budget, did not have the public or its fellow member’s support.
· There were repeated calls for a reduction in Council Tax to help those households living blow the nation average.
· This administration had done little to support its social and affordable housing policy.
· Not enough was being done to address climate change and the concerns of residents in the borough.
· Tunbridge Wells had been voted the lowest council in Kent for its climate action, the Council lacked ambitions and had insufficient goals to reduce cardon emissions.
· Pressure should be placed on Council contractors to pay their staff the national living wage of £9.50p/h.
· Residents were demanding reliable bin collections, a clean environment and more affordable social housing. The Budget failed to address all these issues.
· Increase parking charges would not be well received with residents.
The Mayor took a recorded vote on the motion in accordance with Council Procedure Rule 15.7.
Members who voted for the motion: Councillors Allen, Atwood, Backhouse, Barrington-King, Bland, Dawlings, Fairweather, Goodship, Dr Hall, Hamilton, Holden, March, McDermott, Ms Palmer, Roberts, Scholes, Scott, Simmons, White and Woodward. (20)
Members who voted against the motion: Councillors Britcher-Allan, Everitt, Hill, Lewis and Pound. (5)
Members who abstained from voting: Councillors Atkins, Bailey, Chapelard, Ellis, Fitzsimmons, C. Hall, Hayward, Hickey, Knight, Lidstone, Morton, Patterson, Poile, Pope, Rands, Rutland, Sankey, Warne, Willis and Wormington. (20)
1. That the changes to the base budget along with the assumptions and approach set out throughout the report be noted;
2. That the responses to the budget consultation be noted;
3. That the rolling forward of the capital programme including additional gross funding of £2,140,500 for new schemes listed within the report be approved;
4. That the 2022/23 Pay Policy Statement set out at Appendix E to the report be approved;
5. That an increase in the Basic Amount of Council Tax of £5.00 for 2022/23 for a Band D property be approved.