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 car parks was insensitive, especially for businesses.
- The in-year budget review did not attempt to reduce the Council’s expenditure but instead moved money to the Community Support Fund.
- There were encouraging signs that income levels would recover and it was still hoped that there would not be a revenue deficit by the end of 2022/23.
- It was hoped that shortfalls would be addressed by the co-working arrangements for the Town Hall that would both provide an income and enable the Council to share maintenance and running costs.
- For 2023/24 the revenue deficit was now expected to be £943k. This was now a structural deficit. The inflationary pressures on outgoings were now outstripping the Council’s income. There were currently no plans in the 2023/24 budget that provided details of how this issue was to be addressed.
- The impact on the High Street had been affected significantly by the decisions made in Central Government and much less by what was happening at a local level.
- The Council had to focus on reducing its expenditure and not get distracted by other events, such as elections or projects.
- TWBC had a stagnant population and was the only district in Kent where the 25 to 49 year old population was declining. The Council had both a structural and strategic deficit which was why housing was a fundamental component which would help to lift both the spending power, infrastructure and economic development across the Borough.
- Before the budget progressed to Cabinet, consideration should be given to how savings and addressing the structural deficit would be taken forward, with the emphasis on how those savings would be delivered.
- It was suggested that this had already been included in the report as part of the savings plan that was already being worked up.
A vote was taken by a show of hands:
RESOLVED – that the recommendations to Cabinet as set out in the report be supported