To consider the recommendations from the meeting of the Cabinet held on 17th February 2021 (to follow).
Members are asked to note that under the Local Authorities (Standing Orders) (England) (Amendment) Regulations 2014, the Council is required to take a named vote when a decision is made on the budget calculation or Council tax at a budget decision meeting of the Council.
Medium Term Financial Plan 2021/22 to 2023/24
Councillor G. Denaro, Portfolio Holder for Finance and Enabling, introduced the Medium Term Financial Plan 2021/22 to 2023/24 and in so doing commented that the budget had been prepared at a challenging time, due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Councillor Denaro thanked the Head of Financial and Customer Services and the Financial Services team for their hard work in preparing the budget under these circumstances.
Members were informed that the Council had only received a one-year settlement from the Government for 2021/22. There remained substantial gaps in the budget for 2022/23 and 2023/24 which would need to be addressed moving forward. The external auditors had recognised that the Council was in a sound financial position but had commented that the Council would be in a challenging position in future years. Anticipated savings and income generation schemes would need to be delivered in order for the Council to avoid using reserves to balance the budget in the long-term. However, the auditors had provided the Council with an unqualified opinion on the Council’s value for money arrangements.
An increase in Council Tax was proposed in order to help balance the budget in 2021/22. The Government had announced that District Councils could only increase Council Tax by a maximum rate of 1.99 per cent, or £5. In Bromsgrove, it was proposed that Council Tax should increase by £5 as this would result in a slightly higher rate of return to the authority. The Council Tax Base would be reducing for the first time in many years, as a consequence of changes to the Council Tax Support Scheme and as a result of fewer homes having been built than anticipated due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
Additional pressures had been taken into account when preparing the budget. This included the loss of income from car parking during the Covid-19 pandemic. However, some of the losses in income had been offset by financial support that had been provided by the Government.
The Corporate Management Team (CMT) had reviewed the budget on a line-by-line basis and officers had identified a number of savings and income generation opportunities by doing so. Many of the savings were relatively small but cumulatively, they contributed to a balanced budget for 2021/22. These savings and income opportunities had been discussed in more detail at a recent meeting of the Finance and Budget Working Group.
Funding from the New Homes Bonus (NHB) had reduced, so that the Council was left with £12,000 to distribute within the community. An additional £68,000 from Covid grant funding had been combined with this figure to create a community grants budget for 2021/22. Voluntary and Community Sector (VCS) groups would be able to bid for up to £5,000 grant funding each for community projects under this scheme.
A list of revenue bids had been provided in the report for Members’ consideration. This included a bid to fund a new Member Support Officer in respect of ICT services. Should this bid be successful, it was anticipated that the Officer would provide support to Members and would help address some of the technical issues Members experienced during meetings.
Savings had been proposed in the report but, despite the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic, no cuts to services had been proposed. In total, the savings added up to £426,000 and contributed to the balanced budget position.
There had been a review of the Capital Programme and some capital bids had also been recorded in the report. Included within this was a bid for £250,000, for the operation of an electric bus service between Bromsgrove town centre and the railway station. The funding for this project would help to support the green agenda detailed in the Council Plan. Bids for electric charging points for vehicles had also been included in the report, though there was the potential that some of the costs arising from this would be offset by external grant funding.
The Council would be using £638,000 from earmarked reserves to help balance the budget in 2021/22. These reserves could only be used once. However, the Council’s balances were in a healthy position. In 2021/22 it was proposed that £22,000 should be returned to balances, which would result in the authority having balances of £4.306 million. In the period 2022 to 2024 the Council could use £2.571 million of balances to balance the budget, though this would take balances below the minimum threshold of £2 million. Therefore, the budget gap would need to be addressed using additional income and savings.
The Covid-19 pandemic had added to uncertainty in relation to local government finances and it was difficult to predict how the pandemic would impact in the future. Furthermore, Brexit was adding to this uncertainty, particularly with regard to the potential implications for local businesses and the associated impact on the collection of local business rates.
Councillor Denaro concluded by stating that the proposed budget would help to support the Council’s strategic purposes and economic growth in the District, whilst enabling the Council to achieve a balanced position. He urged Members to therefore support the budget.
The recommendations in the Medium Term Financial Plan 2021/22 to 2023/24 were proposed by Councillor G. Denaro and seconded by Councillor K. May.
During consideration of this item, Councillor P. McDonald proposed an alternative budget from the Labour Group, as detailed in the main agenda pack. The alternative budget from the Labour Group was seconded by Councillor H. Rone-Clarke.
In proposing the alternative budget, Councillor McDonald commented that the Council budget for 2021/22 would apply at a time when the country would only just be coming out of lockdown and many residents would still be on furlough or would have unfortunately lost their jobs. In this context, Councillor McDonald suggested that it was not an appropriate time to increase Council Tax, as many residents would struggle to pay the excess bill and the alternative budget therefore did not propose a Council Tax increase. The Council Tax bill for many residents was already due to increase as Worcestershire County Council and other precepting authorities were requesting an increase to their Council Tax contributions and an increase to the contribution for Bromsgrove District Council would add to this bill. Councillor McDonald expressed concerns that many residents on lower incomes would potentially enter into poverty as a result of increases to Council Tax.
Reference was made to the funding available to local government. Councillor McDonald commented that the Government needed to increase funding for Councils, rather than authorities having to rely on Council Tax rises to help balance the budget. Members were informed that funding could potentially be redirected by the Government from other areas, such as funding for management consultants.
Councillor McDonald expressed concerns that the most vulnerable children in the District were at crisis point. In particular, Councillor McDonald highlighted concerns that many families on low incomes were struggling to pay bills and this was impacting on their children.
Members were informed that, by not proposing an increase to Council Tax, there would be a gap in the budget of £180,000 in 2021/22. Councillor McDonald suggested that this gap could be addressed through savings in other areas. In particular, Members were asked to note that the Council paid Redditch Borough Council to host various services at Redditch Town Hall. Following the introduction of remote working arrangements, Councillor McDonald suggested that staff would be working more at home in future and those not working at home could be accommodated at Parkside. Members were informed that an estimated £65,000 could be saved from this change to working arrangements. Councillor McDonald also commented that the Council had spent £210,000 on management consultants, including Mott MacDonald. Councillor McDonald suggested that management consultants could be used less frequently, and that Mott McaDonald’s assistance was no longer required by the Council. Members were therefore advised that £100,000 could be saved on management consultancy fees. Should these measures be taken, there would be a remaining gap of £16,000 in the alternative budget, which could be addressed using funding from reserves.
In seconding the alternative budget from the Labour Group, Councillor Rone-Clarke commented that the Labour Group could not support a rise in Council Tax during a global pandemic. Members were advised that an increase in Council Tax would place many people’s finances on an unsustainable footing, especially as an increase to the Council Tax contribution from Bromsgrove District Council would be accompanied by increases to the Council Tax contributions for other precepting organisations. Councillor Rone-Clarke expressed concerns that there had been many years of austerity leading up to 2021 which had also impacted on residents’ finances over the years and meant that people on lower incomes in particular did not have the resources necessary to pay larger bills. Councillor Rone-Clarke also commented that he thought it would be morally wrong to increase Council Tax bills for key workers, in occupations such as nursing or teaching.
Council subsequently discussed the Labour Group’s alternative budget in detail. On the one hand, concerns were raised that use of funding from reserves, as proposed in the alternative budget, could impact on the long-term sustainability of the Council’s finances. Members noted that Mott MacDonald continued to work for the Council on planning related matters, including in relation to traffic congestion, though this work would be reducing over the following years. Members also suggested that support could potentially be provided to vulnerable people on low incomes through the Council’s Hardship Scheme. On the other hand, concerns were raised that many businesses were struggling during lockdown and this would inevitably impact on staff, both those on furlough and those at risk of redundancy. In such circumstances, it was suggested that the alternative budget, by not proposing an increase to Council Tax, would not create an additional burden for local residents on low incomes. The role of Mott MacDonald moving forward was also questioned and it was suggested that the advice of this company did not always inform Council policy and the advice of these consultants was not necessarily therefore needed moving forward.
In accordance with the Local Authorities (Standing Orders) (England) (Amendment) Regulations 2014 the alternative budget from the Labour Group was subject to a named vote.
Members voting FOR the alternative budget from the Labour Group:
Councillors L. Mallett, P. McDonald and H. Rone-Clarke. (3)
Members voting AGAINST the alternative budget from the Labour Group:
Councillors S. Baxter, A. Beaumont, S. Colella, R. Deeming, G. Denaro, M. Glass, S. Hession, R. Hunter, H. Jones, A. Kent, J. King, A. Kriss, R. Laight, K. May, M. Middleton, S. Robinson, M. Sherrey, P. Thomas, M. Thompson, J. Till, S. Webb and P. Whittaker. (22)
Members voting to ABSTAIN in the vote on the alternative budget from the Labour Group
Councillors S. Douglas, A. English, C. Hotham and K. Van Der Plank
The vote on the alternative budget from the Labour Group was therefore lost.
A further alternative budget, on behalf collectively of the Liberal Democrat group, the Bromsgrove Independent East District Group and the Bromsgrove Independents West and Central District Group, was proposed by Councillor K. Van Der Plank and seconded by Councillor R. Hunter.
In proposing this alternative budget, Councillor Van Der Plank commented that the proposals detailed in the alternative budget were designed to support the administration’s budget. The alternative budget proposed that some of the Covid-19 grant funding that had been received by the Council from the Government should be allocated to projects that would support the local community. The proposals would support the community, including through additional support for community groups, and would support the Council’s green agenda whilst leaving some funds in reserves.
Members were informed that the 3 political groups welcomed information about the electric bus service that would operate between Bromsgrove town centre and Bromsgrove Train Station. However, Council was informed that more public transport was needed in the District, particularly to serve rural areas. Therefore, Councillor Van Der Plank explained that in the alternative budget it was proposed that 4 new bus services should be funded which would operate around the District. Further consideration would need to be given as to how these bus services would operate and the routes involved but the proposals in the alternative budget would establish a principle that these services were needed to connect the district. Members were advised that many rural communities would benefit from these additional services as they were cut off under existing arrangements.
Councillor Van Der Plank suggested that it was possible the Council would be able to secure grant funding for the proposed budget services, by working in partnership with other organisations, as this could have a beneficial impact on local vehicle emissions. Members were advised that the proposals would also support the Council’s efforts to tackle climate change.
Members were advised that the Covid-19 pandemic was having a significant impact on the mental wellbeing of local residents. Councillor Van Der Plank suggested that there needed to be investment in support for people in respect of their health and wellbeing, including in parks and open spaces. The alternative budget proposed investment of Covid grant funding to help tackle fly tipping in the District. The funding would be used to support the installation of CCTV cameras in areas where fly tipping occurred frequently. Funding was also proposed to support the museums in the District, to help promote these services and encourage visitors to these attractions once it was safe to reopen.
Council was asked to note that the Covid-19 grant funding provided the authority with a once in a lifetime opportunity to make a difference in the community. The grant funding was not ring-fenced and therefore the Council could spend the funds to support the community as proposed in the alternative budget.
In seconding the alternative budget, Councillor Hunter explained that the 3 groups had worked together to bring forward proposals that would support the wider community. The alternative budget supported the proposals from the administration but added expenditure of some of the Covid-19 grant funding that had been received by the authority. Councillor Hunter questioned why the Council had not yet brought forward proposals to spend this grant funding and he commented that the alternative budget’s proposals would result in investment in the local community.
Members subsequently discussed this alternative budget in detail. Those Members speaking in favour of the alternative budget welcomed the opportunity to provide bus services in rural locations in the District, support to people who had experienced mental health difficulties as a result of the pandemic and funding for museums, which had struggled during the pandemic. Reference was made to the need to support the local economy to ensure its recovery and the potentially positive contribution that the proposals in the alternative budget could make to this process. Some Members also commented that there had been an increase in fly tipping in parts of the District during the pandemic and the proposed extra CCTV cameras would help the Council to address this. In concluding these remarks in favour of the alternative budget, some Members suggested that it would be appropriate to use the Covid grant funding for the purposes proposed in the alternative budget as the funding was designed to help with the recovery process locally in respect of Covid-19. Council was asked to note that the grant funding had not otherwise yet been allocated.
During consideration of this alternative budget, a number of Councillors spoke against the proposals. Concerns were raised that these proposals had been brought forward at a time when the Council was already working with partner organisations in respect of plans for a demand response transport system to be introduced in the District. There had been a lot of preparatory work in respect of this matter, including improvements to local infrastructure. The demand response system would provide a transport system that would serve multiple locations and would be trialled in Bromsgrove by Worcestershire County Council, with touch screens being made available to enable passengers to request specific journeys. In this context, it was suggested that the proposals in respect of the extra bus services were not necessary.
Other Members speaking against the proposals commented that the Covid grant funding was needed to help local businesses. Fly tipping was already being addressed by the Council as was additional funding for VCS groups, through continuing funding of a community grants scheme. Concerns were also raised that the alternative budget was contingent on the substantive proposals in respect of the budget, including a Council Tax increase, being approved. Some Members commented that they could not support the alternative budget for this reason.
In accordance with the Local Authorities (Standing Orders) (England) (Amendment) Regulations 2014 the alternative budget from the Liberal Democrat, Bromsgrove Independents East District and The Bromsgrove Independents West and Central District groups was subject to a named vote.
Members voting FOR the alternative budget from the Liberal Democrat, Bromsgrove Independent East District and The Bromsgrove Independent West and Central District Groups
Councillors S. Baxter, S. Colella, A. English, C. Hotham, R. Hunter, J. King, S. Robinson and K. Van Der Plank. (8)
Members voting AGAINST the alternative budget from the Liberal Democrat, Bromsgrove Independent East District and The Bromsgrove Independent West and Central District Groups
Councillors A. Beaumont, R. Deeming, G. Denaro, M. Glass, S. Hession, H. Jones, A. Kent, A. Kriss, R. Laight, L. Mallett, K. May, M. Middleton, P. McDonald, H. Rone-Clarke, M. Sherrey, P. Thomas, M. Thompson, J. Till, S. Webb and P. Whittaker (20)
Members voting to ABSTAIN in the vote on the alternative budget from the Liberal Democrat, Bromsgrove Independent East District and The Bromsgrove Independent West and Central District Groups
No Councillors (0)
The vote on the alternative budget from the Liberal Democrat, Bromsgrove Independents East District and The Bromsgrove Independents West and Central District groups was therefore lost.
Members subsequently returned to discussing the proposals in respect of the Medium Term Financial Plan 2021/22 to 2023/24 detailed in the agenda. Councillor Denaro, Portfolio Holder for Finance and Enabling, reintroduced the report and explained that the proposed budget would support the green thread in the Council plan and enhance public transport through the new proposed electric bus service operating between Bromsgrove town centre and Bromsgrove Train Station. There were also a number of important capital projects that would be funded should the budget be approved.
In seconding the proposed Medium Term Financial Plan 2021/22 to 2023/24, Councillor K. May commented that the proposed budget was fiscally responsible. The budget would help to support local businesses as well as action that would have a positive impact on climate change, including the introduction of the electric bus service operating between Bromsgrove town centre and Bromsgrove Train Station. Members were advised that Councillor May intended, as the Leader of the Council, to lobby for more detail on the budget in future beyond a one-year settlement in order to create greater certainty about the budget position for local government moving forward.
During consideration of the Medium Term Financial Plan 2021/22 to 2023/24 the following points were discussed in detail:
· The distribution of grant funding to local businesses and how this had progressed in Bromsgrove District. Councillor Denaro advised that a lot of grant funding had been provided and further information would be circulated after the meeting on this subject for Members’ consideration.
· The additional capital funding that had been proposed for waste and recycling bins. Members were informed that this funding would be spent on additional commercial waste bins as the Council had gained an additional 170 customers for the commercial waste scheme.
· The purpose of the capital funding that had been proposed for car charges. Councillor Denaro explained that this was intended for personnel and the public in cases where there was no access to private driveways. There would be match funding available for this project.
· The funding for the play area in Sanders Park and the date when this work would be completed. Councillor P. Thomas, Portfolio Holder for Leisure, Community Services and Community Safety, explained that, subject to Members’ approval, procurement would commence immediately and the aim would be to complete the project by May 2021.
· The extent to which the Council’s budget was in a sustainable position, particularly with the use of reserves to balance the budget in 2021/22.
· The potential to use more of the Council’s reserves to help balance the budget, as an alternative to Council Tax rises.
· The need to use reserves in emergency circumstances and the potential to classify the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic as an emergency.
· The financial gaps in the Council’s budget in 2022/23 and 2023/24 and the action that would need to be taken in order to balance the Council’s budget in those years.
· The uncertainty about local government funding and the difficulties this created when trying to balance the budget.
· The minimum level of balances that could be sustained by the Council whilst also balancing the budget.
· The funding available for improvements to bus shelters and the extent to which it was likely this would need to be transferred to Worcestershire County Council as part of that authority’s role in managing bus shelters.
· The Council’s financial performance in the 2020/21 financial year and the availability of data in respect of the third quarter of the year. Councillor Denaro explained that the data for the third quarter was not yet available, though it was anticipated that by the end of the year the Council would be in a balanced position.
· The potential for residents living in rural wards to access bus services through the demand response transport system. Councillor A. Kent, Portfolio Holder for Planning and Regulatory Services, explained that there would be 3 buses operating in the District in this system and they would operate in a responsive manner, linked to key transport points. The buses would calculate routes in transit under this system.
· The proposals in the budget that would support the continuation of service delivery and the Council’s green agenda.
· The potential for some of the Covid grant funding received by the Council to be allocated to supporting businesses and VCS groups in 2021/22.
In accordance with the Local Authorities (Standing Orders) (England) (Amendment) Regulations 2014 the Medium Term Financial Plan 2021/22 to 2023/24 was subject to a named vote.
Members voting FOR the Medium Term Financial Plan 2021/22 to 2023/24
Councillors S. Baxter, A. Beaumont, S. Colella, R. Deeming, G. Denaro, S. Douglas, A. English, M. Glass, S. Hession, C. Hotham, H. Jones, A. Kent, A. Kriss, R. Laight, K. May, M. Middleton, M. Sherrey, P. Thomas, M. Thompson, J. Till, K. Van Der Plank, S. Webb and P. Whittaker. (23)
Members voting AGAINST the Medium Term Financial Plan 2021/22 to 2023/24
Councillors L. Mallett, P. McDonald and H. Rone-Clarke. (3)
Members voting to ABSTAIN in the vote on the Medium Term Financial Plan 2021/22 to 2023/24
Councillors R. Hunter, J. King and S. Robinson. (3)
The vote on the Medium Term Financial Plan 2021/22 to 2023/24 was therefore carried.
1) The Unavoidable costs be approved:
2) The Revenue Bids be approved:
3) The Identified Savings be approved:
4) The General Fund Capital Programme bids be approved:
5) The General Fund capital programme be approved:
6) The net general fund revenue budget be approved.
7) The increase of the Council Tax per Band D at £5 for 2021/22 be approved; and
8) The transfer to Balances of £22k for 2020/21 be approved.
Pay Policy Statement 2021/22
Councillor G. Denaro, Portfolio Holder for Finance and Enabling, presented the Pay Policy Statement 2021/22 for Members’ consideration. Council was advised that there was a statutory requirement for the Pay Policy Statement to be considered every year. Due to the shared services arrangements that were in place, 50 per cent of the costs would be covered by Redditch Borough Council.
The recommendation was proposed by Councillor G. Denaro and seconded by Councillor K. May.
RESOLVED that the Pay Policy Statement 2021/22 be approved.