Council Budget 2012/2013 and Medium Term Financial Plan 2011/2015
Decision maker: Full Council
Decision status: For Determination
Is Key decision?: No
Is subject to call in?: No
Cllr Robinson presented report F.152, explaining that the blue annexes distributed at the beginning of the meeting replaced the original ones. The recommendations remained unchanged. He was proud that in the five years he had been delivering the budget, the average increase in council tax had been only 1.2 per cent.
The surplus of £45,000 identified at the Cabinet meeting held on 9 February meant that he now proposed for the first year of operation that car park charges would be 20 pence for the first hour and 50 pence for two hours to ease the impact of changes. This move recognised responses highlighting concerns over the current trading environment from the consultation that finished that day. The surplus would be reduced to £4,500 and the shortfall in the medium term would be £19,000.
The council would have made savings of £2.3 million by the end of 2012/13 and that total would increase to £3 million.
He reported that the trend in planning fee income represented an on-going challenge while the success in reducing waste collection costs should be noted. The way in which the council managed a 10 per cent reduction in council tax benefit grant was under review. Passing on the cut could impact on low income working families while absorbing the cut within council operation would be challenging.
He thanked all the council staff, who had shown commitment and enthusiasm to help the council find different ways of working at lower cost.
He clarified that staff costs were negotiated at national level and confirmed that the LGA had offered no increase for 2012/13.
In summary he said that the proposed budget built on the work of previous years. It provided good value for money and sound financial management as evidenced by the Audit Commission's opinion. It retained good quality services for local people, no increase in council tax or existing charged services and continued to support funding for housing.
Cllr Robinson proposed and Cllr Molyneux seconded the motion at the agenda with amended annexes.
Cllr Martin proposed and Cllr O'Neill seconded an amendment on behalf of the Labour group to approve an alternative budget, which proposed an increase of 3.4 per cent on council tax bills.
The proposed amendment rejected the one-year 'bribe' by central government to keep Council tax stagnant and avoided the imposition of car parking charges to cover car park maintenance costs. The proposal would balance the books by taking £45,900 out of the Initiatives reserve - far less than the proposed budget, which would take a much larger amount for set up costs.
The modest rise in council tax would equate to nine pence per week for the average household, which equates to £5.52p per year for a Band D property.
The Labour group acknowledged the budgetary difficulties facing this council due to the current economic recession and extreme austerity measures being imposed on us from above and anticipate the situation worsening in future years. However, they could not justify imposing any more charges simply to keep a zero per cent increase in council tax.
Her group believed that the impact of the budget as at the agenda on local town centre businesses had been clearly demonstrated during the recent scrutiny enquiry. A rise in Council Tax of nine pence per week would be more acceptable than the proposed hourly car parking charge. This proposal could accurately calculate the income stream, which the projected income from the original budget could not.
She urged members to give due consideration to these figures.
The Solicitor to the Council advised that if the amendment were successful, the debate on this item would stand adjourned to give the Cabinet five clear working days to consider its response.
Cllr Molyneux could not accept the amendment, which he believed to be a classic Labour ploy to tax the electorate and dip into reserves, which nationally had led to the biggest ever deficit. He mentioned the pay freeze for staff at the council and other workers and inflation squeezing people's spending power. Central government offered the £118,000 grant to councils freezing council tax, as it would not prop up local councils. The net benefit to the council of the amendment would be £42,000, but would cost every household 3.4 per cent. The budget at the agenda was balanced and rational, having been built up as part of a medium term financial plan. The council had managed to provide the services needed by residents without asking them to dip further into their pockets. To keep free car parks would mean charging those who never visited the towns, or did not drive and disabled drivers alike.
Speaking to the amendment, Cllr O'Neill wondered that if the Cabinet had been working up the budget over several years, why had it proposed changes at the last minute, unless some independent members had influenced it. He stated that the decision to proceed with charging for car parks made on 16 December 2011 had not been based on the new figures. The amendment would enable a council tax base for the following year of £162,000, whereas the original budget relied on a one-off payment by the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG). He quoted from local newspapers what he believed were two contradictory reasons for the introduction of car park charging, one to fill a hole, the other to manage the car parks more effectively.
Cllr Osborne maintained that a true 'stand-still' budget should actually result in a reduction, because the council had by passed CCTV costs to the town councils and introduced separate charges for services such as garden waste collection and car park usage.
The Solicitor to the Council clarified that officers had been instructed to draw up an order for the introduction of car park charging. Before the order could be made the results of the statutory consultation would need to be analysed.
Cllr McMahon thanked the Group Manager for Finance and Property. He believed that the Cabinet's budget was speculative and relied on a one-off subsidy. It would need to draw £82,000 from reserves to initiate car park charging and the predicted income level was very optimistic. He asked what plans the Cabinet had if income fell short. He also believed that 9 pence per household would have less of an impact on families than the car park charges together with other charges imposed for services such as garden waste collection. The Cabinet had ignored over 7000 residents and responding he thought they had been wasteful in renovating the reception area, particularly since Lawnstone House had not been sold and might be demolished.
He concluded by stating that the original budget was open-ended, unworkable and dysfunctional, whereas the amended budget was fair, credible and honest.
Cllr Molyneux responded that if anything, it was the amendment that was dysfunctional.
Cllr Quaile commented that the cost of collecting garden waste was £427000 and would rise to £619,000, which the council had to pay for. Such 'free' services as free swimming eventually had a price tag.
Central government offered a no-strings attached grant, which the Labour group's proposal would ignore and would therefore reduce options. A rise of 3.6 per cent would trigger a referendum that he believed would not be accepted by the community. More than 20 per cent of the districts population were over 65, yet the Labour amendment would impose unnecessary stress by charging all for car park usage. He added that all members represented their communities and needed to consider how they would be viewed by the people in their wards.
Cllr Gardiner suggested a free vote, adding that he personally could not accept a proposed increase in council tax and the council could not turn its back on a grant of £118,000. He was saddened that the district was losing valuable assets such as the Wilderness Centre and local police stations. He had been against car park charging, particularly in smaller places such as Mitcheldean and Redbrook. However he would have to endorse the original budget.
Cllr Hiett asked that since the consultation had been around charging 40 pence per hour and 70 pence for two hours, would the exercise need to be repeated, given the revised first-year charge of 20 pence and 50 pence.
He believed the amendment to be fairer for all and avoided back-door charges, such as those for bulky and garden waste collection and pest control. He stated that the MP condemned town councils for increasing precepts, but they had been protecting citizens by paying for continued CCTV, which the council had previously paid for. He suggested that council went out to the residents and asked them to choose between car park charges and an extra nine pence per week per household. He was also concerned that charging could become a 'cash cow'.
The Solicitor to the Council replied that the regulations allowed the proposals to be revised in the light of consultation without the need to repeat the exercise.
Cllr Hiett commented that it would be madness to apply that and wondered if the same would be true if the change was from 10 pence to £1.00.
Cllr Molyneux repeated that the Cabinet had listened to comments from the consultation and had accordingly used surplus to bring the rate down for the first year.
Cllr Bill Evans said that his group had also listened to the 7000 petitioners and to the Minister for Councils and Local Government and to Mary Portas, appointed by the government to look into town centre regeneration, who had written about 'free, controlled car parking'. He pointed out that in the 2008 consultation the public would have preferred an increase in council tax to cover car park maintenance.
Cllr Edey said that her conscience could not support the original proposal. She was worried that car park charges would rise and was wary of charging for individual services. Her concern was for local business, which charging would not help.
Cllr Diana Edwards commented that the amendment proposed a council tax increase just under the threshold required to trigger a referendum. She did not doubt that if that threshold had not been there, the amendment would have proposed an even higher increase. The council had worked for over five years on the medium term financial plan. She ended by asking who would turn down an offer of £118,000, suggesting that the amendment had been cobbled together without much thought.
Cllr Morgan said that no one liked higher council tax, but needed to maintain the service. He reminded members that the £118,000 would not be there in the following year and he echoed previous comments about charging for individual services amounting to 'stealth taxes'. He added that CCTV was being operated well by his council, but was an additional cost to it. He urged members to be up front and gain the respect of residents.
Cllr Hogan agreed that it was difficult to reject the one-off grant, but it needed to be viewed in context as less of a cut in central government grant rather than a gift. There would be even more swingeing cuts in the following year
He had been proud of the previously imaginative work of the council in supporting the voluntary sector, but regretted the loss of financial support and a third of officer support recently. He did not accept as accusations comments that the Labour group believed in responsibility for its fellow citizens.
Cllr Whitburn, an independent member, thought that the right course probably lay somewhere between the two budgets. He had received 145 comments in one day from residents in Mitcheldean concerned at car park charging. He asked that if the issue was genuinely one of parking management, that the first hour be free.
Cllr Baynham commented that for over 65s, paying an extra nine pence per week was not a problem, but paying an extra 50 pence per week for garden waste collection was a real problem. Disabled people were reliant on the services the council provided. Individuals were not able to opt out of services such as police and hospitals and it would be honest to increase council tax, treating residents intelligently. He called for members to be up front and honest with residents by supporting the amendment.
Cllr Lawton clarified that charges concerned choice, whereas taxes did not. Garden waste collection charging would be judged by the take up. He commented that the amendment did not address the dire need for parking management in towns such as Newent, where more enforcement was required. He thought that the amendment was cynical in suggesting a rise just below the threshold to trigger a referendum, which he believed the residents would not support. If it were honest, it would not propose taking £35,000 from reserves. He believed that the other towns had been welcome in benefiting from Newent Town Council's work on CCTV, and the town had not needed to increase its precept. He believed that tax on local people had to be kept down in these extraordinary economic times.
Cllr Hale said that some members had made light of the council taking five years to get to this point in the financial plan, but he said that it had taken that time to ensure a balanced budget. He asked members to remember that in 2007 the council was at the point of being put into special measures and had worked hard since to improve. The amendment did not reflect that work.
Cllr Connell asked how the council could justify to the residents of Dymock and Bromsberrow that the increase in council tax was to pay for car parks many miles from them. He also stated that in the eight years before the banking crisis the Labour central government had overspent on average £40 billion per year.
Cllr Pugh said that the matter was simple - to charge for parking or not - to use more funds from reserves for the original proposal or less for the amendment, to have a clear base budget of £160,000 for the following year under the amendment or not. He also commented that in 2006 Labour members had 'patched up' the council. He expressed the view that taxation was to be paid collectively for individual needs, and he believed that it would be popular with the resident in his ward.
Cllr Coborn said that as one of the mayors who had managed to collect over 7,000 signatures in a week for the petition that Stroud District Council had dropped its proposal based on a petition of 4,000. He said that the cabinet was bulldozing the measure through. He added that Cinderford too had not increased its precept to cover CCTV.
Cllr Burford believed that the matter was a straightforward matter of choice or taxation. It was clear to him that matters such as the NHS should be paid for through taxation. He asked members to consider that the debate was not just for a one-off council tax increase of 3.4 per cent, but that the increases would continue, as any future rises would be in addition to that initial rise.
As independents there was no party whip for his group, which had discussed the issue with both of the major political groups. He would vote as he had promised residents at election time, namely not for an increase in council tax higher than inflation.
Cllr Martin summed up her amendment stating that Labour members had canvassed opinion and recognised austere times. In representing all the people, she believed that a rise of 9 pence per week would affect people less than 20 - 40 pence per hour for parking and urged members to support the amendment.
Cllr Robinson, in reply, stated that the argument for the amendment did not stand up. It raided reserves and penalised the many residents who did not use the car parks, so was unfair. The district needed effective car park management. He could not support the amendment.
On being put to the vote the amendment was unsuccessful.
Voting was as follows.
For (20) –Ian Whitburn, Maria Edey, Clive Elsmore, Paul Hiett, Graham Morgan, Max Coborn, Frank Baynham, Bill Osborne, Paul McMahon, Roger Sterry, David Thomson, Bill Evans, Bernie O’Neill, Don Pugh, Bruce Hogan, Val Hobman, Lynn Sterry, Di Martin, Jackie Fraser, Helen Stewart
Against (28) – Norman Stephens, Roger Yeates, Jim Connell, Gethyn Davies, Brian Jones, Brian Edwards, James Bevan, Judy Davis, Frankie Evans, Carole Allaway Martin, Marrilyn Smart, Len Lawton, Peter Ede, Marion Winship, Gabriella Kirkpatrick, Roy Birch, Arthur Thomas, Julia Gooch, Dave East, Philip Burford, Andrew Gardiner, Terry Glastonbury, Terry Hale, Diana Edwards, Martin Quaile, Patrick Molyneux, Brian Robinson, Jane Horne
The original recommendations of report F.152 remianed substantive, with amended annexes.
a) to note the assurance of the Chief Financial Officer who has reviewed the financial risks being faced by the Council and given his opinion on the robustness of the estimates and adequacy of reserves in accordance with the requirements of the Local Government Act 2003;
b) to agree a net budget for 2012/2013 of £10,373,280 and a council tax requirement of £4,783,880;
c) that there be no increase in council tax for 2012/2013 (a freezing of Band D council tax at £162.29); and
d) to agree the 2012-2015 capital programme.
Voting was as follows.
For (27) – Norman Stephens, Roger Yeates, Jim Connell, Gethyn Davies, Brian Jones, Brian Edwards, James Bevan, Judy Davis, Frankie Evans, Carole Allaway Martin, Marrilyn Smart, Len Lawton, Peter Ede, Marion Winship, Gabriella Kirkpatrick, Roy Birch, Arthur Thomas, Dave East, Philip Burford, Andrew Gardiner, Terry Glastonbury, Terry Hale, Diana Edwards, Martin Quaile, Patrick Molyneux, Brian Robinson, Jane Horne
Against (20) –Ian Whitburn, Maria Edey, Clive Elsmore, Paul Hiett, Graham Morgan, Max Coborn, Frank Baynham, Bill Osborne, Paul McMahon, Roger Sterry, David Thomson, Bill Evans, Bernie O’Neill, Don Pugh, Bruce Hogan, Val Hobman, Lynn Sterry, Di Martin, Jackie Fraser, Helen Stewart
Abstained (1) - Julia Gooch
Publication date: 08/03/2012
Date of decision: 23/02/2012
Decided at meeting: 23/02/2012 - Full Council