The provisional Council Budgets 2012/13 to 2014/15
To consider report F.142 and make recommendations to the cabinet.
Cllr Robinson, Cabinet Member for an Efficient Council, presented report F.142, stating that the budget built on the previous one responding to the same corporate priorities. He commented that the surplus on page 39 had grown and was estimated to be near £55,000 by the end of 2012/13. Income from business rates was uncertain and although the medium term financial plan was sound, details of funding for 2013 -015 were still sketchy. It was proposed to freeze council tax, fees and charges and there were no proposed cuts to services for 2012/13. He invited questions.
The Group Manager for Finance and Property reported that the government had published its response to consultation regarding the future of external audit. Chief financial officers from the county's authorities would be meeting during the following week to reconsider a common framework, as the biggest impact would be on the county council. It appeared that the business rates issue would be index linked, so the council should not be adversely affected. He would be working on the detail to present to the cabinet in February.
Answering Cllr Frankie Evans, Cllr Robinson confirmed that the division of one of the council's units had been completed in January and three of the four units been let.
Cllr Robinson clarified for Cllr Winship that the £150,000 mentioned for recyclate collection was an increase in income. The £5 million set aside for claims from Two Rivers Housing had been an alternative to insuring a risk. It acted as an indemnity against any contamination on transferred land only and would run out in 2013. To date there had been no claims and hopefully it would become a free reserve.
Cllr Burford asked for clarification on the difference in green waste collection expenditure between 2012/13 and 2013/14.
The Group Manager for Finance and Property explained that £100,000 had been allocated as a one-off cost in the first year of operation.
Cllr Burford then asked why waste collection costs were set to rise between 5 and 10 per cent against a background of freezes and cuts. He also asked if savings could be made from the waste collection budget.
Cllr Robinson replied that prediction covered possible fuel cost increases and was in line with current inflation at just over 5 per cent. The Group Manager for Finance and Property added that the figure was not based on the Retail Price Index, but other indices.
Cllr Robinson said that the council was in a long-term contract and that it was considering involvement in joint waste arrangements and a possible waste company designed to achieve savings through partnership. The Group Manager for Finance and Property reminded the committee that the Environmental Contracts team had already achieved savings of £400,000, adding that there was scope for the council to save more by buying and then leasing vehicles to Biffa.
Answering a question from Cllr Winship, the Group Manager for Finance and Property said that the council had achieved a saving of £86,000 in buying refuse bins, by spreading over ten years.
Cllr Winship asked if the council sought reductions in the cost of external audit.
The Group Manager for Finance and Property said that there would be a small reduction in 2012/13 and the council would look for further reductions. He reported that he would be taking a report regarding a consultation on the future of external audit tot eh Audit Committee on 23 January. It would be a further three to five years before the council would be able to put out to tender for its own external auditors.
Cllr Robinson added that the Audit Committee had challenged fees and the Audit Commission had acknowledged the representation and changed the fees. However the Commission had persuaded the government that to suddenly move to a free-for-all fir external audit would be chaotic and time would be needed to change the current arrangements.
Cllr Winship asked why the cost of previous retirements was not borne by the pension fund.
The Group Manager for Finance and Property replied that the cost was based on decisions made 10 to 15 years previously regarding enhanced pensions, which the council no longer did. However there would be ongoing costs until those enhanced pensions ended.
Answering queries regarding green bins the Group Manager for Finance and Property said that existing bins would stay with households, who were encouraged to use them for other purposes. Households would pay £26 per bin per year for a garden waste collection licence, if the bin had been provided already. If households had bought a bin, then the first year would be free.
Cllr O'Neill commented that the Finance and Internal Affairs Panel had not been in a position to make recommendations regarding the budget.
The Solicitor to the Council explained that the scrutiny was acting in its critical friend role, seeking information and clarity regarding the budget.
Cllr Martin thanked officers for the amount of work put into the report. She said that it had been presented in a very clear way.
The committee noted the report.