Council Budget 2011/2012 and Medium Term Financial Plan 2011/2015
Councillor Brian Robinson, Cabinet Member for an Efficient Council and Finance, to present report F.107, detailing the proposed Revenue and Capital Budget 2011/12 and the Medium Term Financial Plan 2011/2015, including recommendations from the Cabinet meeting on 10 February 2011.
Cllr Robinson presented report F.107, explaining that the council now had clarity for funding over the next two years, but none regarding the following two years. The council had consulted with the community and the Budget Working Group had then formulated options. The council had then consulted business leaders, town and parish councils and district councillors through the scrutiny process and an all-member seminar. The Budget Working Group had considered all comments.
The principal aims of the budget were to ensure no additional burden on the community by ensuring that the Council Tax was affordable and to continue to provide services that were important to the community. The council’s customer relations record was on a par with the best in private business, planning applications were handled more quickly and more appeals were being won, customer satisfaction remained high and the council was successfully addressing housing needs.
The creation of a community engagement team sought to find ways of delivering a better service to the community. Charges for services with existing charges would rise by 4 per cent in line with inflation. The Cabinet agreed £630,000 to carry out a restructuring exercise. A cross-party group had recommended changes to Service Level Agreements (SLA). The Budget Working Group proposed an increase in the disabled facilities grant to meet local needs.
The most common concern expressed in consultations was the withdrawal of funding from the district’s CCTV arrangements. The council had communicated its intention to town councils two years previously and would work with the town councils to reach solutions. However the proposal remained in the budget.
Cllr Birch referred to agenda page 101, asking for more detail on how the £80,000 saving would be achieved through adjusting opening hours.
Cllr Robinson answered that the move would enable changes in working arrangements for staff. The council was also introducing a 24 hour automated payment system, which would save staff time.
Cllr Burford thanked Cllr Robinson for ensuring that members received a full breakdown of the budget. He asked if leisure management budget would be retained in the council’s control or transfer to other organisations for 2011/12.
Cllr Robinson replied that arrangements would remain exactly as they were currently. In the medium term the council would consider more efficient ways of keeping leisure centres, while delivering support in different ways.
Cllr Martin asked if the 51 per cent cut in funding the Youth Workers Network would be revisited if discussions mentioned on agenda page 73 broke down.
Cllr Robinson explained that for the purposes of the budget the overall reduction figure of £25,766 in SLAs was the key figure. The detail was not normally given in the budget report.
Cllr Riley, who had chaired the cross-party portfolio support group that had considered the issue, said that the group had not set out with a figure for savings in mind. It had considered as a baseline comparative value to the community. Additionally the group had not worked in isolation, but had looked at comparisons with other council service areas. He hoped that the council would be able to stay within the framework.
Cllr Lawton referred to agenda page 101 annex E, asking how the council intended making up the shortfall in savings due to the earlier resolution regarding member allowances.
Cllr Robinson said that he had no proposals at that time, but noted that the council’s earlier resolution added to the budget.
Cllr Hogan believed that the budget was ideologically driven, albeit from central government. He agreed with one of the public questioners that tax avoidance should be addressed, including that of the current chancellor. Despite talk of localism, central government, through its reduction in formula grant funding and the front-loading of that reduction, constrained the council totally. He derided the 2.5 per cent ‘bribe’ from the government for councils who froze council tax rates, since the council could not ask residents to make up any shortfall in its budget caused by the government. The council was powerless to influence the size of its imposed budget.
However he believed that the council still had much work to do to improve its procurement practices, thereby saving money. He cited the example of reprographics, which still cost the council over £124,000 annually and had not been put to open tender. He also thought that real savings could be made though collaborative working, citing Wiltshire as an example. He believed that the best route was unitary, although the government was also making this difficult for councils.
The whole matter of CCTV provision needed to be revisited. The joint scrutiny committee had recommended that £25,000 be maintained for one further year allowing time for a correct solution to be reached.
Cllr Hogan proposed and Cllr Martin seconded the following amendment:
That the council grants £20,000 for CCTV in the district’s four towns as a one-off payment, to enable time for satisfactory alternative solutions to be found.
Cllr Shenoi agreed that procurement was an area where savings could be made. He added that significant savings could also be made in the area of waste collection. He was of the opinion that the council would not know the outcomes of proposed changes in collection arrangements until they were in place and had paid little attention to costs against benefits. He believed that the business case had been scantily argued, that local questioning on the need to collect garden waste had not been addressed and that local people would not realise the full implications of the new collection regime until implementation. In his view there was scope for huge savings in this area.
Cllr Horne believed that if the council agreed to put the funding for CCTV back into the budget then it should do the same for funding of the Forest Youth Network.
Cllr Aburrow agreed with Cllr Hogan. He then brought to members’ attention the worry of a resident of his ward who had said that charging for pest control could lead to people laying poison themselves and harming or possibly killing other animals or even children.
Cllr Grace Bensted said that she would have supported the amendment regarding CCTV, but feared that other members might suggest other amendments, which could lead to the unpicking of the budget.
Cllr Coborn commented that senior police officers were pleading for the council to do something to keep CCTV, since currently officers could pick up incidents quickly. Shopkeepers feared increased insurance premiums and he feared a free-for-all in the streets of the towns. He had spoken to two other mayors in the district, who had agreed that more time was needed to achieve a solution together.
Cllr Riley referred to the petition he had received at the beginning of the meeting regarding reductions in grant to the CAB. He clarified that the council had told the CAB that its grant would be reduced from £90,000 to £80,000. However the actual grant in the current year had been £101,460 because proposed joint legal work had not come to fruition and the council had put an extra £10,000 into the CAB in the current year. The CAB knew it had to make savings and the council had managed to keep funding at £86,241, which represented a reduction of less than five per cent in a grant that was higher than that given by other local districts. The CAB and the council could look at working together in a different way, for example using council expertise in benefits advice and legal matters. He emphasised that the cross-party group had reluctantly recommended the SLA reductions. He could see no role for the district council in providing CCTV, which was a matter for the police and the towns.
Cllr Lawton confirmed that the joint scrutiny committee had suggested that both the CCTV and Dean Heritage Museum grants be revisited. The issue of CCTV was so important that Newent Town Council, of which he was a member, had included a figure in its budget and had made alternative arrangements. He did not understand why the other three towns had not addressed the matter.
Cllr Stephens reflected on the fact that the council was a very small organisation compared with the large city councils that had been penalised for wasteful spending. However all councils were being affected by the massive cuts. This council collected the council tax, but its proportion of the tax was small relative to the county council and the police. He agreed that more work was needed on procurement and waste collection, which represented the largest single contract for the council.
Cllr Morgan reminded members that he had been a member of the original committee that had worked with local businesses and the police on CCTV introduction. The committee had put forward a strong business case with examples of levels of crime to justify the installation of CCTV. Those figures showed what might return if no CCTV was used in the towns and the district council had partial responsibility in the matter. Cinderford Town Council had included £8500 in its precept to keep the service
He believed that once shut down, CCTV would not return.
Cllr Fraser said that CCTV needed to be properly operated and he would support the amendment if it only covered this one area.
Cllr Robinson agreed that CCTV was the single issue most often mentioned in consultations, but he reminded members that they had already added £7,000 to the budget for their allowances. He had not heard any alternative suggestions for savings to cover that cost. The GO project was addressing joint working in procurement and changes in waste collection would bring big savings over the next few years. He would be happy to accept a one-off grant to cover CCTV for a further year if it was the only amendment, as there would be no room for any other changes.
Cllr Martin said that town councils should not work in isolation and it was clear that two had precepted for CCTV funding, while two had not. She believed that the four councils should discuss the future with police and traders, and that the district council had a part to play. She added that the matter of unitary authorities was a debate for the future.
Cllr Quaile said that he had already spoken to the member who had raised the pest control issue. Regarding waste management he stated that no one doubted Cllr Shenoi’s knowledge, but pointed out that he had been invited to every meeting that discussed the matter. Cllr Shenoi had decided not to attend any of those meetings. Waste collection was an ongoing review undertaken by the cross-party steering group. It was encouraging that the only main issue from the budget was CCTV and he had no problem with the amendment.
Cllr Burford referred to the highest items of expenditure form the budget breakdown on agenda pages 69 to 71. He knew that street wardens offered a valued service and were highly regarded in his ward. There was no argument with ensuring food safety. He was aware that there would be big medium term savings forecast in the waste collection budget. He referred to the lump sum payment to the pension fund. He recognised ICT as an important area to the function of the council and understood why the budget was high, but believed the council should look to save 10 per cent in that area. He suggested that the district council continue to pay for CCTV for a further two months, so that the new council could go to the people of the district for their views. In the end, the residents would pay for the service whether to a town, parish or the district council.
Cllr Amos said that the suggestion was interesting, but unworkable, as the council needed to set a budget for the year. The next council could indeed make changes. The budget had been set after consultation and the results on agenda pages 97 to 99 showed that CCTV was not among the top ten items to save. He could support the amendment as long as the whole budget was not at risk of being unpicked. The one-off funding would need to come from the council’s reserves. He ended by stating that this council was way ahead of others in publishing all its expenditure, not just for the minimum of items over £500 required.
Cllr Shenoi replied to Cllr Quaile’s comments by stating that the Waste Management Steering Group was not a decision-making body. In his opinion its minutes showed that information provided was of low quality and taken out of context and that debate was at a simple level.
The chairman censured Cllr Shenoi for his comments.
Summing up his amendment Cllr Hogan repeated that the request was for a one-off payment from reserves to keep CCTV arrangements as they were for one more year. He added that the current and future arrangements were flawed in that they put the entire burden on town councils.
As a member of the Waste Management Steering Group he objected strongly to Cllr Shenoi’s dismissive comments, praising the high quality of input from officers, which he would have like to have shared with Cllr Shenoi around the same table.
The Group Manager for Finance, Land and Property clarified that paragraph 4.4 on agenda page 63 allowed for draw-down of funds to cover the one-off payment for CCTV.
Cllr Robinson was happy to accept the amendment. He thanked members for a productive debate on the budget. The council would continue to meet the major challenge of keeping services going.
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) a net budget for 2011/2012 of £10,926,890;
c) that there be no increase in council tax for 2011/2012 (a freezing of Band D council tax at £162.29); and
d) the 2011-2014 capital programme.
e) That the council grants £20,000 for CCTV in the district’s four towns as aone-off payment, to enable time for satisfactory alternative solutions to be found.
Voting was as follows:
For (33) – Marrilyn Smart, Roger Yeates, Carole Allaway Martin, Jane Horne, Frankie Evans, Georgina Bensted, Grace Bensted, Dennis Dormer, Peter Ede, Alastair Fraser, James Bevan, Keith Aburrow, Gabriella Kirkpatrick, Derek Biddle, Philip Burford, Nikki Goodlad, Norman Stephens, Arthur Thomas, Dave East, Andrew Gardiner, Mike Meredith-Edwards, Heather Dalziel, Sue Henchley, Roy Birch, Terry Hale, Terry Glastonbury, Denis Riley, Patrick Molyneux, Brian Robinson, Peter Amos, Diana Edwards, Martin Quaile, Richard Long
Against (1) – Venk Shenoi
Abstained (9) - Len Lawton, Maria Edey, Paul Hiett, David Thomson, Bruce Hogan, Lynn Sterry, Max Coborn, Graham Morgan, Di Martin,