Claire Hazeldene – Deputy Director, Finance, Income and Procurement – presented the report to members confirming that all Fees and Charges had been frozen at the 2020/21 level. At this point in the previous year there was a small contribution to reserves forecast over the 4 year life of the Medium Term Financial Plan (MTFP). There were still a number of unknowns in terms of Government funding which therefore showed as risks e.g. New Homes Bonus and Business Rates Retention.
The Covid pandemic had prompted an early MTFP update in September 2020, followed by the usual update in November 2020 when the year 2024/25 was added to the plan. The forecasts illustrated a forecast use of £1.8million from reserves. Many changes were reflected in the latest update due to items being reviewed as a result of Covid.
The Government limit on Council Tax increase (2%) had been slightly relaxed to allow a £5 increase on a Band ‘D’ equivalent, which related to an extra £2.10 per bill, securing an extra £70,000 income across the district.
There was to be a windfall of £600,000 received from the Staffordshire Business Rates Pool and a likely further £660,000 in Government grants. The MTFP had therefore been balanced by using £756,00 from reserves over the 4 year Plan. The ‘reserves’ position was better, in that the Council would maintain a minimum of £2.7million (£1.2million above the perceived base line required). The MTFP was constantly under review and was able to be amended at any time.
Queries raised by members were (Responses in brackets)-
· There was still no specific budget for Climate Change even though some costs were now known. The Council had appointed a specific officer to deal with Disabled Facilities Grants so should now appoint a Climate Change Officer. (Climate Change was always taken into consideration during the procurement process on the Capital Programme. The Council was looking to set aside monies for Climate Change from savings and efficiencies.)
· With the recent refurbishment works at the Brough Park Swimming Pool why include plans to replace the pool altogether? The doubt cast over the future of the South Moorlands Leisure Centre had resulted in a reluctance for Parkwood to invest there, leading to potential for a similar approach at Biddulph and Leek. (The replacement of the Brough Park pool was not in the 4 year plan. The Council held the capital budget for the maintenance of the buildings and would ensure that they were all maintained. The review of leisure facilities was ongoing and the Parkwood contract was in place for 5 years.)
· How quickly was the Council able to apply for Climate Change-related grants when they became available? (Best attempt was made to obtain any available grants. Match funding was possible, particularly where there was a likely long-term saving.)
· Reference was made to Government support towards the re-opening of high streets. What was the figure? (The figure would be sent out when established.)
· Were there any timescales for the provision of Electric Vehicles charging points? (This was being considered by the Car Parking Strategy Working Group.)
The Chair thanked the Finance Team for their efforts in producing such a relatively positive report in such trying times.
RESOLVED – That the Panel support the following recommendations to Council:-
· Approval of the General Fund Budget for 2021/22 as detailed in Appendix A, section 9;
· Approval of the revised Medium-Term Financial Plan(2021/22 to 2024/25) as detailed in Appendix A, including the revised Capital Programme (attached at Annex A);
· Approval of the Capital Strategy 2021/22 as set out in Appendix B;
· Approval of the proposed Fees and Charges for 2021/22 as detailed in Appendix C;
· Approval of the proposed Procurement Forward Plan for 2021/22, providing the authority to procure based on procurement activity detailed in Appendix D;
· Approval of a Band D Council Tax of £52.92 for Leek and £10.64 for Biddulph for 2021/22 (no increase from 2020/21) in respect of Special District Expenses;
· Note the Chief Finance Officer’s view that the level of reserves were adequate for the Council based on this budget and the circumstances in place at the time of preparing it (Appendix A, Annex D).