Report of the Cabinet Member for Finance and Resources on the Budget proposals for 2020/21and indicative budgets for 2021/22 and 2022/23.
Before discussion began on the Council’s Budget 2020/21, it was proposed, seconded and agreed to suspend article 4.11.4 of the Council’s Constitution, which restricted the maximum amount of time a Member could speak to five minutes, for this item only and instead allowing Members to speak for a maximum of 10 minutes.
The Cabinet Member for Finance and Resources presented his report setting out budget proposals for 2020/21 and indicative budgets for 2021/22 and 2022/23, which he considered supported the Council’s ambition to make South Kesteven a better place to live, work and invest. Members were informed that the Council was required by law to set a balanced budget. He also confirmed that in accordance with Section 25 of the Local Government Act 2003, the Chief Finance Officer had confirmed that reserves levels were adequate and the estimates used to prepare the budgets were robust.
Members were advised that the proposals had been subject to robust scrutiny by both the Budget Overview and Scrutiny Committee and the Cabinet. The budget for 2020/21 had been based on a one-year deal following a further delay to the review of the funding formula, which created uncertainty and meant that the medium term projection was currently unbalanced pending further information on the review.
The Cabinet Member stated that the new Chief Executive would be leading the development of a new corporate plan that would realign budgets to support delivery of the Council’s ambitions.
Members’ attention was then drawn to the opportunity that had been given to district councils to increase their council tax by £5 for one-year only. Reference was made to consultation that had been undertaken on council tax proposals.
Fees and charges had also been reviewed as part of the budget-setting process, clarifying those services that must meet their costs and those that the Council wished to incentivise. It was noted that in most cases the proposed increases were in line with inflation.
Attention turned to the Housing Revenue Account, which for the first time in 5-years included a rent increase in line with Government policy. Any tenant who experienced difficulties in meeting the increase would be encouraged to see whether they were eligible for universal credit. The Housing Revenue Account proposals incorporated a 5-year Capital Programme of £60m to acquire and build homes.
Reference turned to opportunities for the Council to generate income, with specific mention being made of EnvironmentSK and InvestSK. Members were given an indication that performance of EnvironmentSK during its first year of operation had been favourable and it was now taking on additional responsibilities for cutting grass verges around Grantham, the cost of which would be funded through the Grantham Special Expense Area. Members also noted that during 2019/20 InvestSK had relocated to the Council’s St. Peter’s Hill offices, reducing its overheads; this had been reflected in a reduction to the company’s budget, reducing it from £1.4 million to £540,000. This reduction also reflected the Council’s desire to refocus InvestSK’s work on inward investment, economic development and growing the visitor economy.
Provision had been included within the Budget for foodbanks and the installation of 18 new defibrillators in Grantham. Funding had also been allocated for Member and community grants, which would enjoy a more streamlined application process to optimise their use.
Members noted that additional funding had been included: adding an additional £20,000 towards the festival programme in the district and an additional £35,000 to support the operational costs of the university hub in Grantham.
The Cabinet Member turned to the closure of the all-weather sports pitch in the Deepings for safety reasons. An assurance was given that the capital proposals included an allocation towards a replacement pitch.
It was proposed that the Council maintained a General Fund working balance of 10%. There would also be a street scene reserve for price fluctuations and to respond to the financial pressures of maintaining the fleet to a good standard. The volatility reserve would be replaced with a stabilisation reserve, which would allow the levelling out of under- and overspends over the medium term. A commercial reserve of £500,000 had been established to provide set-up funding to kick start commercial opportunities subject to sound business cases, appropriate governance and due diligence.
In concluding his overview of the Budget, the Cabinet Member for Finance and Resources referred to the resolution of Council which declared a climate emergency. Since that declaration the Council had appointed a climate change officer and was looking at how it could harness technology to deliver services and efficiency whilst protecting the environment. To support this, a £20,000 climate reserve had been created, which would provide a starting point until further business cases were brought forward.
The budget was proposed and seconded. In doing so, the Leader thanked everyone from all political groups, the Cabinet and senior officers who had assisted in bringing forward the budget, which he stated, helped the Council remain on track to achieve its vision of financial self-sufficiency by 2025. Reference was made to the potential for sustainable and dynamic growth within the district that would enable communities in both urban and rural areas to thrive whilst responding to the challenges of the changing world.
The Leader referred to the newly adopted Local Plan, which would ensure the Council retained control over developing communities, including providing new homes to support young people getting onto the housing ladder, and mixed use developments to meet a variety of housing, employment and business needs. He added that the Council had also set ambitious targets to deliver more social housing across the district.
A reserve of £500,000 had been created to fund one-off asset maintenance and improvements to ensure that the Council was managing its properties in a commercial way.
News was awaited about Lincolnshire County Council’s Housing Infrastructure Fund bid, which, if successful, would mean £71 million to fund a large part of the Grantham relief road and contribute towards the necessary infrastructure for Spitalgate Heath Garden Village. The Council was also progressing its Future High Streets and Heritage Action Zone bids to secure Government funding and support regeneration.
The Leader moved on to talk about leisure provision, referring to feasibility studies and business plans that were underway. Once these had been completed, consultation with stakeholders and the wider public would be undertaken.
Further reference was made to the Council’s environmental commitments and projects that were already underway, including the replacement of traditional streetlights with smart-enabled LED lights and the installation of 12 charging points for electric vehicles in the four market towns.
The proposed budget included plans to increase car parking charges in line with inflation where they applied. It was noted that charges had not risen for 10 years and the Council had to ensure that it had the ability to invest in its car parks to ensure that they were fit for purpose. The Leader recognised a need for quality car parking across the district and announced that the Cabinet Member for Commercial and Operations would be leading work to look at how the Council could improve its provision to increase footfall in the district’s towns whilst mitigating against congestion.
Consultation had been undertaken on the future of the Customer Service Centres in Stamford and Market Deeping. The consultation results would be carefully considered and the feedback taken into account when a decision was made on that provision.
Reference was made to the proposed council tax increase and the need to future-proof the services that the Council provided. By way of context, Members were reminded that South Kesteven was one of the lowest charging district councils in the country.
In his speech, the Leader recognised the heritage of the district, including its links to the armed forces, and drew Members’ attention to a recent project to create a heroes orchard in Grantham. He thanked Wyndham Park Forum and the National Trust for their roles in leading the project.
Members noted that the Council, working in partnership with South Holland, North Kesteven and West Lindsey district councils, had formed a partnership and secured a bid for £600,000 of Government funding to reduce rough-sleeping levels across the area.
The Leader stated that with the arrival of the new Chief Executive, a review would be undertaken to realign the Council’s management structure with a view to making savings of at least £300,000 in the 2020/21 financial year. The Council was also undertaking work to strengthen the way in which it procured services and contracts, with an aim of achieving savings of £350,000 within the next financial year.
As the Leader had exceeded the time limit of 10-minutes, it was proposed, seconded and agreed that he be heard to the conclusion of his speech.
Budgetary provision of £850,000 had recently been approved for work to upgrade the offices within the main Council offices on St. Peter’s Hill and South Kesteven House, including important maintenance and upgrade work. The aim of the project was the enhancement of the working environment for Members, staff and visitors, to improve staff morale and making the Council a more desirable place to work. This project would include an examination of how the Council could make best use of its estate, identifying unused office space within its buildings that could be leased out to other organisations.
The Leader concluded by referring to the wider political context, including the withdrawal of Great Britain from the European Union and a new White Paper on devolution. He recognised that whilst there were challenges ahead, there would also be opportunities for the Council.
The proposition was opened to debate; reference was made to the cross-party working that had gone into the preparation of the budget and support was expressed for such initiatives as the Big Clean. Concerns, including watercourses and the use of consultants had been satisfied. The Independent Group stated that it had got two amendments that it wished to put forward:
1. The £20,000 identified in the budget 2020/21 for events and festivals be identified for events and festivals in Bourne.
2. In order to support local business on the high street we propose to have the first one-hour car parking charge free and thereafter the charges to be increased as proposed in the budget. The cost is estimated at £80,500 to be financed from the Local Priority Reserve
The first amendment responded to concerns that had been raised by local councillors from Bourne. The second motion responded to concerns about the high streets. Whilst it was acknowledged that it had been some time since car parking charges had been increased, it was felt by allowing one-hour’s free parking, the Council would be able to support local businesses.
The Council considered each of the amendments in turn, to which end, the amendment regarding the allocation of funding for events and festivals in Bourne was seconded.
In seconding the amendment, it was suggested that the funding should be made available for events in Bourne subject to submission of a successful bid based on how possible it would be to stage and the financial viability of the proposed event.
Those comments that were made in support of the amendment made a clear distinction between the proposal and Bourne CiCLE festival, stating instead that agreeing the proposal would be a gesture to help restore the faith of the communities within the town. Reference was made to some of the festivals that were already being run within Bourne.
It was noted that the Leader had already made a commitment to meet with key stakeholders in Bourne, including talking about the potential of Bourne Corn Exchange. Members were also advised that stakeholders in Bourne were being contacted by the Council’s Head of Arts with a view to arranging a meeting about how festivals in Bourne could be taken forward. It was also noted that each of the other festivals in the district: Gravity Fields, Stamford Georgian and the Deepings Literary Festival each took place every other year and the level of Council funding that the CiCLE Festival received in 2019.
One Member referred to the CiCLE festival and stated that they felt it should continue as an event to bring the community together. It was reiterated that the amendment was not intended to be about Bourne CiCLE, but the wider festival and event offer in Bourne. The work related to the Corn Exchange was welcomed.
In accordance with Article 4.13.4 of the Constitution, more than 10 members requested a recorded vote on the amendment:
For: Councillors Bisnauthsing, Clack, Crawford, Dilks, Fellows, Hansen, Kelly, Kingman, Knowles, Milnes, Moran, Selby, Judy Smith, Steptoe, J Wood and P Wood (16)
Against: Councillors Adams, Bellamy, Benn, Mrs. Bosworth, Broughton, Chivers, Cooke, Dawson, Dobson, Goral, Griffin, Jeal, Johnson, Manterfield, Dr. Moseley, Robins, Stevens, A Stokes, I Stokes, Thomas, Trotter, Ward, Hannah Westropp, Hilary Westropp, L Wootten and R Wootten (26)
Abstain: Councillors Sandall and Jacky Smith (2)
On being put to the vote, the amendment was lost.
The amendment related to car parking was then seconded.
Those Members who supported the amendment indicated that they felt that providing an hour’s free parking would help high streets to flourish by encouraging people to spend more time in the town centres. Members also recognised South Kesteven as a district that encourages tourism; it was felt that this proposal would complement the Council’s tourism aspirations.
Some members felt that the number of available car parking spaces was a greater concern than the cost of parking, with specific reference being made to Stamford. Some members felt that there should be more town centre car parking; it was noted that there as part of work on the Cattle Market car park in Stamford, an additional 100 plus spaces would be created.
A member who spoke against the amendment stated that the proposal in the Budget to increase car parking charges was to enable the Council to invest in its car parks and keep them in a good condition. It was suggested that the amendment would encourage people to stay for shorter periods of time and spend less rather than encouraging them to stay in towns longer. Another member suggested that parking for one hour should be dearer on a pro rata basis than parking for longer periods.
Members noted that during the coming year work would be undertaken to develop a strategy for car parking that complemented the Council’s priority for growth. Member engagement in the process was welcomed.
On being put to the vote, the amendment was lost.
Debate returned to the substantive Budget proposals. A request was made that copies of Budget speeches be circulated to Members in advance of the Budget Council meeting.
Some concern was expressed about whether the budget went sufficiently far in respect of climate change. It was suggested that the allocation of £20,000 did not send a message that reflected the resolution passed by the Council. Concern was also expressed about the extension of the Council’s fleet of vehicles. Reference was made to the Council’s investment strategy and a question posed about whether it had been reviewed since the Council had declared a climate emergency to ensure that the Council was not using council tax to fund carbon emissions.
The funding included in the Budget for renewing the provision of an all-weather pitch in the Deepings was welcomed. It was noted that the Football Association was prepared to grant an additional £600,000 on a pitch that was suitable for competitive football. It was noted that different playing surfaces were required for football and hockey the surface towards which the Football Association would contribute would suit football only. An alternative surface was suggested that would be suitable for both sports so that the hockey club still had a venue at which it could play. A question was also put to the relevant Cabinet Member about the formation of a working group of local Councillors to focus on the delivery of Deepings leisure centre and when its first meeting was likely to be held.
The Deputy Leader in his capacity as the Cabinet Member for Growth and Leisure responded to the comments. He stated that the Bourne and Deepings hockey club would be playing at a nearby pitch. He also set out statistical information on the use of the pitch for football and hockey training, including the number of hours the pitch was used for each sport and the amount of income that was received. 31.5 hours of football were played on the pitch each week, delivering an income of £13,000 per annum whilst 6.5 hours of hockey was played bringing with it an income of just over £1,000. He also confirmed that a meeting of the working group looking at Deepings leisure centre would be held.
Another Member, in speaking on the budget, linked the proposals to the period of austerity. Whilst it was welcomed that a stand-still budget had been proposed, the shortfall in future years had caused concern. Opposition was expressed to the cuts to both the community fund and ward member grants; the member also suggested that the £15,000 allocation to foodbanks did not go sufficiently far. The reduction in funding for InvestSK was noted. The speaker did not feel that it was an appropriate time to be spending £850,000 on the refurbishment of the council offices and passed comment that less than 40% of consultation respondents supported the £5 council tax increase. The speaker also expressed concern that the £20,000 allocation was not sufficient. The HRA programme was welcomed. The speaker concluded by referring to the promised management restructure and the impact it would have on staff morale.
One Member asked about the Council’s progress in becoming self-sufficient by 2025 and whether that target was realistic. The Leader responded to the question later in the meeting, stating that the budget document referred to a corporate strategy. This would be developed by the Chief Executive and the Cabinet and presented to the Finance, Economic Development and Corporate Services Overview and Scrutiny Committee before being brought to the Council. He stated that it was still the Council’s ambition to be financially self-sufficient by 2025. He also referred to a recent Conservative Councillors conference at which the Local Government Association and Council Leaders were pushing for a 4-year funding settlement and greater clarity.
Concerns regarding the allocation for tackling the climate emergency were responded to. Members were advised that the Carbon Trust had yet to finish its carbon budgeting exercise. Once that had been completed and the extent of the necessary work had been identified, projects would begin to come forward. It was noted that the £20,000 included in the 2020/21 budget was not the Council’s only commitment, but rather its starting point. The Cabinet Member for Commercial and Operations, under whose remit the Council’s vehicle fleet fell, acknowledged that it had increased size because it incorporated vehicles that were part of the Big Clean and EnvironmentSK vehicles. He stated that acknowledging all of the vehicles made the carbon budget harder to reach but demonstrated that the Council was taking responsibility for the emissions of those vehicles. He also informed Members that there were a small number of electric vehicles within the fleet; although there were not considered to be enough. He also highlighted the challenge of collecting waste without sufficient technology or infrastructure.
Reference was made to the £500,000 capital allocation to help the Council exploit commercial opportunities as it worked to become self-sufficient by 2025.
In supporting the budget, one Member acknowledged the announcement made by the Leader in relation to the additional car parking spaces in Stamford. Some concern was expressed because it was felt that the additional car parking was in the wrong place. Members responded to this comment, recognising the heritage of Stamford and the challenge of finding available space for additional parking within the town centre. One member also stated that there were sufficient crossing points between the Cattle Market car park and Stamford town centre, and by walking to the town from this car park, visitors could enjoy views of Stamford from the Meadows.
Reference was made to the reduction in Ward Member grants and an indication was given that some Members did not take advantage of the scheme. One Member urged Councillors to submit their applications by the 13 March 2020 deadline to access the funding for 2019/20, extolling the benefits that the funding could provide for local community groups.
In accordance with the Local Authorities (Standing Orders) (England) (Amendment) Regulations 2014 a recorded vote was taken on those proposals related to the General Fund and the setting of council tax.
(Councillor Clack had left the meeting prior to the recorded vote on recommendations 1 to 9 being taken).
For: Councillors Adams, Bellamy, Benn, Bisnauthsing, Mrs. Bosworth, Broughton, Chivers, Cooke, Crawford, Dawson, Dilks, Dobson, Fellows, Goral, Griffin, Hansen, Jeal, Johnson, Kelly, Kingman, Knowles, Manterfield, Milnes, Moran, Dr. Moseley, Robins, Sandall, Selby, Jacky Smith, Judy Smith, Stevens, A Stokes, I Stokes, Thomas, Trotter, Ward, Hannah Westropp, Hilary Westropp, J Wood, P Wood, L Wootten and R Wootten (42)
Against: Councillor Steptoe (1)
Abstain: No Councillors abstained
A further vote was taken by show of hands in respect of the proposals relating to the Housing Revenue Account (recommendations 10 to 16), which was carried by a majority of Members.
It was therefore AGREED:
1. To set a General Fund budget requirement of £15.181m for 2020/21 detailed at section 3 of the report of the Cabinet Member for Finance and Resources and shown in detail at Appendix A(i) (inclusive of special expenses).
2. To approve a Council Tax level of £163.62 for 2020/21 (Band D property) and noting the calculations made in accordance with the Local Government Finance Act 1992 as amended and set out in Appendix K to the report of the Cabinet Member for Finance and Resources
3. To note the indicative base estimates for 2021/22 and 2022/23 as detailed in the summary at Appendix A(i) to the report of the Cabinet Member for Finance and Resources.
4. To approve the General Fund Capital programme for 2020/21 to 2022/23 and financing statement detailed at section 5 of the report of the Cabinet Member for Finance and Resources and shown at Appendix C(i).
5. To approve the movements in General Fund Revenue and Capital reserves and balances detailed at section 7 of the report of the Cabinet Member for Finance and Resources and shown at Appendix D(i).
6. To approve the Treasury Management Strategy detailed at section 8 of the report of the Cabinet Member for Finance and Resources and provided at Appendix E.
7. To approve the Capital Strategy detailed at section 8 of the report of the Cabinet Member for Finance and Resources and provided at Appendix F.
8. To approve the fees and charges policy detailed at section 9 of the report of the Cabinet Member for Finance and Resources and shown at Appendix G.
9. To approve the fees and charges detailed at section 9 of the report of the Cabinet Member for Finance and Resources and shown at Appendix H.
HOUSING REVENUE ACCOUNT
10. To approve dwelling rent increases of 2.7% (CPI + 1%) in accordance with Government guideline rent providing an average rent of £79.64 (an average rental increase of £2.02 per a week).
11. To approve an increase in garage rents of 3%.
12. To approve an average increase of 3% in service charges for communal facilities and communal rooms.
13. To approve an increase in shared ownership rents by 2.7% (CPI +1%).
14. To approve the Housing Revenue Account for the year 2020/21 and indicative years 2021/22 and 2022/23 detailed at section 4 of the report of the Cabinet Member for Finance and Resources and shown at Appendix A(ii).
15. To approve the Housing Investment programme for 2020/21 to 2022/23 and financing statement detailed at section 5 of the report of the Cabinet Member for Finance and Resources and as shown at Appendix C(ii).
16. To approve the movements in HRA revenue and Capital reserves and balances detailed at section 7 of the report of the Cabinet Member for Finance and Resources and shown at Appendix D(ii).