To enquire into the proposed budget for the Council for 2022/23 within the framework of the Council’s Medium Term Financial Strategy, its Treasury Strategy and the most recent quarterly update report on the Council’s Budget for 2021/22. The Committee will be assisted by the Leader and individual Cabinet Members in its enquiry and will examine the Cabinet’s initial highlight priority actions for 2022/23 and the synergy with the proposed Budget for 2022/23. The enquiry will address both the General Fund and Housing Revenue Account.
The Committee had before it a report that set out a number of key financial reports for consideration, including the budget proposals for 2022/23 in respect of both the General Fund (GF) and Housing Revenue Account (HRA).
The Members heard how a number of key financial reports were considered by Cabinet earlier in the year, with the comments of the Committee now requested. The various reports form part of the Committee’s work programme and the timely opportunity had been taken to bring those together within this report as part of the Committee’s wider budget consultation activities for 2022/23.
The following set out each report in turn:
1) Treasury Outturn 2022
On 17 September 2021, Cabinet considered the Treasury Outturn 2020/21.
At the above meeting, Cabinet resolved that the Treasury Management performance position for 2020/21 be noted and that the Prudential and Treasury Indicators for 2020/21 be approved.
2) Financial Performance Report at the end of Quarter 2 (2021/22)
On 12 November 2021 Cabinet considered the Financial Performance Report – In-Year Performance against the Budget at the end of the Second Quarter 2021/22 and Long Term Financial Forecast Update.
At the above meeting, Cabinet resolved:
“That, in respect of the financial performance against the budget at the end of September 2021:-
(a) the current position be noted;
(b) the proposed in-year adjustments to the budget, as set out in Appendix H to item A.8 of the Report of the Portfolio Holder for Corporate Finance & Governance, be approved;
(c) in respect of the Council’s Treasury Management Practices, the aggregate amount of money that can be placed overnight with the Council’s bankers be increased temporarily from £1.000m to £1.500m for each day the offices are closed over the Christmas 2021 break;
(d) the Council continues to be a member of the Essex Business Rates Pool in 2022/23 if it remains financially advantageous to do so; and
(e) the closing date for Members to submit claims under the Members’ COVID-19 small grant scheme be set as 31 March 2022.
2. That, in respect of the Updated Long Term Forecast:-
the updated forecast be approved and that the Resources and Service Overview and Scrutiny Committee be consulted on the latest position”.
3) Updated Financial Forecast and Budget Proposals 2022/23 (GENERAL FUND)
On 17 December 2021, Cabinet considered the Updated Financial Forecast and Initial Budget Proposals 2022/23.
At the above meeting it was resolved that Cabinet:
(a) “approves the updated Financial Forecast and proposed position for 2022/23 as set out in the Corporate Finance & Governance Portfolio Holder’s report and the appendices thereto; and
(b) requests the Resources and Services Overview and Scrutiny Committee’s comments on this latest financial forecast and proposed position for 2022/23”.
4) Housing Revenue Estimates 2022/23
On 17 December 2021, Cabinet considered the Housing Revenue Account Estimates 2022/23.
At the above meeting it was resolved that Cabinet:
(a) “approves the updated Housing Revenue Account (HRA) 30 year Business Plan and proposed position for 2022/23, as set out in the Portfolio Holders’ joint report and Appendix thereto; and
b) requests the Resources and Services Overview and Scrutiny Committee’s comments on this latest HRA financial forecast and proposed position for 2022/23”.
The Committee thereupon undertook its scrutiny of the key financial reports including budget proposals for 2022/23
Prior to the meeting, questions that the Committee Members had raised had been circulated to the relevant Cabinet Members and Officers in order to enable responses to be provided. Those questions and responses form the Appendix to these Minutes.
Members of the Cabinet, accompanied by the appropriate Management Team Member or other Senior Officer, attended the meeting in turn and assisted the Committee in its enquiry of the matters put to them in respect of the budget position and allocation of funds. The questions that Members asked to Cabinet Members and Officers (together with the responses received from those Cabinet Members and Officers) form the Appendix to these Minutes.
The meeting adjourned briefly for lunch.
During his time with the Committee, the Leader of the Council praised its hard work and said:
“I genuinely do thank you, I have done the scrutiny role myself, so I do appreciate the value, significance and the key role that it plays in a democratic system, I often joke, if I was king of the world, that would be great for me, until it wasn’t great anymore, I could make all sorts of crazy decisions on my own, some of them would have been fantastic, some others wouldn’t have been so good. Even with in the grouping of Cabinet there will be differences of opinion which are right and proper and they’re good, because you need someone to point out other views and opinions.
We need Overview and Scurtiny, even if we don’t always necessarily like it or do what is recommended, but we need that challenge and the committee are giving us a challenge and leads for a better decision making process and makes for a better Local Authority which makes us a better Council and District”.
Having considered all of the information that had been provided, including the responses to the questions posed to Cabinet Members and Officers referred to in the Appendix, it was RESOLVED that the CABINET be RECOMMENDED that:
In respect of the financial forecast and proposed General Fund budget position for 2022/23
1. That the issue of the level of carry forward amounts each year, as highlighted several times by the external auditors in their annual audit letters to the Council in recent years, be addressed urgently by the Cabinet.
2. That the intentions for developing a Corporate Investment Plan in order to establish a process for considering proposals for investment against the Corporate Plan Priorities and developing a prioritisation framework for investment over the coming year and into the medium term be welcomed and:
a. That the schemes set out in the current reserves, provisions and one-off sums be reassessed as part of that Corporate Investment Plan process in order to avoid sums of money being allocated for schemes that are no longer to be pursued and thereby hampering investment in schemes that can deliver real benefit to the District;
b. That, further to (a) above, the approvals to establish a reserve for a Residents Free Parking Scheme (£221K in reserves) and to allocate funds for a Clacton Town Centre Fountain (£159K as a one-off sum) be reversed immediately (as they are not required/being pursued) and the sums reallocated to fund the posts of 6 Community Ambassadors, 4 Street Rangers and 1 Technical/Administration (at a total cost of £352K) for 2022/23 with the remaining £28K from the released funds being ring-fenced to support training, equipment and supplies costs associated with those posts in 2022/23.
c. That the Plan should identify a range of seafront enhancements, developed in conjunction with seaside communities (including where relevant Town/Parish Councils) on the basis that these are funded by an expansion of beach huts in those communities.
d. That the Plan should deliver on the intentions of the Public Conveniences Strategy by improvements in those continuing facilities (particularly in view of the saving of £72,200 from the Government’s backdating of business rate relief to the start of 2020/21 and the absence of business rates on those facilities since the Strategy was adopted).
e. That the Plan clearly identifies how it will integrate with the priorities for investment through funding secured through the Community Infrastructure Levy (CIL) and the monitoring of the investment through that funding route.
3. That progress with the procurement of the new cremators for the Weeley crematorium and the significant loss of income in 2021/22 and 2023 while the cremators are out of action, be monitored, very closely, and councillors and the public be kept informed about the process.
4. That internal procurement processes be re-examined with a view to strengthen those processes and addressing the risk of failure by companies who are major suppliers to the Council (given recent example of the company maintaining the cremators and other examples in recent years).
5. That the planned events for the platinum Jubilee and associated funding for them, be approved as a matter of urgency.
6. That the problem of littering along the A120 be highlighted and the Council pursues with Essex County Council and Highways England, frequent cleaning of the road, and verges next to it, with waste bins that are suitable for the level of use be installed and maintained in the laybys between Ardleigh Crown and Harwich, so that this major route through the District is kept clean.
In respect of the Housing Revenue Account 2022/23
1. That, in respect of the Housing Revenue Account, stretch targets be introduced for void levels given the impact on the budget in lost rental income and Council Tax (including the proposed surcharge for empty homes being introduced for 2022/23) and the demand for housing that could be met by bringing void homes back into rental.
2. That the Council commences setting aside funds to meet the costs that will arise from the housing stock condition survey (albeit that the full extent of those sums is not yet known).
In respect of the proposed highlight priorities for 2022/23
1. That the Cabinet reassess its highlight priorities for 2022/23 and include in them, with appropriate budget and milestones or otherwise implement the following:
a. Progress with the various steps that will be part of the Stock Condition Survey to be undertaken in 2022/23 – in view of the important role the Council has as a major local landlord and the need to prepare for the implications of the Hackett review and revisions to the Decent Homes Standard.
b. Delivery of key elements of the emerging Sports and Leisure Strategy – given the need to take forward the range of actions to improve activity levels not just among those who are currently not active but also among those who are moderately active and across all parts of the District.
c. As part of the growing and Inclusive Economy Theme, Tourism Officers/ events proposed priority, include measures to increase the numbers and extend the percentage of visitors to the area that can (and do) stay overnight and thereby increase dramatically the spend locally by visitors.
d. In respect of the proposed priority of carbon reduction/climate action:
i. as and when initiatives are brought forward, details should be provided as to how the relevant carbon reduction measures affect the Council and its partners financially (and is there a consequence for job numbers/skills of the individual measures).
ii. the proposals for Electric Vehicle charging points across the District be worked up and the consequential budgetary issues for the Council be established and shared widely.
NOTE in accordance with procured rule 19.5 Councillors Griffiths and Placey requested that their names be recorded in the minutes as having voted against recommendation 2(b) above.