To present to Council the Cabinet’s General Fund budget proposals including the Council Tax for District and Parish/Town Council Services for 2020/21.
The Council gave consideration to the Cabinet’s General Fund budget proposals for 2020/21 and the amount of Council Tax for District and Town and Parish Council services for the financial year 2020/21, for each category of dwellings within the District of Tendring, to support the proposed level of expenditure.
Members were aware from Minute 105 (A.4) of the meeting of the Cabinet held on 24 January 2020, that the Chief Executive, in consultation with the Leader of the Council and the Corporate Finance and Governance Portfolio Holder, had been authorised to submit a report to this meeting in respect of the formal draft resolutions necessary to implement the Cabinet’s budget proposals, together with any late information, or notifications received from the Ministry for Housing, Communities and Local Government, as may necessarily affect the budget.
The Council was advised of all the resolutions and recommendations made by the Cabinet on 24 January 2019, together with the additional recommendations necessary to set the Council Tax levy. Those resolutions and recommendations were before the Council, as contained within item A.1 of the Report of the Cabinet.
The Council was aware that the Cabinet’s proposed budget had been subject to the Council’s Budget and Policy Framework Procedure Rules, which had included scrutiny by the Council’s Resources and Services Overview and Scrutiny Committee.
Members were also aware that the Town and Parish Councils within the District had met to set their precepts and those precepts were contained within Appendix G to the Report of the Cabinet, which detailed the Precepts on the Collection Fund.
The Council was also aware from Appendix H that the average District and Parish Council Tax for a Band D property would increase to £214.91, an increase of 3.76%.
The Leader of the Council (Councillor Stock OBE) made the following budget statement –
“The protection of frontline services, the key foundation of our 10-year financial plan, is once more the crucial and significant deliverable in the budget we have in front of us tonight – I am so proud that we have been able to achieve this for a further year as this is so fundamentally important and really makes a difference to our residents. I know that every other Council, up and down this country, would love to be in this same position.
It has been an interesting 12 months since we sat here last year, not least the number of new faces around the room who are tonight considering their first budget as a District Councillor. It would be fair to say that in those last 12 months the government in Westminster, and Parliament in particular, got completely bogged down with a single issue, pretty much, it seemed, to the exclusion of anything else. But, the General Election in December has happily broken that deadlock, and we have now finally left the European Union and at long last made good on the referendum decision that this country made almost four years ago. And already we are seeing a much greater focus on the domestic agenda.
Just yesterday Chairman, it was announced that the Government has launched a consultation on creating up to 10 free ports with special tariff and duty status. The Chief Executive and I have already had a conversation with the Secretary of State for Communities on this very idea when he was in Harwich before Christmas and it is a consultation that we will engage with to the fullest as it could represent a terrific opportunity for Harwich and hence for the wider District.
The official announcement says that the Government has the following objectives for UK free ports, specifically it wants to:
The Government has drawn on evidence from successful free ports around the world to develop a UK free port model. The proposed model includes tariff flexibility, customs facilitations and tax measures. The Government is also considering planning reforms, additional targeted funding for infrastructure improvements and measures to incentivise innovation.
Nobody could dispute that it sounds fantastic, but the devil as always, will be in the detail, and I will keep Members informed as the consultation proceeds.
Chairman, there is so much that we want to do; to achieve as a Council and to benefit from as a District, and we need the new Government to genuinely understand our aspirations and support us as much as possible as we go forward.
The new business rates retention model has been postponed until 2021 and we must hope that it will provide sufficient and sustainable funding to this Council. We need the Government to support us in things such as giving us the powers and freedoms to be meaningfully commercial. In respect of the Housing Revenue Account budgets, the next item on the agenda tonight, Government needs to address the right-to-buy conundrum and help us to continue being the best council-house landlord in the country. This Council could really fly if the Government were to make what are just minor changes to rules and regulations – surely a situation that we all want to see going into the next financial year and beyond.
When I introduced the budget last year, I stated that there were no ‘frills’ included, but the budget proposed would help us to keep delivering good quality and relevant services to our residents, businesses and visitors.
As we moved into 2019/20, we have added the ‘frills’ and over the past year we have delivered, we continue to deliver, and we have made a number of further commitments to our key priorities.
In terms of projects we have delivered and continue to deliver, these include:
These projects have seen millions of pounds being spent. In terms of digital transformation, such projects can seem a little invisible, especially to our residents, but it provides a foundation for us all in what is an ever-increasing digital world. It has also given us more resilience in areas such as business continuity, given the significant cloud migration project that remains in progress, and which is highly relevant as we see the world respond to the current corona virus outbreak.
In terms of further commitments, over the last few months we have committed funding to key projects such as:
These projects along with others in the pipeline will see further significant investment in our District. Setting aside funding is a prudent thing to do as we can demonstrate that our commitments are cash-backed and not just ideas that we hope to fund in future years if we have enough money.
However, I do appreciate that whilst committing money is a necessary part of the budget-setting process, our residents only really see what is actually delivered on the ground. Therefore the actual delivery of projects and initiatives is key, and behind the scenes, the cogs and wheels have been slowly pieced together to give us a stronger platform going into 2020/21 – some of the cogs and wheels include a new project appraisal approach, developing a corporate investment plan to deliver against our priorities, recognising necessary additional staff capacity in areas such as public realm and engineering services, additional disabled facilities grant coordinator posts along with additional enforcement support. These various ingredients are now coming together, and we should start seeing the associated benefits as we head into 2020/21.
To protect frontline services, we first have to protect our underlying revenue position. Although this will take the form of a number of individual actions, one significant piece of the jigsaw has already been put in place in the form of an asset improvement fund. As we have discussed before, expenditure on our assets is expensive and we cannot rely on the underlying revenue position to generate the sums necessary for this type of investment – we have therefore set aside £1.134m to invest in our assets, especially in terms of contributing to our commitment to be carbon neutral by 2030.
As I mentioned earlier, we are developing an investment plan to support the delivery of our corporate priorities. This will draw together funding from existing budgets and therefore may include the reprioritisation of funds already set aside. It will also help us to provide a clearer understanding of external funding opportunities and give us the focus to chase money that is made available by various funding bodies at different times of the year.
We are still in the first year of a new administration and with the items I listed earlier, along with those that will be emerging over the remaining 3 years of this term, we should not only see our own money being ploughed back into the district but by also working hard at our partnerships, and constantly and with relentless positivity making the case for Tendring, we will be attracting external funding into our area – we have been extremely successful at this in the past and I have no doubt we will continue to be so in the future.
In terms of putting money back into the District and levering in match funding, I want to announce two new investment funds tonight – the first is a Rural and Urban Infrastructure Fund, that looks to unlock economic growth through improvements to infrastructure, and I plan on allocating the full £1.2m of new homes bonus for 2019/20 to this new fund. The second is a Tendring Community Fund that seeks to support community groups and organisations that in turn support the residents and local communities across our District. I will be allocating £500k to this new fund from the Council’s New Homes Bonus allocation for 2020/21.
Chairman, the Rural and Urban Infrastructure Fund will follow the lead set with the budget I moved way back in 2011 when we allocated £3m to a coastal improvement and enhancement fund. As Members will doubtless recall that budget decision, coupled with a vast amount of partnership collaboration and hard work led, in an incredibly short period of time, to a £37 million scheme, the largest of its kind in the country, that gave us 5km – over 3 miles - of new beaches and the protection of our coastline from Clacton to Holland. It is my hope that this new Rural and Infrastructure Fund can be used in a similar manner to kick-start a much bigger project or projects to bring about vital improvement to key infrastructure within the District. Examples of the kind of schemes I am thinking about could include a new road and rail crossing at Manningtree Station, a bypass for Thorpe Le Soken or even the proper upgrading of the A120 from Hare Green to Harwich. Obviously, and I want to make this clear, the £1.2m in this fund will not of itself be anywhere near enough to pay for any of those projects outright, but just as we did with the coastal improvement works, it could provide the seed-funding necessary, not only to demonstrate our serious commitment, but also to provide the technical framework necessary for such projects to progress and succeed and to attract the large-scale funding they will require.
In respect of the Tendring Community Fund, I see this as a successor to the hugely successful Big Society Fund, with a lead Portfolio Holder and cross-party representation on the panel that reviews and approves applications for grant funding. A key condition of awarding grant funding would be the generation of match funding. I will be asking officers to get going on these two initiatives and bring something back to Members as soon as possible to ensure we can make this money available to organisations as quickly as we can in 2020/21.
Let me now talk about our commitment to being carbon neutral by 2030. Money has already been set aside to develop a long-term action plan and the £1.134m put into the asset investment fund should also help us support the required actions needed to deliver against our commitment to tackling this issue.
The balance we are trying to find is to spend the one-off money we do have on things that either deliver against our carbon neutral commitment or raise money or save money or protect us from increased costs and wherever possible all of the above! This seems both logical and pragmatic.
2019 saw the roll out of our new waste service. We all accepted that there would be teething problems that come with a new service, but I think we have now reached that stage in the project where there is now stability in the delivery of this important service to residents. We have saved £400k through the redesign of this service and have significantly increased recycling rates from 29% to over 40%. This has also increased the level of recycling credits that we get from Essex County Council, a further £50k saving has been included in 2020/21 budget which I am sure will only increase going forward.
It is also important for me to talk about the necessary £5 increases to council tax that have been built into the long-term forecast. We continue to have to make up the shortfall introduced by the significant cuts to our funding from Government over recent years. The £5 increase is only one ingredient to the overall budget and is a compromise we have to make to help deliver on our promise to protect front line services. It is also important to build our tax base in fairly modest stages, which will stand us in good stead in the latter years of the forecast. We also should remember that we still have one of the lowest levels of council tax in the country.
We do though need to make sure that our residents can see a link to services provided and projects and initiatives delivered. I echo my earlier comments about being at the cusp of delivering on the ground a number of key projects that will provide the platform that in turn provides benefits to the District over coming years.
You may not always see a return on every pound that is spent in the very short term, but small steps made tenaciously over a number of years do make a difference.
Some good examples of where this will be evident in future years are as follows:
Over time these activities build and promote the District as a ‘go to’ place, not only by domestic visitors but also internationally. This can only be good news for our local economy – it really puts Tendring on the map, a position that will be further enhanced by other major events such as the upcoming Mayflower celebrations where the Council is, of course, playing a key role.
Similarly, to what I said last year, whatever happens over this year and beyond, we must keep up the enthusiasm that is clearly there amongst us all to carry on making a difference. Let’s carry on with good and honest debates and make well-informed decisions that are supported by our excellent officers.
Finally, I want to thank all officers and members, particularly those involved with the Resources and Services Overview and Scrutiny Committee and its Chairman, who have worked so diligently to get this budget before us tonight. I also want to mention that I certainly appreciate the positive and constructive engagement of group leaders at Cabinet meetings throughout the year, as some really good points have been raised that have helped to shape our understanding of the issues and facilitated better decision-making. I hope that spirit will continue as we go forward; we really are at the cusp of providing some major projects and initiatives, so it is going to be a very exciting year ahead.
Chairman, I commend this budget to the Council, and I call on all Members to support the 2020/21 General Fund budget being proposed tonight. Thank you.”
It was moved by Councillor Stock OBE and seconded by Councillor G V Guglielmi that the recommendations, as set out on pages 15 and 16 of the Council Book, be approved.
It was then moved by Councillor I J Henderson and seconded by Councillor Miles that Councillor Stock’s motion be amended by the addition of the following:-
“That Council agrees to the funding of a Housing Early Intervention Officer post for a fixed period of three years at a total cost of £100k, to support families in critical need of help when faced with difficult housing circumstances such as the threat of homelessness. The cost of this would be met from the net £393k unexpected Revenue Support Grant receivable in 2020/21.”
Pursuant to the provisions of Council Procedure Rule 16.6 and with the consent of his seconder and having consulted the Chief Financial Officer, Councillor Stock, on behalf of the Cabinet accepted the amendment and altered his motion to include Councillor Henderson’s amendment.
It was then moved by Councillor Allen and seconded by Councillor Fowler that Councillor Stock’s amended motion be further amended by the addition of the following:-
“Following the recent agreement to 4 additional officers (2 in Public Realm and 2 in Building and Engineering services) to support improvements to the overall appearance of the District, Council agrees to fund further essential capacity of an additional 2 officers in 2020/21 at a cost of £44k. The cost of this would be met from the net £393k unexpected Revenue Support Grant receivable in 2020/21.”
Pursuant to the provisions of Council Procedure Rule 16.6 and with the consent of his seconder and having consulted the Chief Financial Officer, Councillor Stock, on behalf of the Cabinet accepted the amendment and further altered his motion to include Councillor Allen’s amendment.
It was then moved by Councillor Bush and seconded by Councillor M E Stephenson that Councillor Stock’s amended motion be further amended by the addition of the following:-
“Council agrees that the remaining funding of £249k from the net £393k unexpected Revenue Support Grant be applied to directly support additional enforcement activities in 2020/21 and that the Portfolio Holder responsible for corporate enforcement be requested, in consultation with officers, to determine how this money can be effectively applied alongside existing enforcement activities during the year ahead.”
Pursuant to the provisions of Council Procedure Rule 16.6 and with the consent of his seconder and having consulted the Chief Financial Officer, Councillor Stock, on behalf of the Cabinet accepted the amendment and further altered his motion to include Councillor Bush’s amendment.
In respect of Councillor Stock’s motion, as amended, the vote resulted as follows:
Councillors Not Present
G V Guglielmi
V E Guglielmi
I J Henderson
P B Honeywood
S A Honeywood
G L Stephenson
M E Stephenson
Councillor Stock’s motion was declared unanimously CARRIED and it was therefore:-
RESOLVED that, having had regard to the Chief Finance Officer’s (Section 151 Officer) report on the Robustness of Estimates and Adequacy of Reserves, in accordance with the requirements under Section 25 of the Local Government Act 2003, and having taken account of the responses to the budget consultation process, the Council approves the budget proposals (based on a £5 Band D council tax increase for district services) and agrees:
(i) that the total General Fund net revenue budget for 2020/21 be set at £14.582m (a council tax requirement of £8.354m excluding parish precepts);
(ii) that the General Fund capital programme be approved totalling £1.024m in 2020/21;
(iii) that the detailed General Fund budgets be as per the Cabinet’s budget proposals of 24 January 2020, adjusted for the removal of the originally anticipated savings from business rates on public conveniences, as set out in Appendix D to item A.1 of the Report of the Cabinet, subject to:-
(a) funding of a Housing Early Intervention Officer post for a fixed period of three years at a total cost of £100k, to support families in critical need of help when faced with difficult housing circumstances such as the threat of homelessness. The cost of this to be met from the net £393k unexpected Revenue Support Grant receivable in 2020/21;
(b) funding of an additional 2 officers in 2020/21 at a cost of £44k to support improvements to the overall appearance of the District. The cost of this would be met from the net £393k unexpected Revenue Support Grant receivable in 2020/21;
(c) the remaining funding of £249k from the net £393k unexpected Revenue Support Grant being applied to directly support additional enforcement activities in 2020/21 and that the Portfolio Holder responsible for corporate enforcement be requested, in consultation with officers, to determine how this money can be effectively applied alongside existing enforcement activities during the year ahead;
(iv) the calculation of the Council’s Council Tax requirement, Special Expenses and Parish/Town Council precepts, as set out at Appendix F to item A.1 of the Report of the Cabinet;
(v) the Council Tax for District and Parish/Town Councils’ services, as set out at Appendix I to item A.1 of the Report of the Cabinet and that these are the amounts to be taken into account for the year in respect of the categories of dwellings listed in different valuation bands; and that
(vi) if budget adjustments are required following the late notification of external / grant funding, then in consultation with the Corporate Finance and Governance Portfolio Holder, budgets be adjusted accordingly with no net impact on the overall budget or capital programme set out above.