The report of the Executive Manager - Finance and Corporate Services is attached.
The Leader and Portfolio Holder for Strategic and Borough Wide Leadership, Councillor Robinson presented the report of the Executive Manager – Finance and Corporate Services that outlined the Council’s Financial Strategy and Budget for 2020/21.
Councillor Robinson stated that, over the last few years, the Budget report had been accompanied with news of financial struggles and difficulties, but this year was different. With a strong majority government and having finally left the EU, the situation was looking more stable, the threat of Coronavirus notwithstanding. The Budget funded the delivery of the Council’s Corporate Strategy including enhancements to residents’ Quality of Life, the sustainability of developments in the Borough, the efficiency of Council services, and the Council’s new environmental priority; with those priorities clearly reflected in the Budget.
A number of current uncertainties for the Council were highlighted including: the level of business rates; the future uncertainty of Ratcliffe on Soar power station; potential changes in the future to the distribution of the New Homes Bonus; and the Fairer Funding Review being further delayed by central Government.
Councillor Robinson referred to the choices, which had to be made by Council every year and stated that he was proud to report that year on year Rushcliffe had made brave and courageous decisions, which aimed to deliver the best outcomes to residents to the Borough. Councillors formed part of that process through their involvement in the annual Budget workshops where officers worked hard to present very complex decisions as simply as possible. This year Councillors had chosen to: freeze car parking charges across the Borough to boost business growth in towns and villages; increase the green bin charge by £5 for the first time in three years; and increased the Council Tax by 3.59%; maintaining it as the least expensive in the County and remaining in the lowest quartile nationally.
Councillors were reminded that the Council was financially self-sustaining because of choices made in line with the central Government reduction in Revenue Support Grant. Over the period of the current Medium Term Financial Strategy, the income received by the Council each year had risen to over £2million and this was set to continue funding: activities for young people via the Positive Futures Programme; the new Customer Contact Centre in West Bridgford; and additional affordable housing across the Borough including at Abbey Road.
Councillor Robinson drew Council’s attention to the ambitious Capital Programme contained within the Budget. In order to fund the programme and deliver on the Council’s ambitions it was now considered prudent and appropriate to look at external borrowing of up to £10million to support a Capital Programme of £35million to deliver: the Bingham Hub containing office and leisure facilities and a community hall; a crematorium in Stragglethorpe; and enhancing the Borough’s community assets including; parks, existing leisure centres and community buildings. It was also noted that the Budget was not just about money but could also be used to drive behavioural change and the £1million investment in a Climate Change Fund was highlighted.
In conclusion, Councillor Robinson drew Council’s attention to the new Transformation Strategy for 2020-25, which aimed to deliver £4.8million of savings to the Council and reminded Councillors that the Council still retained significant reserves of £5.5million to deal with unforeseen occurrences such as the recent flooding within the Borough and any action the Council might need to take as a result of the Coronavirus. He thanked officers for their hard work in bringing the Budget to Council for approval.
The report was moved by Councillor Robinson and seconded by Councillor Moore.
Councillor Gray reported that the Budget had been the subject of much debate within the Labour Group and there was much to celebrate within the Budget, including: the Bingham Hub; improvements to Lutterell Hall; remedial works at both Keyworth and Cotgrave Leisure Centres; improvements at Gresham Pavilion; and the £1million dedicated Climate Change Fund. The Labour Group had appreciated the time and effort both officers and Councillor Moore had taken to help them understand such a complex document. However, it would have been preferable to see a more ambitious affordable homes programme to increase the availability of social housing within the Borough and it was inappropriate to pass the cost of funding the Council’s ambitions on to residents through the maximum Council Tax increase the Council could impose.
Councillor Jones thanked officers for their hard work on setting the Budget and confirmed that his Group welcomed the £1million Climate Change Fund. It would have been preferable to see a phasing of the Capital Programme rather than a reliance on external borrowing to protect the Council from risks including the currently unknown impact of Brexit, the loss of the power station, and a possible pandemic. Funding for Bingham Leisure Centre was welcomed, and the positive environmental impact this development would have, including the associated office space. As with the crematorium, those initiatives would result in future income for the Council. However, the Cabinet was urged to reconsider external borrowing to fund the Capital Programme.
Councillor Richard Mallender thanked officers for their excellent work in preparing Council over the last few years for the difficult decisions a lack of Revenue Support Grant would lead to. Investment for the Bingham Hub, crematorium, and repairs to Lutterell Hall were welcomed and it was particularly pleasing to see the £1million Climate Change Fund.
Councillor Thomas thanked officers for their professional expertise in presenting a clear and interesting Budget. It was a concern that the West Bridgford Special Expense was not increasing, despite many of the Borough’s outlying towns and villages increasing their precept. The number of costly improvements to West Bridgford facilities in the Capital Programme, which did not appear to be funded by the Special Expense was highlighted and it was questioned whether those were being subsidised by the rest of the Borough. It was hoped in the future some ambitious projects in the towns and villages south of the Borough would be considered.
Councillor Moore responded to a number of questions raised by Councillors and reminded them that the first meeting of the West Bridgford Special Expenses Working Group would be held on in a few weeks. This year there had been a lower attendance at the Budget Workshops and Councillors were encouraged to take advantage of the opportunity to influence the Budget in future years. He thanked officers for their hard work in producing this substantial budget.
In accordance with the Local Authorities (Standing Orders) (England) (Amendment) Regulations 2014, a recorded vote was taken for this item as follows:
FOR: Councillors R Adair, S Bailey, K Beardsall, A Brennan, B Buschman, R Butler, N Clarke, T Combellack, J Cottee, G Dickman, A Edyvean, L Healy, R Hetherington, L Howitt, R Inglis, R Jones, A Major, R Mallender, D Mason, G Moore, A Phillips, F Purdue-Horan, S Robinson, K Shaw, D Simms, J Stockwood, Mrs M Stockwood, R Upton, D Virdi, R Walker, D Wheeler, J Wheeler and G Williams
AGAINST: Councillor C Thomas
ABSTENTION: Councillors B Bansal, N Begum, M Gaunt, P Gowland, B Gray, Mrs C Jeffreys, S Mallender, J Walker and L Way
It was RESOLVED that:
a) the report of the Council’s Responsible Financial Officer on the robustness of the Council’s budget and the adequacy of reserves (as detailed at Annex A) be accepted;
b) the budget setting report and associated financial strategies 2020/21 to 2024/25 (Annex B) including the Transformation Strategy and Efficiency Statement (Appendix 3) to deliver efficiencies over the five-year period be approved;
c) the Capital Programme as set out in Appendix 4 be adopted;
d) the Capital and Investment Strategy at Appendix 5 be adopted;
e) the Rushcliffe’s 2020/21 Council Tax for a Band D property at £142.74 (increase from 2019/20 of £4.95 or 3.59%) be set;
f) the Special Expenses for West Bridgford, Ruddington and Keyworth, Appendix 1, resulting in the following Band D Council tax levels for the Special Expense Areas:
i) West Bridgford £48.51 (£48.51 in 2019/20);
ii) Keyworth £3.76 (£1.60 in 2019/20); and
iii) Ruddington £4.12 (£3.37 in 2019/20) be set;
g) with regards to 2e) and 2f), the associated Bands in accordance with the formula in section 36(1) of the Local Government Finance Act 1992 be set; and
h) the 2020/21 Pay Policy as detailed at Annex B, Appendix 7 be adopted.