Agenda item

2022/23 Budget and Financial Strategy

The report of the Director – Finance and Corporate Services is attached.


The Mayor advised that she had been asked as Chairman of this meeting to consider extending the time period for proposing the 2022/23 Budget and Financial Strategy to 15 minutes.  The Mayor stated that she had also been asked to consider reducing the time for all other speeches on reports and motions from10 minutes to five minutes for the mover of the report/motion, and three minutes for the responder.


The Mayor confirmed that she was happy to approve and support the request.


The Leader and Portfolio Holder for Strategic and Borough Wide Leadership, Councillor Robinson presented the report of the Director – Finance and Corporate Services outlining the Council’s Financial Strategy and Budget for 2022/23.


The Leader stated that he felt both very fortunate and privileged to be commending this budget to Council, after speaking with many other leaders from councils that were facing cuts, closures, redundancies, and debt.  The budget before Council tonight was ambitious, fair, balanced, prudent, and predicated on those principles.


In respect of ambition, the Leader advised that there were very few other councils that were delivering over £28m in capital investment, including projects such as the crematorium, the Bingham Hub and leisure centre, together with plans for the new community centre at Sharphill.  Council was reminded of the importance of the green agenda, which had seen the Climate Change budget topped up to £1m and a new reserve of £1m for the vehicle replacement budget.  The Development Corporation, which was a key vehicle to deliver jobs and investment in tangent with the Freeport would see continued investment.  The new office space at Bingham was being developed, to encourage much needed employment.  Reference was made to the Asset Investment Strategy, which had delivered over £2m of revenue to the Borough and to the previous redevelopment of Cotgrave town centre, which continued to deliver fantastic community facilities and employment.  It was noted that the Asset Investment Strategy had been so successful that it now delivered over a 5% return to the Council and represented 25% of its revenue.


In respect of fairness, the Leader stated that he was proud that the Council continued to focus on the disadvantaged and those on low incomes, with projects including the Reach Project, which had touched so many people’s lives.  For the first time, over £1m had been set aside for a new traveller’s site, which it was hoped would reduce incursions on to land, fulfil the Council’s legal obligations and provide a fit for purpose site.  Council noted that there would be a freeze on car parking fees and green bin charges.  £438k would be put towards combating homelessness, £320k towards housing benefits and over £5.5m for affordable housing provision, and the Leader stated that he was very proud of Rushcliffe’s excellent record in respect of building affordable housing.  Over £770k green energy grants had been delivered in East Leake, which had made such a wonderful difference to people’s lives, as did the £300k for Hound Road Lodge, which provided help to the most vulnerable.  Council was reminded that the Council Tax rise of 2.24% recommended tonight equated to seven pence a week and was still the lowest in the county.


The Leader advised that this was balanced budget, in respect of the Council’s revenues and portfolios, with no over reliance on any one area.  Reference was made to the Council’s previously established Transformation Strategy, which was now successfully delivering real efficiencies and saving to the Council.  The Council was seeing a 2.5% rise in its tax base, as many people wanted to move to Rushcliffe.  The Council was financially self-sufficient and received no revenue support grant from central government and that was due to the excellent work of both officers and Councillors and allowed this balanced budget to be presented for approval.  Council was reminded that in terms of resilience, there could have been no bigger test than the recent pandemic; however, the Council had continued to invest, and Councillors of all parties should be proud of what has been achieved, and it was reiterated that due to the prudent financial management delivered by this Council over many years, the Council was not in any debt, whereas many other councils were suffering from substantial debt.


The final key principle of the budget was being prudent, and Council was reminded that this budget had been underpinned by careful risk management throughout, with a General Reserve Fund standing at £2.6m and earmarked reserves of £8.5m, excluding the New Homes Bonus.  Those reserves were in place to mitigate the risks of increased inflation and rising energy costs and the challenges in revenue projections as the Council came out of the pandemic.  The Leader confirmed that leisure centres had been hit very hard during the pandemic, and the recent successful Business Rates appeal by the power station would result in it paying a reduced amount to the Council.  It was noted that the review of Business Rates and the Fairer Funding review had still to take place.


In conclusion, the Leader stated that this was an ambitious, fair, prudent, and balanced budget, which delivered the aspirations of all residents, businesses and stakeholders in the Borough, and everyone should be proud that Rushcliffe remained one of the top places to live in the UK.  Councillors were reminded that it was mandatory under the Local Government Finance Act 1972, that a budget had to be approved, and Councillors were not here to debate the validity of Council Tax.  The Leader stated that every Rushcliffe Borough Councillor had high integrity and would not wish to break the law by not approving the budget, so unless there was an alternative budget put forward, this was the budget that should be considered and approved.  This Council was very inclusive in respect of budget setting, with all parties involved in interactive workshops and officers offering support and advice to all Councillors, to ensure that this was a budget for everyone.  Councillors were thanked for attending those workshops and giving feedback, which had been considered by officers, who were also thanked for their hard work in bringing this inclusive budget forward


Councillor Moore seconded the recommendation and reserved the right to speak.


Councillor J Walker acknowledged the hard work of officers during the unprecedented difficult times faced by local government due to Covid, the impact of which on Council budgets could not be underestimated.  The Labour Group fully understood how those pressures had affected Council’s funding and appreciated the work undertaken by officers to produce the budget.  Council was advised that the Labour Group would like to see a number of crucial changes to four key areas of the budget to ensure that the majority of residents would see the greatest improvement to their lives.


Firstly, in respect of investments, the Labour Group welcomed the return of Streetwise back in house and considered that the tide was turning in respect of how Council’s invested taxpayers’ money.  Councillor Walker stated that it would be appropriate for the Council to spearhead a move to more ethical, sustainable investments, by looking at the social and environmental credentials of investment portfolios and not just be driven by economic goals.


Secondly, in respect of community wealth building, Councillor Walker stated that it was essential that the Council looked to procure goods and services locally wherever possible and in turn that would have an amazing impact on increasing the wealth and prosperity of the local community.


Thirdly, in respect of the Climate Change Action Reserve, the Labour Group was concerned that funds had been taken from this reserve to initially fund the Freeport project, and considered that it would be more appropriate to use the funding to action present day green initiatives.  The Group also requested that the Climate Change Action Plan be linked to the Council’s Corporate Priorities.


Finally, in respect of Council Tax, the Labour Group considered that given the current difficult financial situation faced by so many, the proposed increase in Council Tax was ill conceived and poorly timed and would inflict further difficulties on so many who were already struggling to make ends meet.


In conclusion, Councillor Walker advised that the Labour Group would be voting against the budget and the proposed tax increase, as household budgets were being squeezed to unprecedented levels.  It could no longer be ‘business as usual’, innovation was required to improve the lives of residents and the Labour Group considered that this budget was not a budget for households but one that allowed the system of injustice to tick over unchallenged.       


Councillor Jones thanked officers for their hard work, recognised the uncertainties that lay ahead, and acknowledged the impact of the rise in energy costs.  Whilst acknowledging that Rushcliffe had the lowest Council Tax in Nottinghamshire, he considered that there were three factors which kept it low.  Firstly, there had been a significant expansion of housing, with resulting annual increases in income from additional Council Tax payments.  The Council also saved expenditure by not tending the common areas on new estates, with those residents obliged to pay a management company.  Secondly, Rushcliffe had many more properties at a high rateable value than other areas, which allowed the Council to draw in a larger fund.  Thirdly, no other council in Nottinghamshire had as many town and parish councils, with other councils having to provide all or most of their services. 


Councillor Jones was pleased that the Council had avoided having to borrow funds for the crematorium and leisure centre developments and it was noted that some help had been received from the European Regional Fund.  It was hoped that the £5m allocated for more social housing would be made a priority, given the need and the appalling increases in rent for private housing.

In respect of the funding received for Sharphill, Councillor Jones questioned what infrastructure provision would come from that funding and stated that the proposed location of the community hall was unsuitable.  In respect of the increase to the West Bridgford Special Expenses, Councillor Jones stated that this would be a considerable increase for residents and questioned the decision to add the costs of Rushcliffe-wide events, such as the Taste of Rushcliffe and Lark in the Park to this budget.


Councillor Jones agreed that there was much to commend in the report, although not all.  The Liberal Democrat Group understood the arguments for increasing tax and appreciated that the recommendations would be passed; however, they had to be questioned.  The Liberal Democrat Group would like to see a fairer system with the poorest paying less, although it was acknowledged that the system was set by central government.  Previously the Liberal Democrat Group had supported rises in Council Tax; however, in today’s exceptional circumstance, it could not be supported.  Councillor Jones considered that other measures could be introduced and noted that the income from the proposed increase in Council Tax was a similar percentage as the annual increase in income from new housing.  The possibility of increasing green bin charges should be brought forward, assets could be sold, alternative options for the maintenance of grass verges should be investigated, and rather than setting aside £1m for a much needed travellers’ site, the developer should fund and provide that facility.  Councillor Jones reiterated that in such exceptional times, it was not right to increase a tax when residents were struggling to manage, especially those on modest incomes and pensions and even those who paid a reduced proportion of Council Tax would be impacted by an increase in charges.


In conclusion, Councillor Jones advised that in such difficult and uncertain economic times this was now not the time to add to the financial strain on residents facing a cost-of-living crisis, and the Liberal Democrat Group would be voting against the budget.


Councillor R Mallender thanked officers and Councillors for their hard work in preparing the budget and referred to the incredibly difficult situation that the country was currently facing, with huge price increases, which would affect all aspects of life.  The Council was faced with the task of setting a budget, which would minimise those effects on residents, and it was noted that the Council had a good record of setting a reasonable increase in Council Tax.  Councillor Mallender advised that he would listen to the debate with interest before deciding on how to vote.


Councillor Thomas thanked officers for their care and diligence in producing the budget and stated that the Council had weathered the uncertainties caused by Covid well and was in a strong position to deal with any future pressure from Covid, repercussions from new situations, including the war in Ukraine, and ongoing uncertainty in relation to government funding streams.  It was noted that like most other local councils, Rushcliffe had used all of the £5 increase on band D property allowed within the referendum limit.  Whilst acknowledging that any increase would put pressure on some residents, on balance Councillor Thomas confirmed that the Independent Group supported this level of increase at this time, to ensure that services and transformation projects were funded without external borrowing in the medium term.  Councillor Thomas referred to the 8.58% increase to the West Bridgford Special Expenses and noted that this was in part to fund local services and reminded Council that many residents in Rushcliffe’s towns and villages also paid considerably more through their town or parish precept for their local services.


In conclusion, Councillor Thomas referred to a comment in the report, which stated that “The overriding Rushcliffe principle is that the Council aims to stay in the lower quartile for Council Tax” and questioned if this should be the most important principle, when there where so many other important issues to residents and stated that she could not agree. However, all things considered, Councillor Thomas confirmed that the Independent Group believed this to be a sound budget and would be supporting the recommendation.


Councillor Clarke stated that it was disappointing that the Labour Group had again chosen not to put an alternative budget forward and considered that the opposition had missed an opportunity and would be breaking the law by voting against the recommendation.


Councillor Gaunt raised a point of order, referred to the 1972 Act, and stated that the budget would be passed as there were 24 Councillors in the majority group who would vote for the recommendation.


The Leader raised a point of order, questioned Councillor Gaunt’s comment, and stated that it was not possible to predict how any Councillor would vote.


Councillor Gaunt continued with his point of order and advised that as there were only seven members of the Labour Group, if they voted against the recommendation, the budget would still be passed, and the law would not be broken.  Councillor Gaunt went on to question why a vote was even taken if there was no option to vote against or abstain.


Councillor Clarke reiterated his previous comments and stated that it was unfortunate that the Labour Group opposed this budget, whilst not proposing an alternative one, which could have been challenged, scrutinised, and possibly agreed with.


Councillor Gaunt stated that the Labour Group had presented several reasonable alternative suggestions and despite the offer of support from the S151 Officer, who had done a fantastic job in drafting the budget, the Group did not feel that it would have been a good use of officer time to produce an alternative budget, which would never have been accepted


Councillor Butler confirmed that he would be supporting this budget and referred to the current challenging times and advised that although some issues were out of the Council’s control, budget setting was part of the Council’s responsibilities.  Council was reminded that a number of fantastic projects were now coming to fruition and it was pleasing to note that despite the current financial challenges, the Council was continuing with its ambitious plans, without having to borrow funds and go into debt, which was a fantastic achievement. Councillor Butler referred to the negative comments made some opposition group members and reminded everyone that Rushcliffe was a great place to live. 


Councillor Moore thanked Councillor J Walker for her attendance at a recent Cabinet meeting, which had considered the Council’s Procurement Strategy, and noted the Labour Group’s agreement with the Strategy’s ethos that the Council’s investments would cover social and economic factors, with an emphasis on local procurement.  In relation to the Climate Change Strategy, it was acknowledged that £200k had been temporarily removed, the funds had now been replaced and that money had helped to fund projects including the Bingham Leisure Centre, to enhance the development with more advanced ‘green’ technology.  Councillor Moore acknowledged that we were living in difficult times; however, he considered that by spending more and taxing less, the Council would fall into financial difficulties.  In respect of the West Bridgford precept, Councillor Moore confirmed that over a five year period, the precept had increased by 0.6%.  Councillor Moore advised that although it was not illegal to vote against the budget, he considered it to be irresponsible and reminded Councillors that they had been elected to representative their residents and given the current difficult economic climate, voting against the budget was inappropriate. 


In conclusion, Councillor Moore advised that this was a budget based on realism, commercialism, and sustainability, and was a budget fit for the future that delivered to everyone in the Borough and was designed to ensure that the Council continued to maintain excellent services in challenging times.  Councillor Moore thanked the Director – Finance and Corporate Services, the Service Manager Financial Services, and their teams for their hard work, not just producing the budget but undertaking additional work throughout the pandemic, to support local businesses and residents.


The Leader referred to the many fundamental principles involved and to the differences of opinions raised during the meeting.  The Leader stated that he was disappointed that the issue of funding the traveller’s site had been raised, as the £1m would be for the additional sire required by the Local Plan and rather than selling assets, the Council was acquiring assets to enhance local communities.  The Leader explained that many of the issues raised were national ones, including cost of living increases; however, Rushcliffe’s residents wanted the best from this Council, and this budget will deliver that.  Council noted that many councils, which had previously frozen Council Tax, were now in financial difficulty and struggling to provide services.


The Leader stated that this Council was very proud of the services that it delivered, that it was debt free, of the community facilities that it offered, and its commitment to care for the most vulnerable and disadvantaged in the community and a balance had to be struck across the Borough.  The Leader thanked Councillor Thomas for her comments and acknowledged that although they could not agree on all points, as the leading group it was important that all of those comments were taken on board.  The Leader hoped and thought that his group was being inclusive; however, as some of the points raised tonight had not been raised in the workshops, potential improvements to the process might be required. 


In conclusion, the Leader stated that this was a budget that he could commend to all residents in Rushcliffe and stated that Rushcliffe was the most effective Council for delivery in the county. 


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, M Barney, A Brennan, B Buschman, R Butler, N Clarke, J Cottee, G Dickman, A Edyvean, L Healy, C Jeffreys, R Mallender, D Mason, G Moore, A Phillips, F Purdue-Horan, S Robinson, K Shaw, D Simms, J Stockwood, Mrs M Stockwood, C Thomas, R Upton, D Virdi, R Walker, D Wheeler, J Wheeler and G Williams


AGAINST: Councillors B Bansal, N Begum, M Gaunt, P Gowland, L Howitt, R. Jones, J Murray, V Price and J Walker


ABSTENTION: Councillors T Combellack and S Mallender


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 2022/23 to 2026/27 (attached Annex B) including the Transformation Strategy and Efficiency Plan (Appendix 3) to deliver efficiencies over the five-year period be adopted;


c)     the Capital Programme as set out in Appendix 4 be adopted;


d)     the Capital and Investment Strategy at Appendix 5 be adopted;


e)     Rushcliffe’s 2022/23 Council Tax for a Band D property at £150.93 (increase from 2021/22 of £3.57 or 2.42%) is set;


f)       the Special Expenses for West Bridgford, Ruddington and Keyworth, Appendix 1 are set, resulting in the following Band D Council Tax levels for the Special Expense Areas:


i)   West Bridgford £53.91 (£49.65 in 2021/22);

ii)  Keyworth £3.30 (£3.41 in 2021/22);

iii)  Ruddington £3.82 (£4.00 in 2021/22).


g)     with regards to recommendations e) and f), the associated Bands in accordance with the formula in section 36(1) of the Local Government Finance Act 1992 are set; and


h)     the Pay Policy Statement at Appendix 7 is adopted.

Supporting documents: