Council was informed that the Executive Board, at its meeting held on the 24th February, 2020 (Minute 6 refers) had considered the revenue Budget Strategy 2020/21 to 2022/23 and had made a number of recommendations, as detailed within the report of the Director of Corporate Services, for Council’s consideration.
Council received a presentation by the Executive Board Member for Resources, on behalf of the Executive Board, in which he set out the background to the budget proposals being presented to the Council for consideration.
The Executive Board Member for Resources stated that the report brought together the latest position on the budget proposals and the Executive Board recommendations on concluding the Medium-Term Financial Plan for 2020/21 to 2022/23. He added that the Welsh Government’s final settlement had not been published until the day after Executive Board had met to consider the final budget, and the final Welsh Government budget was still to be debated in the Senedd. The changes made by Welsh Government to the settlement had been amendments to specific grants only, and therefore core funding remained the same as the details included within the report, the headline being an increase of 4.3% on all Wales basis, with Carmarthenshire receiving 4.4%. This reflects to some extent Welsh Government’s recognition of the unprecedented level of inflationary and unavoidable pressures facing local authorities. However, this did not detract from the fact that savings are still required despite the welcomed funding increase.
The Executive Board Member for Resources stated that updated information in respect of grants and assumptions had provided additional funding when compared to the provisional budget agreed by the Executive Board on 6th January 2020. This meant that some of the proposals within the original Budget outline had been revisited and further options considered.
He commented that local authority finances remained challenging and it continued to be hard to plan as Welsh Government again had only been able to provide figures at Authority level for one year. The Westminster Comprehensive Spending Review had, in effect, been fast tracked, with a fuller, multi-year review now expected to be undertaken in 2020.
He advised that some adjustments had been made by the Director to some of the other figures within the strategy which was part of the normal routine as clearer and more information became available. The current total validation added some £11.8m on to the budget excluding Teachers Pensions costs. The most significant validation this year remained pay, however the report highlighted the high level of uncertainty given the gap between the two sides currently in negotiation. In the absence of any greater clarity, the budget allowed for a 2.75% increase. This pay offer did not apply to teachers who were covered by separate national pay arrangements. The September 2019 award had been set at 2.75% and this level was assumed for future years, though it was also recognised as a key risk to the budget.
The Executive Board Member advised that the budget proposals consulted upon in January 2020 had assumed a full validation of pay and inflationary pressures to schools, therefore, as updated information was available on increased pressures, a further £311,000 had been added, taking the overall increase in schools delegated budgets to £10.1 million. This, it was considered, demonstrated significant support to schools, which was greater than that given to other departments and provided schools with the same spending power as the current year.
In spite of the additional pressure necessitated by the compressed budget timetable, the Executive Board Member deemed this year‘s consultation process a great success with more than 2,000 responses. It had again been wide and varied using the following mixed methods of approach to ascertain the views on the budget: Member Seminars; Scrutiny Committees; School Budget Forum; On-line surveys; Town and Community Council meetings; Trade union meetings; Schools Insight Session. A full appraisal of the consultation response was included within the report.
The Executive Board Member reported that in view of the more positive settlement a value of £560,000 had been available to make some critical adjustments to the budget strategy. He therefore recommended, on behalf of Executive Board, that the following adjustments, which took account of the consultation process and responded to the feedback from the proposals that were not supported, be made to the Budget Strategy:
Firstly, that the following proposals be removed:
· the closure of Whitland Household Waste Recycling Centre. This proposal had the most negative index score as well as more than 500 comments from the public;
· the closure of public toilets as this had the second most negative index score;
· the reduction to the Youth Support Services budgets, recognising the public consultation response as well as members’ concerns and
· the proposed increases to cemetery charges.
It was also confirmed that, following discussions with officers in respect of leisure services who had originally proposed increasing charges, the additional income required would be met through increased usage of the Leisure Centres, negating the need to increase charges.
Secondly, that the following proposals be deferred:
· The proposed efficiency on ALN budgets be deferred to year 3 until new arrangements under the ALN (Wales) Act were better embedded;
· That the proposed administration fee for residential placements self-funders be deferred until year 3 of the plan.
The Executive Board Member also proposed, in recognition of the service pressures faced by departments, that:
· the £128,000 balance of additional Social Care Workforce grant be applied to Social services;
· £140,000 be provided towards highways budgets to improve more roads and improve capacity;
· £140,000 be delegated to the Director of Education to prioritise according to the department’s requirements, recognising there were a number of pressures which it had not been possible to fund in the draft budget.
Adopting these proposals would, he considered, allow the County Council to deliver a fair and balanced budget, which responded to the major concerns fed back from the consultation. He therefore moved the recommendations of the Executive Board, subject to the amendments outlined above, in respect of the Budget Strategy 2020/21 and the Council Tax increase of 4.89% and approval of the medium term financial plan as a basis for the future years financial planning. The proposal was duly seconded.
The following amendment was thereupon proposed and seconded:-
“That money be released from reserves to fund bus services for those school children whose bus services have been removed due to regulation until the end of the summer term 2020 - cost estimated at £150k.”
The proposer outlined the rationale for the amendment.
Following a debate, during which advice was received from the Director of Corporate Services / Section 151 Officer on the budgetary implications and risks and the Head of Administration and Law on the legal risks in relation to the proposed amendment, it was
RESOLVED that the Amendment to the Motion be not supported.
Council thereupon proceeded to vote on the substantive Motion and it was
FURTHER RESOLVED that the Motion be adopted and that the following recommendations of the Executive Board be adopted:-
7.1 that the Budget Strategy for 2020/21, be approved subject to the following amendments:
7.1.1 the removal of the Youth Support Services budget reduction of £50k, recognising the public consultation response as well as members’ concerns;
7.1.2 to not implement the proposed increases to cemetery charges [£2k];
7.1.3 the proposed efficiency on ALN budgets be deferred to year 3 until new arrangements under the ALN (Wales) Act are better
7.1.4 the £128k balance of additional Social Care Workforce grant is applied to Social Services;
7.1.5 £140k is provided towards highways budgets to improve more roads and improve capacity;
7.1.6 £140k is delegated to the Director of Education to prioritise
according to the department’s requirements, recognising there were a number of pressures which it was not possible to fund in the draft budget;
7.1.7 in respect of leisure services the additional income will be raised through increased usage rather than charges;
2021/22 and 2022/23
7.1.8 to remove the proposal to close Whitland Household Waste Recycling Centre. This proposal had the most negative index score as well as more than 500 comments from the public;
7.1.9 to remove the proposal to close public toilets as this had the second most negative index score;
7.1.10that the proposed administration fee for residential placements self funders be deferred until year 3 of the plan;
7.2 that the Band D council Tax for 2020/21 be set at £1,316.55 (an increase of 4.89% for 2020-2021);
7.3 that the £560k recurrent funding available be used in full to support the proposed amendments in 7.1.1 to 7.1.6 above;
7.4 that the Medium Term Financial Plan be approved as a basis for future years financial planning.