1. The Monitoring Officer advised Councillors that if they had declared an earlier interest by virtue of being LA School Governor’s they need not declare that interest again as the report related to the Council’s general Revenue Budget
2. Councillors D. C Evans, E. Dole, T. Higgins, K. Madge, B.A.L Roberts, A.G. Morgan, and J. Edmunds, repeated their earlier declarations
3. Councillors L.R. Bowen, A. Vaughan Owen, G. Jones, P. Hughes and R. Evans declared an interest at the start of this item as they had family members employed by the Authority)
Council was informed that the Executive Board, at its meeting held on the 22nd February 2020 (Minute 6 refers) had considered the Revenue Budget Strategy 2021/22 to 2023/24 and 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 together with the responses received to the budget consultation.
The Executive Board Member for Resources informed Council that the report brought together the latest position on the Revenue Budget Strategy and detailed the Executive Board recommendations on concluding the Medium Term Financial Plan for 2021/22 to 2023/24. He added that the Welsh Government’s budget process had been much later than normal for 2021/22 with the final settlement figures having been published the previous day (2nd March) and its final budget not being debating until the 9th March.
The Executive Board Member advised that the final settlement confirmed the Council’s revenue and capital allocations had been unchanged in line with the provisional figures along with some changes to specific grants. The Welsh Government had also confirmed the sum of £206m for the Covid 19 Hardship Fund to support additional costs and loss of income relating to the pandemic for the first 6 months of the next financial year (2021/22).
The Executive Board Member advised that a review undertaken of the key components of the budget assumptions and allocations had provided some increased budget headroom, when compared with the original budget proposal, resulting in some of the proposals being revisited and further options considered.
The Executive Board Member for Resources reported that full details of the provisional settlement were detailed within the report (which had been confirmed unchanged in the final settlement). The headline was on all Wales basis with the average funding for Local Government having increased by 3.8%, with Carmarthenshire also receiving 3.8%. Whilst this had enabled the authority to allocate funding in the budget for a significant amount of inflationary and unavoidable pressures, it still required savings to be made despite the welcomed funding increase, as the plan included a significant value of savings deferred into future years, due to the impact of covid. Whilst those changes had been accommodated within next year’s budget, there would still be a need to deliver further significant savings over future years, which would need to recommence as the impact of covid hopefully receded.
He advised that, as detailed within the report, the Director of Corporate Services had made adjustments to some of the other figures within the strategy as part of the normal routine as clearer and more information became available and the current total validation added some £10.0m to the budget.
The Executive Board Member advised that whilst the report reduced the pay assumption from the allocated 2.75% in the draft budget to 2.5% for each year, that remained the most significant validation assumption. However, the pay offer did not apply to teachers who were covered by separate pay arrangements within the remit of Welsh Government. The September 2020 award equated to an increase of 3.1% and the part year effect of that was combined with a consistent assumption of 2.5% for any future awards, although it was also recognised as a key risk to the budget.
It was stated that the draft budget proposals, consulted upon in January 2021, assumed validation of confirmed pay and inflationary pressures to schools, and that remained the case for the final proposals. There were no savings allocated to schools next year, thereby enabling headteachers and all school staff to focus on helping Carmarthenshire’s learners get back on track after a hugely disruptive year.
The Executive Board Member advised that, as stated earlier, changes to some of the key assumptions around future pay awards and the impact of delays in the capital programme had provided scope to make some changes to the Strategy. That had resulted in the sum of £958,000 being available to make some critical adjustments to the budget strategy and the Executive Board had made the following adjustments thereto, taking into account the outcome of the consultation process and responding to the feedback from both public and councillors:
· To remove both the gulley cleansing and road sweeping savings proposals;
· To reduce the highways surface dressing savings proposal from £300k down to just £100k.
· To provide additional funding of £75k for the TrueCall service
· To provide funding of £50k for increased Education department capacity to deliver improved financial and governance support as part of the department’s responsibility for the overall schools’ system
The Executive Board Member for Resources advised those changes had allowed the Executive Board to cap the council tax increase to 3.95% for 2021/22. However, as referred to earlier, the final settlement had only been received the previous day whereby clarity provided on the first six months funding of the Covid 19 Hardship Fund had eliminated significant financial risks within the budget. That had enabled the Director of Corporate Services, in consultation with the Chief Executive, Leader and himself, in accordance with the Executive Boards agreement, to make any necessary adjustments to the strategy. As a consequence, it was therefore now being proposed that the Council tax increase be further reduced to 3.45%, which could be achieved through the utilisation of an element of the forecasted current year underspend as a one-off contribution to the capital programme thereby releasing £450k of revenue funding to support the economic stimulus package.
The Executive Board Member for Resources advised that should the Council adopt the budget proposals, with the council tax amendment, it allowed the Executive Board to present a fair, balanced, sustainable and viable budget to County Council.
The following amendment was proposed and seconded:
“We feel this Council can do more and reduce the Council Tax increase to 2.95% and remove cuts in services to our most vulnerable.
This will be funded by additional efficiency and reducing contingency funds down to £490,000
Efficiencies to Introduce:
£200,000 employee travel costs (Revenue saving)
£100,00 consultants’ fees (Revenue Saving)
Cuts to remove:
Coroners - £19,000
Surface Dressing - £100,00
Domiciliary Care - £218,000
Day Care Services - £50,000
Supported Living (Reducing package of support) - £23,000
Cost of 1% Council Tax Cut £900,00
Current proposed contingency fund £1,500,000
Efficiency savings £300,000
Cost of removing cuts and lowering council tax £1,310,000
New contingency fund £490,000
The Proposer outlined the rationale for the amendment
The Director of Corporate Services, in response to a question confirmed that while the proposed amendments were legal, he considered them to be imprudent given current financial challenges and risks faced by the authority in the forthcoming years and the issue of reducing the proposed contingency fund.
Following consideration, 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 the following recommendations of the Executive Board, as amended to further reduce the council tax increase to 3.45%, be adopted:-
That the following recommendations of the Executive Board be adopted:-
The Budget Strategy for 2021/22 (attached) be approved subject to the following amendments:
The removal of the gulley cleansing saving proposal of £70k;
The removal of the road sweeping saving proposal of £93k;
(The original efficiencies for these proposals would however still be implemented, leading to an overall increase in capacity in recognition of concerns over the impact of adverse weather events)
The reduction of the highways road surfacing saving proposal from £300k to £100k;
Funding of £75k to be provided to support wider rollout of the TrueCall service to vulnerable residents to prevent telephone fraudsters;
Funding of £50k to provide a new challenge advisor role to provide additional governance and finance support.
That the Band D Council Tax for 2021/22 be set at £1,361.97 (an increase of 3.45% for 2021/22);
That of the £958k recurrent funding available, £488k be used in full to support the proposed amendments in 6.1.1, with the remaining £470k being applied to reduce the increase in Council Tax in 6.1.2 above in conjunction with the further £450k released from the revenue funding of the capital programme and noted by the Executive Board Member for Resources in his presentation
The Medium Term Financial Plan be approved as the basis for future years planning”