Key Decision identified as Service & Financial Planning 2021/22 – 2023/24 in the Notice of Key Decisions.
Councillor R C Evans, Cabinet Member for Council Finance & Governance presented the report of the Chief Executive and the Chief Financial Officer, which noted that a one year service and financial planning strategy for the current financial year had been approved by Council on 5 March 2020.
A Comprehensive Spending Review (CSR) was announced in November 2020, where the Government continued to shift the responsibility for funding essential local government services from government grants to local council tax payers. There was a high level of uncertainty around the future financial sustainability of councils. Telford & Wrekin has one of the lowest council tax rates in the West Midlands, however, the current low level of council tax was not sustainable in the current financial climate.
Key points of the strategy included:-
· A Council tax increase for 2021/22 of 4.99% which included an increase of 3% for the Government’s “Adult Social Care precept”. Council Tax in Telford & Wrekin currently remained the lowest across the Midlands region for the services that the Council provided.
· The Council recognised the financial pressures that many households can face and proposed to increase the amount of support available for those most in need, by doubling the provision of the Council Tax Reduction Hardship Assistance Scheme.
· The Adult Social Care precept would raise £2.188m which would be fully invested in to Adult Social Care services.
· Extra investments of £1m over 2021/22 and 2022/23 to support crime and anti-social behaviour initiatives.
Medium Term Capital Programme:-
A programme of capital investment programme totalling more than £228.532m was set out in Appendix 4 to the report. Amongst the capital investments included in the programme were:-
o £65.3m further investment into NuPlace, the Council’s wholly owned housing company to provide good quality homes to rent.
o £40.7m for transport and Highways schemes, including improvements to the A442.
o £9.95m into the Stronger Communities Project, a scheme to bring brownfield sites into use, which included the delivery of the Station Quarter, the next phase in the transformation of Telford Town Centre
Attached to the report were a number of appendices, including the Capital Investment Programme, details of Reserves and Balances and details of education related Section 106 Agreements.
A consultation period would run from 8 January 2021 through to 7 February 2021 in order that careful consideration could be given to the views expressed by the Council’s Cabinet when preparing their final report and recommendations to Full Council on 4 March 2021.
Cabinet Members thanked the Chief Financial Officer and staff involved in preparing this report. Cabinet Members noted that it was a difficult decision to propose a rise in Council Tax and it was not taken lightly, however, the Government had not provided the funds it had promised. Without a rise in Council Tax, the Council would have to cut services or provide a lower level of service.
The Liberal Democrat / Independent Group Leader raised his concern in regard to the financial settlement from Government, and in particular, the £2m deficit from Covid-19 related spending. He thanked officers for producing a balanced budget and stated that the Government should introduce a formula for adult social care payments.
The Conservative Group Leader thanked officers for their work in producing the budget. He raised concern in regards to the Council being over-reliant on NuPlace and the new homes bonus.
RESOLVED that –
(a) the proposed Service and Financial Planning Strategy set out in the report be approved for consultation between 8 January 2021 and 7 February 2021
(b) the high level of uncertainty relating to the medium term financial outlook for the Council be noted. This high level of uncertainty requires the Council to retain flexibility by limiting new ongoing investments to our highest priorities and retention of as much one-off resource as possible whilst identifying some additional budget savings to ensure a balanced budget for next year. This is due to:
i) the significant changes to the local government finance system which will may be introduced from April 2022;
ii) the Government’s one year CSR Announcement does not extend beyond the end of next financial year
iii) the continuing uncertainty arising from the impacts of the pandemic.