The Head of Finance and Customer Services presented the Budget Framework report for Members’ consideration.
The report detailed the approach that the Council would be adopting to the development of the Medium Term Financial Plan 2022/23 to 2024/25. This work was being undertaken in a context in which the Section 24 Notice had been lifted from the Council but financial challenges remained in place for the authority. The Council’s reserves and balances were only slightly above the minimum levels set for the authority. There was also a lot of uncertainty regarding local government finances as the Fair Funding Review had still not been completed by the Government. It appeared likely that the Council would only receive a one-year revenue grant settlement from the Government for 2022/23, which made it difficult to plan the Council’s budget over a three-year period, though this would probably not be confirmed until late December 2021.
Officers intended to involve elected Members more in the budget setting process and this would take place at an earlier stage than in previous years. However, this would be challenging, particularly in relation to aspects of the budget setting process that would only be confirmed in late December to early February. A proposed timeline had been recorded in the report and as part of the process for Member engagement, Officers would be consulting with the Budget Scrutiny Working Group.
A new template would be introduced for financial reports, which would be presented in a manner that would reconcile the budget position to the previous budget. Officers were aiming to include information about the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on the Council’s finances in the report.
Members discussed the report and in so doing welcomed the proposed new template for reports about the Medium Term Financial Plan to Committee. The Committee also welcomed proposals to involved Members in the budget setting process at an earlier stage. The Financial Services team was praised for their hard work at a challenging time for the Council.
During consideration of this item, Members expressed concerns about the continued uncertainty in respect of Council budgets. Members called for the Government to provide grater certainty over a longer period of time than one year in respect of budget settlements to help Councils plan for the future.
Reference was made to the financial challenges that had been faced by Rubicon Leisure Limited during the Covid-19 pandemic and the implications of this for the Council’s finances. Members commented that many leisure service providers had been similarly impacted by the requirement to close services during the pandemic. It was also noted that Rubicon Leisure Limited had made some difficult decisions designed to address the financial challenges.
the updated member engagement plan for the 2022/23 Budget and MTFP Report is noted and supported.