Councillor Kane reported that a Budget
Scrutiny Working Group meetings took place on 3rd and
31st January 2023 respectively. Councillor Kane informed
the Committee that she had prepared a report on the matters
discussed at the 31st January
meeting. This was read out to the Committee, with the main points
noted as follows:
At the 31st January meeting, the Budget Scrutiny
Working Group discussed the Medium Term Financial Plan 2023/4
The overall conclusion
was that in order to continue to build
reserves to fund transformational changes, the Council must
continue to drive down its expenditure.
- The 2022/3 pay award delivered to staff in
December and the impact was expected to be £928k, however,
the actual impact on budgets was £200k less than expected.
This was mainly due to staff vacancies.
- Reviewing all the capital programme schemes. The Working Group requested an
updated list of schemes that would not be going ahead for
- The Council was looking at cuts in services and
jobs for 2024/25, otherwise the budget might not be sustainable.
The council would have to change the way it works and a large part
of this will be changes to the back office. A working group had
been set up to implement this – the aim was by April
- The Council had set up an Earmarked Reserve for
Utilities Pressures. This reserve might be drawn upon for
additional costs for the new fuel to make council vehicles
environmentally friendly – estimated at £130k. A total
of £1.710m had been reallocated to a Utilities Reserve and
£1.508m transferred to the General Fund. Most of this funding
had come from the Covid-19 Reserve (£0.941m) and the Business
Rates Retention Reserve (£1.500m).
- The extra 1% on Council Tax allowed in the
Chancellor’s Statement was worth £69k to the
Councillor Kane then reported on significant risks to the
medium-term budget that the Council needed to manage:
- The council had not yet closed its 2021/22
accounts. This was not expected to happen until the
- The 2022/23 monitoring was showing an overspend
position of £1.424m. This needed to be managed down because
it would take out half the present General Fund
- If the Towns Fund and UK Shared Prosperity Funds
programmes were not completed by the
timescales specified by the Government, the Council would have to
pay for whatever work was needed to finish the
- The Council needed to find a way to start to build
back the General Fund Reserve to the best practice benchmark of 5%
of gross spending (which would be £1.25m as net expenditure
is around £25m). The intention was that the Council needs to
do more than this and move to build back the reserve close to 9%.
This was because 5% would not cover the level of overspend being
reported for this financial year.
- An estimate on future Government settlements had
been made for 2024/5 and 2025/6 based on historic data. The net
Government funding of £468k was in line with previous
years’ equivalent grants but an assumption had been made that
Grant levels would remain at the net level of £450k for the
2nd and 3rd years of the 3-year plan.
- The Council had a significant portion of its tax
base in the bottom three Council Tax bands. This meant that council
tax revenues were lower than the ‘average’ council but
there was a higher requirement for council services in the Borough
due to a higher proportion of lower income households. This
situation had become far more acute with the present cost of living
- Loss of key Council employees, with the average
age of staff being 49. The concern was that a
large number of people could retire at the same
- Business Rate Income – especially with the
1st April 2023 revaluations,
actual income received will vary depending on actual Business Rates
growth, and levels of appeals. There was also an issue with
collection this year being under target as a result of the
cost of living crisis.
- The ongoing impact of inflation, especially around
utilities. The Council’s “Corporate Buildings”
including leisure buildings for the delivery of services directly
to the public were highlighted as a particular risk.
Councillor Kane highlighted actions recorded from the
Budget Scrutiny Working Group meeting which included providing
Members with a clarification on Paragraph 3.38 of the report to
Committee on the Medium Term Financial
Plan 2023/4 to 2025/6, which included the sentence: ‘The
HRA Rents were set at Executive on the 10th January
where a 7% increase in rents will be made over the next two
years.’ The Working Group asked for a clarification to be
made to the Executive next Tuesday because the 7% increase had been
made for one year, not two.
Following the verbal report on Budget Scrutiny Working
Group, Councillor Kane provided an update with respect to the
Performance Scrutiny Working Group which took place on the
11th January 2023. Councillor
Kane read out her update report, the main points of which were as
Officers at the meeting provided an update with respect to Local
Environment including landscaping and trees.
- All tree enquiries
were assessed on their own merit and any health and safety issues
were top priority; Officers aimed to deal with all enquiries as
quickly as possible.
- The majority of the tree works were
currently carried out by about 10-12 external providers via a
- The Place Teams also
carried out minor tree works and aimed to carry out proactive work
in the winter with the intention of reducing the number of
- All tree related
insurance claims were dealt with as a priority and Tree Officers
worked closely with Legal Services and the Council Insurance
Officers. Claims of this type, which related to properties, usually
took long to resolve, and required detailed investigation before
any claim could be challenged or settled. Such claims were small in
the number; three to four claims a year was typical.
- The Council was the
administrator of Tree Protection Orders and had a duty to protect
trees under these orders.
- We also discussed
plans for tree removal and planting over the next few
- At the meeting,
Members raised questions over the length of time it took to process
complaints or issues with trees – whether reported delays of
up to 18 months were improving, and what communication there is
with residents who have made enquiries or complaints. Officers were
currently pulling together further information on this.
- Other questions
included queries about the management of ash dieback, what happened
to the wood (where possible the timber was sold to go into a
funding pot to help manage woodlands), and potential funding for
- Members also
discussed clearing wood after trees have been felled and the
challenges this can present, for example if the land was too wet
for heavy machinery to take the trees away immediately after
completion of work.
- The agenda for the
next meeting of the Performance Scrutiny Working Group, included
discussion around Events and a review of the work of the Group
during the municipal year.
the Task Groups,
Short Sharp Reviews and Working Group Update Reports be noted.