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Agenda item

Wiltshire Council's Financial Plan Update and Budget 2022/23, Medium Term Financial Strategy 2022/23 - 2024/25

Details of the Budget Process are attached

 

8a) Financial Plan 2022/23 and Medium-Term Financial Strategy 2022/23-2024/25. Report by the Chief Executive, S151 Officer and Monitoring Officer is attached.

 

8b) Relevant extract of the minutes of Cabinet held on 1 Feb 2022

 

8c) Proposed amendments to the Budget

 

8d) Reports of the Overview and Scrutiny Management Committee meeting held on 25 January 2022 and 8 February 2022 (to follow).

 

8e) Notes from the meeting with Group Leaders and Trade Union Representatives and Non-Domestic Ratepayers on 1 February 2022.

Minutes:

Budget Introduction

The Chairman introduced the item and provided details of the reports which had been circulated. He explained the procedures to be followed for consideration and debate of the budget, including of any proposed amendments. He then invited Councillor Richard Clewer, Leader of the Council and Cabinet Member with responsibility for Finance, to present the proposed budget.

 

Councillor Clewer thanked officers and his Cabinet, including the former Cabinet Member for Finance Councillor Pauline Church, for the work that had gone into preparing the budget. He thanked the Overview and Scrutiny Management Committee and Financial Planning Task Group for their work to scrutinise the proposed budget, and all staff for their work over the last year in continued response to the Covid-19 pandemic.

 

Councillor Clewer emphasised the budget was not a standalone document but was to be considered in the context of the medium term financial strategy and the Business Plan, delivering on the aims of the manifesto on which the Wiltshire Conservative’s had set out at the May 2021 local elections. It would be part of a long term, strategic plan to put in place funding to deliver services, which would be monitored through data and evidence.

 

Councillor Clewer outlined some of the challenges facing the council and the public, including rising inflation and energy costs, the risk of war in Europe causing disruption, NHS backlogs as the country emerged from the pandemic, and uncertainty on longer term funding. He stated reserve funding had been set aside to deal with latent demand on services, and to address the need to deliver savings which had not been achieved due to the urgent focus on responding to the pandemic. He explained that difficult decisions were necessary to enable the council to be in a strong position in future, and criticised the submitted amendments as set out in the Summons as being short term and not focused on developing new ways of working, as well as impacting a very small element of the total budget.

 

Councillor Clewer further set out details of the proposed budget, including the £418m revenue spending and £1.3bn capital programme over 8 years. This would involve increasing council tax by 1.99% and the social care levy by 1%. Some of the details set out included £78m investment for the Wholelife Pathway, supporting those with complex need throughout their lives to live as independently as possible, £62m on Families and Children, including over 400 children in care and over 300 care levers. The ongoing transformation programmes in adult social care and other services had delivered strong results and would continue to deliver more efficient and effective services. Details were provided of increased spending on transport, drives to increase recycling, investment in leisure including £25m for a leisure centre in Trowbridge and a focus on supporting high streets, protecting the environment through effective tree planning strategies and biodiversity. He noted the high rating the council had received for its response to climate change, with work undertaken including £50m on upgrading the council’s housing stock, and £28m on decarbonising the council. Area Boards would be supported to deliver on Business Plan priorities.


In conclusion, Councillor Clewer stated the budget provided a clear plan and vision to delivery improved services by making difficult and necessary decisions, and recommended council approve the proposal.

 

Councillor Clewer therefore proposed a motion to adopt the recommendations as set out in the budget report on pages 76-77 of the Summons. This was seconded by Councillor Laura Mayes, Deputy Leader of the Council.

 

The Chairman invited Councillor Graham Wright, Chairman of the Overview and Scrutiny Management Committee to comment and present the report of the Scrutiny meeting held on 25 January 2022. This included a series of question and comments on the budget as set out in the Summons.

 

The Chairman invited Councillor Pip Ridout, Chairman of the Financial Planning Task Group to comment. She explained the Task Group had looked at a number of high level issues relating to the budget including details on inflation measurement, delivery of savings and calculation of risks and reserves management.  

 

Questions and statements relating to the budget were received from members of the public under Item 6.

 

The Chairman then invited group leaders to comment on the proposed budget.

 

Councillor Ian Thorn, Leader of the Liberal Democrat Group, thanked the people of Wiltshire for their resilience and goodwill across a very difficult time. He praised council staff for continuing to deliver services for the people of Wiltshire, and supported comments of the Leader in particular relating to the delivery of Waste services throughout the pandemic. He thanked the former Cabinet Member for Finance for an open and transparent approach in preparing the budget. He thanked staff who had assisted the group in checking its amendments.

 

Councillor Thorn accepted that preparing a budget was not easy, particularly given a lack of fairer funding from government. He stated the proposals had a negative impact on the poorest and most vulnerable, and staff, and would slow economic recovery when it was needed the most. He explained that the forthcoming amendments would focus on three particularly damaging aspects of the budget, which had significant impacts despite a small part of the overall budget. He made particular reference to the proposals relating to luncheon and friendship clubs, and capital funding for Area Boards. He argued that the decisions in the budget had not been about financial competence but political choice and could not be supported.

 

Councillor Ernie Clark, Leader of the Independent Group, added his thanks to officers for their work during Covid. He made reference to the meeting with trade unions in respect of staff terms and conditions, and that he could not support the budget.

 

Councillor Ricky Rogers, Leader of the Labour Group, stated there were things to be commended in the budget, including bringing leisure services back under the direct control of the council and increased council house building. He noted the impact of inflation, and the cuts to terms and conditions for staff, which would for example affect many working in social care. He also sought assurance it was not possible to freeze the council house rents, noting the 4.1% increase that was proposed. He stated he could not support the proposed budget as it stood.

 

Amendment 1

The Chairman then invited Councillor Gavin Grant, seconded by Councillor Ian Thorn, to present proposed Amendment 1, as set out in the Summons.

 

Councillor Grant explained that the amendment related to car parking and comprised of four elements: removing the introduction of parking charges for Blue Badge holders, removing the introduction of Sunday charges in all car parks, removing free event parking from Town Councils, and removing the increase in car parking charges by 10p per hour on every tariff. The latter included monies relating to increases in season tickets. This would be funded through a reduction in the high streets fund. He stated that traders needed support and people should be encouraged to park in the town and city centres, and that the planned increases to parking charges would negatively impact this.

 

Councillor Graham Wright, Chairman of the Overview and Scrutiny Management Committee, presented the report of the Committee from its meeting on 8 February 2022, which had looked at all three amendments from Councillors Grant and Thorn, and asked Council to consider the comments from that meeting.

 

The Chairman then invited comments from Group Leaders on Amendment 1.

 

Councillor Clewer confirmed he did not support the amendment. He did not consider reversing the proposals on car parking would address the issues of town centres competing with the internet for shopping. Retail, eating out, attending events and exploring heritage would help town centres thrive, and supporting that development was included in the budget, rather than a short term measure on car parking. He did not think the amendment was coherent or effective to assist town centres, and that the amendment would also increase carbon emissions whilst taking funds from the support of the high street.

 

Councillor Thorn criticised the statement of the Leader. He stated there was a current crisis facing high streets, with many businesses struggling, and action was needed not merely broader vision. The amendment was to support businesses who needed to pay business rates, in an immediate and effective way.

 

Councillor Clark noted car parking charges were a small part of motoring costs, but he would consider the arguments carefully in debate as it could potentially deter people from visiting.

 

Councillor Rogers stated when charges were increased car parking usage decreased, and that people would go elsewhere if local charges were higher, and it was not the right time for such an increase. He would therefore support the amendment.

 

The Chairman noted that the amendment could be moved in its separate elements, but it was intended to hold a single debate and vote on the four elements separately.

 

Councillor Philip Whitehead then made a point of order on the planned order of debate, stating that the amendment should be voted upon as it was moved, together. Following advice from the Monitoring Officer it was noted that in keeping with convention at council budget debates the main motion was intended to be taken in two separate votes to allow those with an interest in the Housing Revenue Account to depart, however if members were to vote separately on individual elements of the amendment, they would need to be clear on the financial impact and funding of each individual element.

 

A break was then taken from 12:50-13:50

 

Following the break, the Chairman announced that after further discussion he confirmed the debate would continue on the entirety of Amendment 1, and at its conclusion the mover and seconder would formally withdraw it. They would then move each element of the amendment separately, for which figures had been provided. Each freshly moved amendment would then be voted upon without further debate.

 

Amendment 1 Debate

The Chairman therefore opened debate on Amendment 1.

 

Comments made in support of the amendment included that any increase in car parking charges would induce people to travel elsewhere, even if the increase was slight, and that would not aid the recovery of town centres. The introduction of Sunday charges could also specifically target worshippers for a very small financial gain.

 

Other comments were made that town and parishes had already set their precepts and so would not be able to mitigate the loss of free event parking, which would impact their event planning and the holding of community events. Although it might be an ambition to reduce car journeys overall, it was stated that whatever high streets ended up looking like people did need to get to them, and the amendment took appropriate action to encourage people to visit.

 

The limited number of disabled parking spaces was raised, and the tens of thousands of Blue Badge holders in Wiltshire, many of whom were poorer or vulnerable and would be disproportionately impacted by the budget proposal. The funding of the amendment was discussed, with arguments made that the high streets fund included significant underspend from the previous year, and that in funding the amendment this would still be in support of the high streets.

 

Comments made against the amendment included that charges had not been increased for several years, that the increase was small and spread across four years, and that it was not realistic to leave charges at the current level in the short or long term.

 

It was argued that funding the amendment from the high streets fund was not a strategic approach to help the high streets adapt, that parking charges helped fund support for the most vulnerable and rural bus routes to encourage journeying to the towns, and that many authorities already charged Blue Badge holders or charged on Sundays, and therefore the impact of people going elsewhere for that reason would not be significant.

 

Comments were made that the proposals were not consistent with those arguing for reduced car use, that it was fairer to treat all groups the same, and that Blue Badge holders would still be able to park for free on double yellow lines for 3 hours. Others questioned whether the proposal was costed for the longer term.

 

Other comments in debate included that there should be a more consistent charging policy across the council, discussing the psychological effect, if any, from not increasing the charges versus the option of providing free car parking, or that it was the town offer that was more important than the level of local charges.

 

Councillor Grant, as mover of the amendment, then responded to comments made in debate. He emphasised that town and parish councils had already set their precepts as noted in debate and so could not simply cover the cost of further charges. He raised the nature of the high streets fund, stated there was no impact on council reserves, and that high streets needed support right now, not later, and the amendment sought to do this.

 

Councillor Clewer, as mover of the original motion, then responded to the comments made in debate. He stated the implications of inflation and other pressures required the council to take actions it might otherwise not seek to implement, that introducing free parking in Salisbury had not been beneficial to traders, that Blue Badge’s were not mean tested. High streets needed to be transformed and the funding for that was needed.

 

Amendment 1 Votes

With consent of the meeting Councillors Grant and Thorn withdrew Amendment 1, and moved and seconded Amendment 1a, as follows:

 

Proposal Element

Impact

2022/23

£m

 

Impact

2022/23

£m

Impact

2022/23

£m

Funding

2022/23

£m

Funding

2023/24

£m

Removal of ‘Introduce Parking charges for Blue Badge holders’ saving

0.040

0

0

£0.040m reduction of the High Streets Budget

-

 

In accordance with the constitution there was a recorded vote:

 

Votes for the motion (27)

Votes against the motion (58)

Votes in abstention (3)

 

The vote was therefore lost. Details of the recorded vote are attached to the minutes.

 

Councillor Grant, seconded by Councillor Thorn, then moved Amendment 1b, as follows:

 

Proposal Element

Impact

2022/23

£m

 

Impact

2022/23

£m

Impact

2022/23

£m

Funding

2022/23

£m

Funding

2023/24

£m

Removal of ‘Introduce Sunday charges in all car parks’ saving

0.050

0

0

£0.050m reduction of the High Streets Budget

-

 

In accordance with the constitution there was a recorded vote:

 

Votes for the motion (31)

Votes against the motion (54)

Votes in abstention (3)

 

The vote was therefore lost. Details of the recorded vote are attached to the minutes.

 

Councillor Grant, seconded by Councillor Thorn, then moved Amendment 1c, as follows:

 

Proposal Element

Impact

2022/23

£m

 

Impact

2022/23

£m

Impact

2022/23

£m

Funding

2022/23

£m

Funding

2023/24

£m

Removal of ‘Remove free event parking from Town Councils’ saving

0.020

0

0

£0.020m reduction of the High Streets Budget

-

 

In accordance with the constitution there was a recorded vote:

 

Votes for the motion (31)

Votes against the motion (55)

Votes in abstention (2)

 

The vote was therefore lost. Details of the recorded vote are attached to the minutes.

 

Councillor Grant, seconded by Councillor Thorn, then moved Amendment 1d, as follows:

 

Proposal Element

Impact

2022/23

£m

 

Impact

2022/23

£m

Impact

2022/23

£m

Funding

2022/23

£m

Funding

2023/24

£m

Removal of ‘Increase car parking charges by 10p per hour on every tariff’ saving

0.600

0.120

0

Additional saving ‘To increase Annual, Half-yearly and Quarterly Season Tickets by CPI (4%)’ of £0.024m and a £0.576m reduction in the High Streets Budget

£0.120m reduction in the High Streets Budget

 

In accordance with the constitution there was a recorded vote:

 

Votes for the motion (28)

Votes against the motion (57)

Votes in abstention (3)

 

The vote was therefore lost. Details of the recorded vote are attached to the minutes.

 

A break was then taken from 16:00-16:20

Amendment 2

The Chairman then invited Councillor Gavin Grant, seconded at the meeting by Councillor Dr Brian Mathew, to present proposed Amendment 2, as set out in the Summons.

 

Councillor Grant noted the proposal in the budget to seek a saving of £0.106m in the year 2022/23 and 2023/24 by reducing funding for luncheon clubs for older adults and friendship clubs. The amendment sought that the council support the Overview and Scrutiny Management Committee to undertake a rapid scrutiny exercise to consider the impact of those proposed savings. He noted that the outcome of that Overview and Scrutiny process could not be guaranteed, and drew attention to comments from the Section 151 officer in the Summons report, setting out potential budgetary implications should the outcome be one which increased financial pressures, which might require further savings in future budgets. He noted comments from Cabinet that there could be an alternative vehicle for the funding of the clubs, but there was a question of whether small groups would be able to go through procurement processes, and that there were other groups already seeking to make use of Area Board Health and Wellbeing funding.

 

Councillor Wright, as Chairman of the Overview and Scrutiny Committee, stated the Committee would undertake such an exercise if council agreed.

 

The Chairman then invited comments from Group Leaders on Amendment 2.

 

Councillor Clewer stated the current approach to luncheon and friendship clubs was based on a decades old model, with great variances in funding available without taking appropriate account of local populations which had developed over that time. The administration wanted a service available across the council area, which needed a new funding approach. All current clubs would be able to apply for funding either to a new £1.5m pot, with assistance to small clubs, or to Area Boards. He did not support the use of the Business Plan Priority Reserve as suggested in the amendment papers, and that this was not necessary as there would be funding to provide the service in a more equitable way, as it was not currently available in all areas.

 

Councillor Thorn noted the intention to transform the service, but this involved writing to the clubs that funding would be reduced, and they might then be able to apply for further funding, and this had not been clearly put to those groups. He noted some groups received funding far in excess of what Area Boards could provide. He didn’t disagree about disparity across the county, but that this should have happened before the proposal, and so supported having the funding available in the short term and a scrutiny exercise to take place to recommend an approach for the long term, to reassure the groups and those who relied upon them.

 

Councillor Wright, as Deputy for the Independent Group Leader, agreed that it was appropriate for scrutiny to take place.

 

Councillor Rogers stated he was reassured by the new funding mentioned by the Leader, but sought confirmation all clubs would have the opportunity to bid for that funding.

 

The Chairman then opened the amendment to debate.

 

Comments in debate included that the luncheon and friendship clubs provided a vital service for many vulnerable people, and the communication around the proposed transformation of the service had caused some anxiety. The need for a new model was raised, noting that some towns currently might receive far less funding than another which was only one fifth the size under the outdated model, and the process lacked clarity and oversight. Comments supported the issue being examined by Overview and Scrutiny, and that any new framework should not be complex or restrictive.

 

With consent of the meeting, Councillor Grant and the seconder then withdrew Amendment 2 following the comments made in debate, on the basis of the Cabinet Member for Adult Social Care, Councillor Jane Davies, and Chairman of Overview and Scrutiny Management confirming that the matter would be placed before a Rapid Scrutiny Exercise,

 

Councillor Clewer added he supported moving ahead with the transformation, utilising Overview and Scrutiny to ensure the concerns raised to Full Council were checked.

 

Amendment 3

 

The Chairman then invited Councillor Gavin Grant, seconded by Councillor Ian Thorn, to present proposed Amendment 3, as set out in the Summons, relating to Area Board capital grants.

 

Councillor Grant raised the importance of Area Boards to the council in connecting with and enhancing local communities. He welcomed the increase in funding for the Local Highways and Footpath Improvement Groups (LHFIG), formerly Community Area Transport Groups, set up by each Area Board. However, the budget included a reduction in capital grants funding, and the purpose of the amendment was to reinstate the £0.400m that was to be reallocated for the LHFIG through additional borrowing. The revenue impact of this proposal would be £0.020m every year from 2023/24 and would have the impact of increasing the draw from the Budget Equalisation Reserve in 2023/24 to £9.122m and increase the budget gap in 2024/25.

 

Councillor Wright, as Charman of Overview and Scrutiny Management Committee, had no additional comments.

 

The Chairman then invited comments from Group Leaders on Amendment 3.

 

Councillor Clewer set out the budget proposal to transfer £0.400m from capital funding to the LHFIG, which would also save £0.290m in interest every year. He explained the use of Community Infrastructure Levy funding, and savings that would be achieved from the revenue budget. He considered the proposal was not sustainable as the increase every year would add up over time and was not an appropriate use of the reserves, which were to deal with localised urgent need. He therefore did not support the amendment, and considered the budget was a more effective way of funding Area Boards.

 

Councillor Thorn stated that he supported the increased LHFIG funding, but the issue was how much the role of Area Boards were valued. The role, investment and leadership of Area Boards for communities was often praised by the council. He did not think it appropriate to cut the capital funding without a replacement. He urged Members to support the amendment in order to maintain the ability of Area Boards to support their communities.

 

Councillor Wright, deputy for the Independent Group Leader, considered LHFIG funding could be more effective than capital grants.

 

Councillor Rogers noted the success of Area Boards for the council. He raised concerns about funding the amendment through borrowing, but also about reducing the capital budget of Area Boards. He expressed concern about whether there was capacity to ensure the LHFIG funding would indeed be spent, and the impact of reducing capital grants.

 

The Chairman then opened the amendment to debate.

 

Comments in support of the amendment included that Area Boards should be supported as much as possible to make decisions for their areas, as they were more local and effective at identifying local priorities. The importance of capital grant funding for more deprived areas in particular was raised, and that at the current level funds were usually all used up within a year. Others considered changing the funding allocations should have been reviewed before it was proposed, or that reducing the capital grants allocation reduced local decision making.

 

Comments against the amendment included that the funding for Area Boards was remaining the same, but would be allocated in a different way. Some stated that it was a matter of effective investment, noting that some groups applied only to the Area Board rather than seeking other available funding such as from parish councils, with others suggesting not all Area Boards were efficient or effective, or visible to communities.

 

Comments were made that it was not appropriate to fund the amendment through borrowing and use of the budget equalisation reserve for day to day spending, and drew attention to comments of the S151 Officer regarding financial pressures.

 

Other comments raised in debate included seeking clarity on the level of officer resource to administer the increased funding for LHFIGs to ensure it would lead to action,

 

Councillor Grant, in response to comments raised in debate, clarified the amount seeking to be borrowed, which would be for one year only, not an ongoing commitment, and the importance of finding a new way to fund Area Boards. He considered that it would be unfair that all Area Boards would see their capital funding reduced, and the amendment gave time to seek better models.

 

Councillor Clewer, in response to comments raised in debate, clarified that there would be additional support for the increased LHFIG allocation, and no reduction to the level of Area Board funding overall. Some Area Boards worked more effectively than others, and Overview and Scrutiny was looking into reviewing their operation and delivery of priorities. However, he did not consider the amendment, funded through borrowing, was an appropriate solution.

 

In accordance with the constitution there was a recorded vote:

 

Votes for the motion (24)

Votes against the motion (56)

Votes in abstention (2)

 

The vote was therefore lost. Details of the recorded vote are attached to the minutes.

 

Budget

There being no further amendments, the Chairman returned to debate on the original budget motion moved by Councillors Clewer and Mayes.

 

Comments in support of the budget included that budget was prudent, robust, risk assessed and provided financial resilience. Details were provided on the housing revenue account and commitment to invest in council programmes. Comments were made about the investment in leisure, including a new leisure centre in Trowbridge. It was noted that 35% of the core funding of the council went toward adult social care, and the importance of the social care levy proposal to fund this and further investment and transformation.

 

Comments in opposition to the budget included opposing the proposed withdrawal of funding for Citizen’s Advice, and whether this had been properly assessed. The impact on staff of pay reduction and changes to terms and conditions was raised. The high streets fund was discussed, and questioning the figures as being lower than the government awarded.

 

Other comments made in debate included further discussion of the increase to parking charges applying across areas with varying charges equally, and that different areas had different occupancy and that the current arrangements were not effective. A comment was made that consideration should be given to providing further support to Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty. There were also comments relating to local highways, A338 improvement works, leisure provision in Chippenham, the setting of fees and charges, business rates, and if more information had been received on the government’s announcement of an energy bills rebate. The importance of supporting the scrutiny of finances throughout the financial year was raised.

 

Councillor Clewer, as mover of the original motion, then responded to the comments made in debate.

 

Councillor Clewer stated there was a proposal in the budget for staff savings, including through vacancies and changes to terms and conditions. This would be subject to consultation with staff and unions and was ongoing, with an intention to seek to avoid redundancies. However, the level of savings required did mean difficult decisions had been proposed within the budget. He noted how much time had been spent in debate on a very small part of the budget, against some very significant aspects of the budget such as adult social care. In relation to the Citizen’s Advice Bureau, he stated there was the removal of duplication in funding and modernise the approach, and there would be an impact assessment before delivery of the saving. He supported working closely with AONBs, and that there were proposals about delivering improvements to the A36, and clarity had not been received from government regarding the energy bill rebate, or in relation to business rates, and as such the budget took a prudent approach for the medium term. He emphasised the budget was taking a strategic approach, to help transform services, and give a stable basis to act in the future.

 

It was then,

 

Resolved:

 

a)    That a net general fund budget of 2022/23of £417.703m is approved;

b)    That the Councils Tax requirement for the Council be set at £311.192m for 2022/23 with an average Band D of £1,638.16, an increase of91pper week;

c)    That the Wiltshire Council element of the Council Tax be increased in 2022/23 by the following:

i.                 A 1.99% general increase;

ii.               Plus a levy of1% to be spent solely on Adult Social Care;

d)    That the Corporate Leadership Team be required to meet the revenue budget targets for each service area as set out in Appendix 1 to this report, for the delivery of Council services in 2022/23;

e)    Approves the changes in the fees and charges as set out in the report;

f)      That the Capital Programme 2022/23 to 2029/30 is approved;

g)    That the Capital Strategy set out in Appendix 9 is approved;

h)    That the Housing Revenue Account (HRA) budget for 2022/23is set at £24.173m;

i)      That a 4.1% increase is set for social dwelling rents, except for rents currently over the formula rent which will be capped at formula rent as per national guidance;

j)      All service charges related to the Housing Revenue Account (HRA)being increased to cover costs and garage rents increased by4.1%;

That Council endorses the Medium Term Financial Strategy and the forecast budget gap, after the utilisation of the budget equalisation reserve, of £10.705m for the 2024/25 financial year with regular updates to be received on delivery against strategy and addressing the forecast budget gap.

 

In accordance with the constitution there was a recorded vote:

 

Vote 1 – resolutions a)-g) and the medium term financial strategy endorsement

 

Votes for the motion (56)

Votes against the motion (26)

Votes in abstention (0)

 

Vote 2 – resolutions h) – j)

 

Votes for the motion (80)

Votes against the motion (0)

Votes in abstention (1)

 

Details of each recorded vote are attached to the minutes.

 

A break was then taken from 19:00-19:10

 

Supporting documents:

 

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