Cheltenham Borough Council
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Agenda item

Final General Fund Revenue and Capital budget proposals 2018/19 (including Section 25)

Report of the Cabinet Member Finance

Minutes:

The Cabinet Member Finance introduced the report which summarized the revised budget for 2017/18 and the Cabinet’s final budget proposals and pay policy statement for 2018/19.  Her introduction is attached in full to these minutes.

 

The budget was seconded by Councillor Jordan.

 

A question was raised by a Member as to how the budget was prepared in chaotic circumstances owing to the wrong figures being published by the Valuation Office Agency. In response the Cabinet Member Finance said that apparently the Minister was aware the figures were incorrect before he published and as the consultation period had closed there was no opportunity for local authorities to comment on the fact that this authority had received momentarily an increased tariff of £454k from the proposed provisional settlement as detailed in section 5 of the Section 151 Officers report.

 

Group Leaders were invited to address Council.

 

In the absence of Councillor Harman, Conservative group leader, Councillor Babbage spoke on behalf of the Conservative group. He paid tribute and thanks to those who had been involved in producing this draft budget . He also thanked officers for their support to the budget scrutiny working group. He informed Members that two amendments to the budget would be put forward by his group.

 

On behalf of the People Against Bureaucracy group Councillor Stennett recognised the professionalism of the finance team particularly in this new changing environment of reducing government support.

 

Councillor Babbage proposed the following amendment :

Amendment 1 (Revenue)

 

Reduce number of councillors by 10: £54k pa saving

Move to four-yearly election cycle: £30k pa saving

Consolidate Revenue, Benefits & Customer Services within Publica: £79k pa saving

Additional emptying of Recycling Banks at peak periods to avoid littering: £10k pa cost

Reverse proposed car parking charge increase: £150k pa cost

 

The amendment was seconded by Councillor Mason

 

The following questions and comments were raised on the amendment and responses given :

 

·         It was questioned as to how soon a reduction in the number of councillors and the move to 4 yearly elections could be implemented bearing in mind this would involve changes to electoral arrangements to be agreed with the Electoral Commission. The potential savings from the amendment were proposed to be spent in 2018/19 and would this be possible without a further increase in council tax ?

·         Some Members felt that this proposal should have been raised prior to this meeting as the implications of the changes could have been worked through. Changes to revenue amounted to £300k and it was difficult to see how this could be done without putting at risk some services which were important to the town, e.g. Leisure @

·         Some Members felt that with regard to car parking charges it would be sensible if the Cabinet Member of the County Council and the CBC Cabinet Member could discuss an integrated parking solution for Cheltenham rather than a piecemeal approach.

·         The Cabinet Member Development and Safety referred to the support given to the Arup report on car parking. Money raised from charges had been invested in car parks and formed part of a wider strategy which was a five year plan for more sustainable transport.

·         A Member felt that by reducing the cost of democracy the council would move further away from residents and there would be a higher workload for councillors representing wards and potentially a poorer service. Having elections every two years represented a test for councillors which did not make them complacent.

·         The Cabinet Member Clean and Green Environment commented that the introduction of the new recycling service had been a success in terms of take up and widening of the range of new materials. He highlighted that as a result the use of bring sites there had been changes in terms of number of users and the profile of the recyclate received. In any case there were  increased collections from bring sites during peak periods, particularly Christmas. He added that a review of bring sites was planned to ensure that they were in the right locations and that it was vital they were kept clean and tidy. He believed additional funds were not necessary and questioned how the £10k would be sourced. Recycling however was a clear priority and there needed to be an evidence based decision on bring sites.

 

As seconder of the motion Councillor Mason questioned why a Member believed that the reduction of councillors would mean a reduction in democracy bearing in mind there was no evidence that this had happened at the County Council. There was also no evidence that four yearly elections at the County Council meant councillors did not take their jobs seriously.

Councillor Babbage, as proposer of the amendment, clarified that the £3k underspend from the proposed amendment would be put into reserves. He highlighted that the amendments had been worked through with the finance team so were sound proposals. He said that whilst Members of the car parking working group voted in favour of the Arup report this did not mean he was in favour of every single element.

 

In response to the amendment the Cabinet Member Finance felt that such amendments should be brought forward in a timely fashion to facilitate due consideration.

 

The Chief Finance Officer was asked whether the two savings in the amendment could be brought forward in this financial year. He stated that the numbers referred to in the amendment could be delivered but the number of councillors could not be reduced in the current or next financial year. Councillor Babbage clarified that the intention would be in the short term to average through reserves so there would be no need to increase council tax.

In her right of reply the Cabinet Member Finance still questioned how this would work in the light of no concrete income from central government and the prudent financial approach at the council.

 

Upon a vote the amendment was LOST

 

Voting:

For 3: Councillors Babbage, Mason and Seacome

Against 30: Councillors Baker, Britter, Clucas, Coleman, Collins, Fisher, Flynn, Harvey, C Hay, R Hay, Hegenbarth, Hobley, Holliday, Jeffries, Jordan, Lillywhite, H McCloskey, P McCloskey, McKinlay, Parsons, Payne, Stennett, Sudbury, Thornton, Walklett, Wheeler, Whyborn, Wilkinson, Williams, and Willingham

Abstentions 1: Councillor Barnes

 

 

Having declared an interest in Amendment 2 Councillor Babbage left the chamber and did not participate in the debate.

 

Amendment 2 (Capital)

Proposed by Councillor Mason and seconded by Councillor Seacome

 

Withdraw plans to close Boots Corner, releasing public realm reserve: £1.8m saving

Invest in full ‘M&S’ style resurfacing & improvements of Cheltenham High St, including John Lewis frontage: up to £1.8m

 

In discussing the amendment Members made the following comments :

 

·         It was the County Council who should honour its responsibility for resurfacing of the High Street with the enhancement to be paid by the Borough council. This would represent a proper solution for the High Street

·         The transport plan was vital for the town, if this was withdrawn then other developments would not happen.

 

In response to the amendment the Cabinet Member Development and Safety believed it undermined the Cheltenham Transport Plan and the way that issues in the town centre were being tackled. The County Council was under an obligation to deliver on this. He confirmed that work was ongoing on the area outside John Lewis and should be completed by September this year. He was confident that the work would be successful and was pleased to hear that the stone would be locally sourced which should ensure a better supply and retain jobs in the county.

 

The Leader clarified that the Cheltenham Transport Plan was being funded by the Local Sustainable Transport fund and a key element of the plan was the Boots Corner work, a trial for which would commence in less than 6 months. It was important that this trial was concluded as if it was stopped there was the risk that any funds received would have to be repaid.

 

In responding to comments Councillor Mason felt that there was an opportunity for the borough and the county council to work together and pool resources. Air pollution might decrease in the centre but increase in St Lukes. This amendment represented an opportunity to take £1.8million and some joined up thinking to deliver something which the town could be proud of.

 

Finally, the Cabinet Member Finance commented that the Borough Council had contributed funds to raise standards in the High Street and Members and businesses had been consulted. The situation with the County Council was very frustrating as they were not supportive and CBC did not have the finances to fund the work.

 

Upon a vote the amendment was LOST

For 3: Lillywhite, Mason and Seacome

Against 26: Baker, Britter, Clucas, Coleman, Collins, Fisher, Flynn, Harvey, C Hay, R Hay, Hegenbarth, Hobley, Holliday, Jeffries, Jordan, H McCloskey, P McCloskey, McKinlay, Parsons, Thornton, Walklett, Wheeler, Whyborn, Wilkinson, Williams and Willingham

Abstentions 4: Barnes, Payne, Stennett and Sudbury

 

The Council adjourned for a short break.

 

Upon return at 6 pm the Cabinet Member Finance formally proposed the budget as per the recommendations as laid out in the report.

 

In the debate that followed the following points were raised :

 

·         Members gave thanks to the finance team for the preparation of the budget particularly in light of government revenue support grant cuts. They welcomed the fact that the authority would still have a balanced budget and be able to protect services, act in an entrepreneurial manner, make investments, deliver a new cemetery and crematorium and support development in West Cheltenham and have a dedicated marketing team for the town.

·         A query was raised on the county council vision for on street parking in the town which would assist the development of a town wide parking strategy

·         A Member queried why the MP had not pledged his support for the Portland Street proposals despite having been provided with the relevant evidence

·         In response to a question as to how much the council taxpayers of Cheltenham paid GCC for its services the Chief Finance Officer confirmed that this amounted to £51.4 million. Following on from this the Member explained that the issue of concern was how much the Borough received in terms of maintenance of roads and pavements as she was concerned that this was sufficient. This was necessary to ensure that residents were able to live safely and securely and that children were safe.

·         The Leader thanked all those who had been involved in the preparation of the budget faced with relentless cuts and he recognised that it had been a massive effort to bring it all together. He believed that the council tax rise was fair and accepted that the council was taking advantage of the extra facility the government had provided. He expressed concern about the government’s incoherence on Brexit but in light of this locally the administration would do all it could to plan for the future and he gave the JCS, the Cyberpark, the BID-Lighting Up Cheltenham and the Cheltenham Transport Plan as examples. In terms of the High Street, John Lewis presented the town with an opportunity and he was keen that the paving would work provided it was funded 50:50 with the county council. Marketing Cheltenham was also to be welcomed.

·         A Member stated that there was evidence to suggest that a Cheltenham County Councillor was not spending his County Council highways funding amounting to £30k in their ward. In response the Member concerned said that the Highways Local Fund did not represent a pothole fund but should be used for schemes to improve certain aspects of roads and pavements in the ward. He confirmed that his fund had been allocated and invited any Member to speak to him for further details.

 

Finally, the Cabinet Member Finance wished to put on record her thanks to the Finance Team and all Members of Cabinet for their support.

 

 

Upon a vote on the substantive motion the recommendations were CARRIED

 

RESOLVED THAT

 

1.    the revised budget for 2017/18 be approved.

2.    Having considered the budget assessment by the Section 151 Officer at Appendix 2 the following recommendations be agreed:

3.    the final budget proposals be approved including a proposed council tax for the services provided by Cheltenham Borough Council of £203.01 for the year 2018/19 (an increase of 2.99% or £5.89 a year for a Band D property), as detailed in paragraphs 4.26 to 4.30.

4.    the growth proposals be approved, including one off initiatives at Appendix 4.

5.    the savings / additional income totalling £716,500 and the budget strategy at Appendix 5 be approved.

6.    the use of reserves and general balances be approved and the projected level of reserves, as detailed at Appendix 6 be noted.

7.    It be noted that Gloucestershire was successful in becoming a 100% Business Rate Retention pilot in 2018/19 and propose that the additional revenue generated be earmarked for economic growth initiatives specific to Cheltenham (paragraphs 4.19 to 4.20).

8.    the extension of grants to Cheltenham Performing Arts (£20,000) and the Holst Birthplace Trust (£7,500) for a further 3 years be approved, as detailed in paragraph 5.12.

9.    the deferral of the 2017/18 Cheltenham Trust management fee saving to 2019/20 and 2021/22 and provide for a contingency within the working balance of £150,000 for the Trust to drawdown (paragraphs 5.13 to 5.18) be approved.

10.  the Pay Policy Statement for 2018/19 be approved, including the continued payment of a living wage supplement at Appendix 9.

11.  a level of supplementary estimate of £100,000 for 2018/19 as outlined in Section 13 be approved.

 

Voting

For 29: Barnes, Baker, Britter, Clucas, Coleman, Fisher, Harvey, C Hay, R Hay, Hegenbarth, Hobley, Holliday, Jeffries, Jordan, Lillywhite, H McCloskey, P McCloskey, McKinlay, Parsons, Payne, Stennett, Sudbury, Thornton, Walklett, Wheeler, Whyborn, Wilkinson, Williams and Willingham

Against: 0

Abstentions 3: Councillors Babbage, Mason and Seacome

 

Supporting documents: