General Fund Revenue and Capital – Revised Budget 2019/20 and Final Budget Proposals 2020/21
Report of the Cabinet Member Finance TO FOLLOW
The Cabinet Member Finance presented the report and delivered a speech, which is attached to these minutes as an appendix. The Leader of the Council seconded the report.
One Member asked a technical question about accreditation statuses. FC responded that these make it possible for the authority to retain their portfolio status. Accreditation experts look at everything owned by the council, comprising some 250,000 different objects. One Member asked whether the use of the term ‘pump-priming’ in the report means that removing money from the Town Hall improvement is imminent. The Cabinet Member Finance responded that the money is allocated to the Trust, on condition of a full business case. One Member outlined the situation at the Trust, reassuring members that it does not need rescuing, based on figures seen in the last couple of months. She praised the new Chief Executive of the Trust for turning around its financial situation. The council is working with the Trust to help it become more commercially focused. The new Chief Executive has overseen positive changes in other areas of the Trust, e.g. more bookings across the board, and she was satisfied that the £1m allocated to the Trust will make a significant difference.
One Member suggested an amendment to paragraph 6.13, adding in reference to the Chancellor and the specific Secretary of State for Export. He suggested that this change would be a simple addition with a significant effect, and urged its adoption. The Cabinet Member Finance agreed that this would not change any of the costs of the budget besides two extra stamps, and accepted the incorporation of the amendment.
One Member asked about the toilet allocation in Sandford Park. She has recently been in contact with the Friends of Sandford Park group, who wanted to know when this would be received. The Cabinet Member Finance responded that she did not know at that moment, but would let her know when she had the relevant information.
KS also queried some ambiguous wording in paragraph 6.5, and asked whether the wording could be changed to ‘originally allocated to the restoration of the unsafe bridge in Pilley Nature Reserve which has led to the closure of the public footpath behind old pats’.
One Member asked about the £200,000 investment in in-cab system, comparing it to Smart Meters and asking how the council can be sure that the projected savings will actually happen. The Cabinet Member Clean and Green Environment explained how the technology improves the system for customers by reducing errors, while helping the council achieve its climate change goals by making journeys shorter and more efficient.
One Member queried a figure on page 64, which refers to a figure of £458,000 earmarked for Budget Strategy Support Reserves. Later on, a figure of approximately £250,000 is cited – is this discrepancy because it is additional funding or a small part of the reserve? The Executive Director Finance and Assets referred to figures in Appendix 2 and Appendix 6 and also cited the overall strategy as detailed in Appendix 10.
One Member asked a further question about the growth proposals. In response the Cabinet Member Finance explained that funding had been set aside for the bridge restoration. The bridge had a number of footpaths to enable crossing, however the budget would be better off allocated to delivering more benefit for the whole town by being in the climate emergency budget. She reported that ward councillors had been working with their residents to help them secure alternative transport and routes. The benefit for the whole town must be considered.
One Member asked about the splash pad at the leisure centre, which had resulted in fewer people paying for admission. What exactly is the £200k for? The Cabinet Member Finance responded that £200k is not being added to its budget – instead, if the Trust cannot pay the loan back for any reason, this funding would be used to cover it. This represented a sound financial contingency plan. The Executive Director Finance and Assets suggested that all budgetary papers need to be considered in the context of the Section 25 report. As we move into the 2021/22 financial year, there was considerable uncertainty due to funding reviews. The strategy intended to map out the worst case scenario and plan accordingly. £902,000 would be required from the budget support allowance in the worst case scenario, and this was currently not there. Any fortuitous underspend or increase in income will be returned.
One Member asked about the timeframe of planned industrial units, welcoming a development in his ward. The Cabinet Member Finance responded that these plans are already in action, evidenced by the current state of the site, and expected to be completed within the next financial year.
The Conservative group leader delivered his statement, outlining the alternative budget amendments proposed by the Conservative group. He advocated reducing the size of Cabinet to 6 members and moving to 4-yearly elections, suggesting possible savings of £45k p/a and £32k p/a. He suggested that reducing the size of the Cabinet would be possible considering its workload and the recent outsourcing of certain responsibilities. He believed there was sufficient capacity within the present Cabinet to achieve its present goals. Of the 6 district councils in the area, all do 4-yearly elections bar Cheltenham. He suggested that only putting half the councillors up for election every two years is rationing democracy. He also suggested an allocation of £52k p/a to the climate emergency. The proposals were seconded by Cllr. Babbage.
He added that a Councillor Community Fund ought to be created at a cost of around £20k p/a, which would help Members engage with their wards. He also advocated adding additional recycling Bring Site emptying at peak times, which would cost £5k p/a and benefit local residents, and suggested that these changes are all modest and achievable.
The People Against Bureaucracy group leader did not propose any amendments. He thanked the Cabinet Member Finance for a complex and detailed report, and thanked the finance team for their work in putting it together. He praised the balanced budget, considering the difficult economic situation, and particularly cited the investment in commercial opportunities that will pay off in the future.
Members debated the amendments proposed by the Conservative group. One member commended the group’s recommendations and emphasised that the people of Cheltenham are not clamouring for more elections, or for more money to be spent on biannual elections. He also praised the proposal for a Councillor Community Fund and the intention to allocate more money to tackling climate change.
One Member responded that the Conservative group had suggested the same changes for several years running, and suggested that four-yearly elections are a saving that cannot be made considering the current plan. She suggested that the amendments are not a credible alternative, and disagreed with the proposals – though she praised the intention behind the Community Fund. The group leader acknowledged that the Conservative group’s proposals have been repetitive, but if they had been accepted when first offered, then the council would be seeing the savings now.
The Cabinet Member Finance agreed that these savings were not feasible. The plan for four-yearly elections has been repeatedly rejected before on the grounds that two-yearly elections are more democratic, giving the public a more frequent chance to have a voice. The proposal brings nowhere near large enough a saving to justify losing this benefit. She also cited the frequency of national elections brought about in the last few years by the Conservative Party.
She also criticised the proposal for reducing the number of Cabinet Members to 6, citing the county council’s increase in size to 10 members. Cabinet Members have to monitor commissioned services more closely, so their workload has not decreased. One Member asked whether the leader of the Conservative group, in his role as a county councillor, believed that the size of the county cabinet should also have been reduced.
One Member clarified how the savings from four-yearly elections would work, suggesting that it would help to build up a reserve. He reminded members that the county council has a considerably larger budget than the borough council, and that each individual county Cabinet member likely oversees more resources than the whole of CBC.
Members discussed further issues in the alternative budget amendments. One member criticised the main budget’s proposal for a one-off figure of £350k for climate change, and £150k on a Cabinet Member for climate change over 10 year. The alternative proposal was for £52k p/a, totalling £520k over 10 years. He also suggested that the recycling amendment offers a major public benefit for a relatively small amount of money.
Cllr. Parsons stated his intention to excuse himself from the substantive vote on the motion, in his role as a trustee on the Cheltenham Trust.
Members voted on the Conservative group’s alternative budget amendments.
The Leader of the Council formally seconded the budget report, and praised the officers and members involved in its collation. He noted that there are key unknown factors when considering the future of the council’s funding, with the main one being government policy. Business rates are particularly important, with increasingly unfair discrepancies between towns and rural areas. Any rise in council tax must be considered in detail, but this is a relatively modest rise, which is lower than the police and the county council’s rise.
He emphasised his delight at some of the programs funded in the budget, including progress in Sandford Park and improvements to the High Street. Funding for fighting climate change must be spent in the most effective way possible.
Members voted to continue the session after it reached the four-hour mark.
A Member praised how CBC has set aside funds to enhance the efficiency of Ubico services.
A Member praised the planned maintenance program for the Honeybourne Line, a significant portion of which is in his ward. The site will be preserved as much as possible, demonstrating the council’s conservation efforts.
A Member responded to a point raised at a recent county council meeting, and outlined figures relating to land development in Cheltenham.
A Member welcomed efforts to tackle the climate emergency, citing recent flooding in the local area. She reported that she had attended the last county council meeting and was disappointed by the level of pantomime involved in its discussions of climate policy. She also praised the progress on the toilets in Sandford Park, which had been a real source of frustration for local residents.
A Member echoed criticisms of the alternative budget, noting that the county council, on which two of the Conservative members sit, had rejected a proposed £2m climate change initiative days earlier, only to offer a £50k increase now. He also criticised the scope of the Community Fund proposal, suggesting that £1000 for each ward would barely cover local potholes, which the county council is responsible for. He praised the main budget’s emphasis on climate change and high street improvement, and criticised a lack of support from national government, citing the loss of the Revenue Support Grant.
A Member also emphasised the importance of a positive, progressive budget and reiterated that national government funding cuts are hugely significant. Local progress will always be limited as long as national government fails to fund key policy areas.
The Cabinet Member Finance added that the Community Fund had been advocated and supported several years previously, but had to be shelved due to budget cuts. She added that the budget’s effect on people and change must not be underestimated.
The Mayor moved to a recorded vote.
1. The revised budget for 2019/20 be approved.
Considering the budget assessment by the Section 151 Officer at Appendix 2 the following recommendations be approved :
2. the final budget proposals including a proposed council tax for the services provided by Cheltenham Borough Council of £214.08 for the year 2020/21 based on a Band D property (an increase of 2.39% or £5.00 a year for a Band D property), as detailed in paragraphs 4.11 to 4.16.
3. the growth proposals, including one off initiatives at Appendix 4.
4. a lending (overdraft) facility of up £100,000 to the Cheltenham BID to facilitate the delivery of an ice rink as detailed in Section 7.
5. the Executive Director Finance and Assets (in consultation with the Borough Solicitor) be authorised to take such actions and make such arrangements as are necessary for the implementation of the above lending facility to Cheltenham BID.
6. the savings / additional income totalling £826,000 and the budget strategy at Appendix 5 be approved.
7. the use of reserves and general balances be approved and note the projected level of reserves, as detailed at Appendix 6.
8. the capital programme at Appendix 7 be approved.
9. the programmed maintenance programme at Appendix 8 be approved.
10. Note that the Council will remain in the Gloucestershire business rates pool for 2020/21 (paragraphs 4.4 to 4.10).
11. the Pay Policy Statement for 2020/21, including the continued payment of a living wage supplement at Appendix 9 be approved.
12. the Medium Term Financial Strategy (MTFS) detailed in Section 5 and Appendix 10 be approved.
13. a level of supplementary estimate of £100,000 for 2020/21 as outlined in Section 13 be approved.
For: Atherstone, Baker, Barrell, Boyes, Britter, Brownsteen, Clucas, Coleman, Collins, Dobie, Fisher, Harvey, Hegenbarth, Jeffries, Jordan, McCloskey, McKinlay, Oliver, Payne, Stennett, Sudbury, Wheeler, Whyborn, Wilkinson, Willingham.
Abstentions: Babbage, Cooke, Harman, Parsons, Savage, Seacome.
- 2020_02_17_Budget procedure, item 11. PDF 120 KB
- 2020_02_11_CAB_Final budget 2020.21, item 11. PDF 745 KB
- 2020_02_11_CAB_Final_budget_Appendix2_S151, item 11. PDF 565 KB
- 2020_02_11_CAB_Final_Budget_Appendix 3 - Net Final Budget Requirement, item 11. PDF 215 KB
- 2020_02_11_CAB_Final_Budget_Appendix 4 - Growth Summary 2020-21, item 11. PDF 13 KB
- 2020_02_11_CAB_Final_Budget_Appendix 5 - Savings_additional_income, item 11. PDF 245 KB
- 2020_02_11_CAB_Final_Budget_Appendix 6 - Reserve Statement 2020-21, item 11. PDF 205 KB
- 2020_02_11_CAB_Final_Budget_Appendix 7- Capital Programme Revised, item 11. PDF 148 KB
- 2020_02_11_CAB_Final_Budget_Appendix 8- Planned_Maintenance_Programme, item 11. PDF 208 KB
- 2020_02_11_CAB_Final_budget_Appendix 9_Pay_Policy_Statement, item 11. PDF 559 KB
- 2020_02_11_CAB_Final_Budget_Appendix 10_MTFS, item 11. PDF 9 MB
- 2020_02_17_General Fund_speech, item 11. PDF 142 KB