Agenda item

Final General Fund Revenue and Capital Budget Proposals 2023

Report of the Cabinet Member Finance


The Mayor reminded Members that usual standing orders would be relaxed for this item, and they could speak for more than five minutes should they wish.  He asked, however, that they be as brief as possible.


The Cabinet Member Finance and Assets introduced the budget paper, reminding Members of the unprecedented financial challenges faced by all councils over the last 18 months, in addition to the year-on-year cuts to the council’s funding as a result of a decade of austerity. There was still significant uncertainly about the long-term impact of the pandemic on growth, investment and inflation, which currently stood at 5.5%, the highest level for 40 years, and was expected to peak at 7% in April.


He said that with the emergence of the Omicron variant, uncertainty continued to impact customer behaviour, which may in turn have a further financial impact on the council’s commercial income and town’s economy.  The budget therefore needed to be balanced and targeted to ensure adequate revenue resources to continue recovery from Covid-19. The previous budget included a number of growth items in direct response to the Covid-19, providing revenue funding for climate change, economic recovery, and the introduction of an apprenticeship programme. In addition, in November 2020, the council committed £1.5m additional resources to the Golden Valley development.


He reminded Members that the key priorities, set out in the 2019 Corporate Plan, have not changed, and the council remained committed to:

-       delivering its ambition to be cyber capital of the UK; inclusion of the Golden Valley development and the council in the government’s recent national cyber strategy is testament to this;

-       making Cheltenham a net zero carbon council and town;

-       revitalising the town centre and supporting sustainable, inclusive growth and recovery for all residents and communities;

-       a £180m housing investment plan;

-       the No Child Left Behind initiative.


To continue with these priorities in the current economic environment, he proposed a strategy which re-prioritised and re-set the budget from the bottom up, utilising resources, assets, skills and infrastructure in the most effective way, saying that long-term strategic commitments needed long-term financial planning. By working with stakeholders throughout the consultation process, and by fine-tuning services based on actual needs, over £1.5m-worth of efficiencies had been identified, through collaboration and additional revenue generation. 


The budget proposal also included:

-       an increase in revenue funding for the council’s net zero carbon journey;

-       reduction in the council’s reliance on car parking income to support air quality improvement in the town centre;

-       new capital funding of £75k for a pilot EV off-street charging hub;

-       continued funding to support apprenticeship programme.


He said the budget proposed a modest council tax increase of 2.28% for the council’s proportion of the bill – less than 10p a week for a Band D property.  He put this in context by pointing out the real financial challenges arising from:

-       inflation currently running at 5.5%;

-       our energy bills increasing by 7.5%;

-       employers’ national insurance contributions increasing by 1.5% in April 2022;

-       fuel prices and shortage of drivers placing additional demand on waste and recycling services, with an increase in volume of kerbside collections.


He said the council’s recovery from the pandemic continued to be a key priority, and the strategy was focused on revitalising and reshaping the town’s economy to ensure that future growth benefits all our communities. The aim was to encourage collaboration across all sectors to ensure culture, hospitality and creativity were woven into our economic recovery plans, in particular our cyber investment plans, the creative revitalisation of the town centre, and the imaginative use of open spaces. 


He stated that the plans were financially sustainable to ensure delivery of key priorities, and that the council had the people, ambition and skills to drive the recovery forward.  He thanked the council’s finance team for working through the ongoing financial challenges, and all council officers who had been involved in bringing the budget together.


The budget proposal was seconded by Councillor Hay.


As no questions had been put forward in advance, the Mayor invited Members’ questions to Cabinet Members.


There were no questions regarding the budget, but one Member referred back to an earlier question regarding the pilot scheme for a tourist information hub in the town centre, and asked whether there was sufficient budget provision to implement the outcome if the trial was to be a success.  The Cabinet Member Culture, Wellbeing and Business confirmed that part of the pilot was funded by the Welcome Back fund, but that additional funding would be required and that question is at the top of her list, to be discussed with the Cheltenham Trust.


The Mayor then invited group leaders to make their statements on the budget.


Councillor Payne, on behalf of People Against Bureaucracy (PAB), confirmed that his group would not be putting forward any amendments. 


Councillor Harman, on behalf of the Conservative group, thanked all staff who had helped during the recent storms, including with refuse collection.  He understood that communication had been good and people were well-informed of any changes.


Moving to the proposed budget amendments, he said he was always optimistic that the Conservative group could make an important contribution, with practical ideas which will improve efficiency and make a real difference.  He thanked officers for the preparation of the whole budget, and for helping his group work up their proposals which the S151 officer had confirmed as valid amendments.


The proposed amendments were as follows: 


Recurring revenue:  net £21k pa saving, balance to reserves

-       reduced cabinet posts by three - £42k pa saving

-       additional bring-site recycling collections at peak times - £11k pa

-       free car parking after 6.00pm at Town Centre East car park - £10k pa


Capital/one-off revenue:  net £150k one-off cost, balance from unallocated capital reserve

-       bus station sustainability hub:  seed funding for initial feasibility report - £50k one-off

-       Platinum Jubilee green space/playground refurbishment fund - £5k per ward, £100k one-off


He said the group had decided not to include their previous proposal for whole council elections, pending the report on the Boundary Commission review at March Council.  They still considered this to be a sensible option, however, which would bring Cheltenham into line with other Gloucestershire councils.


Referring to the group’s recurring revenue proposals, he said that the size of the Cabinet could be reduced without affecting the performance of the council, with all functions retained and redistributed, and the savings could be put to good use.  Additional bring-site recycling at peak times would be a good signal of the council’s commitment to recycling, and free car-parking after 6.00pm at Town Centre East – the lowest revenue-raising carpark – would encourage people to Cheltenham and help market the town.  His group supported the council’s encouragement of alternative modes of transport, but the car will remain important, albeit electric or hybrid.


Regarding the proposed capital/one-off revenue proposals, he confirmed that at this stage his group was just suggesting a feasibility study on the bus station as a sustainability hub, admitting that it would be a complicated but valuable piece of work.  The proposal of a Platinum Jubilee fund would provide borough councillors with the freedom to make improvements in their wards and would be open for 12 months.


He hoped that Members would consider the proposed amendments sensibly, and thanked Councillor Babbage for his support in bringing the proposals forward.


The Mayor thanked Councillor Harman, and invited the Leader of the PAB group to comment on the proposed budget.


The Leader of the PAB group welcomed the opportunity to comment on the budget proposals, and thanked officers for the clear narrative.  His group was pleased to support the budget, acknowledging Cheltenham’s positive position as it emerges from turbulent economic times, as a result of the S151 officer in partnership with the Cabinet – they are to be congratulated for this.  He said supporting the budget means accepting all its elements, and present budget is a partnership between the aspirations of the ruling party and the reality of available resources, which this year have included the added dimensions of changes in working practice, spiralling inflation, and failure of retail and hospitality to meet its full potential.


He approved the continued development of a medium-term strategy which would give financial stability, enable the council’s economic recovery ambition through continued support of residents, businesses and communities, and support the climate change programme.  He was reassured that the prominence of the carbon neutrality ambition was coming to the fore, welcoming the grant from the public sector decarbonisation scheme  and awaiting with interest the publication of the climate investment strategy.  He also welcomed the S151 officer’s continued support of reserve funds, which provided an essential safety net to mitigate unexpected financial neutrality.


He noted that CBC’s ambition to be carbon neutral by 2030 had been significantly hampered by the pandemic and although additional grant funding was welcome, PAB took the view that this was inadequate, and with uncertainty around government and county council support, wondered whether the council should perhaps temper its ambition and reset the timeline. 


He also suggested that while a digital solution may be considered the best way to manage the changing nature of public interaction with the council, this may not be the right time, with many thousands of residents without access to or understanding of digital technology.  He also questioned whether, in view of recent events in Europe highlighting the UK’s dependency on imported energy, the council needed to revisit its ambition to divest from oil and gas and consider the security of its energy sources.


The meeting then adjourned from 3.50pm until 4.20pm, to allow the Cabinet to consider the conservative group’s proposed amendments.


Upon reconvening, the conservative budget was formally proposed by Councillor Harman and seconded by Councillor Babbage.


In response, the Cabinet Member Finance and Assets said he was disappointed that the proposed amendments had not been raised earlier and rejected them in the manner presented, but addressed the points as follows:


-       reducing the number of cabinet posts may seem feasible, but the Cabinet is the size it is because Members do a lot of work and already have to juggle their Cabinet responsibilities with their time as working members;

-       there are already a number of one-off capital revenue schemes under consideration, including the TIC pod, public toilets and IT infrastructure; the bus station was being considered with the county council;

-       the proposed Platinum Jubilee fund was recognised as a nice ambition, and  £50k could be made available from the Green Economic Recovery and Investment Funding Reserve for this investment.


On behalf of the conservative group, Councillor Babbage said the group was disappointed that additional recycling collections and removal of car-parking charges were rejected, and that the development of the bus station, which had been supported unanimously by Council, would not be taken forward. However, he welcomed the funding opportunity for councillors across the town to contribute ideas and thoughts to mark the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee, and said that on this basis, the group would be willing to support the budget.


The Cabinet Minister Finance and Assets confirmed that the funding would be available on the Community Pride principle, available for community groups to put in bids, rather than for Members to decide where to spend the money.


The Mayor moved to a recorded vote on the proposed budget amendment.


FOR: (6): Babbage, Fifield, Harman, Mason, Nelson, Seacome


AGAINST: (21): Atherstone, Barrell, Bassett-Smith, Britter, Clark, Clucas, Collins, Dobie, Harvey, Hay, Horwood, Jeffries, Lewis, McCloskey, Payne, Pinegar, Sankey, Stafford, Wheeler, Williams, Willingham.




The amendment was lost.


There were no questions for the S151 officer.


The Mayor then moved to the substantive motion, which was proposed by the Cabinet Member Finance and Assets and seconded by the Leader. 


In response to a Member question, it was agreed that the wording for the proposed amendment would worked out and added to the substantive motion, without the need for an additional vote.


In debate, Members thanked CBC and CBH officers for the huge amount of work involved in getting the budget together, commenting on how resilient the town had been throughout the pandemic, with an increase in pre-Christmas footfall and targets for carpark income reached.   In response to a question from a Member as to whether there would be enough funds available this year to support revenue funds, the Executive Director Finance and Assets assured Members that, as the council’s S151 officer, he is duty bound to give a full and comprehensive report (Appendix 2).  He felt confident that reserves were adequate to meet the budget, and the medium-term financial strategy set out how reserves would be increased over time, giving financial stability over the next four years.  He had considered all the things the council could face over the coming year, including 2% pay awards and increasing fuel prices, and Members could be assured that figures and reserves had been independently assessed. 


The Leader of the Council said she was very happy to second this ambitious budget, and that the authority should feel rightly proud of its record over the last year – officers have worked hard, in collaboration, there have been no cuts, and a small amount of growth.  She thanked the Cabinet Member Finance and Assets for all the hard work on his first budget.  


The Mayor moved to a recorded vote on the following substantive motion:

It is recommended that Cabinet/Council:


1.    Approve the revised budget for 2021/22 which is also reported separately in the 2021/22 budget monitor for 31 December 2021.

2.    Consider the budget assessment by the Section 151 Officer at Appendix 2 in agreeing the following recommendations.

3.    Approve the final budget proposals including a proposed council tax increase for the services provided by Cheltenham Borough Council for the year 2022/23 based on a Band D property (an increase of 2.28% or £5.00 a year for a Band D property), as detailed in paragraphs 4.14 to 4.19.

4.    Approve the savings / additional income totalling £1,507,000 and the budget strategy at Appendix 4.

5.    Approve the use of reserves and general balances and note the projected level of reserves, as detailed at Appendix 5.

6.    Approve the capital programme at Appendix 6.

7.    Approve the programmed maintenance programme at Appendix 7.

8.    Approve the flexible use of capital receipts strategy as detailed in Appendix 8.

9.    Note that the Council will remain in the Gloucestershire business rates pool for 2022/23 (paragraphs 4.4 to 4.13).

10.  Approve the Medium Term Financial Strategy (MTFS) detailed in Appendix 9.

11.  Approve the Pay Policy Statement for 2022/23, including the continued payment of a living wage supplement at Appendix 10.

12.  Approve a level of supplementary estimate of £100,000 for 2022/23 as outlined in Section 14.

with the following additional amendment added during debate:


13.   Approve the use of £50k from the Green Economic Recovery and Investment Funding Reserve to establish a one-off Platinum Jubilee Community Fund and delegate authority to the Section 151 Officer in consultation with the Cabinet Member Finance and Assets to progress the governance arrangements for its administration.



FOR: (27):  Atherstone, Babbage, Barrell, Bassett-Smith, Britter, Clark, Clucas, Collins, Dobie, Fifield,  Harman, Harvey, Hay, Horwood, Jeffries, Lewis, Mason, McCloskey, Nelson, Payne, Pinegar, Sankey, Seacome Wheeler, Wilkinson, Williams, Willingham.





The motion was carried.


The Cabinet Member Finance and Assets said that the uncertainty and volatility of the last 12 months had resulted in a continuous and mammoth amount of work, which had been personally challenging and would not have been possible without the support of officers.  He thanked them, members of the cabinet who had a huge amount of involvement across their portfolios, and colleagues.

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