Agenda and draft minutes
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Contact: Stephen Chard (Democratic Services Manager)
Declarations of Interest PDF 301 KB
To remind Members of the need to record the existence and nature of any personal, disclosable pecuniary or other registrable interests in items on the agenda, in accordance with the Members’ Code of Conduct.
The Monitoring Officer announced that in respect of Agenda Item 6 Capital Strategy, Financial Years 2023/43 to 2032/33 and Agenda Item 7 Revenue Budget 2023/24 all Members had previously completed an application for a grant of a dispensation in relation to ‘any beneficial interest’ in land within the Authority’s area. The Monitoring Officer had granted the dispensation to allow all Members to speak and vote on these items.
There were also a number of personal interests declared prior to the meeting in relation to agenda items, set out below and published on the Council’s website.
Members of the Executive to answer questions relating to the budget submitted by members of the public in accordance with the Council’s Procedure Rules contained in the Council’s Constitution.
Please note that the list of public questions is shown under item 3 in the agenda pack.
A full transcription of the public question and answer sessions is available from the following link: Transcription of Q&As.
1. A question standing in the name of Paula Saunderson on the subject of the drainage on the Highway between Woodspeen and Great Shefford was answered by the Portfolio Holder for Planning, Transport and Countryside.
2. A question standing in the name of Paula Saunderson on the subject of flooding history of Newbury Clay hill Ward was answered by the Portfolio Holder for Planning, Transport and Countryside.
Investment and Borrowing Strategy 2023/24 PDF 990 KB
The report seeks to consolidate the investments and borrowing strategy for the year ahead by detailing how and where the Council will invest and borrow in the forthcoming year, within a particular framework.
The Council considered a report (Agenda Item 4) which sought to consolidate the Investment and Borrowing Strategy for the year ahead by detailing how and where the Council would invest and borrow in the forthcoming year, within a particular framework.
MOTION: Proposed by Councillor Ross Mackinnon and seconded by Councillor Howard Woollaston:
“That the Council adopt the following recommendation:
a) To agree and adopt the proposed Investment and Borrowing Strategy for 2023/24.”
Councillor Mackinnon in introducing the report explained how the Strategy set out the approved institutions for treasury assets, the prudential limits for investments, the accrued sources of borrowing, the recommended borrowing limits for the next three years, and also provided a long term forecast for the Council’s borrowing requirements. The Strategy authorised the Council to place deposits in UK Government Bonds, UK Building Societies and Banks with sound credit ratings, other local authorities, and triple rated money markets. The Council was also authorised to lend to registered charities, public sector bodies and Council-owned companies and joint ventures. He mentioned that the amount of funds the Council could invest with any one institution was £8m.
The Strategy proposed an increase in borrowing over the medium term to support the Council’s Capital Strategy, with the borrowing primarily undertaken through the Public Works Loan Board, and he explained how other options would be explored as well, which might include building upon the launch of the UK's First Community Bond back in July 2020. The Strategy had already generated significant financial savings in the Revenue Budget and was forecast to continue to do so.
The report also set out the Council’s commercial property portfolio and the investment returns made to the Council. Councillor Mackinnon highlighted how the portfolio had performed well with a consistent return on investment providing over £1 million per year, and he expected this to continue in the future.
Councillor Jeff Brooks said that the Liberal Democrat Group did not take issue with the report as over many years the Investment and Borrowing Strategy had been well managed by officers. There had been an upturn for the Administration with greater receipts on interest rates movements. What his party would like to see was a greater degree of ethical investment. The Council utilised banks to get interest on our funds but was there awareness of where they invested their money? Cllr Brooks made reference to his first hand experience of working with the Fire Authority on their investment strategy where they only invested in ethical countries.
Councillor David Marsh informed that he did not have too much to quarrel about with the report but he did raise concern about the commercial investments, as he had mentioned in previous years. It was mentioned that the return was £1 million but in fact it was £3.5 million with £2.5 million going towards maintenance and servicing the properties. West Berkshire’s residents would be surprised to learn that the Council had invested in a petrol station in the West Midlands, a bank in Eastbourne ... view the full minutes text for item 81.
Medium Term Financial Strategy PDF 218 KB
The purpose of the Medium Term Financial Strategy (MTFS) is to set out the financial planning assumptions for future years and align these with the Council Strategy to ensure that Council Strategy will be delivered. The MTFS highlights the overarching key issues facing the Council’s finances as well as how there are many different scenarios and uncertainty concerning the future revenue streams for the Council in the future.
The Council considered the report (Agenda Item 5) which set out the financial planning assumptions for future years. These were aligned with the Council Strategy to ensure that Council Strategy would be delivered. The Medium Term Financial Strategy (MTFS) highlighted the overarching key issues facing the Council’s finances as well as how there were many different scenarios and uncertainty concerning the future revenue streams for the Council in the future.
MOTION: Proposed by Councillor Ross Mackinnon and seconded by Councillor Lynne Doherty:
“That the Council approve the Medium Term Financial Strategy.”
Councillor Mackinnon, in introducing the report, stated that the MTFS was a rolling four year programme built to ensure that the Council had the necessary financial resources to deliver the Council Strategy. It included a number of assumptions and uncertainties around both income and expenditure. The Local Government Financial Settlement for 2023 was broadly similar to the previous year, but the outcome of the Local Government Fair Funding Review was still awaited for more long term certainty around business rates, Adult Social Care funding and the replacement for the New Homes Bonus.
Councillor Mackinnon highlighted that the Council had to bridge a funding gap of around £3 million over the next three years and these savings would be met by transformation, digitalisation and income generation. He believed that the Council had an excellent track record in delivering required savings in recent years without any cuts to frontline services. This year alone £9.1 million pounds of savings had been achieved and proposals had already been drafted to cut the funding gap. The nation was still emerging from the effects of the pandemic and the dreadful events in Ukraine that were impacting our economy. Good financial planning helped meet these challenges and the needs of our residents.
Councillor Jeff Brooks stated that over 20 years ago there was not an MTFS process and Councils’ seemed to manage their budgets. He did not take issue with having an MTFS but he did with its accuracy. He said that when you compared last year’s MTFS with today’s revenue budget they would be dramatically different. So when we set four years ahead with all the imponderables, the macro economy, government grants and all sorts of moving parts accuracy was questionable. He had undertaken three year forecasting in the private sector but they did not have as many imponderables. If past MTFS were scrutinised we would see the inaccuracies but we would also be able to improve our forecasting. He repeated that he was not against the MTFS but rather wanted an accurate one.
Councillor David Marsh mentioned that last year he questioned why Council Tax had only been increased by 1% and wanted to know if the Portfolio Holder regretted this. Councillor March advised that he was accused a year ago of wanting to increase our resident’s tax burden but the proposal was for reserves to be used to support the Revenue Budget.
Councillor Lynne Doherty stated that sound financial stewardship of the Council’s ... view the full minutes text for item 82.
Capital Strategy, Financial Years 2023/24 to 2032/33 PDF 628 KB
To outline the Capital Strategy covering financial years 2023/24 - 2032/33 and the supporting funding framework, providing a high-level overview of how capital expenditure, capital financing and treasury management activity contribute to the provision of local public services along with an overview of how associated risk is managed and the implications for future financial sustainability.
The Council considered a report (Agenda Item 6) to outline the Capital Strategy covering financial years 2023/24 - 2032/33 and the supporting funding framework, providing a high-level overview of how capital expenditure, capital financing and treasury management activity contribute to the provision of local public services along with an overview of how associated risk is managed and the implications for future financial sustainability.
MOTION: Proposed by Councillor Ross Mackinnon and seconded by Councillor Dominic Boeck.
“That the Council adopts the following recommendations:
a) That the Capital Strategy and supporting Capital Programme for the period 2023/24 – 2032/33 is approved (Appendix A).
b) That the supporting Minimum Revenue Provision Policy (Appendix C) is approved, inclusive of retrospective change to the 2022/23 MRP policy.
c) That the Flexible Use of Capital Receipts Policy (Appendix D) is approved.
d) That the proposed CIL (Community Infrastructure Levy) Bids for inclusion in the Capital Programme (Appendix E) is approved.”
Councillor Mackinnon in introducing the report said he was delighted to propose a new ten year Capital Strategy and associated polices. The Administration proposed an investment in infrastructure over the next ten years of £393 million pounds to make sure West Berkshire remained a great place to live, work and learn. £207 million pounds of the strategy would be funded externally.
Councillor Mackinnon explained that the Capital Programme was split across the six priorities of the Council Strategy. He highlighted a number of budget allocations such as £24 million to ensure vulnerable children and adults achieved better outcomes, £172 million to support residents in reaching their full potential and £616k to support our businesses to continue to develop and thrive in West Berkshire. There was also £145 million to develop infrastructure and housing, £27 million to maintain a green district and £22 million invested in business as usual. There was also investment in extending and refurbishing schools and towards disabled facility grants to help residents to continue to live independently at home. Investment was also being made in infrastructure, active travel and enhanced disabled access to the countryside.
Councillor Mackinnon said that the Programme did not just maintain essential services but also invested in new schemes across all the priorities but it must be sustainable and affordable. There was an increase in borrowing over the medium term but some of the enhancements would reduce service costs and create income for the Council. The Council could choose not to invest and this remained an option. However, the Administration had opted for a positive approach, paying close attention to the need for affordability but also to enable the capital schemes proposed to be funded properly and have a positive impact for residents. He felt that overall the Capital Programme struck the right balance between new investment to support the Council’s priorities, continuing to fund core infrastructure and affordability.
AMENDMENT: Proposed by Councillor David Marsh and seconded by Councillor Steve Masters.
Planning and consultancy to help deliver LRIE projects (£172,500 in 2023-24)
£50k delivery vehicle ... view the full minutes text for item 83.
Revenue Budget 2023 - 24 PDF 955 KB
The purpose of this paper is to consider and recommend to Council the 2023-24 Revenue Budget, which proposes a Council Tax requirement of £117.5m, requiring a Council Tax increase of 2.99% and an Adult Social Care precept of 2%. The Council Tax will raise £3.3m, the precept will raise a further £2.2m, and an increased taxbase will raise a further £1.8m. At a 4.99% Council tax increase, the budget is balanced, after using £1.8m of reserves that have been specifically set aside. The overall Council Tax increase is intended to balance the financial impact of the pandemic on residents, mitigating the financial pressures they face, as well as the cost pressures that the Council faces.
The report also proposes the Fees and Charges for 2023-24 as set out in Appendix F, the Parish Expenses as set out in Appendix G and recommends the level of General Reserves as set out in Appendix E.
The Council considered a report (Agenda Item 7) which recommended to Council the 2023-24 Revenue Budget which proposed a Council Tax requirement of £117.5m, requiring a Council Tax increase of 2.99% and an Adult Social Care precept of 2%. The Council Tax would raise £3.3m, the precept would raise a further £2.2m, and an increased taxbase would raise a further £1.8m. At a 4.99% Council Tax increase, the budget was balanced, after using £1.8m of reserves that have been specifically set aside. The overall Council Tax increase was intended to balance the financial impact of the pandemic on residents, mitigating the financial pressures they faced, as well as the cost pressures that the Council faced.
The Council was focussed on delivering services to residents and businesses that supported the overall Health and Wellbeing of the district, and assisted in the increased cost of living and continued recovery from the Covid-19 pandemic, building on the recovery strategy and improving the quality of services provided. The Revenue Budget supported this through the allocation of funds to core investment in the Council’s strategies and through making revenue funding available to deliver the Capital Strategy.
The budget was supported this year through a financial settlement announced at the Autumn Statement that provided additional funding to the Council for social care at a time of historically high inflation as well as increased demand on services. At the same time, the Council faced significant pressures from the wider economy; as mentioned, inflation was at very high levels with interest rates also rising recently and forecasts from the Bank of England of a sustained recession for the UK economy.
The Council recognised the need to support the most vulnerable. The Council had set up a cost of living hub in 2022 to support residents, and the focus of the 2023-24 budget was supporting the most vulnerable by minimising any impact on front line services that were so crucial for the people and businesses of the district. This had been funded by utilising almost all earmarked reserves outside of the minimum level of general fund reserves, reshaping Council services, managing vacancies, increasing some fees and charges in line with inflation and delivering efficiencies. There was a Government funded £25 reduction on Council Tax for all Council Tax Reduction scheme claimants. The Revenue Budget sought to manage all of these demands whilst achieving financial balance.
The budget detailed the investment for the year ahead to deliver the Council Strategy, the ambitions in the Capital Strategy and to support core Council Services. This included investment in approved strategies for example Adult Social Care, the Environment Strategy, the Digital and Customer Engagement strategies and prevention work. The paper also included savings proposals, other income sources and the use of specific reserves to ensure the Council had a sustainable financial footing. The budget also allocated revenue funding to deliver the Capital Strategy that had a substantial amount of investment in infrastructure for the year ahead. The Council was proposing to support the ... view the full minutes text for item 84.