Members considered a report setting out proposals on the Medium Term Financial Plan 2020/21 – 2023/24; the 2020/21 – 2023/24 Capital Programme and the 2020/21 schedule of charges.
Councillor Williamson presented the report. He gave a summary of the general context and explained briefly the areas over which the Council any control. He referred to the funding gap of £1.037m which had been identified initially and the work done in addressing budget savings. The budget was based on the assumption that the Council would increase Council Tax by £5 for Band D properties, and referred Members to further initiatives to overcome the budget gap, in addition to income generated by Millstream, including the Financial Sustainability strategy which had been agreed, with the Financial Sustainability Committee having been set up in 2019. The Committee had acquired its first property last month and the lease was already bringing in income for the Council.
Councillor Williamson said a budget gap of £190K still remained and further savings and income generating ideas were set out in Appendix B to the report. He referred to the resilience afforded by the Council’s reserves, and the investment in capital projects such as Hertford Theatre, the two leisure centres, and Old River Lane. Members would monitor these projects carefully. He thanked the Head of Strategic Finance and Property, and all services in formulating the plans for next year and beyond. These were testing times, and it was thanks to officers that the plans were robust. He commended the budget to Members, and proposed a motion to support the recommendations as detailed.
Councillor Pope seconded the motion.
Councillor Corpe said as a Member of the Performance, Audit and Governance Oversight Committee, he had considered the report at the Committee’s meeting on 14 January 2020. Whilst he considered it to be a comprehensive and prudent budget, he had raised an objection at that meeting, which he repeated now. He proposed an amendment that the saving proposals be amended by deleting the saving option relating to the “Citizens Advice Services / Community Voluntary Services (CVS) - £20k reduction over 2 years”; and at the penultimate row of the proposed savings table, which stated “Additional savings to be identified”, to substitute in the column for 2020/21, a figure of (25) in place of (15), and, in the column 2021/22, to insert the figure (10).
Councillor Corpe said it would be a false economy to pursue this saving option, as it could increase use of Council services such as Housing and Benefits by those currently relying on the CAS / CVS for advice. There could also be European Union citizens applying for settled status who would need advice from these services. By phasing in the savings differently, maximum freedom to explore options would be provided.
Councillor Goldspink seconded the amendment. She requested a recorded vote.
Councillor Goldspink said this saving proposal was short-sighted, and the CAS/CVS should be permitted to focus on their primary function and not have to worry about fundraising.
Councillor Williamson said by maintaining funding in one area, pressure was increased elsewhere, for example to services which the Council provided directly. The CAB had been able to operate from Wallfields, on advantageous lease terms, which was effectively a hidden grant of greater value than the reduction being proposed.
Councillor E Buckmaster agreed the CAB was a valuable partner, and was involved in the Council’s collaborative work with the County Council on preventive initiatives.
Councillor Dumont spoke in support of the amendment, as he considered the budget was cutting support for the most vulnerable.
Councillor Deering said, as a County Member, he had to direct some of his locality budget to the CAB.
Councillor Curtis said all Members supported the role of the CAB, but from his perspective as a Member who could be termed a vulnerable person due to his having Asperger’s and Type 1 Diabetes, he was in favour of the savings proposal. There was no evidence that a cut in funding would lead to a reduction in the CAB’s ability to provide services.
Councillor Frecknall said in addition to his opposition to the savings cut for the CAB, he was could not support the savings reduction in relation to the Police Crime Support Officers, so would vote against the amendment.
Members continued to debate the amendment.
The Chairman then read out the amendment and said that as it was an amendment to the budget, a recorded vote was required by law.
A recorded vote was taken, the result being:
Councillors Beckett, Bell, Brady, Corpe, Dumont, Goldspink, Redfern and Wilson
Councillors Alder, Andrews, Bolton, E Buckmaster, R Buckmaster, Bull, Burmicz, Crystall, Curtis, Crofton, Cutting, Deering, Drake, Fernando, Frecknall, Goodeve, Hall, Haysey, Jones, Kemp, McAndrew, Newton, Page, Pope, Reed, Ruffles, Snowdon, Stowe, Symonds, Ward-Booth, Williamson and Wyllie.
The amendment was therefore LOST.
The substantive motion, to support the recommendations in the report, being put to the meeting, a recorded vote was taken in accordance with The Local Authorities (Standing Orders) (England) (Amendment) Regulations 2014, the result being:
Councillors Alder, Andrews, Bolton, E Buckmaster, R Buckmaster, Bull, Burmicz, Curtis, Crofton, Cutting, Deering, Drake, Fernando, Goodeve, Hall, Haysey, Huggins, Jones, Kaye, Kemp, McAndrew, Newton, Page, Pope, Reed, Ruffles, Snowdon, Stowe, Symonds, Ward-Booth, Williamson and Wyllie.
Councillors Beckett, Bell, Brady, Corpe, Crystall, Dumont, Goldspink, Kaye, Redfern and Wilson.
The substantive motion was declared CARRIED.
RESOLVED that (A) the East Herts share of Council Tax for a band D in 2020/21 be set at £174.09;
(B) the updated position on the Medium Term Financial Plan and Budget for 2020/21 including the budget pressures and risks be approved;
(C) the new savings and income generating proposals for 2020/21 onwards as shown in Appendix ‘B’ be approved;
(D) the Capital Programme as set out in Appendix ‘C‘ be implemented;
(E) the schedule of charges set out in Appendix ‘D’ (as amended at the meeting of 3 March 2020), each with an average increase of 2.5% for 2020/21, be approved; and
(F) that authority to determine the most appropriate amendments to car parking charges to achieve the increased income included in the MTFP be delegated to the Head of Operations acting in consultation with the Head of Strategic Finance and Property and the Executive Member for Environmental Sustainability.