The Executive Member for Financial Sustainability submitted a report setting out the Budget for 2021/22 and Medium Term Financial Plan 2021-24.
The Executive Member detailed the challenges in producing this budget and the council knew last year that £1 million of savings needed to be found this year, another £1 million in 2022/23 and a further £3 million in 2023/24. The preferred options for savings are detailed in Appendix A of the report and charging for green waste collections was approved at Council in January. The savings identified are phased over the next three years but if any of these savings cannot be realised for any reason, an equivalent saving will need to be found elsewhere. Adverse events in the last year have made balancing the budget more difficult, including the changes to the Public Works Loans Board (PWLB) lending facility that the government would now withhold lending from any local authority that seeks to borrow for investment in “assets primarily for yield”. In addition to this, the covid pandemic and subsequent lockdowns have had an impact on the council’s finances and losses are only partly covered by government grants.
The Executive Member also addressed the changes to the New Homes Bonus. The 25% previously distributed to Town and Parish Councils will now be held in reserves for the councils to bid for. The report recommends the maximum increase to Council Tax without holding a referendum which is equivalent to a £5 increase on a Band D property.
The Executive Member detailed plans for budget gaps in future years and the council will start a Transformation Programme to identify efficiency savings. Despite the difficulties in producing this budget, the council have managed to do so without any real cuts to front line services.
The Leader thanked officers for their work on producing a balanced budget whilst maintaining services and commented that it will not get easier in future years and government funding is uncertain.
Councillor Curtis said he raised a question at the Joint Meeting of Scrutiny Committees regarding the assumptions underpinning the budget on parking. He was keen to know what was considered when residents’ habits may change post covid and did not want the council to be out of pocket.
Councillor Williamson said a written answer was circulated after the meeting. He asked for this to be recirculated after the meeting and attached to the minutes (see Appendix A).
Councillor McAndrew confirmed that the council are looking at what fees to charge where in the car parks and an exercise is currently being carried out to understand parking behaviours but this will not be completed until there is a return to some sort of normality as the dynamics of parking changed considerably.
Councillor Williamson proposed and Councillor Haysey seconded a motion supporting the recommendations in the report. On being put to the meeting and a vote taken, the motion was declared CARRIED.
a) To recommend to Council that:
I. The East Herts share of the Council Tax for a Band D property in 2021/22 be set at £179.09, an increase of £5, the maximum permitted within the Council Tax Referendum principles;
II. The Budget 2021/22 and the Medium Term Financial Plan 2021 – 2024 is approved;
III. The savings plans summarised in Appendix A are approved for implementation and that Council require that compensating savings, delivered to the same timescales, have to be put in place and reported to the next Council meeting should the Executive decide that any savings proposals should not proceed, or are reduced by 10% or more;
IV. The capital programme set out in Appendix E is approved; and
V. The schedule of charges for 2021/22 set out in Appendix F, with an average increase of 2.5%, is approved.
b) Welcome the positive results of the consultation on how the public value services that are provided by the council.
c) Endorse the aims of the Transformation Programme and note that further savings will result from this work.