This matter is the responsibility of Executive Councillor for Corporate Resources, Councillor Ross Henley.
The purpose of this report is to provide Members with information required for Full Council to approve the proposed revenue budget estimates and capital programme for 2021/22, and to approve its proposed Council Tax rate for 2021/22.
During the discussion, the following points were raised:-
· The Portfolio Holder for Corporate Resources proposed a further recommendation to add two one-off budgets into the budget proposals:-
- The first was for £100,000 towards further tree planting across the district; and
- The second was for £100,000 towards a Community Enhancement Fund to help support the community across Somerset West and Taunton following the impact of the Covid Pandemic.
Both were seconded by the Leader and became part of the substantive motion.
· Councillors were pleased that Somerset County Council had taken back the Park and Ride and that the funds reserved for that service could be spent on the additional recommendations.
· Concern was raised on the section that included the Watchet East Quay Development Loan and councillors queried why Somerset West and Taunton (SWT) were borrowing funds for a private company and what happened if they couldn’t pay back the loan and requested an explanation.
The Portfolio Holder for Corporate Resources clarified that the existing budget was originally approved by West Somerset Council, and provided a ‘last resort’ funding option to the developer if they were unsuccessful in fully funding the works from other sources. At this stage no loan had been provided, and was unlikely to be needed as the developer had been very successful in obtaining other funding, but it was sensible to retain the facility in case it was needed to complete the development as it moved through to completion. If a request for loan finance was forthcoming it would be subject to the usual due diligence at the time. He further explained that this was separate to the £5m of grant funding awarded to the developer from the Coastal Communities Fund for the project. Whilst this was not Council funds, the grant was administered by the Council as the accountable body, to reimburse the developer based on actual costs incurred.
· Concern was raised on recommendation 2.8 and that the whole of the SWT area should charge the same for its car parks.
The Portfolio Holder for Planning and Transportation agreed that it was a good point and he was aware of the anomaly. He advised that all parking provided within the SWT area was currently being reviewed and that he would report back with the outcome of the review.
· Concern was raised that the 2020/21 budget did not match the outturn report and that it appeared that the commercial investment had ‘plugged’ the gap. Further concern was raised that they could not calculate how the budget had been balanced and believed it was not sustainable for the future years.
The Portfolio Holder for Corporate Resources advised that council budgets were different to those for a private company. The Section 151 Officer had given sign off on a robust budget and would not have if he didn’t believe that was the case. Section 17 of the report gave further details on why the budget was deemed robust.
· Councillors were pleased to see that there had been no mention of reduction in services and that there was an increased budget provided for climate change.
· Concern was raised that there was not enough updated information given on the commercial investment, which the budget seemed reliant upon.
The Portfolio Holder for Corporate Resources advised that councillors had been briefed on the commercial investment several times. Further information would be distributed to all councillors.
· Councillors highlighted the section on Business Rate Funding and raised concern that the future funds from Hinkley Point could be paid into a ‘central pot’, rather than be given to the local councils to use.
· Councillors requested more information on which assets were being disposed of, to ensure that officers were using due diligence in their decision making.
The Portfolio Holder for Asset Management and Economic Development assured councillors that assets were being managed to receive the best value and that they were not ‘selling the silver’ to balance the budget.
· Concern was raised that the budget was only a short term plan due to the likelihood of a unitary council being formed in two years’ time.
· The Leader of the Council thanked councillors for their comments. She highlighted that the council had managed to carry on with their services during the Covid Pandemic and still provided additional services to support businesses and vulnerable residents within SWT, including homeless residents. She also explained that she understood councillors concerns on the Commercial Investment Strategy but that it had been signed off by Full Council. The Leader commended the budget and believed SWT had produced a robust budget.
In accordance with Standing Order 18(2)(i), the Chair called for a recorded vote to be taken and recorded in the Minutes.
The recommendations, which are detailed below, were put and CARRIED with thirty for, six against and seventeen abstaining:-
Resolved that Full Council:-
2.1Noted the S151 Officers Statement on the robustness of the budget and adequacy of reserves as set out in section 17;
2.2Approved the General Fund Revenue Budget;
2.3Approved the setting of a basic band D council tax of £169.63, comprising £167.88 for services and £1.75 on behalf of the Somerset Rivers Authority;
2.4Approved the Special Expenses Precept of £1.91 for a basic band D council tax in respect of the Unparished area of Taunton;
2.5Approved the new capital schemes of the General Fund Capital Programme Budget of £3,116,980 for 2021/22, £2,033,980 for 2022/23 and the asset for sale target of £2,742,720, as set out in Table 11;
2.6Delegated authority to the Chief Executive, in consultation with the S151 Officer, to allocate the £813,000 one-off grant funding to meet COVID-related exceptional service costs and income losses during 2021/22;
2.7Approved the transfer of £2.4m from General Reserves to an earmarked reserve to create a Budget Volatility and Risk fund for 2021/22 financial year; and
2.8Approved a continued policy of suspending parking charges, as detailed below, on the three Saturdays leading up to Christmas and on one Sunday in Dulverton in line with previous years, to support local economies.
a) Free parking would apply from 15:00 to 23:59 on the three Saturdays (subject to car park opening hours) in Taunton Car Parks.
b) Free parking would apply all day; from 00:00 to 23:59 on the three Saturdays (subject to car park opening hours) in all other Council owned Car Parks.
c) Free parking would apply all day; from 00:00 to 23:59 on one Sunday (subject to car park opening hours) in Dulverton Car Parks to support the Dulverton by Starlight events.
Those voting FOR the MOTION: Councillors B Allen, L Baker, C Booth, S Coles, D Darch, C Ellis, H Farbahi, E Firmin, J Hassall, R Henley, Mrs M Hill, M Kravis, R Lees, S Lees, M Lithgow, S Nicholls, D Perry, M Peters, P Pilkington, H Prior-Sankey, M Rigby, F Smith, F Smith-Roberts, P Stone, A Sully, R Tully, S Wakefield, A Wedderkopp, D Wedderkopp and K Wheatley.
Those voting AGAINST the MOTION: Councillors S Buller, N Cavill, R Habgood, C Morgan, C Palmer and L Whetlor.
Those ABSTAINING from voting: Councillors I Aldridge, M Barr, M Blaker, H Davies, A Govier, A Hadley, L Lisgo, J Lloyd, D Mansell, A Milne, A Pritchard, S Pugsley, V Stock-Williams, N Thwaites, A Trollope-Bellew, B Weston, and G Wren.