This matter is the responsibility of Executive Councillor Henley, Corporate Resources
Report Author: Emily Collacott, Lead Finance Business Partner and Deputy S151 Officer
The portfolio holder for Corporate Resources introduced the report and raised the following points.
· The initial MTFP projected an early indicative balanced budget for 2022/23. Through further reviews and updates pressures and other savings had been identified as detailed in the report. The most significant change was the major reduction in car parking income. There had been an increase in the budget gap. The current figure was still an estimate and based on assumptions as the Settlement was not yet known. Business rates retention estimates would also not be completed until January.
· The leadership team and Executive would revise the budget and share it with the committee in January.
· It was raised that closing the budget gap would be challenging but options to do so were available.
· It was suggested that the estimated cost of £1.375m for the implementation of the new unitary authority be funded from reserves. This would still leave reserves about the recommended minimum.
During the debate the following points were raised.
· It was questioned when it would be known about the local government settlement from government. It was responded by officers that it would likely be in mid-December.
· It was questioned what the budget setting process would be given Local Government Reform in Somerset. It was responded that officers are working with the Executive to form Directorate Plans and then align these with the budget. This budget would go through Full Council as it had done previously. There would have to be a dialogue with the new authority and the Council must ensure that it was not making decisions which would fetter the new authority. Discussions would take place between the Section 151 Officers of each of the four districts and Somerset County Council.
· It was encouraged that a member briefing be held on the budget and Local Government Reform, potentially in mid-January.
· It was asked whether the increase in budget gap was related to Covid 19 and what the potential options for closing the budget gap were. It was responded by officers that both the immediate impact of Covid and the legacy of it had impacted the budget, for example through car parking income loss. Factors such as cuts in funding had also had an impact. The leadership team was working with the Executive on other options for closing the budget gap.
· It was asked what impact the business rate relief by central government had and would continue to have in future on the budget. It was questioned what support the Council would likely receive from the government. It was responded by officers that the details of the scheme for business rates relief was still awaited but that government had indicated they would compensate the loss of income to local authorities. Hinkley Point B being decommissioned would also impact upon business rates.
· It was asked what budget had been allocated to the Innovation Conference the Executive had resolved to hold next year. It was responded by officers that the sum had not yet been confirmed but it would be in the budget.
· It was questioned about changes to the New Homes Bonus and the impact of unitary upon it. It was responded that officers were awaiting an announcement on changes to the New Homes Bonus scheme from central government.
· It was asked what would happen in terms of business rates if businesses went under. It was responded by officer that businesses closing would impact business rates. If the Council’s overall business rates fell below the minimum level set by government, then the government would pay the Council the funds, so the Council’s position would be protected at the minimum level by that safety net. The budget had been based upon the minimum level but if the business rates were above the minimum level, then it would be a bonus.
Corporate Scrutiny Committee noted the report.