Report is to follow.
The Joint Executive Advisory Board (JEAB) was invited to consider a report in respect of the Council’s General Fund Budget 2023-24 and Medium-Term Financial Plan 2024-25 to 2026-27. The report was introduced by the Lead Councillor for Finance and Planning Policy who sought councillors’ views thereon.
The JEAB was advised that the report set out the draft General Fund Budget for 2023/24 and Medium-Term Financial Plan (MTFP) ending 2026/27. The MTFP set out a four year view and highlighted the key issues and work streams that the Council must focus on over this period to address the projected significant shortfall in the General Fund budget. The report also requested that the Council approve the budget and Council Tax for 2023/24.
The Board’s attention was drawn to the first column in Appendix 1 to the report in particular, which indicated the changes in various elements from the 2022/23 base budget in terms of inflationary pressures and contractual changes. However, there were some off-setting factors and it was noted that the budget deficit of approximately £3 million would be met from reserves. The JEAB’s views regarding the position were sought.
The following points arose from related discussion, comments and questions for forwarding to the Executive:
1. The JEAB was reassured that the Council’s financial position was sound and it had not over extended its borrowing capability in order to fund capital projects. In terms of projects, the Weyside Urban Village scheme represented the greatest risk. A governance audit of the scheme had been undertaken and resulted in some recommendations to strengthen the governance arrangements. There was an intention to keep councillors informed of the financial projections relating to the scheme.
2. During the last year, the Council’s asset base had been revalued and found to have increased in value by £60 million. During the same timeframe, debt in the region of £40 million had been repaid, increasing the value of the authority’s asset position by £100 million to reach a total of £750 million. This was a strong asset base compared to many other local authorities.
3. The majority of assets held by the Council were revenue generating and if sold would reduce income to the revenue account, therefore there was no intention to sell such properties. There was a need to identify the correct balance to be achieved between selling assets to release cash and incurring the cost of borrowing funds.
4. There were opportunities to consolidate services and operational buildings to free properties for sale and the Assets Team was undertaking a review to identify under utilised or surplus property or land which could be sold to generate income.
5. There was no guarantee that the New Homes Bonus would be paid to the Council by the Government in future years and the Medium-Term Financial Plan made an assumption that this funding would not be received. In the absence of the Bonus, it was felt that the Government should identify an alternative incentive to encourage the delivery of housing. The Revenue Settlement Grant could play a role in this area.
The Lead Councillors and officers were thanked for their input during the course of the meeting.