To consider report FIN/606 of the Chief Executive and Chief Accountant (s151 officer).
The Commission considered reports FIN/606 and FIN606Aof the Chief Executive and Chief Accountant (s151 officer). The Council has a statutory responsibility to set a Council Tax and Budget in advance of the commencement of the new financial year. The Council Tax has to be set by March each year.
During the discussion, the following points were expressed:
· Acknowledgement that there have been several movements since the Budget Strategy report and the budget assumed a use of reserves of £261,970. There were sufficient General Fund reserves for this and during the year £413k of savings has been identified for the current and future financial years. Fees and charges would also increase by an average of 5% as per the approved Budget Strategy.
· The budget projection for the financial year 2024/25 provided a projected gap of over a million as a result of inflation and pay provisions, the additional costs of waste management and reduced Government funding. Over the four years the average gap was £701k and work would be required to find savings and efficiencies to meet this gap. Any growth item going forward would have to have a compensating saving identified to fund it.
· Recognition that the Government increased the Council Tax capping guidance to 3% or £5 on a Band D, whichever was the highest. The proposed 2.99% increase in Council Tax for the year for a Band D property equated to an increase of £6.55 for the year. Recognition that with regards to Council Tax the most common band within the town was Band C. It was commented that the proposed increase for the Borough Council was low when compared to those projected across the three authorities (CBC £6.55, WSCC £77.67, PCC £15.00). It was important to be mindful and proportionate in the increases to the ‘public purse’.
· Acknowledgement that the capital programme requested an additional £900k for Crawley Homes retrofit initiatives, to unblock developments due to water neutrality. These costs would be reimbursed by developers back to the HRA and tenants would benefit from lower water bills.
· Recognition of the supplementary report additional recommendation for £10m budget for Acquisition of Land and Dwellings in the HRA, and £1.15m for Temporary Accommodation which would provide the flexibility to acquire properties on the market for either general needs or temporary accommodation purposes.
· Confirmation sought and provided on the apprenticeship schemes and salaries.
· Detailed discussion ensued in relation to the potential reduction in homelessness numbers. Recognition that regular liaison took place with Strategic Housing and whilst it was a challenge to estimate the impact on future budgets of homelessness demands it was hoped that additional factors (such as grants and increases to capital budgets as documented in the supplementary agenda) would assist in reducing the demand for the service in future years. Acquisitions could play a significant role in addressing the increasing pressures on the Council’s Housing Register.
· Acknowledgement that forecasting trends, variables and future housing needs was complex and on a local level. The reasons for homelessness were multifaceted and the identification of the causes was beneficial, however there were multiple factors, including affordability and supply. There was a range of multiple reasons why individuals were within the housing register and temporary accommodation along with policy and economic issues. It was recommended that it would be beneficial to receive a report back to the OSC on these factors and data impacting homelessness, temporary accommodation, and the identification of potential causes. It was further agreed that feedback be sought from Strategic Housing and included in the report as to how the service anticipated a reduction in homelessness numbers over the coming years, both generally as well as a reduction in homeless individuals where the council owes a duty (or is obliged) to prevent homelessness.
That the Commission noted the report, the additional recommendations documented above and those in the supplementary agenda, and requested that the views expressed during the debate, were fed back to the Cabinet through the Commission’s Comment sheet.