Agenda item



To approve and adopt the revenue budget for 2016/17, impact on the budget proposals in 2017/18 and 2018/19, investment proposals, use of reserves, comment and advice of the Interim Strategic Director of Finance and Customer Services in relation to reserves, the consultation feedback from the public and partners, the proposed use of Capital Receipts to fund the first £2m of severance costs and the increase in the basic amount of Council Tax.


Further to Minute No. 29 of the meeting of the Cabinet/Commissioners’ Decision Making Meeting held on 23rd February, 2016, consideration was given to the report which proposed a Revenue Budget for 2016/17 based on the outcome of the Council’s Financial Settlement, budget consultation and the consideration of Directorate budget proposals through the Council’s formal Budget and Scrutiny process (Overview and Scrutiny Management Board).


The Leader of the Council spoke of cuts that totalled £116 million. Today the funding gap had risen to £138 million. Over the next two years it would rise to £164 million and the numbers were difficult to comprehend.


About 1,500 fewer people were employed by Rotherham Council than six years ago and by 2025, another 1,500 jobs could be gone.


This was the reality of Tory austerity. Not some quick shift of funding, some short term cuts to balance the books, but a radical and fundamental shrinking of the state and the biggest change to local government funding since the Second World War.


The task was to defend the most vulnerable, to be more efficient, and to face the reality of a future in which the Council would be almost entirely dependent on council tax and business rates generated locally.


The Leader paid tribute to his Labour Group colleagues who have battled through this conundrum over the last few months and outlined the budget which would:-


·             Demonstrate once again the commitment to ensuring Children’s Services met the standards that Rotherham families needed. The package today totalled a budget increase of £12 million: including funding the larger compliment of children’s social workers, meet the commitment to improve social worker pay moving towards a more permanent workforce - and increasing the amount of money available for long term support to survivors of child sexual exploitation.


·             Secondly, it responded to public priorities around the local environment; litter, grass cutting. The additional funding was being protected for Streetpride made last year – and across the capital and revenue budgets more than a quarter of a million pounds would be made available for local projects determined by Members and delivered through Area Assemblies.


The extra investment in road resurfacing had already seen something like 70 streets resurfaced this year. In the capital budget today, the Council would commit to spend an extra £10 million over the next four years. That commitment would mean that the amount of money the Council spent on road maintenance would have been maintained at double the 2014/15 level every year for five years.


·             Thirdly, because it was the right thing to do, and because it was known that the future of funding for Council services hinged on it, the Council would not reduce its commitment to deliver 10,000 more private sector jobs over the next ten years. The award winning RiDO team would be prevented from falling off the edge of the funding cliff as previous grant funding expired. In the capital budget an in-principle commitment was outlined to invest up to £17 million in the fabric of the town centre and a £5 million Development Fund would be brought forward as part of the capital programme, in line with our Growth Plan.


·             Finally, the Council would continue to seek to mitigate the worst impacts of Tory austerity on those with the lowest incomes and continue to maintain the Council Tax Support scheme, so that those on the very lowest incomes were asked to pay no more than 8.5% of the full council tax bill, with continued support to fund support for local foodbanks, and credit union alternatives to payday lenders.


In such tough budget circumstances, it was right that the Council tried to protect frontline services and encourage efficiency. The revenue budget sought to maximise the available funding for residents’ priorities by reducing the cost of capital debt and saved £2 million next year from PFI repayments.


To balance the budget, in the absence of government council tax freeze grant, a 1.9% council tax rise was being proposed, plus a further 2% rise in line with George Osborne’s social care levy. In total, for the average Rotherham household this amounted to a 65p per week rise. For the poorest households, it was less than 6p per week.


Invest to save opportunities would continue to be pursued and more effective use of technology and even with plans for extra capital investment, the cost of the Council’s borrowing over the next five years was expected to be 20% less than it had been for the last five years.


Despite all this, the budget pressures and need to reform the Council came together to make thinking differently about the services of the future, such as the Youth Service.  Outside funding had been secured to support the ReachOut CSE project with Barnardo’s and now a further look was required at how Early Help services reached the children who needed support.


At the same time Rotherham had the fourteenth most expensive adult social care in the country and one of the fastest growing elderly populations, so there was no choice but to act. Reforming the Re-enablement Service alone, bringing it into line with practice elsewhere in the country, would save more than £1m combined with working more closely with Health colleagues to help people to live independently into old age.


Where the Council could act in response to public concerns it was doing so with no school crossing patrols needing to be lost in the coming year as it was being explored with schools how funding could be secured for the long term. A further look would be made to the Visitor Centre to ensure the Civic Theatre was not inadvertently harmed.


This budget froze Councillors’ allowances in cash terms at the levels they were last year, as approved by the Independent Review Panel, and it cut the cost of the Town Hall by more than £50,000.


In summary, the priorities of the public have been heard and this budget meant no community library closures, no school crossing patrols lost, no less litter picking, no reduction in household waste recycling centres and the town centre public toilets staying open.


It meant more permanent social workers, more road repairs, working for more jobs and businesses, more community events that would bring people together.


Mover:  Councillor Read                        Seconder:-  Councillor Alam


Councillor Parker proposed an amendment to Rotherham’s Budget for 2016/17 and expressed his concerns about the Right to Buy Scheme and how only a third of the funds were retained by the Council.  Stocks could not be replenished as rebuilding was restricted.


His proposals related to a feasibility study establishing a private limited housing company for the purposes of providing housing at affordable rates for Rotherham people.  This company would bring financial benefits to the Council and numerous new housing stock of the sort that the Council were not restricted to what it could do.


Various options had been considered and discussions had taken place with senior officers about the viability of the option similar to a scheme in Sheffield City Council.


The amendment was for Housing for Affordable Rent:-


That this Council would provide the necessary funds of £70,000 to the Strategic Housing and Investment Manager for that department to carry out a feasibility study on the possibility that the Council should set up a Limited Liability Housing Company for the purposes of providing housing at affordable rents.  This funding would be found by using £70,000 from the Transformation Reserves which is in the budget (this is identified on page 71 of the Council agenda papers).


Mover:  Councillor Parker                      Seconder:-  Councillor Jepson


Councillors C. Vines and Reynolds spoke in favour of and applauded the amendment and suggested this should have been considered previously rather than too little being done too late.


Councillor Currie was in favour of a feasibility study being undertaken as long as this brought some good to the Council.


Councillor Wallis thanked Councillor Parker for his suggested amendment, but confirmed discussions were already taking place with officers regarding the pressures on the Housing Revenue Account and a response was provided within the Housing Strategy being put forward on this agenda.  Whilst in principle the Cabinet Member did not disagree with what was being suggested, it was noted she had issue with the £70,000 and was not able to offer commitment.


The Leader of the Council was also unable to commit to the £70,000, but gave his personal assurance that this would be considered as part of the Housing Strategy and invited Councillor Parker to be part of the discussions with the Cabinet Member.


The vote was put for the first part of the amendment and LOST.


Councillor Parker went on to outline the second part to his amendment.  This related to the redirection of funds for the promotion of inclusion and community cohesion, which had amounted to £1.6 million and described his own personal experiences of a local club’s involvement in ensuring young people did not become socially isolated or excluded and suggested funds should be redirected accordingly to projects much like he had described.


He, therefore, suggested the amendment for Community Cohesion Redirecton of Funds:-


That this Council shall actively promote the use of community cohesion funds in Rotherham to encourage all community groups that promote inclusion in their sports, youth and social activities.  That they would positively discriminate in favour of e.g. youth sports clubs, youth clubs, scouts, cubs, girl guides, senior citizen clubs and activities.


Mover:  Councillor Parker                      Seconder:-  Councillor Jepson


Councillor Reynolds was happy to support the amendment and described how this went some way to combatting particular issues.


Councillor Cowles believed this was the right way to go and supported the amendment, but in doing so suggested that further consideration be given to single faith schools which could address some of the integration issues.


Councillor Roddison described his own support to local groups and his use of his Community Leadership Fund in recognising the important contribution that these type of groups made to young people’s lives.  Whilst agreeing with the sentiment of bringing people together was unable to give his support to removing funds from an important budget without further clarity.


Councillor Parker pointed out he was not asking for removal of the funds purely for this to be redirected to various schemes.


The Leader was also unable to support the amendment on the absence of more solid information and believed this would be bad budgeting to accept it.  However, he suggested this would be an excellent topic for Scrutiny to take forward and explore further on the contributed spend and activity.


There was obviously some good work taking place as outlined, but there was also an opportunity for Councillor Parker to be involved with his Area Assembly and discuss his proposals with them.


Councillor Steele welcomed the opportunity for further work by Scrutiny, but reiterated the funding opportunities through the Community Leadership Fund.


The vote was put for the second part of the amendment and LOST.


Debate, therefore, continued on the substantive motion by the Leader.


Councillor Vines was not in favour of the budget put forward by the Leader on the grounds that it did not go far enough into looking at the future for the borough and he would not support anything he had had little input into.  Nothing was being done for the Council to review itself to look into making a profit for reinvestment.  This Council would fail without proper investment which the Opposition Party had put forward an alternative budget which looked at investments last year.


Councillor Currie was happy to support the budget proposals and in doing so recognised the hard work that had gone into pulling the proposals together.  However, he queried the questions about the Housing Revenue Account and was reassured by the further look at the reshaping of Early Help Service and would welcome a further discussion in this area with the relevant Cabinet Member.


Councillor Watson was also supporting the budget proposals which he regarded as sensible in the context of Central Government cuts.  He drew particular attention to the heavy spend in Adult Social Care and the need to ensure that children and vulnerable people remained supported, whilst listening to budget feedback particularly around School Crossing Patrol Wardens.


Councillor Reeder referred to the £5 million that had been received from Central Government and whether this had been spent.


Councillor Jepson expressed his concern over staff losses, the cuts to the Youth Service and Parish Councils and suggested some consideration be given to redirecting the funds from Area Assemblies to Parish Councils.


Councillor Ellis spoke in favour of the budget which had been fully costed and worked through with no alterative option put forward by the leading opposition group.


Councillor Hoddinott spoke in favour of the proposals drawing attention to the School Crossing Patrol Wardens, which was a measure of listening to public consultation. £6.3 million had also been taken from the Council’s budget through the academisation of schools.


Councillor Steele was in support of the budget proposals and described how the budget was spent and how this must be reconfigured in light of the budget cuts and the move to Council’s becoming more self-sustaining.  The Sheffield City Region, it was hoped, would bring business to the area.


Councillor Cowles referred to the number of proposed staff redundancies and the increase in senior management and social workers.  He could have proposed an alternative budget, but felt there was little merit in doing so.


Councillor Reynolds described the exclusion of the opposition and how the suggestion of alternatives would have been simply voted against.


Councillor Alam offered his support to the budget which had been a challenging process and continued to support the elderly, children and vulnerable people.


Councillor Wallis in supporting the budget highlighted the hard work that had gone into the budget process and passed comment about the Housing Revenue Account and the significant challenge because of Government policy, the reserves that would increase at the year end, the spending decisions on the Capital Programme, the staggering high value property levy, reductions in the Revenue Support Grant, projected increase in the Right to Buy sales and the pay to stay legislation.


Councillor Parker referred to business acumen, the formation of the budget proposals and in dismissing his amendments believed those in charge were not capable of running the Council.


In his right to reply the Leader addressed many of the comments made and acknowledged the concerns about Youth Services by Councillor Currie, which would be subject to further discussion, confirmed to Councillor Reeder that the £5 million was to be spent this year and the year after, the unwelcome news about the reduction in support to Parish Councils as raised by Councillor Jepson, the level of scrutiny involvement in the budget process as raised by Councillor Reynolds, the lack of support to Councillor Parker’s amendments to the budget proposals and suggested the opposition party look to submitting an alternative budget for consideration next year.


Resolved:-  (1)  That as set out in this report the proposals for a balanced revenue budget for 2016/17 and the impact of the budget proposals in 2017/18 and 2018/19 be approved.


(2)  That the investment proposals as set out in the budget report (Appendix 2) noting that some of this investment is required to address inherent budget pressures and some is required to provide scope for growth and improvement be approved.


(3)  That the proposed use of Reserves as set out in this report be approved.


(4)  That the comments and advice of the interim Strategic Director of Finance and Customer Services (Section 151 Officer), provided in compliance with Section 25 of the Local Government Act 2003, as to the robustness of the estimates included in the Budget and the adequacy of reserves for which the Budget provides be noted and accepted.


(5)  That the consultation feedback from the public and partners following publication of Directorate budget savings proposals on the Council’s website for public comment through to 12th February 2016 (Section 5 of this report and Appendix 3) be noted.


(6)  That the proposed use of Capital Receipts to fund the first £2m of severance costs arising from service reconfiguration to deliver efficiencies and improved outcomes for clients and residents. See Efficiency Strategy (Appendix 4) be approved.


(7)  That the planned review of Habershon House Outdoor Education Centre which will report back to Cabinet in June 2016 (Paragraph 3.27) be noted.


(8)  That an increase in the basic amount of Council Tax (i.e. the Borough’s element excluding precepts) of 3.95% - this being comprised of a 2% precept for Adult Social Care services (a new precept announced in the provisional settlement in December 2015 for Authorities with Adult Social Care responsibilities) and a 1.95% increase in the Council’s own basic level of Council Tax be approved.


(8)  That the precept figures from South Yorkshire Police Authority, South Yorkshire Fire and Rescue Authority and the various Parish Councils and Parish Meetings within the Borough be incorporated, when known, into the recommendation.


Mover:-  Councillor Read, Leader           Seconder:-  Councillor Alam


(The Mayor – Councillor Clark, Councillors Ahmed, Alam, Ali, Astbury, Atkin, Beaumont, Beck, Buckley, Currie, Elliot, Ellis, Evans, Godfrey, Hoddinott, Hughes, Jones, Khan, Lelliott, McNeely, Pickering, Pitchley, Read, Roche, Roddison, Rose, Rushforth, Sansome, Sims, Smith, Steele, Taylor, Wallis, Watson, Whelbourn, Wyatt and Yasseen voted in favour of the proposals)


(Councillors Cowles, Finnie, Fleming, Hague, Hunter, Jepson, Middleton, Parker, Reeder, Reynolds, John Turner, Julie, Turner, C. Vines and M. Vines voted against the proposals)

Supporting documents: