To consider the Cabinet’s recommendations in respect of the Budget and Council for the 2020-21 financial year.
Further to Minute No.120 of the meeting of the Cabinet held on 17 February 2020, consideration was given to the report that proposed the Council’s Budget and Council Tax for 2020/21. This was based on the outcome of the Council’s Final Local Government Finance Settlement, budget consultation process and consideration of Directorate budget proposals through the Council’s formal Budget and Scrutiny processes (Overview and Scrutiny Management Board), alongside a review of the financial planning assumptions within the Medium Term Financial Strategy. It was noted in the report that since the introduction of austerity measures in 2010 the Council had been successful in making savings in excess of £200m in response to significant reductions in Central Government funding. This figure included savings of £16m that had been approved by Council in February 2019 in setting a two-year budget for 2019/20 and 2020/21 (Minute No.156, 2019/20) still to be delivered during 2020/21.
In moving the recommendations, the Leader thanked everyone who had contributed to mammoth process of pulling the budget proposals together, in particular the Strategic Director – Finance and Customer Services and her team, the Cabinet Member - Corporate Services and Finance, and Cabinet colleagues.
The Leader noted that in 2019 a two year budget had been approved in order to meet the challenges of a £30million budget gap following a £170million reduction in the Council’s budget since 2010 created by cuts in Government funding, and that overall these reductions had amounted to £1,700 of cuts for every household in the borough.
The Leader noted that in 2013, the then Local Government Minister, Brandon Lewis had stated that the decentralisation of local government finance would put councils in charge and reward them for supporting local enterprise, building more homes and backing local jobs. The Leader stated that despite this statement the reality for Rotherham was, despite being one of the fastest growing local economies in the region, that in ten years over 1,800 jobs had been lost at the Council.
The Leader outlined several examples of the vital role that Council services played in supporting the elderly, disabled and children in the Council’s care to have the quality of life that they deserved and were entitled to, as well as the cost of providing these essential services, noting that nearly two thirds of the Council’s budget was spent on providing essential social care services. The Leader stated that it was right to say that the that the people who provided these critical, intimate services deserved more than poverty pay, and that while the number of people needing home care had risen 10% per year every year for the last three years, the Council’s 800 home care staff would be paid the Real Living Wage from this April in recognition of how important that work was.
The Leader expressed his frustration that the Government had still not comprehensively reviewed how local authorities were funded, and that yet again a “sticking plaster” solution had been provided with some, but not enough extra funding, and one off funding provsion to avert a social care catastrophe. The Leader noted his concern on the Local Government Association’s figures that showed another £6million could be lost from the Council’s budget in future years with money being diverted to wealthier parts of the country.
The Leader advised that despite extra funding from Government the Council still faced a £5million gap in its budget for 2020/21, and as such tough choices had had to be made to ensure residents still received the services they deserved. The Leader stated that with the changes in services that had been approved in 2019, along with the proposed budget, it would mean that no additional job losses or cuts to frontline services would be required in 2020/21.
The Leader acknowledged that no one liked rises in Council Tax, but advised that the proposed overall 3% rise in Council Tax for 2020/21 would be lower than in most other parts of the country, and that for most households in the borough the proposed increased would be 58p extra a week, or 5p per week for those on the very lowest incomes because of the Council Tax support scheme. The Leader provided information on the proposed spending increases on services that were possible due to the budget decisions that had been made including ending the one day a week closure at the Household Waste Recycling Centres, increased on-street youth work provision, increased resources for tackling noise nuisance and being able to prevent further cuts to tendered bus services.
The Leader provided information on some of proposed spending activities contained in the budget including £1.7million in the Capital Programme to give the new Streetpride neighbourhood teams the equipment that they needed to keep the borough clean, a four year, £24 million programme of road resurfacing and increased investment in all of the council’s libraries. The Leader also advised that the council continue its programme of investment in Rotherham town centre, seeking to secure more Government funding, and upgrading all the key car parks.
The Leader concluded in noting that five years ago when he had delivered his first budget speech the Council was in crisis, but that today ,now that Children’s Services had been transformed and the Council rebuilt there was the opportunity to be able to deliver further improvements to the lives of local people
The Leader noted his determination to maintain and provide Social Care services that met the needs the most vulnerable, create a vibrant local economy, stand up against poverty pay, provide more affordable housing, better roads and a decent local environment and to work in every neighbourhood to build a better borough.
In seconding the recommendations, the Cabinet Member for Corporate Services and Finance advised that the budget showed a commitment to putting the needs of residents first in spite of cuts in funding from the Government, and thanked officers and members for their support in bringing the budget together. The Cabinet Member noted with concern that further cuts to funding were being predicted, and that the diversion of funding away from Rotherham and towards wealthier areas was both unfair and discriminatory, and as such further difficult budget decisions would need to be mad in the near future. The Cabinet Member advised that in facing the financial challenges of the future it was essential that the Council thought creatively in order to protect services for residents of Rotherham.
At this point the Mayor advised that there had been an amendment proposed to the budget and that this amendment was detailed at Appendix B of the Mayors’ Letter.
It was moved by Councillor Cowles and seconded by Councillor R Elliott:
“That the Budget and Council Tax be accepted as proposed with the exception of an amendment to reserves to:
· utilise up to £500,000 of the Transformation Reserve to pay for a feasibility study to be commissioned to provide accurate and reliable information in order that we can make information based decisions in relation to the implementation of green infrastructure and transportation within the region; and
· Subsequently develop a road map detailing the steps along the way toward setting up a green business park to attract green businesses to the area with the intention of capturing as many jobs within the green economy as possible; and
· To co-locate those green businesses, as the benefits of co-location are well understood and, there are proven examples of the benefits of doing so including our own AMP.”
In moving the motion Councillor Cowles stated that the Council needed to be ambitious with regards to its green agenda and that it needed to take the required actions now in order for the Council to actively pursue its green ambitions in the future. Councillor Cowles noted the challenges of emerging green technology, such as an electric cars and of the infrastructure needed in support of these innovations. Councillor Cowles advised that in order for the Council to have a clear vision on how to deliver a green future for the borough, and to transform the borough into a aspirational hub of green thinking, innovation and business from a run-down backwater, Councillor Cowles advised that to achieve this up to £500,000 of reserves should be utilised to engage consultants to create a “road map” of how the Council could reach this objective. This “road map would show how the Council could transform Rotherham into a hub of green innovation by detailing the role of the Council and that of its delivery partners, and the actions required in making Rotherham a hub of green innovation.
Councillor R Elliott then seconded the motion.
Councillor Walsh noted that the proposed amendment, while right to focus on green issues had been ill thought out with regard to the detail of the green agenda and technology. Councillor Walsh also noted his objection to the borough being described as a rundown back water as well as to comments that Councillor Cowles had made regarding the state of, and development activity in various town and village centres across the borough that he had taken to be insulting to the borough and its residents.
Councillor Roche noted his support for the green agenda and detailed many of the green initiatives and activities being carried out by the Council, including the upcoming Climate Emergency Plan. Councillor Roche also expressed his objection to Rotherham being described as a rundown backwater, noting many of the forward-looking initiatives that were taking place across the borough.
Councillors Mallinder and Atkin noted their objection to Councillor Cowles’ comments regarding Dinnington and Wath town centres respectively. Councillor Wyatt noted his agreement for the sentiments expressed in amendment and for the need to develop green infrastructure, but noted that due to the current funding uncertainties for local government it was essential that the Council’s reserves were maintained in order to protect services in the future.
The Leader noted his agreement with the comments of Councillor Wyatt, and advised that while he agreed support should be given to attract green industry and to build green infrastructure, that at the current time the use of reserves to fund such speculative activity was unwise given the future threats and uncertainty surrounding local government funding.
The Mayor asked when responding to the debate on the amendment whether Councillor Cowles would like to withdraw his comments regarding the state of, and development activity in various town and village centres across the borough.
Councillor Cowles declined to withdraw the comments, noting that developers often acted in their own best interests and not in the best interests of the locations and communities that they were operating in. In responding to the issues raised in the debate on the amendment Councillor Cowles advised that Council reserves had in the past been spent on supporting poorly thought out budgets, and that spending reserves on developing the green credentials of the borough would ultimately be for the benefit of all residents and would put the Council at the forefront of activity of bringing green businesses to the borough. Councillor Cowles also reasserted that he was proposing that up to £500,000 of reserves be used, and that not all of the money would need to be utilised immediately.
On being put to the vote the motion was declared as lost.
Members then proceeded to debate the original motion.
Councillor Cusworth noted the great achievements and the political will and creativity of the administration in delivering services and initiatives, including the improved Children’s Services and plans for Forge Island, against a background of Tory cuts.
Councillor B Cutts noted the political skill of the Leader’s speech and its focus on Tory cuts, rather than cuts to services that were in his view, the result of the Council’s own spending activities.
Councillor Beck highlighted the investment that was being in made in housing delivery programmes and the healthy position of the Housing Revenue Account, noting that politics was about choices, and that the Labour administration had chosen not to accept a reduction in the quality of housing due to cuts imposed on the Council.
Councillor Hoddinott welcomed the budget, noting that its contents showed that the administration had listened to the needs or residents and prioritised areas that mattered to them. These prioritised services included returning the opening hours of Household Waste Recycling Centres to seven days a week, investing in the borough’s roads and protecting services valued by residents including the domestic abuse service and increased enforcement activity to address fly tipping.
Councillor Jepson noted his support for the revised opening times of the Household Waste Recycling Centres and asked for reassurance that officers involved in enforcement activities would be provided with the appropriate resources to keep them safe when carrying out enforcement action.
Councillor Cooksey welcomed the extension of the out of hours noise nuisance service and noted the value of the service to residents. Councillor Cooksey also expressed surprise at the change of position of the Brexit, formally UKIP group with regard to the green agenda as UKIP policy had been to withdraw the UK from the Paris agreement on climate change.
Councillor Atkin highlighted the role of volunteers working with Council staff to manage litter in the borough and noted his support for the extra staff that would now be employed to keep the borough clean and tidy. Councillor Atkin also emphasised how the administration had managed to keep to its budget commitments and at the same time protect jobs and services without raising Council Tax by the full amount allowed by the Government. Councillor McNeely expressed disappointment at the oppositions late budget amendment, noting that they could have, if they wished, submitted a full alternative budget for consideration.
Councillor Lelliott noted the wide range of initiatives to develop Rotherham and other town centres in the Borough, in particular the commencement of work at Forge Island and plans to bid for money from the Future High Streets Fund.
Councillor Allen stated that what had originally motivated her to seek election and to become a councillor was a desire to improve the lives of local residents and advised that the proposed budget would support and develop services that would help residents right across the borough. Councillor Allen highlighted the library consultation and the investment that was being made across all libraries in the borough and the increased numbers of directly employed grounds maintenance staff who would help keep the borough clean and tidy as particular areas that would positively impact the quality of life of local residents. Councillor Allen also noted the role that Overview and Scrutiny Management Board members had had in the decision making processes that had led to the move away from the use of agency staff to directly employing seasonal grounds maintenance staff.
Councillor M Elliott noted the dirty condition of many directional signage on roads across the borough and asked if there were plans to the bollards to be cleaned. Councillor Cowles advised that he had played a full part in the consultation processes involved in setting the budget, and as such would be supporting it.
Councillor Roche noted the overspend on Adult Services for 2019/20, and that while difficult decisions had had to be made in this budget area, these decisions had however been thoroughly thought through and would enable more effective services to be delivered at a lower cost. Councillor Roche noted that due to the further pressures of continued austerity and of an ageing population, pressures in this budget area would however continue.
Councillor Watson noted the difficult choices that always had to be made in setting a budget and asked all members to vote in support of the budget, noting that if any member was considering voting against the budget then they should state their reasons for doing so. Councillor Watson noted the transformation of Children’s Services over the previous four years and welcomed the extra funding for youth services that was contained in the budget.
Councillor Steele noted that while the decisions taken in the formulation of the budget had been difficult, the budget supported the delivery of Labour values by protecting services and supporting the residents of the borough. Councillor Steele noted his congratulations to the members of the Cabinet for the budget that was being proposed.
Councillor Carter advised that while he was supportive of some elements of the budget, such as the paying of the Real Living Wage to third party social care staff, he would be however be voting against the budget. Councillor Carter noted that he did not believe the budget was as bold or ambitious as it needed to be, especially with regard to the transformation of town centres and the development of brownfield sites.
Councillor Buckley welcomed the Leader of the Opposition, Councillor Cowles’ statement that he would be voting for the budget, as Councillor Cowles had been involved in its development. Councillor Buckley noted his disappointment however that Councillor Carter would not be voting for the budget as well as at Councillor Carter’s lack of engagement in the workings of the Council.
In responding to the debate on Leader thanked members for their comments in supporting the budget and responded to specific questions raised by members. In response to Councillor Jepson’s question regarding the safety of enforcement staff carrying out their duties the Leader advised that measures, including the trialling of bodycams were in place for enforcement staff. In response to Councillor M Elliott’s question on the cleaning of reflective directional signage the Leader advised that no specific budget had been available for the maintenance of central reservations, but that a programme of work on their maintenance would be starting imminently. The Leader placed on record his thanks to Councillor Cooksey for the often unacknowledged, but very valuable work that she did in support of social issues across the borough.
In response to Councillor Carter’s comment that the budget was not bold or ambitious enough the Leader advised that the budget was both bold and ambitious and that it set a way for forward for a better future the borough and its residents, and as such commended it to Council for approval.
In accordance with the Local Authorities (Standing Orders) (England) (Amendment) Regulations 2014 and the Council’s Constitution, a recorded vote was taken for this item as follows:
For: Councillors Alam, Andrews, Allen, Atkin, Beaumont, Beck, Bird, Buckley, Clark, Cooksey, Cowles, Cusworth, D Cutts, Elliot, M. Elliott, R.Elliott, Hague, Hoddinott, Ireland, Jarvis, Jepson, Jones, Khan, Lelliott, McNeeley, Mallinder, Marles, Pitchley, Read, Reeder, Roche, Russell, Sansome, Senior, Sheppard, Short, Simpson, Steele, Taylor, John Turner, Julie Turner, Tweed, Vjestica, Walsh, Williams, Watson, Wilson, Whysall, Wyatt and Yaseen.
Against: Councillor Carter
Abstentions: Councillor B Cutts
(1) That the Budget and Financial Strategy for 2020/21, as set out in the report and appendices, including the proposed budget adjustments and investments, a basic Council Tax increase of 0.99% and an Adult Social Care precept of 2.0%, be approved.
(2) That the updated Medium-Term Financial Strategy (MTFS) up to 2022/23 be approved.
(3) That the Reserves Strategy, as set out in Section 2.8, be approved, noting that the final determination of Reserves will be approved as part of reporting the financial outturn for 2019/20.
(4) That the comments and advice of the 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 (Section 2.12), be accepted and noted.
(5) That the feedback from the public, partners and Overview and Scrutiny Management Board, following the public consultation on the Council’s budget for 2020/21 that took place from 13 December 2019 to 13 January 2020 (Section 4), be noted.
(6) That the increases in Adult Social Care provider contracts as set out in Section 2.4, be approved.
(7) That the changes to allowances for Special Guardianship Orders and Child Arrangement Orders, as set out in Paragraph 2.6.9, be approved.
(8) That the investment proposals, as set out at Section 2.7 and Appendix 2, be approved.
(9) That the Council Fees and Charges schedules for 2020/21, as detailed at Appendix 7, be approved.
(10) That in line with Government guidance, the application of the Business Rates Reliefs, as set out at Section 2.9, be approved.
(11) That the Capital Strategy and Capital Programme, as set out at Section 2.10 and in Appendices 3A to 3F, be approved.
(12) That the Treasury Management Matters for 2020/21, as set out in Appendix 4 of the report, including the Prudential Indicators, the Minimum Revenue Provision Policy, the Treasury Management Strategy and the Investment Strategy be approved.
(13) That the Flexible use of Capital Receipts Strategy 2020/21, as set out at Appendix 5), be approved.
(14) That the Statutory Resolution of Council Tax for 2020/21, as set out at Appendix 6, Incorporating the precept figures as advised from the South Yorkshire Police and Crime Commissioner, South Yorkshire Fire and Rescue Authority and the Parish Councils within the Borough, be approved.
(15) That the Capital Programme budget continues to be managed in line with the following key principles:
i. Any underspends on the existing approved Capital Programme in respect of 2019/20 be rolled forward into future years, subject to an individual review of each carry forward to be set out within the Financial Outturn 2019/20 report to Cabinet.
ii. In line with Financial and Procurement Procedure Rules 6.17 and 13.9, any successful grant applications in respect of capital projects will be added to the Council’s approved Capital Programme on an ongoing basis.
iii. Capitalisation opportunities and capital receipts flexibilities will be maximised, with capital receipts earmarked to minimise revenue costs.