To consider the Cabinet’s recommendations in respect of the Budget and Council Tax for the 2021-22 financial year.
Further to Minute No.117 of the meeting of the Cabinet held on 15th February, 2021, consideration was given to the report that proposed the Council’s Budget and Council Tax for 2021/22. 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.
In was stated in the report that in setting the proposed 2021/22 budget, Cabinet had recommended an increase of 1.99% in the Council’s basic Council Tax and an Adult Social Care precept of 1.0%.
The report proposed the revenue budget for 2021/22, an updated capital programme to 2023/24 and the updated Medium-Term Financial Strategy (MTFS) to 2022/23.
In moving the recommendations, the Leader thanked everyone who had contributed to the 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 stated that after 11 years of austerity, and in the face of a global pandemic, it was unsurprising that councils across the country were under unprecedented financial pressure, with 12 councils being reportedly in discussion with the Government about additional support. The Leader stated that this was the same Government that had told councils that they needed to be more entrepreneurial, who were now saying that councils should not take risks.
The Leader noted that the 2019 Conservative manifesto had praised the virtue of low Council Tax, but that in the Spending Review, where an extra £2.2bn for councils had been announced, it had not been mentioned that 85% of this increase in available funding would come from higher Council Tax bills, and not from the Government directly. The Leader noted that as a consequence it was not surprising that three quarters of councils with social care responsibilities were expecting to increase bills by the full 4.99% allowed in 2021. The Leader stated that while this showed that public services could not be run on fresh air, the Conservative Government were cutting the funding for road repairs in Rotherham by £2.6million, withdrawing half a million pounds of annual contributions to support the Council with Operation Stovewood and cutting regional economic growth funding to South Yorkshire by at least a third.
The Leader stated that according to the Institute of Fiscal Studies, the most deprived parts of the country had seen their council budgets cut by nearly twice as much as the most affluent by the current Government, and that this showed that the Government did not understand communities like Rotherham
The Leader stated that the Council had not taken commercial risks, but instead had trusted public servants to deliver public services and that these decisions had been taken as they had been the right, rather than the easy thing to do. The Leader stated that because a long-term view had been taken, the Council Tax rise in Rotherham in 2021 would be below those of most other councils. The Leader noted that these difficult decisions had created a stronger reserves position than had been anticipated as well as enabling an additional £1.86 million of revenue spending commitments for the coming year.
The Leader referred to the Barnsley poet, Ian McMillan who had described the “sad mood music of austerity in a minor key” – the visible decline in the upkeep of communities. The Leader stated, however, that this year, in the grip of the Coronavirus pandemic, it had been laid bare the insecurity that far too many Rotherham residents live with. The Leader noted several real-life examples of how the pandemic had put residents under significant financial strain and pressure through no fault of their own.
The Leader stated that the greatest honour of his position was having the resources to make a difference to people’s lives. The Leader stated that in October 2020, whilst the Government had dallied, the Council had made sure that 10,000 children in low income families had received free school meals in addition to the 9,000 children who had received financial help towards the purchase of school uniforms. The Leader also referred to the decision that had been taken to prioritise the local Council Tax Support Scheme, and to the additional funding made available, and going further than many other councils by initially crediting eligible families with £200 and later with £450 towards essential bills that had meant that more than 14,000 low income working age households had had their bills for the current year effectively reduced to zero.
The Leader noted that the rise in child poverty had also meant that right across the country more children had come into the Care system. The Leader restated the Council’s commitment to ensure that Children’s Services were as strong as they possibly could be and noted that by 2021/22 an additional £20 million had been spent Children’s Social Care than had been the case when he had become Leader. The Leader stated that for children, going into care should only ever be a last resort, which was why Family Group Conferencing had been included in the budget, so as to keep more families together.
The Leader noted with sadness that the insecurities created by the pandemic would not be fixed by the vaccine, but would be around for much longer and as such it was proposed in the budget:
· £102,000 to support 89 work placements for young people at risk of long-term unemployment, paid at the Real Living Wage.
· £100,000 to increase our existing support to food banks, and to develop a social supermarket to help those who are ready to move on.
· £150,000 of match funding to help people to stay in work and advance their careers.
Furthermore, the Leader advised that there would be more help available for new businesses to create new jobs, upgrading of business centres, as well building a new one, and that the additional millions of pounds secured in the devolution deal would be put behind the economic recovery.
The Leader detailed his commitment to deal with digital exclusion, as well as to making it easier for residents to get through to the Council by telephone, by committing £50,000 towards a £450,000 fund to be spent over the coming year that would help residents to get online and be more IT confident. The Leader also advised that it was being proposed to increase the Community Leadership Funds to help Councillors respond to local needs as well as increasing funding to support outreach youth work and improvements and events in libraries. The Leader advised that for the communities that had been so badly affected by flooding in 2019, whilst the Government had sat on its hands, £5.8 million of capital was being made available by the Council in order to accelerate the development of flood defence schemes.
The Leader noted the £1.8m that had been committed in the previous year towards new bins and street cleansing equipment, routine weed removal from dual carriageways, and a 7 days a week responsive Street Cleaning Service, and that this year an additional 4 Streetpride teams would be funded in order to make a visible difference across the Borough.
The Leader also referred to how the Council was meeting the shortfall in Government funding to ensure a £30 million redevelopment of the markets and central library could be progressed and to the new Towns and Villages Fund which would invest £4 million in local centres, so that the benefits were felt in communities across the area. The Leader also noted the Council’s continued commitment to 1,000 new Council homes, and to the huge programme of investment in the area’s roads.
The Leader stated that while the cynics would continue to say that these positive changes could not be done, that things could never change, or that the perfect should made the enemy of the good, everyone should take pride in how far the Council had already come.
The Leader stated that the continued agenda would be:
· A better Borough that rises to the expectations of our communities
· Good jobs, decent homes, public services that set people free
· And security for those who need it most, so we leave no one behind
The Leader concluded in stating that with each year that passed, the Council was able to build a little more on the foundations that were already laid, in order to secure the futures that the residents of Rotherham deserved and that now was not the time to put that at risk, but instead was the time for renewed purpose.
In seconding the recommendations, the Cabinet Member for Finance and Corporate Services stated that the proposed budget was a budget that would support services for residents who had been negatively impacted by not just years of Government austerity, but also by the pandemic, noting that the most deprived and vulnerable residents had been impacted most. The Cabinet Member advised further that years of effective financial management had allowed investment proposals to be included in the budget that would benefit residents, the town, and that would ensure that no one was left behind. The Cabinet Member stated that the budget had been built on the principles of reducing inequality and improving social justice in Rotherham.
The Cabinet Member noted the continuing financial challenges that years of austerity had created and would continue to create for the Council and stated that as such further challenging savings would need to be made. The Cabinet Member noted that whilst challenging, the delivery of savings would provide an opportunity to look creatively at how services could be delivered better.
The Cabinet Member concluded in thanking Cabinet colleagues, members of the budget working group, scrutiny and all Members who had contributed to the development of the budget.
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:
“I wish to propose an amendment to the published budget proposals, that the following items to the total of £1.362m are removed from the revenue budget investments for 2021/22:
· CYPS 1 Additional support for Youth Work (£50k)
· CYPS 2 Expansion of Family Group Conferencing (FGC) (£130k)
· R&E 1 Additional street cleansing and grounds maintenance (Streetpride) (£489k)
· R&E 2 Planning Enforcement (£44k)
· R&E 4 Events that bring people together (£118k)
· R&E 5 Licensing Service (£150k)
· R&E 8 Restoration of Libraries Book Stock Budget (£50k)
· ACX 3 Community Leadership Fund uplift (£59k)
· R&E 3 ADVANCE careers support programme (£150k)
· FACS 2 Reducing customer call waiting times (£122k)”
I propose that the total funding of £1.362m from the removal of these budget investments will be alternatively proposed to be used to fund the estimated cost in 2021/22 of providing every child in the Borough, turning the age of 4 during the financial year, with a tablet computer. Additionally, should it be necessary, for half of those tablets to include one-year’s limited data allowance. I would propose to work through this proposal further in consultation with schools and CYPS where my knowledge and experience is limited in order to decide how best this would be implemented to achieve the maximum benefit for the young people. The proposal contains £76,240 more than is needed to meet the estimated cost of the proposal for contingency purposes.”
In moving the motion Councillor Cowles noted that given the impact of the pandemic on the world, and on how people lived and worked, that it was essential that the Council must also change how it operated. Councillor Cowles reaffirmed his position that the Council should focus on activities that would attract green businesses and green jobs to the Borough.
Councillor Cowles noted the pandemic had highlighted the issue of unequal access to IT and the internet amongst children in the Borough and stated that it was essential that action was taken to address this in order to ensure equal access to education for all children. Councillor Cowles proposed that the budget be amended to enable all 4 year olds in the Borough to receive a tablet, as well internet access for those who did not already have access. Councillor Cowles detailed the estimated costs for the proposal as well as how he proposed that the budget be amended to release the funding that would be required. Councillor Cowles stated that it was essential all possible steps should be taken to enable equal access to education and that decisive action needed to be taken to ensure that no child in Rotherham fell behind in their education or had their life chances negatively impacted by not being having IT access.
Councillor Cowles stated tough budget choices needed to be made and that spending on children and education had to be a higher budget priority than the creation of one year road cleaning posts that would not provide long term benefits to the Borough.
In seconding the motion Councillor R. Elliott stated that as the future was the green economy, it was essential that investments were made in activities that would attract green businesses to the Borough. Councillor R. Elliott stated that the proposals detailed in the amendment that would provide all 4 year olds with a tablet would be a huge investment the in the Borough’s children that would give them the best chance to succeed in life.
Councillor Watson noted that he was sympathetic to the sentiments behind the amendment but stated that given the budget position of the Council the focus of spending had to be directed at those in the Borough who were in most need and in providing services such as the Family Group Conferencing that would support families to stay together.
The Leader concurred with Councillor Watson that he too was sympathetic to the sentiment of the amendment but noted that the Council had been actively working to ensure that the children and young people across the Borough who lacked IT equipment had received the support they needed with IT equipment throughout the pandemic. The Leader stated that making this provision universally would not be good use of resources. In response to Councillor Cowles’ questions, the Leader advised that the extra posts that were being created were one year contracts that would be reviewed during the year. The Leader noted that the creation of the posts, for example to enable increased street cleaning and footpath maintenance, would enable the Council to deliver increased levels of service to residents, and as such was the right thing to do. The Leader also noted that prior to the pandemic, Rotherham had had one of the fastest growing local economies both regionally and nationally.
Councillor Carter noted his agreement with the premise of the motion but advised that the proposals detailed in the motion did not address the wider actions needed to enable the Borough to recover from the impacts of the pandemic.
In response to the issues raised in the debate, Councillor Cowles reaffirmed that his specific concerns around jobs and the local economy were about the lack of green jobs that were being created in Rotherham and noted that it was essential for economic recovery in Rotherham that action was taken to create skilled jobs in the green economy. Councillor Cowles advised that he did not believe employing an additional street cleaning team for one year would make a significant difference to the street cleanliness, noting that despite large amounts of spending on street cleaning, the litter situation in Eastwood had not improved over recent years. Councillor Cowles reaffirmed his belief that all 4 year olds in the Borough should be issued with IT equipment in order to ensure equal access to education.
On being put to the vote the motion was declared as lost.
Members then proceeded to debate the original motion.
Councillor Carter stated that despite promises made by the ruling administration around the Joseph Rowntree Foundation Living Wage, many care giving staff in Rotherham were not receiving the recommended wage. Councillor Carter noted concerns regarding the wasteful spending carried out by the ruling administration in the delivery of some Council services, including the Planning Service, and stated that residents were facing increased Council Tax bills to pay for Labour’s wasteful spending. Councillor Carter also noted his concerns regarding the money received from the Government to support local businesses that had not been distributed and had been returned to the Government. Councillor Carter advised that as the budget was both wasteful and also provided poor services to residents, he would be voting against the proposals. Councillor Carter stated that effective scrutiny was not carried out at the Council due to the Chair of the Overview and Scrutiny Management Board being a Labour Member.
Councillor Allen stated that she was really proud of the proposed revenue and capital investments in her portfolio of Cleaner, Greener Communities that would make a positive difference to residents across the Borough, such as the increased street cleaning and planned improvements to foot and cycle paths that would encourage active travel. Councillor Allen also noted the proposed investments, linked to addressing climate change that included the expansion of the tree planting programme and the creation of a one year fixed term Climate Change research post that would enable the evidence to be gathered that would then inform the activities required of the Council to address the climate emergency. Councillor Allen stated that she could not understand how anyone could be against the proposals that would have such a positive impact for the Borough, were focused on issues of concern for residents and that would also help Members carry out their community leadership role.
Councillor Hoddinott noted that the content of the budget reflected the political choices that had been made and that responded to issues of concern raised by residents. Councillor Hoddinott stated that the spending plans detailed in the budget were being proposed despite a decade of austerity, and that the spending proposals in many areas, such as road maintenance were filling the gaps left by reductions in Government funding. Councillor Hoddinott welcomed the continued development of flood protection schemes, noting the positive impact that the schemes would have on residents in this area. Councillor Hoddinott noted her thanks to Councillor Sheppard for his continued work on this issue. Councillor Hoddinott also noted the changes to Household Waste Recycling Centre opening times and to the Bulky Waste Collection Service that would lead to improved services for residents. Councillor Hoddinott thanked officers and Members for their contribution to the development of the budget and also noted her thanks to staff who had worked through the very difficult past year to ensure that vital services had continued to be delivered.
Councillor Roche stated that Councillor Carter should focus on the needs of residents rather than in election posturing, noting that had Councillor Carter attended scrutiny meetings he would have known that the Council had, in April 2020, ensured that all those employed in care giving roles were in receipt of the recommended Joseph Rowntree Foundation recommended living wage. Councillor Roche noted that despite the significant and continued financial pressures faced by the Council. that good financial management had ensured that it had not been necessary to make any cuts to services. Councillor Roche noted the unprecedented demands that the pandemic had placed on the Council and its finances, and that had it not been for the essential spending required to deal with the pandemic, Adult Care Services would have ended the year with a balanced budget. Councillor Roche welcomed the proposed funding that would enable a purpose-built REACH centre to be delivered that would provide the best possible service to service users.
Councillor Lelliott noted that despite the years of austerity that had been imposed on the Council, the Council was still in a position due to good financial management to invest in projects and services, including development of the town centre, that would benefit residents. Councillor Lelliott noted the positiveness of the budget and its focus on supporting and improving the skills of young people in the Borough who had been so impacted by the budget. Councillor Lelliott noted her thanks to all the Council staff who had worked throughout the pandemic delivering frontline services.
Councillor Steele, as Chair of the Overview and Scrutiny Management Board noted the scrutiny that the budget proposals had gone through and that members of the Overview and Scrutiny Management Board, after careful scrutiny, had supported the budget proposals. Councillor Steele, in response to the points around scrutiny raised by Councillor Carter, stated that he was independent from the administration and always challenged Cabinet Members on their proposals, noting that if Councillor Carter attended scrutiny meetings he would have been aware of this.
Councillor Beck noted the rigorous processes that had involved all Members and Scrutiny in the development of such a positive and forward-looking budget. Councillor Beck highlighted budget proposals around investment in aids and adaptations that would support residents to stay in their own homes for as long as possible. Councillor Beck noted how the Council continued to invest in housing of all types and tenures across the Borough and how the Council continued to ensure that all Council-owned homes met the national Decent Homes Standard.
Councillor Jepson noted that while he was not supportive of every aspect of the budget proposals, that as a Member of the Overview and Scrutiny Management Board, he had been fully involved in discussions that had contributed to its development.
Councillor Cowles stated that while he was not opposed to large sections of the budget, he opposed some of the choices that had been made including the proposal to increase Council Tax. Councillor Cowles stated that the ruling administration had made its choices, with those choices prioritising additional road sweeping provision for one year over providing IT access for children, which in his opinion was the more pressing need. Council Cowles asked why other local authorities managed to end the year under budget when this never happened at Rotherham and stated that budget management at the Council was not strong enough.
Councillor Watson noted that in the current year, as in every year, the proposed budget reflected the political choices that had been made. Councillor Watson noted the extra pressures that the demands created by the pandemic had created for services, and stated that these demands had made an increase in spending on Children and Young People’s Services essential as well as negatively impacting on the delivery of previously agreed savings in the Directorate. Councillor Watson highlighted several areas of proposed investment in the budget that were designed to support and keep families together, which he noted had to be top priority.
Councillor B. Cutts stated that he thought much of the cleansing and road sweeping activity carried out across the Borough was done inefficiently with too many staff involved and questioned why children’s homes in the Borough had been closed down. Councillor Mallinder questioned how many meetings Councillor Carter attended each year, as he did not attend scrutiny meetings.
Councillor Atkin commended the budget proposals, in particular the proposals on the expansion of the tree planting programme that would improve the local environment and make the Borough a better place for residents to live in. Councillor Atkin also noted the income that the Planning Service generated and the excellent service that it continued to provide. Councillor Pitchley noted how the budget proposals supported the values of the Labour administration and showed how much could be delivered despite the reduced resources available to the Council. Councillor Pitchley welcomed how the proposed budget would support families, improve the local environment and improve people’s lives.
The Leader responded to the issues that had been raised in the debate. The Leader agreed with the comments that had been made regarding the decisions that had been taken in making the budget proposals being based on strong political values.
In response to Councillor Carter, the Leader stated that the funding received from the Government for business support had attached a set criteria on how it could be used, and that the Council had paid out as much of the funding as it had been able to, given the set criteria. The Leader noted that the costs related to the delivery of the award-winning Planning Service had reduced substantially in recent years. In response to Councillor B. Cutts, the Leader repeated that the children’s homes that had been closed had been done so as they were sub-standard. In response to Councillor Cowles’ comments regarding inefficient practices regarding cleansing activities the Leader advised that many road cleaning tasks were dangerous and extra personnel were needed when these were carried out to ensure everyone involved remained safe. In response to Councillor Mallinder the Leader advised that Councillor Carter would have attended 8 Council meetings a year.
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, Allen, Andrews, Atkin, Beaumont, Beck, Bird, Brookes, Buckley, Clark, Cooksey, Cusworth, D Cutts, Elliot, Ellis, Fenwick-Green, Hoddinott, Jarvis, Jepson, Keenan, Khan, Lelliott, Mallinder, McNeely, Marles, Pitchley, Read, Roche, Russell, Rushforth, Sansome, Senior, Sheppard, Simpson, Steele, Taylor, Tweed, Vjestica, Walsh, Williams, Watson, Whysall, Wyatt and Yaseen.
Against: Councillors Albiston, Carter, Cowles, B Cutts, M Elliott, R Elliott, Hague, Jones, Marriott, Napper, Reeder, John Turner and Julie Turner.
(1) That the Budget and Financial Strategy for 2021/22, as set out in the report and appendices, including the proposed budget adjustments and investments, a basic Council Tax increase of 1.99% and an Adult Social Care precept of 1.0%, be approved.
(2) That the updated Medium-Term Financial Strategy (MTFS) to 2022/23, including the carry forward of the 2020/21 £4m budget contingency and £3.5m Treasury Management Savings in a Budget Strategy Reserve, be approved.
(3) That the Reserves Strategy, as set out in Section 2.8 of the report, be approved, noting that the final determination of Reserves will be approved as part of reporting the financial outturn for 2020/21.
(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, as detailed at Section 2.12 of the report, be noted and accepted.
(5) That the consultation feedback from the public and partners following public consultation on the Council’s budget for 2021/22 which took place from 5th January, 2021 to 26th January, 2021, as detailed at Section 4 of the report, be noted.
(6) That the proposed increases in Adult Social Care provider contracts as set out in Section 2.4 of the report, be approved.
(7) That the investment proposals, as set out in Section 2.7 and Appendix 2 of the report, be approved.
(8) That the Council Fees and Charges schedules for 2021/22, as set out in Appendix 7 of the report, be approved.
(9) That the application of the Business Rates Reliefs, in line with Government guidance, as set out in Section 2.9 of the report, be approved.
(10) That the Capital Strategy and Capital Programme, as presented at Section 2.10 and in Appendices 3A to 3F of the report, be approved.
(11) That the Treasury Management matters for 2021/22, 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.
(12) That the Flexible use of Capital Receipts Strategy 2021/22, as set out at Appendix 5 of the report, be approved.
(13) That any 2020/21 revenue outturn position underspend be transferred into the Council’s reserves and be held within the Budget Contingency Reserve.
(14) That any 2020/21 un-ringfenced Covid funding balances be transferred into the Council’s reserves to meet Covid related pressures and costs in 2021/22.
(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 2020/21 be rolled forward into future years, subject to an individual review of each carry forward to be set out within the Financial Outturn 2020/21 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.
(16) That the Statutory Resolution of Council Tax for 2021/22, as set out Appendix 6 of the report, incorporating precept figures as advised from the South Yorkshire Police and Crime Commissioner, the South Yorkshire Fire and Rescue Authority and the Town and Parish Councils within the Borough, be approved.