Report from the Strategic Director of Finance and Customer Services.
1. That the update on the revenue budget financial outturn 2021/22 be noted.
2. That the Councils progress on the delivery of the Local Council Tax Support Top Up payment be noted.
3. That the Councils progress on the delivery of the Council Tax (Energy) Rebate be noted.
5. That the Councils delivery of the Household Support Fund 2021/22 be noted.
6. That the Councils delivery of the Test and Trace Support Payments be noted.
Consideration was given to the report which provided an update on a number of financial matters, including those related to Covid-19. It also provided an interim update following the approval of the Budget and Council Tax 2022/23 report at Council on 2nd March, 2022. This was in advance of the Financial Outturn 2021/22 and Financial Monitoring 2022/23 reports which would be submitted to Cabinet in July 2022. There was also an update on the Council’s administration of the Local Council Tax Support Top Up payment for 2022/23, Council Tax (Energy) Rebate and Covid Additional Relief Fund (CARF.)
The final outturn position for 2021/22 reflected a positive movement of £4.1m in the Directorate outturn positions since December’s Financial Monitoring position, reported to Cabinet on the 14th February, 2022. The main reasons for the movements per Directorate were set out in the report, however, a more detailed narrative would be provided in the Financial Outturn report to Cabinet in July 2022. The positive improvement removed the need for the Council to use £1.7m of the Budget and Financial Strategy Reserve to support the 2021/22 outturn position. That improvement generated a £2.4m underspend as the Council remained able to use the full £14.0m of Covid grant to support the outturn position. This had, therefore, allowed the Council to transfer £2.4m into the Council’s Budget and Financial Strategy Reserve, as per the recommendation within the Council’s Budget and Council Tax report 2022/23.
The strong outturn position placed the Council in a more robust position heading into the financial year 2022/23. It was, therefore, more able to mitigate against cost pressures and the financial challenges that were not evident at the time of setting the 2022/23 Budget, such as the war in Ukraine and the significant rise in energy prices and inflation. The Council was more able to manage the impact rather than needing to consider making cuts in services.
The financial challenges were being considered as part of the Council’s ongoing Medium Term Financial Planning. The energy price rises, and inflation would impact the Council’s costs in the provision of services. However, some of those cost impacts would be mitigated in future years by increased core funding as business rates income was indexed to the rate of inflation. It was currently expected that the period of high inflation would last for 2 years before returning to a more normal level. As such, the Council would face short term financial pressures that would need to be managed and mitigated through the Medium Term Financial Strategy and the Council’s reserves. As such the Council’s ability to build further capacity into those reserves as part of the 2021/22 outturn position was a benefit. The Council was currently reviewing the reserves balances as at the 2021/22 outturn to assess the capacity to provide this budget risk mitigation and would report further on reserves within the Financial Outturn report to Cabinet in July.
In relation to the Local Council Tax Support Top Up Scheme 2022/23, it was reported that a total of £1.387m had been awarded across 14,567 accounts with 10,403 of those accounts being reduced to nil.
In relation to the Council Tax (Energy) Rebate scheme, it was reported that to date, 74,143 payments had been made to Band A-D households and 6,413 discretionary payments to Band E-H households.
The Covid Additional Relief Fund had been set up to sort businesses affected by the pandemic but who had been ineligible for existing support linked to business rates. Following the closure of the applications process, the Council has received and approved a total of 120 businesses, with a total relief value of £528k based on the Cabinet approved awards. Therefore, the Council had needed to agree an approach to topping up the businesses that did apply for the award to further utilise the funding and potentially providing a smaller award to those businesses that could benefit from the scheme but had not come forward for support. An officer decision was taken to allow the Council to increase the award for businesses that have been approved via the Council’s application process to 100% businesses rates relief, up to a maximum of £30k. This would cost £1.9m. The remaining funding would then be used to provide a smaller payment to businesses that were eligible but had not applied; a payment of up to £2,900 per business would be made at an estimated cost of £2.9m. Businesses provided with an award would receive a revised 2021/22 business rates bill.
As at March 2022, the Council had fully spent its £2.489m allocation from the Household Support Fund 2021/22 by delivering on a range of themes as set out in paragraph 2.5.1 of the report. This included food vouchers, reduction in Council Tax liability, support to the Voluntary and Community Sector etc.
An update was also provided on the Test and Trace Self-Isolation Support Payments at paragraph 2.6 of the report.
This report was considered by the Overview and Scrutiny Management Board as part of the pre-decision scrutiny process. The Board fully supported the recommendations and asked that, in future, the Council ensures options for Council Tax (energy) Rebate payments are more widely published in an easy-to-read format. The Leader explained that, at the OSMB meeting, Members had requested that the Council ensure that the information was easily accessible and that there was as much information as possible that was easy to read which would also be taken under consideration.