The Interim Chief Officer, Finance, Performance and Change presented a report containing the Medium-Term Financial Strategy (MTFS) 2021-22 to 2024-25, attached at Annex 3, which included a financial forecast for 2021-25, a detailed revenue budget for 2021-22 and a Capital Programme for 2020-21 to 2030-31.
She advised that the MTFS was complimentary to the Council’s Corporate Plan, and looked to provide the resources to enable the Council’s well-being objectives to be met. The MTFS outlined the principles and detailed assumptions which drive the Council’s budget and spending decisions,
outlined the financial context in which the Council is operating, and tried to mitigate any financial risks and pressures going forward, as well as taking advantage of any opportunities arising.
She added that the final local government settlement for 2021-22 is
approximately two months later than previous years, due to the delay in the outcome of the Comprehensive Spending Review by the UK government, as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic. The final settlement was not due to be announced until 2 March 2021 and a result this budget was proposed on the basis of the provisional settlement received in December 2020. Further background was at section 4 of the report.
The Interim Chief Officer, Finance, Performance and Change outlined the financial implications as indicated at section 8 of the report. She emphasised that the biggest financial risks the Council was exposed to at the present time related to the uncertainty of Welsh Government funding, including funding to mitigate the effects of Covid-19, the increasing difficulty in the delivery of planned budget reductions as well as the identification of further proposals.
The Leader thanked the team for the work that had gone into the MTFS as well as the Capital Programme 2020-21 to 2030-31 especially with the pressures of the last year.
The Deputy Leader asked if there had been any alternative budget proposals.
The Interim Chief Officer, Finance, Performance and Change stated that there had been no alternative budgets proposed. The deadline for submitting an alternative was last Friday and nothing had been submitted before or since the deadline.
The Deputy Leader thanked the Budget Research and Evaluation Panel for the time spent looking at the information, scrutinising and providing their input. He added that the input of Independent Members of the Panel were as equally valuable. The Deputy Leader commented on the 14 recommendations made by the Panel and elaborated on the responses of Cabinet.
The Leader stressed that the contributions of the Corporate Overview and Scrutiny Committee and all elected Members outside of the Overview and Scrutiny Committees were also valued and considered when forming the budget and that was evident from the MTFS report presented.
The Leader stated that the budget proposals were not developed overnight, and that it was a long and scrutinised process that began almost immediately after the previous budget. He asked the Interim Chief Officer, Finance, Performance and Change to explain the timeline of this.
The Interim Chief Officer, Finance, Performance and Change explained that the process began shortly after the 2020 budget was set, which was end of February beginning of March 2020 and Cabinet were aware of the timeline for the 2021 budget proposals shortly after. She explained that the first Budget Research and Evaluation Panel (BREP) meeting was end of May- early June 2020 where the first discussions took place on the proposals. Various Subject Overview and Scrutiny Committees were then given the opportunity to scrutinise the budget proposals of particular areas, discuss and offer recommendations. This was then presented to the Corporate Overview and Scrutiny Committee with all Subject Overview and Scrutiny Committees invited to the discussions.
The Cabinet Member Communities stated that an increase of Council Tax by 3.9% was proposed in the MTFS, which was a better proposal than was initially expected at the start of the process. He asked where we were in terms of our council tax proposals compared with other Local Authorities.
The Interim Chief Officer, Finance, Performance and Change explained that while she could not give a definitive answer as many Local Authorities had not had their budget meeting yet, early discussions with other local authorities had shown that most were looking at a similar increase in council tax and all local authorities in Wales were proposing some increase in council tax.
The Leader explained that many residents may struggle to pay council tax. He asked what was in place to help those in need of support.
The Interim Chief Officer, Finance, Performance and Change explained that eligible residents could apply for the Council Tax Reduction Scheme, which aimed to help low-income people or those who had recently lost their job as a result of Covid-19. She added that a few tweaks had been made to how council tax could be paid, one of which was allowing residents to pay the last 10 months as opposed to the first 10 months. She added that a personal and proactive approach had also been taken by understanding personal circumstances and support residents where ever possible with paying council tax and ensuring that eligible people are made aware of the Council Tax Reduction Scheme.
The Leader stated the BCBC had funds that were in their reserves. He asked what these funds were used for.
The Interim Chief Officer, Finance, Performance and Change elaborated on the reserve funds and what each percentage of funds was earmarked for, which covered, but were not limited to:
The Leader stated that Auditors and Audit Wales inspected the Councils reserves regularly and could make recommendations on how the Council uses the reserves.
The Interim Chief Officer, Finance, Performance and Change elaborated on this stating that Auditors carefully looked at reserves and ensured that reserves were in fact earmarked, as part of their test criteria. They had also undertaken a piece of work on financial sustainability and commented favourably on BCBCs reserves in terms of financial planning.
The Cabinet Member Wellbeing and Future Generations supported the MTFS report and budget proposals with the following supporting reasons:
RESOLVED: That Cabinet approved the MTFS 2021-22 to 2024-25, including the 2021-22 revenue budget and the Capital Programme 2020-21 to 2030-31, and recommend the following elements to Council for approval: