Agenda item

Budget and Council Tax Setting 2022 to 2023 and Medium Term Financial Strategy 2022 to 2026 (Report number: COU/WS/22/003)

Report number: COU/WS/22/003


Council considered this report, which presented the proposals for Budget and Council Tax Setting in 2022 to 2023 and the Medium Term Financial Strategy (MTFS) 2022 to 2026.


West Suffolk Council had an exemplary track record in robust financial management which had meant it continued to deliver high quality services as well as meeting the strategic vision of the authority.


This was despite a series of challenges. For example, the COVID-19 pandemic which had not only reduced income (Government policy had been that councils created income to supplement reduction in national funding) but also costs to the Council in playing its role to support communities and businesses. National finances had been reduced significantly over the last decade for local councils and added burdens had been placed on authorities too during this time.


The 2022 to 2023 budget had been created not only to be balanced and sustainable but as an investment in the priorities of the district’s residents and businesses. It was designed to make the communities of West Suffolk greener, healthier and more prosperous.


Members considered the report in detail, which included the following issues for securing a balanced budget for 2022 to 2023 and plans for the medium term from 2022 to 2026, together with corresponding detailed appendices:


Section 1:    Summary: which included reference to the Council’s proposed new £9 million investment in a range of initiatives to help meet priorities that would contribute to achieving the aspiration of zero carbon emissions by 2030; progressing its health and wellbeing agenda; and a proposed £1.3 million (2022 to 2026) for the upkeep of the district’s open spaces, parks and other leisure attractions.

Section 2:    Context: which included reference to the Council’s robust financial planning and management enabling the Council to deliver both services and the strategic aims of West Suffolk despite the pressures on local government finances; the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the Council’s finances, including the role of the Council in supporting residents and businesses throughout the pandemic; ‘Investing in our Growth Agenda’; the Council’s transformation programme; and further detail on the Council’s plans to achieve net zero carbon emissions by 2030.

Section 3:    Provisional local government finance settlement: which included reference to the Revenue Support Grant and Rural Services Delivery Grant; the Lower Tier Services Grant; the new 2022 to 2023 Services Grant; the future of New Homes Bonus; the expected cessation of the Sales, Fees and Charges Lost Income Reimbursement scheme; business rates and business rates reliefs; Transitional Relief and Supporting Small Business Relief; Collection Fund deficits; council tax referendum limits; and support for energy prices – the council tax energy rebate.

Section 4:    Council tax for 2022 to 2023

Section 5:    Setting the budget – 2022 to 2023 and across the medium term to 2025 to 2026:which included reference to inflation assumptions assumed in the MTFS; fees and charges (as approved by Cabinet on 8 February 2022); delivering a sustainable future beyond 2022 to 2023.

Section 6:    Capital programme 2020 to 2025: which included reference to the planned capital expenditure over four years to 2025/2026; disposal of surplus assets.

Section 7:    Minimum revenue provision (MRP)

Section 8:    General fund balance

Section 9:    Earmarked reserves

Section 10: Strategic priorities and MTFS reserve

Section 11: Adequacy of reserves

Section 12:  Calculation of the council tax


Having acknowledged the issues highlighted above, Council noted that currently, council tax made up approximately one fifth of the authority’s budget (exclusive of housing benefit) and therefore only contributed to a fifth of service delivery. West Suffolk Council charged around 11 percent of a local council tax payer’s bill with the rest comprising precepts from the County Council, Police and Crime Commissioner as well as the relevant Parish or Town Council. It was recognised that any increase provided an extra burden on taxpayers but did mean the protection of vital services which would otherwise possibly have to be considered for reductions. Councillors were asked and expected by Government to look at local taxation levels to meet the authority’s financial needs to support its communities and help future proof from financial uncertainty.


To help secure a balanced budget for 2022 to 2023, on 8 February 2022, the Cabinet recommended to Council that the level of Band D council tax for 2022 to 2023 be set at £187.11, an increase of £5 on the average West Suffolk council tax for 2021 to 2022. This recommendation was based upon the option to harmonise the council tax levels of the two predecessor areas (Forest Heath and St Edmundsbury) by 2022 to 2023. For 2022 to 2023 this represented an average Band D weekly increase of 22 pence (for the predecessor area of Forest Heath) and three pence (for the predecessor area of St Edmundsbury). Noting that just over 70 percent of West Suffolk residents were in bands A to C, these would actually see a lower increase.


Councillor Broughton drew relevant issues to the attention of Council, including commending the finance team and the Performance and Audit Scrutiny Committee, together with staff and other members across the authority for their work in securing a balanced budget for 2022 to 2023 and for developing plans in the medium term. Recognition was also given to the Anglia Revenues and Benefits Partnership, particularly for the additional work created for the partnership during the pandemic.  Councillor Broughton duly summarised the extensive work that had been undertaken to reach this point and the key proposals that contributed to securing a balanced budget for 2022 to 2023 and their significance in planning for the medium term.


A detailed debate ensued which included a number of comments, observations and questions, including:


a.       Creation of £9 million net zero carbon budget: The proposed creation of a new £9 million investment facility to demonstrate the Council’s commitment to its previous declaration of an environment and climate emergency and to achieve its aspiration of meeting the Council’s net zero emissions target by 2030. Examples were provided on the proposed initiatives contained in the budget that would help deliver a number of the recommendations identified by the Environment and Climate Change Taskforce and approved by Cabinet. This budget facility specifically allocated within the capital programme to deliver environmental projects were anticipated to deliver a 31 per cent carbon saving on Council operations, together with a return to the Council of two per cent after allowing for borrowing costs. Businesses and residents were encouraged to access Government-funded grant schemes for making energy efficiencies, where possible.


b.       Western Way Development: Whilst the Labour Group commended officers and staff for their support to communities during the past year and for the formulation of a balanced budget for 2022 to 2023, the Group felt it could not support approval of the budget due to consistent under-funding from central Government; and due to the capital expenditure allocated towards the proposed Western Way Development (WWD) project. It was questioned whether, in the current financial climate, with rising inflation, interest rates, energy costs and the cost of living in general, it was appropriate to proceed with the WWD at the present time. Examples were given of where, in the Labour Group’s opinion, the proposed capital could potentially be better utilised or how the site could be alternatively redeveloped. Concern was also expressed regarding the need to undertake such substantial borrowing; the impact on the existing road network in the locality and the need to focus efforts on addressing services that required immediate improvement and support.


In response, Council was informed that following unanimous approval given for the full business case in September 2019, recognition had been given to the impact the COVID-19 pandemic had had on the context in which the Western Way Development would be delivered, which had changed significantly. It had therefore been appropriate to assess whether the tests set for the project in 2019 could still be met.  Whilst the original masterplan for the site, the strategic case for the project, the design of the scheme, its highways provisions or the final mix of facilities did not require reconsideration, Council was asked in June 2021 to review the affordability of a deliverable scheme, and the appropriate safeguards that needed to be in place to secure delivery. The adjustments to the business case as a result of the review were subsequently approved by Council as the majority of members had been assured that each key area of the proposed scheme had been carefully reviewed against affordability, risk, safeguards and deliverability. The adjusted flexible, phased approach within the parameters of the full business case and planning consent would enable the project to progress.


Emphasis was placed on the fact that at each gateway review, the relevant checks and balances would be assessed to ensure the project remained on track to proceed to the next stage.


The NHS were potential key public sector partners within the proposed development and emphasis was placed on the continued commitment the NHS had on partnership working with other public sector organisations and the provision of space within the Western Way Development would help achieve its aims and ambitions for undertaking a joined-up approach to delivering excellent care and health services within the community.


The Council had been working with the Highways Authority throughout the development of the proposed scheme. Working within the parameters of the masterplan for the site, planning consent had been given, which included measures required to be met by the Highways Authority and a travel plan was in place. 


The majority of members remained confident that sufficiently robust safeguards were in place to mitigate the risks. To move forward with this exciting, innovative project required courage and leadership; however, it was recognised that through effective partnership working, better services and outcomes would be delivered for the residents of West Suffolk. The consensus was that organisations working collaboratively and holistically would lead to better outcomes for the residents of West Suffolk. Such outcomes included better health and wellbeing, economic and environmental benefits. A prime example of the successful co-location of services through the Hub approach were already being demonstrated following the opening of the Mildenhall Hub in summer 2021.


c.       Swimming pool provision in the proposed new leisure centre (as part of the Western Way Development): That following assessment of need, engagement with residents, dialogue with Sport England and Swim England which had resulted in the proposal for an eight-lane swimming pool for the new leisure centre, Councillor Paul Hopfensperger considered this remained unfit-for-purpose as he felt the pool would not be of sufficient size to accommodate major swim competitions. 


d.       Housing: Whether New Homes Bonus could be allocated towards the provision of directly managed housing and for retrofitting poorly insulated and energy inefficient homes. In response, Council was informed that housing remained a key strategic priority of West Suffolk Council. Examples of where this priority was being met included the recent construction of two Barley Homes developments in Haverhill, including the provision of 30 percent affordable housing on both sites; together with highlighting that the Council’s housing delivery target was currently being exceeded. The New Homes Bonus could be utilised for directly managed housing; however, there were implications with this as the Council did not have its own housing stock. Three funding bids had been successful to deliver energy efficiencies to local housing. Access to the relevant grant could be made through an application process.


e.       2022 to 2023 Capital Programme – Leisure Asset Management Plan Breakdown (Attachment D Appendix 2b):Motts Field (East Town Park) Haverhill: The play area on this site was located within Haverhill South East ward and Councillor Tony Brown expressed his concern that the play area had been removed without consultation with him as ward member or seemingly those in the locality. He felt it was well-used by children of occupants of neighbouring flats and was disappointed that no consultation was undertaken before the decision was taken to close the play area. Officers would respond to Councillor Brown’s comments accordingly. 


f.       Families and Communities: This area remained a strategic priority of the Council and recognition was given to the work undertaken with partners, town and parish councils, and other key stakeholders to help improve the lives of residents in the community. Examples were provided, including that it was being proposed that the 2022 to 2023 budget should include an allocation of around £650,000 for the provision of Community Chest funding and councillor locality budgets, for granting to organisations and groups striving to make a difference in their communities.


g.       Brandon:The perceived lack of investment in Brandon by local ward members who felt that West Suffolk Council was not supporting prosperity for Brandon. In response, it was reiterated that Brandon Leisure Centre had recently benefitted from an almost £2 million investment to upgrade its current leisure offer. Members sympathised with the frustrations regarding the environmental challenges that had historically restricted housing development in the locality and extensive work was being undertaken to try and overcome these obstacles.


In summary, the majority of members acknowledged that despite the financial challenges being faced including the added pressures of COVID-19 and particularly its impact on income, the Council had made, and were continuing to make, successful investments in services; growth; greener; and health and well-being projects; together with creating efficiencies, resilience and ensuring the effective management of resources, all of which and more would enable West Suffolk Council to secure a balanced budget for 2022 to 2023.


The motion was then put to the statutorily required recorded vote.  With 49 members present, the votes recorded were 37 votes for the motion, 10 against, and two abstentions; the names of those members voting for, against and abstaining, being recorded as follows:


For the motion:

Councillors Augustine, Broughton, Simon Brown, Bull, Chester, Nick Clarke, Drummond, Everitt, Frost, Glossop, Harvey, Beccy Hopfensperger, Houlder, Lay, Mager, Marks, Mason, McManus, Mildmay-White, Nettleton, Nobbs, Noble, Pugh, Rayner, Richardson, Roach, Rout, Rushbrook, Andrew Smith, Soons, Stamp, Stanbury, Stevens, Thompson, Thorndyke, Wakelam and Wiseman.


Against the motion:

Councillors Tony Brown, Burns, Max Clarke, Hanlon, Hind, Luccarini, Lukaniuk, Neal, Waterman and Wittam.



Councillors Simon Cole and Paul Hopfensperger.


It was therefore




1.       Having taken into account the information received by Cabinet on 8 February 2022 (Report number: CAB/WS/22/008) including the report by the Director (Resources and Property) (Section 151 Officer) set out in Attachment C, together with the up to date information and advice contained in Report number: COU/WS/22/003, the level of West Suffolk Council’s band D council tax for 2022 to 2023 be set at £187.11. The level of council tax beyond 2022 to 2023 will be set in accordance with the annual budget process for the relevant financial year.


2.       Subject to recommendation 1. above, the following formal council tax resolutions be adopted:


a.       the revenue and capital budget for 2022 to 2026, attached at Attachment A to Report number: COU/WS/22/003, and as detailed in Attachment D (Appendices 1 to 5), Attachment E (Appendices 1 to 4), Attachment F and Attachment H to, be approved.


b.       A general fund balance of £5 million be agreed to be maintained, as detailed in paragraph 8.2.


c.       The statutory calculations under Section 30 to 36 of the Local Government Finance Act 1992, attached at Attachment J, be noted.


d.       The Suffolk County Council and Office of the Police and Crime Commissioner for Suffolk precepts issued to West Suffolk Council, in accordance with Section 40 of the Local Government Finance Act 1992 and outlined at paragraphs 12.6 and 12.7, be noted.


e.       In accordance with Section 30(2) of the Local Government Finance Act 1992, the amounts shown in Schedule D of Attachment I be agreed as the amount of Council Tax for the year 2022 to 2023 for each of the categories of dwellings shown.                                     

3.       The Director (Resources and Property), in consultation with the Portfolio Holder for Resources and Property, be authorised to vire funds between existing Earmarked Reserves (as set out at Attachment D, Appendix 3) as deemed appropriate throughout the medium term financial planning period.


4.       Approval be given to the extension of the business rate reliefs set out in paragraphs 3.12 to 3.15, in support of West Suffolk’s business community.


5.       Approval be given to the Flexible Use of Capital Receipts Strategy as set out in Attachment G.


6.       The Director (Resources and Property), in consultation with the Portfolio Holder for Resources and Property, be authorised to implement the council tax energy rebate scheme and discretionary fund, as set out in paragraphs 3.18 to 3.23.


(Councillors Beccy Hopfensperger and Karen Richardson left the meeting at the conclusion of this item.)

Supporting documents: