Agenda item

Delivering a Sustainable West Suffolk Council Budget (2023 to 2024)

Report number: PAS/WS/22/021


[Councillor Peter Thompson left the meeting at 5.25pm during the consideration of this item, and prior to the vote taking place].


At its meeting on 29 September 2022, report number PAS/WS/22/017 outlined the process and approach to setting the council’s 2023 to 2024 budget and the principles and challenges faced in achieving this.


The Committee on 17 November 2022, received report number PAS/WS/22/021, which updated members on key budget assumptions proposed in the development of the 2023 2024 budget and medium-term plans. 


Proposals and key budget assumptions to date, were set out in Section 2 of the report.  The net impact of the key assumption changes to date were included in Table 1 of the report.  In addition to the savings requirements set out in paragraph 1.6 of the report, gave rise to a working budget deficit for 2023 to 2024 of £2.53m (this excluded any provision to replenish the general fund from the utilisation for the 2022 to 2023 deficit, currently estimated at an additional £1.1m)


Significant work would continue to take place to achieve a 2023 to 2024 balanced budget by February 2023.  It was report that a number of areas were already in progress, including:


-      Use of the latest data available to conclude the income and expenditure line by line review and the identification of saving initiatives and opportunities.


-      Modelling and reflecting the impact of any changes to central government funding.


-      The setting of the councils Council Tax Base for council tax setting purposes – (Council decision, December 2022)


-      The monitoring of the councils in year Council Tax Collection.


The Committee at its January 2023 meeting would receive an update on the Capital Programme which was currently being revised and updated with known changes. 


The Committee considered the report in detail and asked questions to which comprehensive responses were provided.  Discussions were held on pensions and the tri-annual pension report; recruitment freeze; pay award; outsourcing; the ground maintenance service and whether charging commercial rates, for example for grass cutting and the announcement made today (17 November 2022) in the media about a possible Devolution Deal for Suffolk and whether this would have an impact on the council’s budget.


In response to a question raised regarding the £1.16m budget gap for 2023 to 2024, officers advised Cabinet had tasked officers at looking at balancing the budget for the next three years, but the main focus was for a balanced budget for 2023 to 2024. 


In response to a question raised regarding car park revenue, officers advised that parking data was being reviewed to see if there had been any behavioural changes in parking at the Cattlemarket and multi-storey car parks in Bury St Edmunds.


In response to a question raised relating to the impact of the capital programme on the budget, officers advised that work was currently being carried out and reference would be included in the report at the committee’s January 2023 meeting.


Detailed discussions were also held on street lighting.  Councillors Andy Neal and Phil Wittam raised concerns that there was no financial provision made in the budget for the street lighting disparity and felt there was no definitive move to resolve the issue.  Councillor Wittam felt sceptical that Cabinet would look at this further in 2023, as he had been assured in the past that this would be resolved.  He felt that unless financial provision was made for street lighting for the medium-term, then it would slip again.  In response officers advised that Cabinet on 8 November 2022 received a report on street lighting (report number: CAB/WS/22/058), which set out the timescales and the process.  In terms of the budget, there was provision for street lighting for those currently in the council’s ownership.  The Cabinet Member for Resources and Property explained that when Forest Heath and St Edmundsbury councils joined up, street lighting had not been highlighted as an issues.  However, it was being looked at moving forward and asked that members bear with Cabinet and officers given the focus over the last few years, since becoming a single council, had been supporting the West Suffolk businesses and communities through a pandemic.    


Councillor Phil Wittam felt that Cabinet should be made aware of the concerns raised on the absence of specific funding for street lighting and proposed that Cabinet notes the concerns raised.  This was duly seconded by Councillor Andy Neal, and with the vote being unanimous, it was:


          RECOMMENDED: That Cabinet:


1)       Include the proposals as detailed in Section 2 and Table 1 at Paragraph 3.2 of report number PAS/WS/22/021, in the medium-term financial plans to 2027.


2)       Notes the concerns raised by some members of the committee of the absence of specific funding for street lighting in the former Forest Heath area.


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