Agenda item

Delivering a Sustainable Medium Term Budget

Report number: PAS/WS/24/001


The Cabinet Member for Resources presented report number PAS/WS/24/001, which provided an update on the challenges all councils, including West Suffolk Council faced in the delivery of council services as well as providing an update on the latest funding details from Government.


The report set out new pressures the council would be facing from next year, from those which had already been assumed in the indicative 2024 to 2025 budget set in February 2023, of which £5 million for the year, pressures that would now form (in the most cases) a new cost base for all future year’s budgets.  These pressures were due to the continued impact of inflation, utility costs and the cost-of-living crisis which had inflated prices as well as demand for services.  Attached to the report were a number of appendices, namely:


-      Appendix A – Budget assumption changes.

-      Appendix B – Proposed revenue budget following changes set out in Appendix A.

-      Appendix C – (including Appendix Ci; Cii and Ciii) – Proposed West Suffolk capital programme.

-      Appendix D – (including Appendix Di; Dii; Diii; Div and Dv) – Revenue reserves.

-      Appendix E – (including Appendix Ei) – Fees and charges 2024 to 2025.

-      EXEMPT Appendix Fi; Fii and Fiii (Exempt business cases to support new strategic capital projects).


Appendix A to the report provided proposed changes to the budget assumptions from those used in the February 2023 Budget and Council Tax Report, alongside growth in service demand, support towards the new strategic priorities and anticipated savings and initiatives proposed or delivered to date to achieve a sustainable and balanced budget for 2024 to 2026.


Appendix B set out the revenue budgets for 2024 to 2025 and future years to 2028.  This showed uncertainty relating to government funding in the later years of the plan giving rise to significant budget gaps.  Paragraph 3.7 of the report set out how much the gaps were dependent upon central government decisions with a potential swing of £9.6 million between the best and worst business rate retention.  The council’s strategy was to continue to identify and deliver annual savings in anticipation of the future funding review and to get ahead where possible of those financial challenges.  The council also held reserves that would provide time to adjust if the worst-case funding scenarios were to materialise. 


Appendix C proposed capital investment plans across the medium-term.  The proposed capital programme contained a number of already agreed strategic projects, including the council’s commitment to achieving net zero by 2030 as well as significant investment plans in the council’s operational assets, buildings and commercial estate.  This programme was fully funded from a mixture of available reserves, capital receipts balances and prudential borrowing.


The Committee scrutinised the report in detail and asked questions to which comprehensive responses were provided.  In particular discussions were held on the projected budget gaps and whether the budget was prudent enough and future proof; the number of exempt papers attached to the report and encouraging the council to review whether papers needed to be exempt to bring more into the public domain; council tax levels; Appendix C - charging points across the district; Appendix D - coin payment machines; industrial units’ income/rental and whether there were any future proposals for the Western Way site.


In response to a question raised in relation to the budget proposal of £200k for more staff in the planning department, the Committee was advised that the proposal was for extra capacity in the local plans team, to cover additional requirements from central government and the emerging West Suffolk local plan.


In response to a question raised on the future use of the Olding Road site Bury St Edmunds, the Cabinet Member for Resources advised that the council was working on proposals which would be presented to Council in due course for all members to consider.


In response to a question raised on Appendix D, reduction of coin payment machines, the Cabinet Member stated that there would always be coin machines in every car park, and when using Ringo, you should not be paying more. 


In response to a question raised regarding commercial properties and the suggestion of pitching prices slightly below the market value to encourage take-up rather than standing empty, the Committee was advised that the pricing was based on the local market values which take into account demand in the area.


At the conclusion of the discussions, it was proposed by Councillor Phil Wittam, seconded by Councillor Sue Perry, and with the vote being 10 for and one against, it was:


          RECOMMENDED: That


1)  Cabinet be recommended to include the proposals, as detailed in Section 2 of report number PAS/WS/24/001 and Appendix A (Budget Assumption Changes) in the 2024 to 2025 Revenue Budget.


2)  Cabinet be recommended to include the Capital Programme as set out in Appendix C (including annex Ci, Cii and Ciii) to report number PAS/WS/24/001 in the budget setting process.



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