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Budget Scrutiny 22nd January 2024

8:18 am, Friday, 23rd February 2024 - 2 months ago

Councillors, Boyd, Brasted, Cairns, Downes, Freeston, Goodwin, Hasthorpe, Holland, Lindley, Patrick, Shutt, Silvester, Westcott and Wilson.

Officers in Attendance:

• Rob Walsh (Chief Executive)
• Sharon Wroot (Executive Director for Place and Resources)
• Carolina Borgstrom (Director of Economy, Environment and Infrastructure)
• Spencer Hunt ( Assistant Director Safer and Partnerships)
• Helen Isaacs (Assistant Chief Executive)
• Kath Jickells (Assistant Director Environment)
• Victoria Leach ( Assistant Director People & Organisational Development)
• Guy Lonsdale ( Assistant Director Finance)
• Simon Jones (Assistant Director Law and Governance)
• Anne Marie Matson (Director of Children’s Services)
• Jo Paterson (Scrutiny and Committee Advisor)
• Sophie Pickerden (Committee Support officer)
• Jo Robinson (Assistant Director Policy, Strategy and Resources)
• Jennifer Steel (Head of Pupil Support)
• Claire Swainson (Strategic Lead Accountancy)
• Paul Evans (Assistant Director Housing and Infrastructure)
Also in attendance:
• Councillor Jackson – Leader of the Council
• Councillor Shreeve – Portfolio Holder for Health Wellbeing and Adult Social Care
• Councillor S Swinburn – Portfolio Holder for Environment and Transport
• Councillor Cracknell – Portfolio Holder for Children and Education
• Councillor Dawkins- Portfolio Holder for Culture, Heritage and the Visitor Economy
• Councillor Shepherd – Portfolio Holder for Safer and Stronger Communities
• Councillor Harness – Portfolio Holder for Finance, Resources and Assets


RESOLVED – That Councillor Freeston be appointed as the Chair for this meeting.



Apologies for absence for this meeting were received from Councillor Croft.


There were no declarations of interest for this meeting.


Members received a report from the Portfolio Holder for Finance, Resources and Assets outlining how the Council planned to deliver its agreed financial strategy over the coming three-year period.

Councillor Jackson, Leader of the Council, introduced the report and members were invited to ask any questions on the draft budget, medium-term financial plan, draft business and commissioning plans and the capital programme.

Medium Term Financial Plan

Under the climate change and environment implications, a member asked what the estimated financial cost was for the council to meet its net zero ambition by 2030. Ms Borgstrom explained that the council did not have all estimations at this point in time as officers were still trying to estimate the cost of buildings that had not yet been surveyed.

In addition, the member asked when this information was likely to be available and whether this would be prior to the budget setting. Ms Borgstrom explained that the information over the next 3 years would be included within the Medium-Term Financial Plan (MTFP) and what was not included was further feasibility works.

Under other budgets and issues, another member queried the utilisation on transformational activity being £12m in 2024/25 and could not recall this being forecast last year within the MTFP and asked what had changed that would take account of that money this year.

Furthermore, the member referred to the corporate reserves specifically transformation costs to support costs of key transformation, noting that the forecast for this financial year was zero. The member asked that where no costs were associated with key transformation activity, did this indicate that the council were not undertaking any transformation and the reasoning for this.

The Leader explained that a large part of the transformational fund was going to be used to look at transformation generally across the council. He explained that in order to make things cost effective and efficient, transformation funding was necessary to be able to do that. He reiterated that the council could not use capital receipts to prop up revenue budgets, and these could only be used to transform services to make them cost effective and efficient.

A member was concerned that transformational planning had changed and sought further assurance from officers regarding this.

Ms Wroot explained that in terms of the draft proposals on the Corporate Reserves for the 2023-24 financial year, the zero figure on the balances represented an assumed assumption to draw down all available transformation reserves in the current year and top that back up. In terms of the flexible use of capital receipts, an amended policy was taken to Council in December which formed part of the budget setting and MTFP to enable the Council to utilise capital receipts for transformational proposes.

There was a range of transformational programmes for the Council to support, and Ms Wroot assured members that there would be further information on the forecasted use within the final budget papers to be received by full Council and work was still ongoing with this.

Another member referred to the human resource implications within the report and was concerned that the financial forecast may have significant human resources implications for Council staff. The member asked that in terms of scale what was meant by ‘significant implications’ for our staff.

Ms Wroot assured members that this could mean many things, including restructuring or moving staff around the organisation. Ms Wroot reiterated that these proposals were not fully formed and stressed there ‘could be’ implications.

A member asked whether it was likely that redundancies would be made. Ms Wroot could not confirm this at this stage but she reminded members that any plan had the potential for change based on the wider economy and external factors, such as interest rates and inflation.

A member referred to the financial forecast within the report and asked for further clarity around this. Ms Wroot assured members that this was just a forecast position and noted that it was the responsibility of officers to provide technical advice on all aspects and risks.

A member referred to the council tax funding and in particular the council tax base increase which would deliver £1.95m for the Council and what the timeframes were for delivering this. It was confirmed this would be £1.95m in the next financial year.

Draft Business Plans


A member referred to the asset rationalisation within the 2023/24 business plan and asked whether full details of these plans would be provided in the full budget. Ms Wroot confirmed that more detail would be reported in the appendix to the capital programme within the full budget, which would include an estimated disposal programme.

Environment and Regulatory Services

A member queried the vacancy factor of £0.5m and asked how this would impact front line services. The Leader advised that this was built into the business plan, in recognition of staff turnover, with all services having a vacancy factor.

A member referred to the plans to achieve long term financial sustainability and asked for more detail around what was meant by full cost recovery. Officers confirmed this was securing funding for all the costs involved in running a project.

Economy and Growth

There were no questions raised by members.

Housing Highways and Transport

A member was concerned with the issue of empty homes and felt the council needed to be more proactive around buying empty homes and bringing them back into community use. The member suggested use of capital money to purchase empty homes to help with this situation.

The Chair and members agreed that this should be taken forward.

Children And Families

Councillor Holland referred to the key planning assumptions in relation to the vacancy factor of £0.8m and asked whether this would affect recovery of children’s services and whether demand would lead to additional agency costs. Councillor Cracknell advised that in terms of future agency costs this had been significant over the last couple of years. However, officers expected to see that come down in the medium term.

In addition, Councillor Shreeve stated that the vacancy factor was something that all departments had to consider and by including a vacancy factor in the forecast and budget, it would be a positive should that vacancy factor not be achieved, as it indicated that reliance on agency staff wasn’t needed.

Councillor Holland referred to the vacancy freeze last year whereby the council did not recruit into vacant positions and asked whether this was planned for this year. Councillor Cracknell confirmed this would not be the case.

A member was concerned that directorates were maintaining a vacancy factor to help reduce their budget. The Leader clarified exactly what was meant by a vacancy factor.

A member referred to the children and family services priorities for 2024/25 specifically priority three and four asking whether these were the only financial benefit for reconfiguration. Councillor Cracknell stated that the Case Management System would give a much better data analysis of all services across the directorate and was subject to development. It was hoped this would be in place by the end of this year and assured members this would be a financial benefit.

Councillor Wilson referred to the Capital Investment Programme, specifically new nursery places, and asked why there was no capital funding for this. Ms Matson agreed to clarify this and come back to Councillor Wilson.

A member noted that the children and family budget position was very small. Councillor Cracknell stated that this was a realistic budget with a priority to reduce Looked After Children (LAC) and agency costs which would subsequently bring costs for both the directorate and tax payer down. Overall, Councillor Cracknell considered this was a fair and objective budget at present.

Another member referred to Elected Home Education (EHE), noting that this was particularly high in our area, and asked whether there was a budget set aside or any plans to reduce this. Councillor Cracknell advised that EHE staff within the directorate were already working with young families choosing to electively home educate with a focus on encouraging children and families to return their children to mainstream school.

Adult Services

A member queried the reduced budget in the adult services budget noting that it was lower in 2025-26 and 2026-27 than in 2024-25 and asked what mitigations were in place to address this. The member also asked what impact this would have on both our population and those in receipt of adult social care payments.

Councillor Shreeve acknowledged that there was increasing demand in the system due to age and although people came into the system people also left the system at a similar rate.

A member referred to the organisational review of transport including adult social care and asked for more information on this. Ms Brown advised that they were undertaking a review of transport across the organisation as a number of contracts had become inefficient.

A member referred to the Mental Health Strategy and asked whether any plans had been developed and what budget was being put aside to carry out the strategy. Councillor Shreeve advised that, in terms of specific budget allocation, he could provide a written response after the meeting.

A member queried the increasing costs associated with the Adult Social Care precept and asked how sustainable it was for those people receiving care given the price increase in costs.

Councillor Shreeve advised that there was a threshold under which care was paid for. In terms of cost increases, these were in line with inflation and that increase applied to the threshold. In some instances, people may be marginally at the threshold and therefore would not be paying additional costs.

Public Health

There were no questions from members.

Capital Programme

On St James House, a member asked whether there was any estimated forecast return on our business rates rental income. The Leader explained that this was money that was provided through towns funding specifically for that project. E-Factor were also putting in their own money in addition to this.

A member referred to the Corporation Bridge refurbishment at £1.65m and asked how much of this was deferred spend on this year, also was there any anticipated additional cost or contract rewards. Councillor S. Swinburn advised that some increases had been due to unexpected works and additional assessments.

A member noted that the revised capital programme had shown the Corporation Bridge refurbishment figure lower than the figure at the beginning of financial year and asked whether there was any carry over to next year. Ms Wroot confirmed there would be some slippage within the programme.

A member referred to the depot rationalisation and queried the increase in the figures and asked what the current estimated total cost of the depot rationalisation would be. Councillor S Swinburn firstly noted that the increase was due to unexpected events that had occurred such as asbestos being found and various other factors. Ms Wroot advised that in terms of the total cost, these were still ‘draft’ proposals within the programme and officers were constantly revising individual capital schemes. It was likely that there would be slippage from the previous year.

A member highlighted that in year three within the capital programme there appeared to be no financial planning with zero allocated and members asked for more details. Did this indicate that the Council did not envisage any other projects coming forward in the next two years?

Ms Wroot advised that a number of these projects were around economy and growth which were funded by central government i.e. through the Levelling Up Fund. This was a forecast around how the Council would spend money in line with current policy in future years and this was still draft at this stage. However, once finalised, further projects would be brought forward.

A member queried the Swan House scheme within the Capital Investment Programme and asked whether there should be some capital provision for replacing the furniture and refurbishment in order to maintain it. The Leader confirmed that £252k had been allocated to make Swan House fit for purpose and noted that furniture was a revenue cost rather than a capital cost.

The Chair noted next steps with the final budget proposals to be considered at a special meeting of Cabinet on 21st February 2024 prior to final decisions at the budget setting meeting of Council on 22nd February 2024.

RESOLVED – That the report be noted, and the minutes of this meeting be included as part of the response to the consultation on the proposals.

There being no further business, the Chairman declared the meeting closed at 2.57 p.m.