ITEM REFERRED FROM CABINET: 24 JANUARY 2017 - CORPORATE BUSINESS PLANNING - BUDGET SETTING 2017/18
The Council considered the Minute of the meeting of the Cabinet held on 24 January 2017, in respect of Corporate Business Planning - Budget Setting 2017/18 (Minute 103 refers). A copy of the report and addendum report considered by the Cabinet was included with the agenda, as were the following appendices:
Appendix 1 - General Fund estimates (1.9% Council Tax increase); Appendix 2 - General Fund estimates (£5 Council Tax increase); Appendix 3 - Revenue Efficiency and Investment proposals; Appendix 4 - Revised NHDC Sustainability Plan; and Appendix 5 - Budget Risks for 2017/18. The Council had been provided with a further addendum report, tabled at the meeting, which detailed the Parish and Town Council precepts for 2017/18 and the total District Council Tax requirement for 2017/18. Prior to the consideration of the Budget Setting for 2017/18, the Leader of the Council (Councillor Mrs L.A. Needham) and the Executive Member for Finance and IT (Councillor T.W. Hone) presented a Budget Speech. These documents are reproduced at Appendices A and B to these Minutes. It was moved by Councillor T.W. Hone, and seconded by Councillor Mrs L.A. Needham, that the recommendations contained in the Cabinet referral and the addendum report tabled at the meeting be approved. The Leader of the Labour Group (Councillor Frank Radcliffe) and Leader of the Liberal Democrat Group (Councillor S.K. Jarvis) gave responses to the speeches made by the Leader of the Council and the Cabinet Executive Member for Finance and IT. It was moved by Councillor Julian Cunningham and seconded by Councillor Michael Weeks that the second bullet point of Recommendation (7) be amended to read E25 - Investigate alternative methods for improved Community Engagement which may include the replacement of Area Committees, and for the £25,000 saving to be deleted, as it was unlikely that any informal alternative would be in place for the start of the 2017/18 year, and that officers make the necessary amendments to the budget to reflect this. Following debate, and upon being put to the vote, this amendment was carried. It was moved by Councillor Martin Stears-Handscomb and seconded by Councillor Judi Billing to replace all after E25 - Replace Area Committees with a more informal alternative with this item be deleted. Following debate, and upon being put to the vote, this amendment was lost. It was moved by Councillor Ian Albert and seconded by Councillor Martin Stears-Handscomb that the following new Recommendation (8) be added and successive recommendations renumbered accordingly: (8) That it be noted that the government cuts for 2017/18 and the following years make it likely that the Council will either fail to deliver key services or fail to balance its budget. Following debate, and upon being put to the vote, this amendment was lost. Following debate, and in accordance with Standing Order 4.8.16(h), Councillor T.W. Hone requested that a Recorded Vote be undertaken on the substantive motion. (Voting: For: Councillors David Barnard, John Booth, P.C.W. Burt, Julian Cunningham, Jane Gray, Simon Harwood, Steve Hemingway, Fiona Hill, T.W. Hone, Tony Hunter, David Levett, Bernard Lovewell, Paul Marment, Alan Millard, Gerald Morris, Michael Muir, Mrs L.A. Needham, Mike Rice, Harry Spencer-Smith, Mrs C.P.A. Strong, R.A.C. Thake, Michael Weeks - 22 Against: Councillors Ian Albert, Clare Billing, Judi Billing, Paul Clark, Elizabeth Dennis, Gary Grindal, S.K. Jarvis, Lorna Kercher, Sandra Lunn, Ian Mantle, Frank Radcliffe, Martin Stears-Handscomb, Terry Tyler - 13 Abstentions: 0 No Vote (in accordance with Paragraph 4.8.23(a) of the Constitution - not present for the entirety of the debate): Councillor Janine Paterson - 1 The motion was carried.) It was therefore, RESOLVED: (1) That it be noted that the provisional Central Government settlement for 2017/18 is £4.671 million, which is £186,000 less than previously forecast; (2) That the estimated position on the Collection Funds and how this will be funded be noted; (3) That a £5 increase (Band D equivalent) in Council Tax for 2017/18 be approved; (4) That the position relating to the General Fund balance be noted and, that due to the risks identified, a minimum balance of £1.6 million is recommended; (5) That the reduction in the 2016/17 working budget of £469,000 be approved, and the expected impact in 2017/18 of £5,000 be noted; (6) That the requests for carry-forward that total £191,000 be noted; (7) That the inclusion of the efficiencies and investment proposals, as set out at Appendix 3 to the report, in the General Fund budget estimates for 2017/18 be approved, subject to the following amendments: E11/E12 - Green Space Management Strategy - the expenditure reduction figures to be adjusted to reflect the decision made earlier in the meeting on this matter; E25 - Investigate alternative methods for improved Community Engagement which may include the replacement of Area Committees, and for the £25,000 saving to be deleted, as it was unlikely that any informal alternative would be in place for the start of the 2017/18 year, and that officers make the necessary amendments to the budget to reflect this; E28 - Removal of Allotment concessions - this item be deleted, pending a review of the viability of all Council concessions; (8) That the savings targets for future years be noted; (9) That the inclusion of the Capital Receipts direction proposals in the budget report be confirmed; (10) That the NHDC Sustainability Plan, as attached at Appendix 4 to the report, be noted; (11) That the estimated 2017/18 net expenditure of £16.5Million, as detailed in Appendix 2 to the report, be approved; (12) That the Parish and Town Council precepts of £1,067,851 be noted; and (13) That the total District Council Tax requirement is £11,622,673 be noted and that this figure be approved for inclusion in the Council Tax resolution. REASON FOR DECISION: To ensure that all relevant factors are taken into consideration when arriving at the proposed Council Tax precept for 2017/18; and to ensure that a balanced budget is agreed.
QUESTIONS FROM MEMBERS
(A) North Hertfordshires Playgrounds
In accordance with Standing Order 4.8.11(b), the following question had been submitted by Councillor Ian Albert to Councillor Mrs L.A. Needham (Leader of the Council): The last full Council meeting debated allowance increases for elected Members. Does the Leader of the Council believe that it is a good use of these allowances and valuable taxpayers' money for Cabinet Members to personally search through the waste bins of North Hertfordshire's playgrounds as part of evidence based research into playground usage? Councillor Needham replied that Councillor Albert was requesting her to express an opinion on a speculative issue and where no evidence whatsoever had been provided. Since being alerted to the question, she had spent some time investigating the matter with Cabinet Members. She had not found anybody who fitted this description. As a supplementary question, Councillor Albert asked: Does Councillor Needham believe that the Council had got it right in the way it looked at consultation and getting its Citizens together to ensure that Cabinet Members did no have to go round playgrounds looking through waste bins? Councillor Needham replied that she had no intention of going out to consultation on such a topic. (B) North Hertfordshire Museum and Community Facility at Hitchin Town Hall In accordance with Standing Order 4.8.11(b), the following question had been submitted by Councillor Judi Billing to Councillor Mrs L.A. Needham (Leader of the Council): In the light of the confusing press coverage last week, could the Leader of the Council please clarify the current situation regarding the Hitchin Town Hall and Museum? Councillor Needham replied that she had thoroughly checked last weeks press coverage. She only wished to comment on those matters which were attributed to her. Councillor Needham advised that she had confirmed that NHDC was definitely going ahead with the opening of the North Hertfordshire Museum, which was something that all members of the Council had voted on for two years. Councillor Needham stated that she had made reference to a lift, and the plans of the Museum which Members had received in the past had clearly shown a second lift shaft, demonstrating the fact that in some time in the future the Council would be looking at the installation of a second lift. Councillor Needham had also made reference to the fact that 14 and 15 Brand Street were not within the ownership of NHDC, a matter of which Members were fully aware. Councillor Needham commented that all of the preceding matters had therefore been in the public domain for some time. She advised that the final quote attributed to her in the press was that she hoped that in several months time the Museum would be open. As a supplementary question, Councillor Judi Billing asked: Is it true that the Leader of the Council was saying that no progress had been made since councillors were last briefed? Councillor Needham replied that the Council had been made aware that discussions would be taking place between officers and representatives from Hitchin Town Hall Limited and Hitchin Town Hall Finance Limited. She understood that there was to be an embargo on these talks, and the Council had and would continue to honour such an embargo. (C) North Hertfordshire Museum and Community Facility at Hitchin Town Hall In accordance with Standing Order 4.8.11(b), the following question had been submitted by Councillor Paul Clark to Councillor Mrs L.A. Needham (Leader of the Council): The Council is currently declining to accept bookings for the North Herts Museum gallery in November 2017. Does this indicate that the Council does not expect the ownership and access issues to be resolved in the next nine months? Councillor Needham replied that the Council had received one enquiry about booking the North Hertfordshire Museum gallery. Those that had enquired had been given a full and comprehensive explanation from the Museum Curator. Councillor Needham advised that the Council had an agreement with the Heritage Lottery Fund to abide by some of their stipulations. One of these stipulations was that there would be a number of exhibitions using the Museums gallery space. Once the Museum was open, irrespective of when this would be, it was highly possible that for the following 18 months the gallery space would be taken up in its entirety by the Council honouring its obligations to the Heritage Lottery Fund. Thereafter, the Museum Curator had lined up other exhibitions. So it would therefore be a while before local organisations would be able to use the gallery space. As a supplementary question, Councillor Clark asked: As it was the access issue that was given by the Council for not being able to book the gallery space, could he receive clarification that it was because the Council was not making allowances for local organisations to be able to exhibit at the Museum due to its commitments to the Heritage Lottery Fund for the next 24 months? Councillor Needham replied that she understood that these exhibitions would total fill the gallery space. Unfortunately, until these exhibitions were over there was no other space in the Museum to use for local exhibitions.