The Cabinet Member for Finance, Performance and Core Services presented a report on the Medium Term Financial Strategy and Reserves Policy from 2019/20 to 2023/24 for key Council services, which offered a framework to close the budget gap whilst ensuring resources were aligned to the Borough Manifesto and Corporate Plan.
The Cabinet Member set out the context around the Strategy and Policy, referring to the real term reduction in funding from the Government, which had impacted across Council services and particularly, children and adult social care services. He stated that the two percent overspend on the Council’s budget for 2018/19 should be considered an achievement in light of those challenges and against the backdrop of the significant increase in the Borough’s population.
The Cabinet Member referred to a number of factors that created uncertainty around the Council’s financial position, including:
· Whether the Government’s next three-year Spending Review from 2020/21 would go ahead as planned, or whether a one-year position would be put forward instead;
· The Government’s ‘Fair Funding review’ which focussed on how resources were distributed between local authorities; rather than providing additional funding; and
· The Government’s intention to phase out core funding and transfer new responsibilities to local authorities as part of its rollout of the 75% business rate retention scheme.
The Cabinet Member emphasised that an overall adequate level of reserves formed the bedrock of financial health, providing a buffer to deal with any shocks that may arise. The core General Fund balance remained at £17m, which was a testament of the hard work of officers and the resilience of the Council to deliver excellent services in an extremely difficult financial climate.
The Cabinet Member highlighted the innovative commercial approach taken by the Council in attempting to replace lost income. As part of that work, the Council would be creating a new Investment Risk reserve as a proportionate safeguard against the risks associated with the Council’s Investment and Acquisition Strategy.
Cabinet Members expressed support for the Strategy and Policy, referring particularly to the positive visual representations of the Borough in the Strategy document and the principles underpinning it, such as ‘taking the community with us’ and ‘no one left behind’. The Cabinet Member for Public Realm also felt that the Council’s priority to encourage civic pride and social responsibility was important when considering how to bring down costs, for example, the Council should continue to raise awareness amongst residents of the importance of producing less waste, due to the significant cost to the Council. Members recognised that delivering a balanced budget when faced with the highest demand levels in the country was a significant achievement.
Cabinet resolved to approve the Medium-Term Financial Strategy and Reserves Policy 2019/20 to 2023/24 as set out in Appendix A to the report and the approach proposed to ensure the financial health of the Council over the medium term.