Venue: Abbey House, Abingdon OX14 3JE
Contact: Candida Basilio, Democratic Services Officer 07895 213820
Apologies for absence
Apologies were received from Councillor Stefan Gawrysiak and Councillor Anna Badcock. Councillor Lynn Lloyd was present as a substitute for Councillor Badcock.
Urgent business and chair's announcements
To receive notification of any matters which the chair determines should be considered as urgent business and the special circumstances which have made the matters urgent, and to receive any announcements from the chair.
Chair outlined housekeeping matters and explained that the first main agenda item was budget briefing, viewable to all from the love broadcast and recording on YouTube.
Declaration of interests
To receive declarations of disclosable pecuniary interests, other registrable interests and non-registrable interests or any conflicts of interest in respect of items on the agenda for this meeting.
To adopt and sign as a correct record the committee minutes of the meeting held on 21 November 2022.
The minutes of the meeting held on 21 November 2022 were agreed as a correct record.
To receive any questions or statements from members of the public that have registered to speak.
To review the attached scrutiny work schedule. Please note, although the dates are confirmed, the items under consideration are subject to being withdrawn, added to or rearranged without further notice.
Committee reviewed the work programme.
Revenue Budget 2023/24 and Capital Programme to 2027/28 - budget briefing
To receive a briefing on the revenue budget 2023/24 and capital programme to 2027/28 from the Head of Finance, and for Scrutiny Committee to ask questions they may have to the Head of Finance and Cabinet Member for Finance and Property Assets.
Head of Finance presented a budget briefing to committee, supported by Cabinet Member for Finance and Corporate Assets. Strategic Finance Manager was present virtually.
A presentation was given using slides and can be viewed on the recording.
Cabinet member opened the item. Head of Finance briefed the committee on the following:
Section 1: Revenue
· Context of budget setting – our legal duties, what a balanced budget means - appropriate reserves without heavy reliance on them. Over recent years there had been improvement in having less reliance on reserves at the council.
· Appendix A1 – base budget 2023-24, what formed part of the base budget.
· Appendix B1 and B3 – discretionary items, such as temporary funding for 2023-25.
· Core revenue spending power had increased by 5.3% - settlements, government grants and council tax. Significant increase in core revenue spending power in response to economic climate. New Homes Bonus had gone down, reduced to four years from six. Uncertainty from central government on the future of this. Included a one-off funding guarantee of £883k. Revisions to council tax were in line with the council tax referendum principles.
· A member asked about the history of reserves. Head of Finance responded that in 1996 council housing stock was sold, and money was put into reserve, however financial crashes result in using reserves. Now, we get more grant funding than previously. We had a low council tax base also. More detail would be provided in the presentation
· A member asked for clarity on the assumptions made about inflation over the MTFP. This would be covered in the presentation.
Section 2: Capital
· Details of schemes in Appendix D2 and D3 (CIL funded).
· Didcot North East leisure centre will be funded by S106 receipts, also from Valley Park receipts. Vale would need to pay some of those receipts.
· Didcot Wave pool – Valley Park receipts, with some to be paid by Vale
· Query on how we would ensure Vale receipts were paid. Head of Finance responded it was in Vale’s budget. Council Leader added that Valley Park, being in Vale, would be closest to Didcot in terms of utilising community facilities, which Valley Park would be missing. These community assets would benefit South and Vale residents.
· Discussion had about assessment of risk. A question was asked about whether entering into a contract with Vale regarding the above projects was more secure. Leader explained the decision was made to enable facilities to be ready in line with the new housing.
Scrutiny members were in agreement to suggest that officers consult the Legal team regarding the potential to enter into a contract with VOWHDC, in relation to new South Oxfordshire based Capital projects, where SODC have agreement with VOWHDC to part fund projects which are of benefit for both districts.
· A discussion was had about the arrangements for briefing on the budget. The intention from officers was that this would be watched by anyone who wanted to, and questions were welcomed from all members.
Resolved: Head ... view the full minutes text for item 17.
For scrutiny committee to consider the report of the Head of Finance and make any recommendations to Cabinet (papers to follow).
Cabinet Member for Finance and Corporate Assets introduced the paper. The revenue picture for this year was balanced, including the effects of the economy. Cabinet member explained that government funding normally was more certain over five years, and now we only had two years, so this could not be reflected with as much certainty as previous budgets.
Chair welcomed cabinet members to help answer in-depth portfolio questions if asked to, to support the Cabinet Member for Finance and Corporate Assets.
Questions and comments:
· How do we ensure we keep Community Hub, beyond the two-year funding? Cabinet member explained that a decision would need to be made to reflect it in future budgets.
· Capital spending on housing was discussed, and the permanent local housing stock being increased to deal with refugee crisis.
· Data centre rent – Head of Finance to check if this is a misrepresentation in the papers
· £5 million one off contribution to OCC pension fund. How much will this one-off payment save us long term? It was confirmed that this was not a specific sum agreed yet. Decision was due 31 March 2023. It was suggested by a member that this helped save money previously.
· Salary figures queried – it was explained that the figures were cumulative.
· Appendix D2: local authority housing fund – what will the government give us - £500 million was the national figure. The scheme was at an early stage. Cabinet member for Development explained that funding for 21 properties, approximately £150,000. Roughly a 40% contribution from central government. Leader added that the housing would alleviate stress on the current housing list. The council will own the properties and manage them.
· A query raised about cemetery refurbishment being budgeted
· Didcot Gateway – it was explained that the budget envelope was £25 million, including a wide range of schemes as part of a larger regeneration programme to improve the gateway area (such as public spaces), and this included the new council office. The building itself had not gone to tender yet so the cost of that individually was not known yet. Best value at the tendering process would be ensured.
· A discussion was had around election costs, which was explained by Cabinet member as an uncertainty for all councils at present, no definitive figure yet.
The committee reviewed and discussed the cabinet paper and budget appendices, and asked questions to Head of Finance and Cabinet members as outlined above.
Exclusion of the public
To consider whether to exclude members of the press and public from the meeting for the following items of business under Section 100A and 100I of the Local Government Act 1972 on the grounds that:
(i) It is likely that there will be disclosure of exempt information as defined in paragraph 3 of Schedule 12A, and
(ii) the public interest in maintaining the exemption outweighs the public interest in disclosing the information.
Committee voted in favour to exclude the public to discuss the confidential items in appendix D2.
Confidential appendix D2
After a short break, the committee reconvened at 19:50.
The committee had a short discussion on a line item in the appendix and after an explanation of its meaning, the committee made a recommendation to officers to review the line item’s wording, in order to make it clearer.