As detailed in recommendations (1) and (2). Recommendation (3) to be amended to read:
(3) Cabinet invite Council to engage with Welsh Government – through a cross-party delegation - for an improved Local Government Settlement, in order to suppress Council Tax rises in Flintshire and across Wales, by specifically increasing recurring funding for schools and children’s services; and
An additional recommendation (4) to be added, to read:
(4) Officers provide information on those non-mandatory services where Council could review its policies and funding commitments. The information to include financial values (to the Council Tax payer) and the risks associated with making any changes to current commitments.
Councillor Shotton introduced the Council Fund Budget 2019/20 – Third and Closing Stage report. He commented on the number of Member workshops and Overview and Scrutiny Committee meetings that had taken place where the portfolio resilience statements had been presented prior to the budget being approved at Stage 1 and then Stage 2.
The resilience statements highlighted the risks to service capacity and performance of any further budget reductions and they were accepted by each Overview and Scrutiny Committee and Cabinet. Each Overview and Scrutiny Committee, and Cabinet, also accepted that there was no scope for further reductions in Corporate Finance and Service Portfolios of any scale.
The Council had been central to campaigning across Wales for an improved Financial Settlement for local government through the collective case-making of the Welsh Local Government Association (WLGA) and its own press and social media-based campaign, #backtheask.
The Chief Executive explained that the Council needed to set a balanced budget to meet its legal duty – this was a collective responsibility of the whole Council. He emphasised the importance of the advice that would be given to Members by himself and the Section 151 Officer in their Statutory Officer roles.
A report would be submitted to County Council on 29th January 2019. There was a meeting on 19th February where a report could also be submitted, if required, which would be within the timescale of when a budget needed to be set by.
He reiterated that there was no scope for further reductions in cost estimates for Corporate Finance and Service Portfolios for 2019/20 of scale which had been accepted by Group Leaders, Overview and Scrutiny Committees, Cabinet and Council, and that all options of any scale had been exhausted. Whilst the funding position for local government and Flintshire had improved on the original forecast, the Settlement was still inadequate to meet the funding requirements. Beyond a further financial intervention by Welsh Government (WG) the only remaining options to balance the budget were Council Tax income and drawing upon reserves and balances, noting that the scope for the latter was limited.
The revised gap was £3.1m and to achieve a legal and balanced budget a Council Tax rise in the region of 8.5% would be required after the small utilisation of reserves which was recommended at £0.189m. The addition of the increase in the North Wales Fire and Rescue Levy would take the overall Council Tax increase to a potential 8.9%.
The Corporate Finance Manager explained the revised budget gap and provided details of confirmed grant announcements for 2019/20. He confirmed that the only options to close the gap was through reserves and balances and Council Tax, if no further funding was received from WG. He also reiterated that there was only the limited amount of reserves and balances of £0.189m that he would recommend to be used, and provided details of the prudent level of reserves that were recommended for specific purposes which were detailed in the report.
The Chief Executive provided his opinion, which was detailed in the report, alongside the opinion of the Section 151 Officer.
The final budget forecast position, and the limited options available to the Council to fulfil its collective responsibility to set a legal and balanced budget were set out within the report. The advice on which to base a decision was clearly set out and there is no other concluding advice to give to Council.
He requested support of Members for two specific asks that he felt WG could provide further funding for, which were better positions for schools and Out of County placements support. If additional funding was provided for those areas it could result in the Council proposing a Council Tax rise of 6.5%, which WG had assumed as the average rise across Wales. Flintshire wished to be in a position where they could set the rise at 6.5%, or lower.
Work was being undertaken on information being made available to the public, as well as the Frequently Asked Questions area of the website.
Councillor Shotton said that following the #backtheask campaign he was grateful that the Council received some additional funding but that was not enough to continue to meet service demands without raising the Council Tax by such a high percentage. He did not want to shift the burden of cost pressures onto residents and he was reluctant to accept that it was the only way in which a legal and balanced budget could be set without further lobbying to WG. He thanked Councillor Kevin Hughes for arranging a delegation of Members to go to WG on 5th February to lobby for additional funding and he also welcomed the cross party support for this.
In the absence of any further funding from WG, he suggested an additional recommendation of ‘Officers provide information on those non-mandatory services where Council could review its policies and funding commitments. The information to include financial values (to the Council Tax payer) and the risks associated with making any changes to current commitments’ which was supported.
The Chief Executive said that the options that would be provided would include things that could not be achieved by April and things he could not support in his professional role given the risks they posed. He provided examples of the % reduction to the Council Tax rise if certain services were cut, which were minimal. He also said that the Wales Audit Office endorsed that Flintshire was a well-managed financial authority.
Councillor Attridge said the position being faced by the Council was following political choices in WG where they voted for a budget that did not support local government. The #backtheask campaign had made the case clear for Flintshire and highlighted that Flintshire was a low funded Council. If the Council did not set a legal and balanced budget by the required date WG could send in Commissioners who would be ruthless and the County could see things such as care homes closing, which were the services the Council were trying to protect. He supported the continued lobbying of WG and asked if other Councils would be joining them on 5th February. Councillor Shotton said he would be speaking to Leader colleagues at meetings of the WLGA later that week and he would inform them of Flintshire’s intention on 5th February.
Councillor Roberts commented on the seriousness of the situation that the Council was facing. However, he also commented on the excellent work undertaken by the Council during recent years, such as the council housing developments. He said he was disappointed with WG and their continued failure to support local government adequately. He and all Cabinet Members welcomed the opportunity to lobby WG on 5th February.
(a) Cabinet note the updated budget forecast position as the basis for setting a legal and balanced budget for 2019/20;
(b) Cabinet advise Council that in the absence of an improvement in the Local Government Settlement by Welsh Government then the Council will have to rely on a Council Tax rise in the region of 8.5% to meet its own expenditure requirements for 2019/20 (excluding the increase in the Levy of the North Wales Fire and Rescue Authority);
(c) Cabinet invite Council to engage with Welsh Government – through a cross-party delegation - for an improved Local Government Settlement, in order to suppress Council Tax rises in Flintshire and across Wales, by specifically increasing recurring funding for schools and children’s services; and
(d) Officers provide information on those non-mandatory services where Council could review its policies and funding commitments. The information to include financial values (to the Council Tax payer) and the risks associated with making any changes to current commitments.