Provisional Local Government Settlement (Verbal)
To report on the outcome of the Provisional Local Government Settlement announced on 16th December and the implications for Flintshire County Council.
To receive the report.
Councillor Roberts, on behalf of himself as Leader of the Council, the Chief Executive, the Cabinet Member for Finance and the Corporate Finance Manager, read out the following statement:
“Flintshire County Council welcomes the Provisional Local Government Settlement for 2020/21 announced yesterday. Whilst Flintshire continues to face financial risks, and we must continue with our strong financial stewardship of the Authority, this Settlement is an important first step towards ending a decade of punitive budget settlements for local government.
Flintshire welcomes the renewed central-local government relationship in Wales – one based on mutual trust and respect. The voice of local government – and the communities we represent - is once again being heard. The case for improved funding for schools, social care and other essential local public services has been won.
Under this Settlement Flintshire will receive an additional £10.406M of Aggregate External Finance (AEF) in 2020/21. This is an uplift of 3.7% on the previous year’s Settlement. Having allowed for the significant additional costs of teachers’ pay and teachers’ pensions employer contributions - which total £3.76M – we will have £6.54M of new funds to help towards balancing our budget for 2020/21. We will also see uplifts in some of the specific grants we receive for key services such as social care and education.
The budget gap to be bridged for 2020/21 – as reported at our Council meeting last week – stood at around £15.630M. We had already achieved £8.164M of efficiencies and new income to contribute to the gap at the first stage of budget planning work. Once we take into account the new funds of £6.54M, and complete our second stage work on the final efficiency options, we are confident that we will be in a position to set a legal and balanced budget. As part of this balancing act we aim to set some funds aside to protect us against some of the ongoing cost pressures which could otherwise upset our budget in-year.
This is a significant achievement given the position of risk the Council has been in for so long. We have stood our ground on protecting local services and local jobs, and have been one of the most vocal councils in pressing the case for an end to austerity.
We have been particularly concerned at the financial sustainability of our local schools. Whilst we have avoided making the cuts to delegated schools budgets that some other councils have been forced to make, we have been very aware that if schools were to have to share the costs of increases in teachers’ pay and employer pensions contributions then some might soon reach breaking-point. We are relieved to be able to confirm that schools will be shielded from these cost pressures, and will have small uplifts in their budgets for utilities and other costs. We now wish to plan ahead so that schools might see some growth in their budgets in future years. We are very mindful that the amount we spend per pupil in Flintshire needs to be increased, and that some schools need more funds for the repair and maintenance of their buildings.
We have spoken out against Council Tax payers having to pay more local tax to substitute for annual reductions in Government funding in the recent past. We have had no choice but to set Council Tax at a higher level than we had planned in each of the last two years. This worrying trend of big annual increases in Council Tax has to end. We plan to keep the Council Tax rise for Flintshire under 5% this year.
Looking ahead, Flintshire and all other councils in Wales now need certainty over future budgets. We cannot go through this annual cycle of planning for the unknown – with all the worry and anxiety that this brings to so many people who depend on us.
We now call on the new UK Government to set out a three year forecast for public expenditure plans, to work with the devolved nations to mutually agree realistic growth plans for their devolved budgets, to prioritise finding a national solution to funding social care, and to set out a national strategy for funding public sector annual pay awards.
We invite Welsh Government to work even more closely with local government to protect and grow the public services which are key to the future of a vibrant, healthy and prosperous Wales.
The Council will review the budget position at its full meeting on 28th January, and then formally approve its final budget and set the Council Tax for 2020/21 at its meeting on 18th February”.
The Chief Executive added that there were still a number of risks faced by the Council, including details awaited on some specific grants. He also said it was important to be mindful of future budget years and re-iterated the request in the Leader’s statement for Welsh Government to set out a three year forecast for public expenditure plans. Statements containing further details would be made available in the New Year. In addition, a small number of corporate financing solutions were being looked into, such as the amount that could be derived from the actuarial review of the Clwyd Pension Fund, and the employer contributions.
Members welcomed the report, commenting on the positive result of cross party working during lobbying and they thanked all officers for the work undertaken on the budget. In response to a question from Councillor Thomas, the Corporate Finance Manager said he would look into the road maintenance grant and provide her with a response.
That the verbal report be received.