To seek comments on the budget proposals identified for 2021/22 to 2023/24 within the Environment and Highways, Leisure Tourism and Sport, and Stronger and Safer Communities cabinet portfolios, to go forward to the Resources and Delivering Value Scrutiny Board and the Full Cabinet in February 2021.
In attendance: Mrs Alison McGrory (Assistant Director – Communities & Partnerships); Alan Brown (Assistant Director – Highways & Environment); Lauren Beach (Economy and Infrastructure Finance Manager); Councillor Mrs A Rolf – Cabinet Member (Stronger & Safer Communities); Councillor J Tildesley – Cabinet Member (Leisure, Tourism & Sport); and Councillor K Hawkins – Cabinet Member (Environment & Highways).
To Board considered a detailed report which set out the budget proposals identified for 2021/22 to 2023/24 within the Environment and Highways; Leisure Tourism and Sport; and the Stronger and Safer Communities Cabinet Portfolios.
Officers reported that the focus of the budget strategy this year had been on reset and recovery in the light of the wide-ranging impact of the Covid-19 pandemic. Cabinet Portfolios had not been asked to propose savings to meet a corporate target but instead had identified options for mitigating service pressures. These had been considered by the Budget Strategy Group at their three meetings held in October and November 2020. The budget proposals had also been shared with all Members at a seminar in December 2020.
Each individual Scrutiny Board this month was now being asked to consider, in detail, the proposals which related to the Cabinet Portfolios within their remit.The Board was advised that in developing the budget proposals for review by the Budget Strategy Group, the directorate leadership teams had worked with the Cabinet Portfolio Holders to establish the scale of the pressures and identify mitigating actions within each service area. The detailed indicative budgets for the services relating to this scrutiny board were submitted and considered together with an overview of the projected reserves position.
As part of the Council’s fees and charges policy, the charges levied by the Council needed to be approved annually as part of the budget setting process. A schedule of fees and charges within the remit of this scrutiny board was also submitted and considered. Officers advised that the fees and charges took into account the guidance set out in the Council’s policy and had been reviewed in the light of the pressures faced by the Council and with reference to current and forecast inflation.
As a result of the report, the following questions and observations were noted:
· 2021/22 Fees and Charges for Leisure Centres and Libraries - the Chairman and a number of Members stated that, having regard to the ongoing impact of Covid-19 and future economic recovery, they were pleased to see the proposed 2021/22 fees and charges for the Council’s leisure centres and libraries, particularly, with little or no increase.
· 2021/22 Fees and Charges for Car Parks – the Board welcomed the proposal not to increase car parking charges and appreciated that this would help with Solihull’s economic recovery.
· Leisure Centre Fees and Charges (Swimming) – the Board sought further comment as to why the Borough’s two leisure centres had different fees for this individual activity. Officers advised that fees and charges were benchmarked against similar service provision available locally.
· Bulky Household Waste Collections – the Chairman considered that greater promotion of this service should be undertaken to (i) increase potential income and (ii) reduce the potential for fly tipping.
· Reduction in Car Parking Income – the Board sought additional clarification for the ongoing pressure highlighted in the report between 2020/21 and 2023/24. Officers advised that prior to the Covid-19 pandemic it had already been recognised that car park usage had reduced, thus reducing income. This year, car park usage had reduced considerably owing to Covid-19 and it was envisaged that there would be a long-term shift in people’s behaviour that would have an effect on future car park usage and reduced future income (i.e. continued working from home and greater shopping online). This had been taken into account in future forecasts. The Board was also advised of the method of accounting for income loss recovery claims.
· Business Rates Windfall – the Board asked for a view on the level of confidence in the business rates windfall for the current financial year and if this had been affected by the pandemic. Officers advised that the 2020/21 forecast had not been adversely affected as businesses were able to claim business rate reliefs and Officers were confident that this would enable the topping-up of reserves. For future years, Officers advised that there was an element of risk although they had continued to account for those windfalls on a one-off basis. However, those windfalls would not be allocated into the budget until there was certainty that they would be received.
· Business Rates Retention – the Board sought clarification that Solihull was included in the regional pilots of 100% business rates retention. Officers advised that Solihull was part of the pilot.
· £2.250M Forecast Windfall – the Board noted that the Budget Strategy Group had agreed to endorse the use of £2.250M of the forecast windfall funding to top-up the reserves in the Children’s Services and Skills; and Economy and Infrastructure Portfolios. Members asked for the further information as to the individual breakdown for each and were advised that Appendix A of the report provided a detailed breakdown of Covid and non-Covid related pressures. Further detailed information, not available at the meeting, could be circulated separately outside of the meeting for Members information.
· Defective Brown Bins – the Board sought further information as to how this had been accounted for in the budget setting process. Officers advised that as part of the MTFS, an assumption had been made that the Council would manage to conclude the ongoing legal case successfully, accepting that there was still current high risk associated with that assumption.
· Tell Us Once – the Board sought confirmation that Solihull used this national service. Officers confirmed that Tell Us Once was used within Solihull Council (Registrars) to notify a number of service areas (at a single point of contact) of a residents/family change of circumstances when registering a death.
· Strategic Environment Contract – the Board sought further information as to the potential costs to the authority due to uplifts to the contract arising from service growth due to the increase in properties from new residential developments. Officers advised that during the life of the current contract, a further £231k had been added for waste and recycling collections and a further £75k for street care.
· The Core Theatre – the Board asked if there were any plans to move to some form of online theatre/film provision in the future, particularly to maximise income opportunities given the evident behaviour changes owing to the pandemic. Cllr Tildesley, Cabinet Member (Leisure, Tourism & Sport) advised that there were no current plans to provide an online broadcast from the theatre at the present time. Cllr Tildesley reaffirmed his commitment to providing excellent cultural services to the Borough as soon as council services could return to any form of normality. Cllr Tildesley also highlighted the publication, this week, of a cultural report for Solihull that had been undertaken by Sampad Arts to support the delivery of cultural services in Solihull. Once available, the report would be shared with Members.
· Operation of Leisure Centres (Deed of Variation) – the Board sought further comment on the financial implications of the current contractual arrangements triggered by Covid-19. Officers advised that the outcome of the ongoing pandemic would determine any future clarity regarding the contract financial model. Financial losses were being mitigated by the receipt of government relief and the future use of reserves.
The above observations and recommendations of this Scrutiny Board would to go forward to the Resources and Delivering Value Scrutiny Board and Full Cabinet during February 2021.
The Board extended their appreciation to Officers in compiling the proposed budget and acknowledged what must have been an extremely challenging year for them.
The Board unanimously made the following RECOMMENDATIONS to the Resources and Delivering Value Scrutiny Board and Full Cabinet:
That, subject to the preamble above, the Board:
(i) Acknowledges the pressures and mitigating actions set out in Appendix A to the report;
(ii) Supports the schedule of fees and charges proposed for 2021/22, as attached at Appendix B to the report; and
(iii) Supports the indicative budget proposals outlined in the report at Appendix C.