Councillor Hebb introduced the
report and stated that this was a ‘rear view’ look at
the Council’s finances in 2019/20, which was mostly in a
pre-COVID19 world. He stated that although the Council would be
placed under financial pressure because of COVID-19, the balanced
budget and reserves could help ease these pressures. He stated that
during 2019/20 reserves had been increased by 131%, and the Council
had received £4.7m in funding from central government to help
tackle COVID-19 pressures. He moved onto looking at the different
department’s budgets during 2019/20 and started by
congratulating the Adults, Housing and Health team for ensuring
their service balanced their budget with in-year mitigation. He
felt that this department experienced numerous pressures throughout
the year and thanked the team for their hard work in balancing the
budget. He stated that for the 2020/21 financial year, Adults,
Housing and Health would experience very significant pressures due
to COVID-19, particularly relating to the care market.
Councillor Hebb moved onto talk about the Housing General Fund, which also covered the homelessness budget. He stated that although the number of people presenting as homeless to the Council had increased last year, the team had still managed to deliver all aspects of the Homelessness Reduction Act, and had reviewed staff structures to ensure the budget had been balanced, with a one-off surplus injection.
Councillor Hebb congratulated the Children’s Services team for also balancing their budget, as well as their ‘good’ OFSTED rating. He stated that cash from the surplus had been invested in the team, and they had continued to reform and make positive changes. He discussed the in-house foster care arrangements, and mentioned that lots of work was ongoing to bring the team back in-house. He felt that this would benefit looked after children by offering stability, as well as reducing the cost of the service. He stated that the team still had issues surrounding attracting and retaining staff members, but the team was working hard to find qualified people for vacant positions. Councillor Hebb then thanked Councillors Maney and Watkins for their hard work in balancing the budget for the Environment and Highways team, as well as their recent success on the good KBT scores. Councillor Hebb understood how variable the waste contracts could be, but felt happy to see the balanced budget. He also thanked the HR team for bringing their department in under budget, and the Finance, Governance and Property team for balancing their budget, even with significant spend on conditions surveys.
Councillor Hebb then discussed the Place directorate who had balanced their budget with in-year mitigation. He stated that the team had had to increase money spent on consultants due to the Local Plan, as well as the lack of pantomime ticket sales at the Thameside Theatre, which had meant they were unable to break even. Councillor Hebb then discussed the Dedicated Schools Grant, which had nationally been a problem regarding the High Needs Block, and had also seen a spend increase in 2018/19. He stated that the capital programme had spent roughly £101m on projects in 2019/20, such as the A13 widening scheme and the Stanford-le-Hope Interchange project. He stated that the 2019/20 financial year had only included two months of COVID-19 pressures, but that next year would be more financially difficult because of the pandemic.
Councillor Halden stated that he had attended numerous overview and scrutiny meetings, and had received lots of questions regarding the reserves in social care. He confirmed that reserves would not be depleted, but the Council were unsure of how the market would change due to the pandemic, and the revenue position was always being analysed. He stated that reserves could only provide a one-off cash injection into a department, but felt that the administration should work with the opposition during the upcoming financial difficulties, so work could be scrutinised and options discussed.
RESOLVED: That Cabinet:
1. Noted that the General Fund net expenditure has been met within the overall budget envelope and the General Fund Balance has been maintained at £11.000m
2. Noted that the balance on the Housing Revenue Account Reserve has been maintained at £2.175m
3. Noted that there was a total of £101.398m in capital expenditure and some of the key projects has been set out in section 5.