Agenda item

Draft General Fund Budget and Medium Term Financial Strategy (Decision: 110594)


Councillor Hebb introduced the report and stated that a correction needed to be made to the first sentence of point 4.7 of the report, as follows: “A comprehensive review of the service has led to the identification of a number of targeted efficiencies across the fieldwork and provider services, including the amalgamation of the Older Peoples’ Day Care Services and a change in the provision of the meal delivery service.” He moved on and stated that the Council were on track to deliver a balanced budget in 2022/23, with a key focus being placed on Adult Social Care and Children’s Social Care. He explained that although the Council were still predicting a budget gap in 2023/24, this had been reduced and gave the Council more time to reform services. He explained that all local council’s faced a financial pressure on social care due to the effects of COVID, but Thurrock would continue to work hard to support vulnerable residents. He stated that both Adult and Children’s Social Care would be given a financial boost, due to the proposed council tax increase of 1.99% for Children’s Social Care and 1% for the Adult Social Care Precept. He stated that for an average band D property, this would equate to an increase per week equivalent to the cost of 2 pints of milk or a first class stamp. Councillor Hebb explained that the Corporate Overview and Scrutiny Committee had met in November and agreed with the Local Council Tax Scheme, which would be going to February’s Budget Full Council for agreement. He stated that this scheme helped vulnerable residents that struggled to pay their Council Tax. He added that over the past year Children’s Social Care had seen an increased spend of £3.1mn, but Council Tax increases would only provide an additional £.14mn for Children’s Social Care. He stated that all local council were seeing an increase in social care demand post-COVID, and the Local Government Association had recommended an increase in Council Tax for all local authorities. He stated that inflation was currently 5%, so the Council Tax rise remained under the inflation level. Councillor Hebb explained that Thurrock Council also had a low council tax base, for example Thurrock collected approximately £16.5mn less that Southend-on-Sea Borough Council in Council Tax.

Councillor Hebb moved on and explained that the Council would also need to reform services, as well as increasing Council Tax. He explained that therefore the Council would only be focusing on vital capital programme projects. Councillor Hebb added that the investment approach, which had helped increase reserves by 300% since 2016, was also being wound down, which would reduce the Council’s income. He explained that there were currently £13mn in reserves, but these could only be used as a one-off solution, due to their nature and had to be used prudently.

Councillor Hebb highlighted point 2.8 of the report and felt that the investment approach had been successful, and had helped the Council survive the pandemic, but was now being wound down due to changing rules and a changing market. He explained that the Council’s website had been updated which more detailed information regarding the investment approach and the treasury, and provided more consolidated information for residents. He stated that the report would go to the Corporate Overview and Scrutiny Committee next week, who would also receive a report regarding member oversight of the investment approach and Comprehensive Spending Review (CSR). Councillor Hebb summarised and stated that the budget for 2022/23 would be balanced due to the reduced inflation stimulus of Adult and Children’s Social Care; the redefinition of services; and the use of reserves.

Councillor Duffin thanked Councillor Hebb and his team for the report, and felt it was good to see more detailed information being published on the Council’s website. He also highlighted that an additional £115mn had come into the Council because of the investment approach, and felt proud that the approach had been successful. Councillor Huelin added that although Thurrock Council had a lower Council Tax base than other unitary authorities, it had a higher than average number of service users. She stated that Thurrock Council had the lowest spend per head on Adult Social Care than any other unitary authority in England, and therefore were under pressure to provide a good service to users. She stated that pressure on Adult Social Care services had increased during the pandemic, and therefore spend had increased from £1.5mn to £3mn. She explained that although the Council operated a policy of early intervention, the additional income of £700,000 from the 1% Adult Social Care precept, would equate to roughly £875 per year for every service user. Councillor Huelin explained that therefore the team had to look for efficiencies within the service to ensure a good service was provided for service users. She stated that the commissioning team looked at all contracts to ensure the Council were receiving value for money, and the team also worked with the voluntary sector and other partners. She stated that the team had consulted with residents on the amalgamation of the day service to Cromwell Road, and had found the new service to provide more flexible respite care and increased opening hours. 

Councillor Johnson stated that recent news headlines around the UK had highlighted the issues that could occur within Children’s Social Care, particularly during the pandemic, as COVID had increased pressures on services around the country due to an increased number of service users. He stated that at Thurrock, 50% of the overall budget was utilised by Children’s Social Care as it could be hard to place children, and unregulated placements could cost upwards of £40,000 per week. He stated that the increase in Council Tax would be ring-fenced by Children’ Social Care which would help protect vulnerable children throughout the borough. Councillor Spillman highlighted that the proposed Council Tax rise would still be under inflation levels, and the additional income from Council Tax would go directly to Adult and Children’s Social Care to help the most vulnerable.

The Leader thanked Councillor Hebb and the finance team for their hard work on the report, and felt that Adult and Children’s Social Care needed support to ensure the borough’s most vulnerable residents were looked after. He stated that during the pandemic, the Council and the community had worked hard to support vulnerable people, and the Council would continue this support once the pandemic was over. He stated that it was good to see the Council changing and evolving, and felt proud that the investment approach had increased the Council’s budget by £115mn. Councillor Hebb explained that the £16mn of interest payments associated with the investment approach had allowed for the £115mn investment into the Council. He highlighted section 2.8 of the report and explained that the spend on non-statutory services had increased due to the investment approach. 

RESOLVED: That Cabinet:

1. Noted the proposed updates to the Medium Term Financial Strategy and the remaining deficits in future years.

2. Supported the use of capital receipts and general reserves to meet the 2022/23 budget deficit of £2.490mn.

3. Supported the proposed council tax increase of 1.99%.

4. Supported the 1% Adult Social Care precept increase.

5. Commented on the draft budget proposals within this report to inform the consultation with Corporate Overview and Scrutiny Committee, with the final budget proposals to be presented to Cabinet at its February meeting, ahead of Full Council on 23 February 2022.

Reason for decision: as outlined in the report
This decision is subject to call-in

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