The report was presented by Jonathan Wilson.
Councillor Halden mentioned that Essex County Council often lobbied for investments and funding which they were usually successful in. He pointed out that other forms of income such as business rates would help the Council’s budget and that there were some areas that required funding. He said that the Council funded SEND and the NHS did not put any funding towards this. He felt that Thurrock needed to take the same approach as Essex County Council and build the capacity to lobby as well. Jonathan Wilson answered that the government’s Fair Funding Reform would be released soon as it had been on hold prior to the pandemic. In regards to business rates retention, he said that this was less certain as Michael Gove did not seem to suggest this would be considered. Business rates was also dependent on what the Council would get. In regards to the lobbying power of Essex County Council, he said that Thurrock was part of their conversations in lobbying and also shared some of their lobbying efforts. He said that Thurrock had the capacity to take part in lobbying.
Adding to this, Sean Clark said that the report linked back to the Committee’s earlier discussions on Levelling Up paper. He explained that the Chancellor had announced a 3 year department level budget for local government back in October and Thurrock had received a one year settlement back in December. This was because the government was looking to change the methodology of how funding would be distributed in the coming years. However, Thurrock had received a grant to cover the National Insurance expense. He went on to explain that once the Levelling Up agenda was ready, it would determine how funding would be distributed though it was uncertain what funding Thurrock would receive. In regards to business rates, he said that Thurrock were using these but did not keep the full percentage of the business rate. He stated that his section 25 statement highlighted that it would difficult to get through the 2022/23 financial year but the real concern lay ahead in 2023/24.
Referring to appendix 2, Councillor Kent asked how confident was the service in delivering the savings in the next financial year. Sean Clark answered that the next financial year would be challenging and the concern was the increase in the demand in social care. He stated that the council tax increase was not enough to cover cost in Children’s Social Care. There was less concern on delivering the budget and savings as there was more concern on the cuts to be made. He said that the savings had to be implemented to secure the budget for 2023/24 as there was a concern on the demographic growth of Thurrock too.
Councillor Kent said that the Council had an ambitious agenda and were not well equipped to deliver this. He asked if the service was confident in keeping Members to the budget set out. Sean Clark replied that the Council were increasing the staff numbers in the regeneration and social care teams only and if there were other overspends, it would impact the budget. He said that the Council’s capital programme had the smallest level of new projects due to its capacity and the common message through reviews would be about prioritisation and capacity. The Chair invited Councillor Coxshall to speak. Councillor Coxshall said that Cabinet had looked over the budget to ensure the survivability of the Council and that projects could be delivered within budget.
Councillor Halden highlighted the need again to lobby for funding as without this, it caused difficulties within the budget particularly for healthcare. Councillor Kent agreed that lobbying was needed and the Council was underfunded in the health services. He said that he understood the need for frontline services but extra capacity in lobbying for other areas were needed so that research and intelligence gathering could be undertaken. Councillor Coxshall agreed and said that there was opportunity in capacity but as to how it could be done would cost money.
Councillor Kent stated that he was disappointed with the increase in council tax and asked that Cabinet reflected on the current climate particularly as there were a number of cost increases in the country. He did not agree with the recommendations. Councillor Okunade stated that she was also not in agreement with the recommendations.
Councillor Carter and Halden pointed out that the increase in the council tax was below inflation and that Thurrock was one of the lowest LAs with low council tax. The increase was also ring fenced back to Children’s Social Care services which was needed due to the issues there caused by the pandemic.
1.1 That the Committee comments on the proposed council tax level with mind to the comments in the report; and
1.2 That the committee comments on the draft budget as set out within this report to inform final budget proposals to Cabinet on 9 February 2022.