Agenda item

Draft General Fund Budget and Medium Term Financial Strategy Update (Decision: 110599)


Councillor Hebb introduced the report and stated that it set out the proposed budget for 2022/23, which was focussed on Children’s and Adults Social Care following pressures after the COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent delayed NHS referrals. He stated that Cabinet were proposing a 1.99% increase in council tax, and a 1% adult social care precept increase, that would increase the Council’s budget by approximately £2.2million. He explained that in recent years, there had been a 10% growth in pressures on the social care system, which had been seen across the UK. Councillor Hebb understood that the proposed council tax rise could be difficult for some families, but Thurrock Council had a duty to provide care for children and vulnerable adults, and the system was under national pressure. He explained that the Section 151 Officer was in the process of writing the Section 25 notice, which would be social care centred.

Councillor Hebb added that along with local residents, the Council was also under pressure regarding the recent inflation increase. He commented that the Council would be rolling out the Local Council Tax Scheme, which would provide support to those families in need, in addition to the £150 council tax support being provided to all families from central government. He urged residents to come forward if they were in crisis or were struggling to pay their council tax bill, as he felt the Council would do everything they could to support local residents in need.

Councillor Hebb stated that the approximate budget of the Council in 2021/22 had been £150million, of which £70million had been raised from council tax; £40million from business rates; £30millon from investments; and the remainder from other sources. He stated that all Members had agreed to the Investment Strategy in 2017, and the income from investments had helped to fund necessary services such as social care and areas of the Public Realm directorate. He stated that if Members had not agreed to the Investment Strategy, then the Council would have had to increase Council Tax by 42% over the past five years to cover the deficit. He commented that the Investment Strategy was being rolled back due to rule changes on local authority investment, so the Council were now having to roll back their spending and increase efficiency. Councillor Hebb added that the raise in Council Tax was under the level of inflation and emphasised that support would be available for those that needed it.

Councillor Huelin stated that paragraph 4.7 on page 24 of the report needed to be amended to read “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.” She thanked senior officers in Adult Social Care (ASC) team for their hard work in balancing the budget, and stated that approximately 29% of Thurrock’s overall budget was spent on ASC. She explained that Thurrock had one of the lowest spends for ASC in the UK, but had a care system that she felt delivered good quality care whilst also running a successful transformation programme. Councillor Huelin explained that the Council’s ASC team worked hard to ensure continuity of care for service users, by ensuring that care workers had high levels of job satisfaction and were regularly trained and upskilled, so remained in their jobs longer and could get to know regular service users. She stated that COVID had affected ASC around the UK, by increasing demand on services, which was also being compounded by the recent rise in inflation. Councillor Huelin added that Thurrock currently had approximately 800 people on the Vulnerability Register, which had increased since COVID and the necessary stopping of preventative care within the NHS during the peaks of the pandemic. She stated that the proposed rise in the ASC precept would equate to approximately an extra £1000 per service user, per year, which might not be enough to cover care for residents in all cases. She welcomed the proposed rise in the ASC precept, but emphasised that there would be ongoing pressures within the service over the coming years.

Councillor Johnson thanked the finance officers and Councillor Hebb for their hard work on the report. He stated that the priority within Children’s Social Care (CSC) was the child and the Council had a statutory duty to look after vulnerable children within their care. He stated that CSC equated for approximately 50% of the Council’s overall budget, but there remained challenges regarding unregulated placements for children that could cost between £20,000 and £40,000 per week. He explained that officers were looking to find efficiencies within the budget, such as streamlining administration processes and the ongoing transformation programme, whilst still helping children in need. He mentioned that Ofsted had recently re-visited the SEND team and had found that sufficient progress had been made on all of the recommendations from the 2019 inspection. He thanked officers for their hard work and congratulated them for this achievement. He summarised and stated that Thurrock Council were bucking the trend regarding child poverty levels, due to the hard work of the Brighter Futures team and the Housing Team on issues relating to homelessness.

The Leader stated that all unitary local authorities faced pressures and demands within both Adults and Children’s Social Care, and felt that both services were facing a national crisis. He explained that the Council would also be affected by the rise in inflation, due to increased costs of fuel and food, and increased costs from service providers. He stated that the proposed council tax rise was lower than inflation, but urged central government to re-evaluate council tax bands, some of which had not been evaluated since 1991/92. 

RESOLVED: That Cabinet:

1. Considered the comments from Overview and Scrutiny Committee as set out in section 13 of the report.

2. Supported the additional use of capital receipts and general reserves to meet the 2022/23 budget deficit of £0.190m.

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

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

5. Recommended to Full Council the capital proposals set out in section 9 of this report and Appendix 5.

6. Endorsed the Early Years Funding formula for 2022/23, as shown in section 10.

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

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

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