Agenda item

Draft General Fund Budget 2017/18


The Director of Finance & IT presented the report which outlined the draft budget proposals for a balanced budget for 2017/18 and proposed recommendations regarding the Adult Social Care Precept and Support Grant.


Councillor Duffin offered his full support for the proposal of a 3% increase in the Adult Social Care Precept in both 2017/18 and 2018/19 with no increase in 2019/20.  He highlighted the current crisis in health and adult social care and expressed the need to do as much as possible to ensure the most money was available.


The Chair expressed his view that it was difficult to support any of the proposals for the Adult Social Care Precept with no exact budget figures available, as the 3% increase could be funding a cut in the broader budget.  He asked why there were no specific budget figures listed within the report and emphasised that it would be difficult to assess what the increase should be if there was no advice as to what it was proposed the Council would be spending.  Members were advised that in previous years the final budget envelopes had always been presented to Members in February in both Cabinet and Council reports.  Previously the savings had been directly allocated to services whereas this year they were more cross-cutting; such as managing staffing-levels and income generation.


The Chair sought clarification regarding section 3.1 of the report, in terms of the level of cut to the Revenue Support Grant for 2017/18.  The Committee heard that there would be a drop in Government funding of £6million for the Council to bridge over the course of the year.  The four-year settlement offered an indication of the Revenue Support Grant over the next four years and the reductions to be faced, but there were other substantial grants to be considered as part of the General Fund.  The Educational Support Grant and Housing Benefit Grant were both seven figure sums and were not covered by the four-year settlement.


The Chair referred to Councillor Duffin’s proposal to support the recommendation of 3%, 3%, 0% and expressed that he was minded to agree as it was likely that the Government may change its mind again in future and allow Local Authorities to have more funding, so it was best not to minimise what could be available.


Councillor Watkins interjected that he was also a Member of the Health Overview and Scrutiny Committee, and recently sat as a substitute on the Corporate Parenting Committee.  His personal view was that the 3%, 2%, 1% option would be more sensible to allow additional funds in the final year.  Although it might be slightly less funding over the coming two years, it ensured an income in each year.


Members were reminded that their input on years two and three was only for guidance in terms of budget planning and the reality would be an annual vote on the year ahead, not voting on all three years immediately.


The Chair asked the Director of Adults, Housing and Health for his view.  It was highlighted that the funding uncertainty for future years was so great that stability was required sooner rather than later.  There was still lobbying occurring at a national level as professional organisations did not feel this was the right way to fund adult social care as it was particularly unfair to Local Authorities such as Thurrock with a low Council Tax Base.  The crisis in health and adult social care and the need for additional funding was starting to be more widely recognised.  The reality was that the current funding structure for social care was unsustainable and would need to be changed.  Services were facing an immediate crisis and it would be better to get the additional resources required sooner than later.


The Committee considered the appendix to the report, schedule of proposals.  Officers were asked to provide confirmation around the derivability of certain proposals, particularly absence management, consultancy and agency staff costs and the facilities review.  Officers gave their assurances that these savings were realisable.  With regards to the facilities review, the item had been exempt and as such Officers could not provide much detail but if the saving could not be met it would need to be identified elsewhere within the budget.


There was concern regarding a proposed reduction in resources for face-to-face contact and Members sought clarity that there would be fall-back solutions for instances of technical difficulties and other such circumstances that might arise.  Members were assured that there would always be face-to-face staff available.


The Chair sought clarification on an implied change to staff’s terms and conditions, in terms of sick pay.  Members heard that the proposed saving focused on the pay mechanism itself, and there was no proposal to amend terms and conditions at this point in time.


There was some debate regarding street lighting efficiencies.  The Chair had understood that these savings had already been banked.  The Committee heard that only part of the savings had been previously accounted for within the budget.


A Service Review of libraries could offer a saving of around 10%.  When asked if this involved closures the Committee was assured that the figure was an estimated result of the service review, and that any closure would be subject to the normal consultation process.


Members were advised that the Service Review for Adult Social Care – Fieldwork Services did not include any staff reduction.  The Private Rented Sector review followed a change in legislation which increased the number of registered HMOs from around 20 to nearly 400.  There would be a need to increase staff but this change should generate net income and it was considered to be deliverable.


Councillor Duffin requested the Debt Collection Service Review consider the treatment of vulnerable people particularly.  Officers agreed that the review should improve matters and that there would also be a review of the Fair Debt Policy.


The Chair expressed concern at the likely closure of the Thameside Complex and proposed an additional recommendation.  The Committee voted in favour of an additional recommendation to Cabinet that the Council should stick to the agreed position that the current complex should not be closed until its replacement has been delivered.




Corporate Overview and Scrutiny Committee commented on:


1)    The report


2)    The Adult Social Care precept options as set out in section 4 of the report.


3)    That a recommendation be made to Cabinet to maintain the agreed position regarding the Thameside Complex.  The current building should not be closed until its replacement has been delivered.


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