The primary purpose of the meeting was to set the council’s budget for the following year, which also includes setting the council tax for the next year.
In terms of the process the budget is contained, within the council’s medium-term financial plan, which while intended to cover four years, with the current version running for 2019 to 2023, it’s generally updated and changed every year to reflect the current circumstances and whatever changes may have come in terms of funding from government.
In terms of what it practically means for us this year, the band D council tax will be £191.76 (the High Peak Borough Council part only) an increase of 2.9%. Council house rents will be decreasing by 1% meaning an average decrease from £70 to £69.40 over the 53 weeks of the current year. Garages rents will increase by 5% (over 53 weeks), with other services charges to increase by a maximum of 5% for existing tenants.
The budget also considers fees and charges for council services, which in most cases have risen in line with the current policy on fees and charges which means that where possible the cost of providing the service should be met by the income, with concessions for those on low incomes.
The budget and medium-term financial plan also includes the council’s capital strategy, the Housing Revenue Account 30-year business plan and the council procurement forward plan.
In terms of the Labour groups approach to the budget, it’s already been flagged in the media especially by nearby MP and shadow secretary of state for Communities and Local Government, that the current government has effectively hammered local government by the continued cuts in financial support to local government.
This means that the options within both the current policy and financial framework are limited (at least for now), and with a satisfactory response to the concerns, we raised we supported this year’s budget, my comments at the meeting were as follows :
The Labour group this evening will be supporting the budget put forward by the current administration.
Our thanks must go to our officers for their hard work in putting together a budget in a time when while we are assured by the Prime Minister that austerity is over – out net budget is still down by over £3 million since 2010.
I’m grateful for the confirmation from the executive members for her assurances and continued support of the council tax scheme and the confirmation from her and officers that despite the government intending to offer no help to our tenants on universal credit for the 53rd week of the year officers are looking at the impact and options.
I welcome that with the support of members through the HRA working group, providing no further changes from the government such as the 1% rent cut we now have a sustainable HRA business plan hopefully consigning the issues of the ALMO to the past.
In terms of the HRA financial improvement plan (page 66) while we are supportive overall there are still elements of concern that we hope there will be further opportunity to review should it become clear there is a negative impact by implementing these measures.
However for the HRA capital program, while I welcome the focus on the properties, there is a need to ensure that environmental issues are looked at in all our neighbourhoods, and an excellent start to this would be lifting the veil of secrecy at least to relevant ward members on the environmental review work carried out by consultants.
On the overall capital program, I welcome the details on the new schemes within the plan going forward.
In particular, the details for the works to the Pavilion Gardens, and I hope albeit by our private contractor that this will again see a lifting of the veil of secrecy to allow consultation with our local residents on the development of those works, as opposed to the lack of consultation on those future plans so far on this scheme.
In terms of areas of concerns, while provision is made for impact Brexit, it is still uncertain as the effect of that, and what the broader implications will be.
A further concern is around how the review will allocate the new homes bonus, and what the impact would be if the current allocation is shifted in favour of county councils as opposed to how it is at current.
Finally, I would like to thank Andrew Stokes for his briefing to the groups on the budget and commend the work of officers on the process.
Concerns were also raised by Cllr Graham Oakley around arrangements to support the refurbishment of the Whitfield Park, and by Cllr Rachael Quinn around the Fairfield Road, bus stops, the changes to the Botanical Gardens and the costs for leisure centre use with schools.
Whaley Bridge Councillor John Pritchard raised an issue around getting a wet room for one of his constituents in a council house – a topic I’ll come back in greater depth soon.
Next up was considering the council’s statement of community involvement, which is one of the documents that considers how issues will be discussed in development control.
Before going to full council, and after public consultation, the document went to the economy and growth select committee where I flagged up increasing the content around how councillors who are on development control been restricted by that role, in terms of how much they can respond to the public in applications that are going to be considered by the committee.
There are also still concerns about how useful while they are still buried towards the rear of the paper in the public notice section, the public notice informing people about currently submitted planning applications, which while tied in with the current limits on who is notified close to any application.
I also flagged up the need to increase the amount of guidance that is issued to help people object to planning applications, as the current arrangement to a certain extent encourages people to submit a one-word objection which doesn’t help to object to the application.
Also considered at the meeting were some recommendations from the council’s audit and regulatory committee, the pay policy and the formal final setting of the council tax, which combines, the police, fire, county and any parish elements along with the borough bit to give the full amount.
You can read the full papers from the meeting by clicking here.