The Chairman welcomed Mr Richard Ambrose, Interim Section 151 Officer for the Shadow Authority to the meeting. Mr Ambrose introduced the report on the Consolidated Financial Position and highlighted the following:
· There was a legal requirement to produce a balanced and robust budget for the new Unitary Council.
· The budget needed to align with the Council’s strategic priorities, be able to deliver its statutory duties and there should be a clear understanding of both member and officer accountabilities.
· With a gross budget of just over £1billion, it would be one of the largest Unitary Councils in England.
· Five Programme Boards had been established to manage the transition and two Shadow Executive members had been assigned to each of the Programme Boards. These members and officers on the Programme Boards would be reviewing the robustness of the current consolidated Medium Term Financial Plan (MTFP) proposals, identifying any potential savings and considering any unexpected service pressures.
· It was noted that some risks had already been identified and mitigation work was already taking place.
In response to members’ questions and during the subsequent discussions the following main points were noted:
· It was noted that the figures in the table at paragraph 10 did not reconcile with the figures laid out on page 25 of the report. Mr Ambrose advised this was because the diagram on page 25 used 2019/20 figures and the table at p10 began with 2020/21.
· It was noted that different district councils had different policies around Community Infrastructure Levy (CIL), S106 agreements and New Homes Bonus(NHB) and this was being reviewed corporately. The impact of CIL would have to be modelled.
· The Unitary Business Case had proposed savings of £18.2million. It was felt that this could still be achieved, but over a longer period of time as significant transformation of services would not happen until after vesting day on 1st April 2020.
· In response to a question about Council Tax growth being shown at 3% when any rise was limited by the 1.99% referendum threshold, Mr Ambrose explained that it was a reflection of anticipated housing growth. It was agreed that further detail would be provided on this.
ACTION: Mr Ambrose
· In addition a member requested more detail on the consolidated budget figures, as some of the numbers were very different to the individual Council’s budget papers. Mr Ambrose acknowledged that the Budget Task and Finish Group would want more detail and this would be provided.
ACTION: Mr Ambrose
· The Committee also requested a list of the Programme Boards and their membership and if any service pressures had been identified mid-year, then it would be useful to share this information with the Committee. Mr Ambrose also agreed to attend a future meeting to explain any funding assumptions that were underpinning the current budget building exercise.
ACTION: Mr Ambrose
· A member asked if there would still be a fund available to Aylesbury Vale to encourage Parish and Town Councils to take development in their area. NHB had previously been used in this way. It was also noted that if the new Council wanted to introduce CIL this would require a Local Plan to be agreed for the whole area which might take four or five years to develop. Mr Ambrose explained that he was aware of the concerns of Parish and Town Councils in Aylesbury Vale and the implications of CIL and all options would be considered.
· A member raised concerns about the costs of transformation not being factored into the consolidated budget. Mr Ambrose acknowledged that there would be costs associated with transformation and each Programme Board was being asked to consider this and to produce detailed business cases to bid for funding. The use of reserves was one option to fund transformation.
· It was suggested that all capital projects should be re-examined by the Shadow Executive, even if they had already been agreed by one of the existing five councils, due to the ongoing budgetary implications. Mr Ambrose indicated that it was likely that capital projects would be revisited as a priority.
· A member expressed concern about the possible financial risks highlighted in the report in connection with the Localism agenda. He questioned why devolving services would create additional costs for the new Council. Mr Ambrose explained that the idea of establishing Community Boards, to make decision making more local also had a financial implication as a devolved budget of £2m had been initially discussed. A consultation on Localism was due to begin very shortly.
· It was noted that the Medium Term Financial Plan (MTFP) would be for the next three years, with the first years information being more detailed. Whilst there would be initial savings from the new management structure ie Tiers 1-3, further savings proposals would be included in the MTFP.
The Chairman thanked Mr Ambrose for attending the meeting and it was noted that he would provide further detail at future meetings of the Committee and the Budget Task and Finish Group.