Issue - meetings

Review of Fees and Charges 2024-25

Meeting: 30/11/2023 - Council (Item 10)

10 Review of Fees and Charges 2024-25 EXE23-057 pdf icon PDF 342 KB

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Councillor Roberts, Portfolio Holder for Finance, introduced the report on the annual review of Fees and Charges, setting out the context in which the proposals had been drawn up.  As a result of over reliance on income from commercial investments, the Council faced a budget shortfall in the region of £12m.  Whilst the Council had identified significant savings, it was clear that it was no longer in a position to fund its discretionary services and faced three options; such services could be placed with an organisation better placed to meet community needs; or, if a priority, the services would have to become self-funding; or the Council had to withdraw from the service.  In future years, the fees and charges would be reviewed in line with a commercial strategy of the Council, work on which had already started. 

Councillor Roberts highlighted two points: in respect of the car park charges, a Parking Study was currently taking place and proposals would be put forward for Member consideration in February 2024.  Secondly, a supplementary paper had been published earlier in the day, setting out an additional recommendation (v) for the Council to consider in respect of introducing fees for the electric vehicle charging points in Council owned car parks.  As an officer report and proposal, it was not necessary for the recommendation to be formally moved and seconded.

The proposals were debated at length by the Council, with concerns raised over the level of increases in the Council’s fees and charges.  It was argued that not all the proposals were supported by detailed cost breakdowns in each service.  Reference was made to the level of inflation and the Council was advised that the charges had to be based on anticipated future rates of inflation, noting that the rate in recent years had been significantly higher than predicted.  It was added that, in view of the financial position of the Council, it was essential that the Authority maximised its receipts.

The increases in the charges for the Rhoda McGaw Theatre were highlighted, with concern expressed that local drama groups would no longer be able to afford to use the Theatre.  The increase in the charge for green waste collection was also referred to, though it was advised that the new charge would bring the Council in line with that of other Surrey Authorities.  Some Members also felt that it had not been possible to fully scrutinise the proposals, with additional details only received earlier in the day.

Councillor Roberts responded to the points raised during the debate, emphasising that it would take time for the Council to achieve its ambitions around the annual review of fees and charges.  The concerns and frustrations of Members over the position the Council found itself in were acknowledged.

The Mayor referred Members to the recommendations set out in the supplementary report, together with the additional recommendation (v).  In accordance with Standing Order 10.8, recommendations (i) to (v) were put to a vote and the names of Members voting  ...  view the full minutes text for item 10

Meeting: 16/11/2023 - Executive (Item 6)

6 Review of Fees and Charges 2024-25 EXE23-057 pdf icon PDF 342 KB

Reporting Person – Eugene Walker

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The Executive received a report detailing the proposed discretionary fees and charges for 2024-25.  Councillor Roberts, Portfolio Holder for Finance, highlighted that the review of fees and charges needed to be considered in the context of, and was constrained by, the Council’s current financial position following the issue of a Section 114 Notice in June 2023.  The Executive noted that the Council faced a deficit of £1.2bn and was experiencing a budget shortfall of £12m due to an over reliance on commercial income.  The Portfolio Holder advised that the Council had identified £8.5m savings to address the budget shortfall.  Separately, the Council was working to resolve the historic debt which would prevent a legal budget being set for 2024-25 without Government support.

Attention was drawn to the Council’s Improvement and Recovery Plan (IRP) which would address the capacity of the finance team, and the required improvements in the financial and commercial information which supported decision making on fees and charges.  A Commercial Strategy was being developed as part of the IRP which would be used as a framework for setting fees and charges going forward.  The Portfolio Holder therefore proposed an additional recommendation (iv) to read “next year’s process will use the Commercial Strategy and Protocol being developed as part of the Improvement and Recovery as the framework for setting fees and charges, to ensure that fairness, equity and social impacts are balanced with a sound commercial approach”.  The Executive welcomed the amendment to the recommendations.

Regarding car park charges, it was noted that a Parking Study was currently taking place and proposals would be put forward for Member consideration in February 2024.

The Portfolio Holder was grateful that the Overview and Scrutiny Committee would be considering the Review of Fees of Charge 2024-25 report under Urgent Business at its meeting on 20 November 2023.

Members also discussed charges regarding commercial open spaces, season tickets related to CO2 rating, garden waste and replacement waste bins, and consultation in respect of proposed January 2024 increases.  Regarding community meals, the Executive acknowledged the rising costs of food items and recognised that increases were necessary to ensure services could continue and were cost neutral.  As many of the services provided by the Council were non-statutory, it was necessary to increase fees and charges in order to continue provision and ensure services were cost neutral whilst being mindful of affordability.

Councillor Davis raised a question regarding the level of detail in the report and the difficulty in scrutinising fees and charges as a result.  The Portfolio Holder acknowledged that the financial and commercial information used for setting fees and charges needed to further improve as part of the wider Improvement and Recovery journey.  It was noted that Officers had used the best information available to put forward cost neutral discretionary services, balancing fairness to service users with affordability to taxpayers.

REcommended to Council

That  (i)    the discretionary fees and charges for 2024/25, as set out in Appendices 1 – 4 of the  ...  view the full minutes text for item 6