Reporting Person – Leigh Clarke
Councillor Ashall, Portfolio Holder for Corporate Financial Planning and Policy, introduced the report outlining the proposed General Fund, Service Plans, Budgets and Prudential Indicators 2022-23. Councillor Ashall reported that the General Fund Budget proposed an increase in Council Tax of 2% for 2022-23 which resulted in a Band D Council Tax figure for 2022-23 of £255.46, an increase of £5.00 per annum at Band D.
Attention was drawn to paragraph 8.18 of the report which asked the Executive to resolve that the parent guarantee provided by the Council to Total Gas and Power (TGP), the supplier of gas and top-up electricity to Thameswey, be increased to £843,000. It was explained that this was necessary due to the increase in energy costs and the increased quantity of gas required to supply Victoria Square. It was highlighted that the matter concerned a guarantee and not a cash payment.
Following an independent comprehensive assessment of the Council’s assets and liabilities, the Executive received a copy of the Comprehensive Statement Response Report and was asked to agree the actions for the Council in response to the Statement. It was noted that the Comprehensive Statement had been presented to the Overview and Scrutiny Committee at its meeting on 24 January 2022 and the Executive welcomed the four key points raised by the Committee. The Executive agreed that the issues raised by the Committee be incorporated into the actions for the Council in response to the Statement.
The Executive noted that the Medium Term Financial Strategy (MTFS) would be updated and brought to the Executive at its meeting on 24 March 2022 alongside the Council’s Corporate Strategy.
The Leader of the Council, Councillor Azad, reported that following on from the Comprehensive Statement, the Leader would be overseeing work to review the Thameswey Group of Companies. The Executive heard that the work would follow the same Member involvement as the Comprehensive Statement, with reports to the Overview and Scrutiny Committee, a Member Briefing, and reports to Executive and Council. It was hoped that the work would be underway by the end of March 2022. The Leader reminded the Executive of why the Thameswey structure had been first set-up by the Council and explained that Thameswey had been established to deliver Council objectives through long term investment in sustainable energy, housing, and regeneration, rather than short term profits. Some of Thameswey’s achievements were highlighted, including the provision of 504 affordable homes, the popular Earn Your Deposit Scheme, a saving of 4,856 tonnes of carbon dioxide in 2021, as well as its work in Sheerwater and preventing homelessness. The Leader acknowledged that the Thameswey business and its finances were complex and advised that work was underway with Thameswey to improve transparency for Members.
Discussion ensued on the Government’s current consultation on the Minimum Revenue Provision (MRP). The Executive was informed that Officers had met with the Government to explain the impact any changes to the MRP would have on the Council’s finances. The Portfolio Holder was hopeful that Government would adjust its approach given the Council’s concern at the proposals and how it would impact the Council.
Following a question regarding plans to bring into the Council additional resource and skills as suggested in the Comprehensive Statement carried out by EY, the Executive was advised that, as a matter of priority, plans were already underway and would incorporate the separate EY workstream which was progressing around Victoria Square.
The possibility of changes to the Public Works Loan Board (PWLB) regulations for borrowing was raised. The Executive heard that the risk for the Council would be that borrowing would become less attractive and make investment in the Borough less viable or not possible depending on what future changes were made.
Members also discussed staffing numbers, contingent liabilities, and the repayment of interest costs. It was noted that the £55m of interest costs was paid back through the incomes received by the Council. The Portfolio Holder suggested that the March MTFS could provide more clarity on those incomes, and further information on contingent liabilities.
The Executive thanked the Finance Director and her team for their hard work in compiling the finance reports on the agenda.
That (i) as detailed in paragraph 8.18 of the report, the parent company guarantee provided to Total Gas and Power to ensure Thameswey can supply energy to Victoria Square, be increased to £843,000;
(ii) the Comprehensive Statement (Appendices 5a and 5b to the report) and the Overview and Scrutiny Committee’s consideration of the Statement (section 4.21 of the report) be noted;
(iii) the response to the Comprehensive Statement (Appendix 5 to the report) be noted;
(iv) the actions for the Council in response to the statement as highlighted in section 4.19 of the report be agreed and that these actions to incorporate the issues raised by the Overview and Scrutiny Committee highlighted in section 4.21:
a. adopting a stronger strategic approach to the management of assets;
b. development of its commercial and strategic finance capacity and expertise in order to drive out the returns from our investments;
c. completing the review of Governance of Companies, the strategic alignment between the Council and Thameswey group (through the established business and financial planning framework) and the intelligent client capability retained within the Council. This review should address the specific risks highlighted for Thameswey Energy Limited (TEL) and Thameswey Milton Keynes Limited (TCMK);
d. strengthening the oversight of Town Centre management including the strategic management of the assets;
e. continuing to develop and strengthen the Medium and Long-Term Financial Strategy and the strategic management of reserves within this.
REcommended to council
That (v) the Revenue Estimates and Human Resource requirements for 2022/23 be approved;
(vi) a Band D Council Tax for the Borough of Woking for 2022/23 of £255.46 be approved; and
(vii) the Prudential Indicators at Appendix 3 to the report be approved, subject to any changes arising from consideration of the Investment Programme, revenue budgets and Final Government Settlement.
Reason: To recommend that Council approves the resources necessary for the provision of services and raises the necessary revenue through the determination of Council Tax for 2022/23.