Reporting Person – Brendan Arnold
Councillor Roberts, Portfolio Holder for Finance, introduced the report which provided an updated Medium Term Financial Strategy (MTFS) for the period 2024/25 to 2028/29 and which also set out a timetable with clear milestones for a further update of the MTFS in September 2023. An updated Budget Timetable (Annex 4 to the report) was tabled at the meeting. It was noted that the Overview and Scrutiny Committee, at its meeting on 10 July 2023, had considered the MTFS report under its remit for pre-decision scrutiny.
The Portfolio Holder explained the background to the report, drawing attention to the Section 114 Notice which had been issued by the Section 151 Officer on 7 June 2023 and the Chief Executive’s Response. The Executive was informed that the MTFS set out the strategic financial approach that the Council would adopt in supporting delivery of the Improvement and Recovery Plan. The Plan would be reported to an Extraordinary Council Meeting on 22 August 2023. It was noted that the MTFS and Medium Term Financial Plan (MTFP) would be reported quarterly to the Executive. Regarding the budget shortfall of £11m, the Executive was invited to support the recommendation to undertake consultation and engagement to allow the Council to take decisions on the Budget in September 2023 and February 2024. Engagement with residents had commenced in early July regarding discretionary services, and formal consultation with staff and Unison would commence on 24 July 2023. It was noted that a reduction in staff headcount of approximately 60 FTE in the Council overall was expected given the scale of the savings proposals. The Executive expressed regret at the proposed staff redundancies and gave a commitment for the process to be done in a responsible and compassionate way and to conduct the proper consultations. Regarding the Deficit of £1.2bn, it was noted that engagement with the Government Department (DLUHC) would commence shortly led by Commissioners with the Council’s statutory officers.
The Executive acknowledged that it was a difficult and challenging time for residents, business and Council staff. The positive relationship between the Council and the Commissioners appointed by Government was highlighted, noting that the aims of both were fully aligned. Regarding the assumed 20% rise in car park charges in 2024/25, it was highlighted that planning assumptions would be revised following the Parking Strategy due in Autumn 2023 which would consider best value. The Portfolio Holder undertook to review the 14 Guiding Principles with the Interim Director of Finance to ensure that the Council was not undermining its approach to the Greener Woking agenda. It was added that there was a need to review the Woking For All Strategy and that Net Zero would form part of that review. Following a question regarding Community Infrastructure Levy (CIL), it was noted that the Interim Director of Finance was preparing a briefing note on CIL for Members.
The Executive commended Officers for their resilience and commitment during this challenging time. The Leader of the Council advised that the survey on discretionary services would be available for local people to complete until 10 August 2023 and the Leader encouraged residents to complete the survey before the deadline. It was highlighted that paper copies of the survey were available, such as at the Council’s community centres.
REcommendED to Council
That (i) the Budget Timetable, as updated, be noted;
(ii) the Guiding Principles be approved;
(iii) the Capital Planning Principles be approved;
(iv) it be noted that the Capital Planning Methodology will be re-designed before Budget Council on 8 February 2024;
(v) it be notedthat the Investment Programme has been suspended indefinitely on grounds of affordability;
(vi) the savings for consultation (FFP 3(A)) including those relating to possible reductions in the Council’s staffing establishment be approved;
(vii) it be noted that the Treasury Management Strategy, Financing Strategy, and related documents will be re-set for Budget Council in February 2024;
(viii) the MTFS and embedded MTFP as an estimate of the Council’s current financial position be approved; noting that the figures will change as further updating takes place; and
(ix) the preparation of an Assets Rationalisation Plan be noted.
Reason: The decision is sought to ensure open and transparent governance in the financial affairs of the Council in balancing the 2024/25 Budget.