The Council received the recommendations of the Executive in respect of the updated Medium Term Financial Strategy (the MTFS) for the period 2024/25 to 2028/29. The Portfolio Holder for Finance, Councillor Roberts advised that a timetable with clear milestones had been drawn up as part of the Strategy which included a further update in September 2023.
The Portfolio Holder highlighted the key points of the update, including the creation of an updated Budget Timetable and a new focus on budget proposals through additional scrutiny by the Overview and Scrutiny Committee. The MTFS was a five year plan and would continue to be updated on a quarterly basis.
The Portfolio Holder addressed the £11m shortfall in the General Fund and referred to the consultation underway to identify savings, to be considered by the Council at the end of September 2023. Included within the proposals was the redundancy of approximately 60 full time equivalent (FTE) members of staff, for which a full and open consultation would be run. All decisions would be fully challenged and scrutinised throughout the process.
In respect of the deficit of £1.2b, the position was currently being reviewed and further discussions with the Department for Housing, Levelling Up and Communities (DHLUC) were expected in the coming weeks.
The proposals before the Council were debated at length, with Members recognising the impact on residents, business and Council staff. Councillor Brown expressed concerns over the proposed increase in parking charges for the coming year, and the potential increases in subsequent years, and the impact on the number of drivers using the car parks. Councillor Brown further advised that he could not agree to the indefinite suspension of the Investment Programme, and the impact on the flood alleviation scheme in Byfleet. In view of this, Councillor Brown moved and Councillor Davis seconded the following amendment to the recommendations of the Executive:
Point (V)(ii) Due to the pressing nature of the works and the significant progress made, the Byfleet Flood Alleviation Scheme is prioritised, so that as soon as the funding becomes available this crucial investment project is unsuspended. Measures will also be taken to find this funding as soon as possible, including liaising closely with external stakeholders to ensure its prompt delivery.”
Councillor Brown advised that construction had been due to start in 2024, to be completed in the subsequent year, and as such it was hoped that the Council would prioritise the work so that the work could be undertaken once funds had been identified. The Leader of the Council stated that the flood alleviation scheme was a critical project and was clearly included in the Investment Plan. However, the Investment Plan was currently suspended and only when the Council was able to spend funds on the Plan could the priorities be confirmed. The Leader added that Officers were looking for other funding opportunities that could be used to progress the flood alleviation scheme.
Sympathy was expressed with those impacted by the suspension of the Investment Programme, including the residents of Byfleet affected by flooding. However, there were a number of key projects which had now been paused, including the Sheerwater Regeneration Scheme, and it was not felt that Council should make policy changes without due consideration. It was also noted that the amendment had not been discussed at the Overview and Scrutiny Committee as part of the Committee’s scrutiny of the MTFS report. In respect to the earlier point on parking charges, the Council was advised that, as outlined at the meeting of the Executive, the Council had to raise 20% more income through parking charges. A parking strategy would determine how the increased income would be achieved, and it was not proposed to increase income by raising individual parking charges by 20%.
Following the debate, Councillor Roberts was provided with the opportunity to respond to the points raised before the Mayor referred the Members to the amendment proposed by Councillor Brown.
In accordance with Standing Order 10.8 the amendment was put to a vote. The names of Members voting for and against the amendment were recorded as follows:
In favour: Councillors A Boote, J Brown, K Davis and S Hussain.
Total in favour: 4
Against: Councillors T Aziz, A-M Barker, G Cosnahan, W Forster, P Graves, S Greentree, A Javaid, I Johnson, A Kirby, R Leach, L Lyons, L Morales, J Morley, E Nicholson, S Oades, L Rice, D Roberts, T Spenser and M Sullivan.
Total against: 19
Present not voting: The Mayor
Total present not voting: 1
The amendment was therefore lost by 4 votes in favour and 19 votes against.
The Mayor referred the Council back to the recommendations from the Executive. The issue of Community Infrastructure Levy (CIL) funds was raised, amid concerns that the funds would not be available going forward. The Interim Director of Finance had, however, sought to reassure Members that the CIL funds would be available as the Council’s reserves recovered.
Councillor Roberts was offered the opportunity to respond to the points raised during the debate, noting the comments on the CIL funds and the extensive work being undertaken by Officers, before the Mayor directed the Council to the recommendations.
In accordance with Standing Order 10.8 the recommendations were put to a vote. The names of Members voting for and against the amendments were recorded as follows:
In favour: Councillors T Aziz, A-M Barker, A Boote, G Cosnahan, K Davis, W Forster, P Graves, S Greentree, A Javaid, I Johnson, A Kirby, R Leach, L Lyons, L Morales, S Hussain, J Morley, E Nicholson, S Oades, L Rice, D Roberts, T Spenser and M Sullivan
Total in favour: 22
Total against: 0
Present not voting: The Mayor and Councillor J Brown.
Total present not voting: 2
The recommendations were therefore carried by 22 votes in favour and no votes against.
That (i) the latest iteration of the Medium Term Financial Strategy be approved;
(ii) approval of the proposed Flexible Use of Capital Receipts in 2023/24 and submission of a plan to DLUHC be delegated to the Strategic Director – Corporate Resources, in consultation with the Finance Portfolio Holder;
(iii) the Parent Company Guarantee (PCG) be extended by delegation to the Section 151 Officer, in consultation with the Finance Portfolio Holder, for the provision of Gas to Thameswey Central Milton Keynes Ltd (TCMK); and
(iv) from 1 April 2023 loans advanced to Thameswey Central Milton Keynes Ltd. (TCMK) to be at the relevant PWLB interest rate with no margin be approved.