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Apologies for absence were received from Councillors Hunt, Turton and Wilson.
RESOLVED, that the minutes of the meeting held on 11th January 2024 (circulated previously) be approved as a correct record and signed by the Chair subject to the following:
a) Minute 24 (h): That the update requested at the previous meeting in relation to the current status of the transfer of public convenience assets to town and parish councils be circulated to the Committee via email as soon as it had been finalised; and
b) That the Head of Governance to investigate whether the update regarding the proposed changes to electoral registration was ready for circulation to the Members.
Declarations of Interest.
Please telephone the Corporate and Community Services team to prepare a form for your signature before the meeting. Interests must be re-declared when the item is called. A declaration of interest under the Code of Conduct will be a Disclosable Pecuniary Interest, an Other Registrable Interest or a Non-Registrable Interest. If the item directly relates to your interest you must declare the interest and leave the room for the item, save in the case of Other Registrable Interests or Non-Registrable Interests where you may first speak on the item as a member of the public if provision has been made for the public to speak. If the matter does not directly relate to your interest but still affects it then you must consider whether you are affected to a greater extent than most people and whether a reasonable person would consider your judgement to be clouded, if you are then you must leave the room for the item (although you may speak as a member of the public if provision has been made for the public to speak) or, if you are not, then you can declare the interest but still take part).
There were no declarations of interest announced.
The Committee considered a report by the Director of Resources and Deputy Chief Executive (circulated previously) regarding the Performance and Financial Management for Quarter 3 of 2023/24 together with Minute Extract of Strategy and Resources on 5th February 2024 (circulated previously).
The Finance Manager highlighted the following:
· The revenue budget for 2023/24 was approved at Council on 22nd February 2023 at £14,766,450.
· As at 31st December 2023, the latest forecast net budget was £14,693,450, which produces a budget surplus of £73,000. Details were shown in “Appendix A – Variations in the Revenue Budget”.
· The original budget for 2023/24 included a forecast to achieve £250,000 worth of salary vacancy savings. The current position forecasts the Council would achieve £296,000 based on known vacancies to date.
· The National pay award negotiations for 2023/24 had been settled and was paid to staff in Novembers’ salary, backdated to 1 April 2023. The pay award worked out to be an average of 6.7%, the original budget included 4%, and the additional costs of £436,000 had been funded from the Budget Management reserve.
· As at 31st December it was now estimated income growth from Business Rates to be an additional £950,000, it was proposed to place the £950,000 into the following earmarked reserves:
Ø Collection Fund reserve £450,000.
Ø Budget Management reserve £150,000.
Ø Town Centre Management reserve £200,000.
Ø Treasury Management reserve £150,000.
· As at 1st April 2023 the Collection Fund reserve balance held was £1,340,177. This earmarked reserve was created to deal with the timing impacts of the Collection Fund (Business Rates), which ensured the revenue budget was not unduly affected in the year the taxes were collected. Collection Fund deficits/surpluses were reversed out to bring the revenue account back to the budgeted figure for the year; the deficits/surpluses were recovered/distributed in the following financial years. This reserve included a £912,563 balance that would be utilised in 2023/24 and 2024/25 to mitigate timing differences of business rate reliefs awarded in 2022/23 that from an accounting perspective impact over the next two financial years; Due to the additional business rates income above, the reserve had been increased by a further £450,000, thus leaving the fund reserve with a residue balance of £877,614 protection against future volatility.
· The Valuation Office Agency (VOA) had notified the Council that they were to reduce the Rateable Value of the Museum from £146,000 to £1, this change had been back dated to 2019 and a refund in rates payable had resulted in a net positive impact to the council of £228,000. It was recommended within the Q1 report that this refund be placed into the Regeneration Reserve for future projects.
· As at the 31st December 2023 total external borrowing was £3,000,000. The timing of any future borrowing was dependent on how the authority managed its treasury activity. Due to project spend slippages in the Capital programme and using the cash flow balances for internal borrowing had reduced borrowing costs on the revenue budget and it was currently forecasted a £274,000 ... view the full minutes text for item 30.
The Committee considered a report by the Director of Resources and Deputy Chief Executive (circulated previously) regarding the review of Charges and Fees for 2024/25 together with Minute Extract of Strategy and Resources on 5th February 2024.
The Finance Manager highlighted the following:
· The change in fees charged for services provided by the Council was in line with the Medium Term Financial Strategy.
· The charges for the provision of services were reviewed annually in the context of policy guidance within the Medium Term Financial Strategy, and the recommended levels of increase to produce a target income level.
· This year the guidance was to increase fees and charges by 5%, although some fees were set by statute and these would be set nationally. Other variations to the 5% increase were set out in sections 4.3 to 4.11 of the report.
· Building Control fees had been raised by an average of 6.7% and rounded to the nearest pound, this was to ensure that revenue income recouped the actual cost of providing the service and were competitive in the sector. Details of this could be seen in Appendix B of the report.
· Land Charges fees had been set to recoup the cost of providing the service, the recommended fees for the land charges service was estimated to recover all the costs and break even, as detailed at Appendix D of the report.
· There were two changes to the Environmental Health fees, as the majority of these were set by statute or set to recover costs. The introduction of a fee for “Film Classification Certificate” and variation to the “Export Health Certificate” fee to ensure the cost of providing the service is fully recovered, as detailed at Appendix E of the report.
· Pannier Market (Venue hire) – Following the recent refurbishment and new facilities within the Pannier Market the Council now offered an enhanced look and feel to the market and had varied the prices to reflect the venue offer, the revised prices were now in line with other similar venues, as detailed in Appendix H (b) Venue of the report.
· Bulky Waste Collections – To increase the fees as follows:
As detailed in Appendix I of the report:
Ø Up to 2 items £30.00 (30.43% increase).
Ø Up to 3 items £38.00 (22.58% increase).
Ø Up to 4 items £45.00 (18.42% increase).
· The proposed increases above brought the Council’s charges in line with our neighbouring authorities.
· Garden Waste – Increase in fee of £5, this level of charge was similar to the charges made by other Devon councils and ensured the cost of providing the service was recovered by the income as seen at Appendix J of the report.
· Estates Event Licence fee – The licence for both charity and Commercial events on the Council’s land had been set to recover the cost of administering the licence fee, as detailed in Appendix M of the report.
· Estates Contractors Works licence - This was a new fee for 2024-25 and was set to recover ... view the full minutes text for item 31.
The Committee considered a report by the Director of Resources and Deputy Chief Executive (circulated previously) regarding the Revenue Budget 2024/25, Capital Programme and Medium Term Financial Strategy 2024-25 to 2029-30 together with Minute Extract of Strategy and Resources on 5th February 2024.
The Lead Member for Resources and Commercialisation addressed the Committee and gave a brief introduction to the budget, summarising the process taken to achieve a balanced budget:
· The Council had a legal duty to prepare a balanced budget.
· This had been achieved despite the unforeseen pressures on Councils due to higher than expected pay awards, ever decreasing central Government funding and the high rise in inflation.
· The budget process began in the summer of 2023 with a cross party workshop in the autumn of 2023.
· The Council had responded to the Government’s consultation on the Provisional Local Government Finance Settlement.
· Rural authorities were still seen as the ‘poor relation’ compared to urban authorities. With an average, per head, of £142 less awarded to rural authorities.
She outlined the steps that had been taken by the Council to ensure that funding challenges had been met to enable the Council to maintain its vital services to the community:
· Council tax had been increased by 2.99% to bridge the gap in funding.
· The purchase of Green Lanes in 2021 was seen as a strategic decision proving to be a beneficial revenue stream.
· £200,000 had been earmarked for the continuation of the much-valued Street Marshal scheme.
· The demand on Temporary Accommodation was an ever growing burden but somewhat mitigated by the purchase of properties, by the Council, to help offer a cheaper alternative to expensive Bed and Breakfast placements.
· The delay in the fair funding review, which was now expected in two years’ time, meant predicting the Medium term finance strategy was challenging.
The Lead Member for Resources and Commercialisation gave thanks to the Director of Resources and Deputy Chief Executive and his team for producing a balanced budget without the need to cut services.
The Director of Resources and Deputy Chief Executive gave the Committee a presentation, which included the following highlights:
· The provisional Local Government finance settlement was announced in December 2023 and confirmed a 3% funding guarantee for all authorities and Council Tax Referendum limit principles of 3% or £5 (whichever was the highest).
· The final Local Government finance settlement figure was expected to be announced this week.
· Members had received the detailed budget book early, normally circulated ahead of the February Council meeting. This information looked in detail at funding each service area of the Council.
· Nationally the total funding settlement stood at just over £64 billion with a core spending power of 6.5%. This included council tax setting.
· There were significant cuts in core grant funding from Government since 2015-16.
· Government SFA funding, which used to equate to around 50% of authorities funding was now a smaller proportion, with council tax collection now equating to more than 50% of revenue into the Council.
· The allocation of ... view the full minutes text for item 32.
The Committee considered a report by the Director of Resources and Deputy Chief Executive (circulated previously) regarding the Treasury Management Strategy Statement for 2024/25 together with Minute Extract of Strategy and Resources on 5th February 2024.
The Head of Governance highlighted the following:
· Section 5.1 of the report detailed the Capital expenditure and the net financing need.
· Section 5.2 of the report detailed the impact of the Capital Financing Requirement (CRF).
· Section 5.4 of the report detailed forecast year end resources.
· Section 6.1 of the report detailed external debt projections.
· Section 6.3 of the report detailed forecasts of interest rates.
· The Annual Investment Strategy could be seen at section 7 of the report, with section 7.2 detailing counterparty limits and durations.
In response to questions, the Director of Resources and Deputy Chief Executive and the Head of Governance advised the following:
· External treasury advisors who had worked with the Council for a number of years produce a forecast for interest rates and provided guidance to the Council in relation to borrowing.
· The Treasury Advisory Service looked at the economy together with previous trends and this work was outsourced to them by the Council because they were the experts in providing treasury advice.
RESOLVED, that the decisions and recommendations of the Strategy and Resources Committee be endorsed.
The Committee considered a report by the Director of Resources and Deputy Chief Executive (circulated previously) regarding the 10 Year Capital Strategy for 2024 to 2034 together with Minute Extract of Strategy and Resources on 5th February 2024.
The Head of Governance outlined the Capital Strategy Years 2024/25 to 2027/28 (Medium Terms), which were detailed in paragraph 4.4 of the report.
He referred to section 4.5 of the report covering the years 2028/29 to 2033/34(Long Term), which detailed the ongoing financial commitments of the Council and highlighted the following points:
· The total Capital Financing Requirement, or borrowing need, for 2028-29 was projected at £36 million dropped to circa £30 million for year 2033-34.
· The main area of capital expenditure within the long term forecast which was necessary to maintain business as normal was the Council’s vehicle replacement programme, as the works and recycling fleet had specific asset life cycles.
· The projected External Borrowing over the long term remained at a high level, reducing from just over £23.5 million to £19.5 million for year 2033-34.
RESOLVED, that the decisions and recommendations of the Strategy and Resources Committee be endorsed.
To consider the work programme for 2023/24 (attached).
The Committee considered the work programme together (circulated previously).
The Committee discussed the work programme and the items due for consideration at the next meeting in March 2024.
Councillor Bulled addressed the Committee regarding the item that was scheduled for consideration regarding agriculture.
She advised that March was by its very nature an extremely busy time for farmers and proposed that the item be discussed at a special meeting towards the end of April or early May 2024.
She agreed to approach the potential panellists to ascertain whether or not they would be happy to be involved in the meeting and if they were in agreement she would pass their contact details to the Clerk to the Committee to make the necessary arrangements.
The Vice Chair advised the Committee that there was a lot of work which happened behind the scenes to co-ordinate and arrange meetings of this nature and was a very time intensive exercise.
In response to a question regarding when the Committee would decide upon future items for consideration as part of their work programme for the forthcoming year. The Vice Chair advised that following the special meeting to discuss agriculture there would be another special meeting arranged to discuss dentistry services within the North Devon area. He proposed that following these meetings, the Committee hold another workshop similar to that held in 2023 to discuss areas that they would like to explore further.
Councillor Jones as the Lead Member for the special meeting in relation water quality gave an overview of how the meeting would be held together with his aspirations in relation to the outcomes from the meeting.
He also thanked the Clerk for her hard work in co-ordinating the special meeting.
a) That the work programme be noted; and
b) That it item in relation to agriculture that was currently scheduled to be considered at the meeting on 7th March 2024 now be considered as part of a special meeting in late April early May 2024.