To consider the head of finance’s report.
Cabinet considered the head of finance’s report on the draft revenue budget for 2023/24 and the draft capital programme to 2027/28. The report brought together information to allow Cabinet to recommend its budget to Council. The budget included the medium term financial plan, detailing a model budget for the next five years. The report also contained the opinion of the council’s chief finance officer on the robustness of estimates and the adequacy of the council’s reserves.
Scrutiny Committee had considered the report and received a briefing from the head of finance. The committee noted the draft budget but made no recommendations to Cabinet.
The Cabinet member for finance introduced the draft budget, noting that through careful management the council’s financial position had improved. For example, this year the draft budget contributed £2.5 million to reserves. There were no service cuts in the budget, yet it allocated funds to continue supporting the community hub at a time when the government funding for this service was coming to an end. The medium term financial plan showed that the council was in a stable financial position for the next two years, but thereafter government funding was uncertain. Council tax would increase by £5 per Band D property, the maximum allowed before a referendum was required. The capital programme included a new learner pool at Wantage Leisure Centre, with funds provided from section 106 contributions. Capital was also allocated towards the Local Authority Housing Fund project, supported by government funding. Funds were also set aside for decarbonisation projects at Wantage Leisure Centre and the White Horse Leisure and Tennis Centre, which had been supported by government grants.
Cabinet members welcomed the budget proposals. The council was now in a better financial position due to careful management. In preparing the budget members had to make challenging decisions to ensure the council continued to deliver its corporate plan priorities and reduce long-term running costs. The council would need to continue to act prudently and invest carefully as the government’s approach to future local government funding was uncertain.
Members were pleased that the budget allowed the council to continue to support its residents. It included funding to continue the community hub, which had operated since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic and had assisted residents during the cost-of-living crisis. The hub had also supported refugees and their host families in the district. Members supported the investment in leisure facilities by providing funds for a new learner pool at Wantage. Members were also pleased to allocate funds towards the decarbonisation projects at two leisure centres, which put climate at the heart of decision-making and would reduce running costs.
Cabinet questioned why the council had to produce a five-year medium term financial plan when it only had certainty over government funding for two years. The council must keep persuading government to change that.
Cabinet noted the confidential appendix D2 to the report and decided that it was unnecessary to discuss this in exempt session.
The Cabinet member for finance thanked officers involved in the budget’s preparation, particularly the head of finance and his team, plus other Cabinet members for their work. The Cabinet member also thanked the external funding bid officers for successfully attracting government funding towards council projects. In turn Cabinet thanked the Cabinet member for finance.
RECOMMENDED to Council to:
(a) set the revenue budget for 2023/24, as set out in appendix A.1 to the head of finance’s report to Cabinet on 3 February 2023;
(b) approve the capital programme for 2023/24 to 2027/28, as set out in appendix D.1 to the report, together with the capital programme changes as set out in appendix D.2 and appendix D.3 to the report;
(c) set the council’s prudential limits, as listed in appendix E to the report; and
(d) approve the medium term financial plan to 2027/28, as set out in appendix F to the report.
RESOLVED: to agree that the head of finance, in conjunction with the cabinet member for finance, may make minor adjustments to the head of finance’s report and the prudential indicators, should they prove necessary prior to its submission to Council on 15 February 2023.