1.1 Members met with Cllr Mark Hawthorne, Leader of the Council, and Pete Bungard, Chief Executive to discuss the Council Strategy and receive an introduction to the budget scrutiny day. Throughout the day the committee would meet with the Cabinet Members and Directors under the remit of each Scrutiny Committee and discuss their areas of the budget. Members on each of the Committees were welcome to attend for their relevant sessions or to stay for the whole day.
1.2 Members were advised to consider how effectively the proposed budget responded to:
· The changing needs of Gloucestershire residents and communities
· The priorities and ambitions set out within the Council Strategy – Looking to the Future
· Any legislative or other changes in national policy or guidance
1.3 The Committee understood that the proposed budget included in the December Cabinet Report included cost reductions of £9.588 million, cost increases of £40.792 million with an overall budget of £468.183 million.
The Budget issued for consultation was based on 1.99% Council Tax increase and 2% National Social Care Levy.
Band D Council Tax of £1,345.32 (a £51.62 p.a. increase)
The Budget Consultation period ran from 20th December 2019 to 17th January 2020.
1.4 The Chief Executive emphasised that this was a draft budget and could still change based on any announcements from central government regarding funding changes. In addition, the responses of the public engagement and scrutiny’s comments would be taken into account. Members were informed that the number of responses to the draft budget was approaching 400 and there was still a week to go. It was suggested that this budget was more straightforward to present in that it included close to £41million of growth with only £9.588 million in savings. This differed to previous budgets that had been drawn up during a period of austerity.
1.5 The Chief Executive drew members attention to the overspend in the current budget for Vulnerable Children. This was in part due to an increase in the average unit cost of looking after a young person. This reflected a ‘broken’ market and a UK wide increase in demand for these services. Even those councils with the best run children’s services were facing similar issues. All other areas of the Council’s budget were within 1% of their allocated budget.
1.6 Cllr Mark Hawthorne, Leader of the Council, stated that the Council had received a good financial settlement from central government which provided for extra resources for adult social care and children. He suggested that lobbying through the LGA had delivered this additional funding. Members noted the budget increases in the draft MTFS.
1.7 In response to questions, it was explained that the budget did not contain greater contingency for any further deterioration in the children’s external market place. It was stated that the introduction of Trevone House and the additional placements that would bring would help to reduce costs in this area and deliver better outcomes. The Chief Executive stated that practice in Children’s Services was improving and this would lead to less ‘distressed’ emergency purchasing being required in a crisis situation. One member expressed concern about the impact on the Council’s reserves if there was a continued lack of control over the Children’s budget. Another member suggested that the Council reserves should be increased to match the increase in the revenue budget, noting that reserves had dipped below 4% of that budget.
1.8 It was noted that district collection fund figures could make a slight difference to the overall budget to be considered in February but there was confidence that the forecasting would not be far off the actual figures.
1.9 Opposition members were reminded that officers were available to cost up any potential budget amendments or suggestions in complete confidence.
1.10 Some members felt that the current format of the budget papers did not provide sufficient clarity over the figures or an opportunity to compare previous year’s budgets to identify how resources had changed in specific areas.
1.11 In response to a question, it was suggested that schools would likely welcome the additional investment particularly in light of historical underfunding in Gloucestershire.
1.12 One member questioned how the budget was being used to support the Council’s commitment to tackling climate change and support the Climate Change Strategy. It was explained that this was an area to discuss with Cabinet Members throughout the day.