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News from Cabinet round-up 16 January 2019

Cabinet round-up 16 January 2019

Borough Growth Fund and budget proposals 2019

Cabinet members have drawn up plans for a £304,000 ”Borough Growth Fund” to drive Newcastle-under-Lyme forward and bolster key council services.

The new pot of cash has been included in draft revenue and capital budgets for the Borough Council in the financial year ahead.

Money will be allocated towards areas identified as corporate priorities in the authority’s recently unveiled Council Plan and include:-

  •  £104,000 towards actions linked to a Car Parking Strategy; reinvigorating Newcastle market and a “Future High Streets Fund” bid. (See attached notes)
  •  £100,000 to bolster the digital delivery of services so residents can “self-serve” more services online when and where they choose. 
  •  £100,000 towards accelerating residential and commercial development to deliver capital receipts or revenue streams.

A “budget gap” of £2,220,000 faced the Council in the next 12 months due to a variety of factors including a reduction in direct Government funding (£526k); a revised New Homes Bonus Scheme (£519k); staff-related costs such as superannuation increases (£335k) as well as pay awards and NI contributions (£326k). 

In addition it is facing a reduction in waste income and recycling credits and a reduction in Council Tax and Housing Benefit administration grants.

Savings and efficiencies totalling £2,468,000 put forward by Cabinet include:-

  • £500,000 in additional sources of income generation and an increased demand for services that the Council charges for.
  • £442,000 from good house-keeping efficiencies.
  • £410,000 from staff-related savings. No redundancies are anticipated from these proposals. 
  • £1,116,000 from New Homes Bonus funding, savings from negotiated contribution rates and advanced payments of staff-related costs such as superannuation contributions etc. 

The Council has been told that it will receive £56,000 additional funding from the distribution of the surplus on the national Business Rates Retention levy account. This will be added to the £248,000 in additional savings and efficiencies to make up the Borough Growth Fund.

Around £211,000 of the £1,116,000 outlined above will come from a 2.99 per cent proposed Council Tax increase. 

More than 70 per cent of all homes in Newcastle-under-Lyme are in Council Tax Bands A, B and C and for these households the tax increase amounts to seven pence, nine pence and 10 pence a week respectively.

In July 2018, the Government invited councils to bid for the opportunity to be involved in a pilot project for 75 per cent Business Rates Retention during 2019/20 only. An application was successful and as part of the Staffordshire and Stoke-on-Trent Business Rates pool, the Borough Council will receive an estimated £200,000 of additional resources in the year ahead.

During the last decade the Borough Council has bridged budget “gaps” of £22, 456,000 via a combination of savings, efficiencies and additional income. Its Medium Term Financial Strategy suggests that over the coming four years a further £2,980,000 will have to be found.

All Cabinet members expressed their approval for what they referred to as an ‘innovative’  and ‘exciting’ budget which takes forward the Council’s digital delivery programme, prospects for the Council becoming involved in housebuilding in the borough and a raft of initiatives to support the town centres of both Newcastle and Kidsgrove.

Capital Strategy 

In addition to revenue proposals, Cabinet members also considered the Capital Strategy which sets out how the Council proposes to spend capital resources to achieve its corporate and service objectives. 

It is proposed to spend just under £19 million in the year ahead on capital projects linked directly to corporate priorities such as housing improvements, vehicle replacement, enhancements to council buildings and properties such as the museum and Jubilee2 and also “modernisation of the Council.”

The Capital Strategy is now a ten-year plan. Until this year the Capital Strategy has been set for a period of three years.

It is not intended to borrow to fund the 2019/20 programme, provided forecast asset sales occur and realise the projected capital receipts. However, it is anticipated that prudential borrowing will be required to fund capital projects in 2020/21 and 2021/22.

Cabinet notes that it is a normal activity for councils to have some borrowing and that local authorities are able to access favourable rates.

Investment Strategy

Cabinet also discussed the Investment Strategy which outlines options for the Council’s surplus cash, if such becomes available, which could include lending to or buying shares in other organisations, or investing to earn extra income.

The balance of treasury management investments is expected to fluctuate between £0 and £10m during the 2019/20 financial year.

These investments, should they take place, are contributions to the objectives of the Council to support effective treasury management activities.

These plans, unanimously agreed by Cabinet, will now go to the Council’s Finance, Assets and Performance Scrutiny Committee for comment and final decisions on the content will be taken at a meeting of Full Council on 20 February.

Annual scale of fees and charges  

Each year Cabinet considers proposals for the fees and charges to be applied during the following financial year. 

The new fees and charges take effect from 1 April 2019 and remain in force until 31 March 2020. 

The Medium Term Financial Strategy, agreed by the Cabinet on 19 September 2018, assumed an overall two per cent increase in the amount of income raised from fees and charges in 2019/20 in line with assumptions about the rate of inflation over the period that these charges will be in force, reflecting the real increases in costs being incurred by services. 

In reality, the assumed two per cent increase is in fact less than the current rate of inflation (2.4 per cent as at October 2018) and the proposals set out fall broadly in line with the assumed overall increase.

The following considerations apply to the fees and charges:

  • The cost of providing the service
  • How much income it is desired to generate and why
  • Comparison of charges made by other Councils or providers of similar services
  • Whose use of services it is desired to subsidise and by how much
  • Whose behaviour it is desired to influence and in what ways
  • How will charges help to improve value for money, equity and access to services
  • Will the cost of collecting the income outweigh the income likely to be collected - and any other relevant factors. 

A key decision to note is the £1 charge after 3pm on all council car parks. This is to encourage more shoppers into town. Parking is already free on Sundays. 

There is also the new garden waste collection service, introduced for the first time as a paid-for service at the Borough Council this year. The service will be provided all year round and will cost £36 for one bin, with an additional charge of £30 for each additional bin (plus £25 delivery fee). More than 7,000 households have already signed-up for this service. 

Fees at Jubilee2 have been simplified to make casual usage of the gym, pool and climbing wall more appealing. 

The approved levels of fees and charges will be incorporated in the General Fund Budget for 2019/20. 

The Medium Term Financial Strategy (MTFS) assumes increased income of £94,000 from an average increase of two per cent across the existing range of fees and charges.

All fees and charges were approved unanimously by Cabinet and will apply form the new financial year. 

Please note: the full and extensive list of fees and charges is available online at Minutes and Agendas/Cabinet. 

Maer Conservation Area

Following a consultation on a draft Conservation Area Appraisal and Management Plan the Planning Committee recommended to Cabinet that the Council adopt a Conservation Area Appraisal and Management Plan for Maer Conservation Area.

The Maer Conservation Area was originally designated in 1970. 

The Planning Committee approved a draft document for consultation purposes and this is still available to view on the Council’s website www.newcastle-staffs.gov.uk

Consultation took place over a six week period from 31 August to 12 October, after which the results were sent to the Planning Committee for consideration. Suggestions were made to further amend and extend the boundary and these were accepted. 

The final document consists of two sections – a Conservation Area Appraisal and a Management Plan. 

The Appraisal summarises the significance of the Conservation Area, includes a spatial and character analysis, an assessment of the quality and character of its buildings, and concludes with a summary of the opportunities and constraints. The appraisal concludes that the key issues in the area are: 

  • Retaining the landscape character of the village and high density of mature trees, woodlands and hedgerows. 
  • Ensuring the right balance is struck between the nature and heritage conservation for the mere and parkland features. 
  • Maintaining the historic sandstone walls along the roads within the village 
  • Protecting architectural features on buildings and preventing incremental residential alterations to houses. 
  • Modern farm vehicles through the village. 

The resulting Supplementary Planning Document has been presented to and approved by Cabinet for formal adoption. 

Please note: The Maer Conservation Area plans and further details are available, with the full Cabinet report, online at Minutes and Agendas/Cabinet.

End of meeting. The next Cabinet meeting will take place on 6 February at 2pm.

Full details of all reports considered by Cabinet are available on the Borough Council’s website – www.newcastle-staffs.gov.uk – under the “Your Council” section.
 


Last updated 16 January 2019