Thursday, May 30

Budget proposals take another step towards approval


A budget to improve employment and training opportunities for local people and to tackle anti-social behaviour moved one step closer this week, as the council’s budget setting process for 2018/19 entered its final phase.

At a meeting of the council’s Cabinet, councillors discussed in more detail the financial plans set out earlier this month, which include:

  • £1.35m to give unemployed parents opportunities to access jobs in childcare, creating up to 120 new roles;
  • £180,000 for Young WorkPath, a new scheme to offer expert advice employment and training advice to young people; and
  • £545,000 for a neighbourhood operations scheme, tackling antisocial behaviour where there is a concentration of problems.

At Tuesday’s meeting, they also received formal feedback from residents and businesses to help them finalise their plans.

The council’s Cabinet, meeting at the Town Hall, agreed that the main budget for 2018/19 – the General Fund Revenue Budget – should be set at £343.703m, and that council tax (Band D) should be £986.14.

This means the proposal to freeze council tax at the current rate – other than the adult social care precept – will go forward for agreement by full council on 21 February.

Mayor of Tower Hamlets, John Biggs, said:

“The budget I am proposing will focus on improving employment and training opportunities and tackling anti-social behaviour. It protects vital services such as free school meals for all primary age pupils, our tackling poverty fund and frontline services such as Idea Stores.

“I am pleased that the consultation responses we received show support for our three year budget approach and our focus on protecting vital frontline services.”

The mayor and members heard at the meeting that local people broadly support their proposals, as the results of the public consultation on the budget were reviewed.

The consultation found that:

  • More than half of the respondents agree with the approach of a three year budget as a way of protecting frontline services.
  • Almost half of those completing the survey prefer that the council protects frontline services.
  • More than half of respondents support a 2% increase in council tax in 2018-19 to support adult social care services, and almost half of respondents support the proposal not to implement any additional inflationary increase in council tax above the adult social care precept of 2%.

The budget process also takes into account feedback from the council’s Overview and Scrutiny Committee, which held two sessions in January to scrutinise the proposed budget. Mayor Biggs and Cllr David Edgar, the lead member for resources, both went before the committee to provide responses to their questions.

Chairman of the Overview and Scrutiny Committee, Cllr Dave Chesterton, welcomed the council’s plans to support the most vulnerable in the borough and welcomed the proposal to freeze council tax other than for the adult social care precept.

The committee also made 12 recommendations, including:

The council reviews the local impact of Brexit and takes a lead role in engaging and helping residents and businesses to mitigate local risks and take advantage of key opportunities;

  • The council lobbies the government for additional capital resources to fund fire safety remediation works on council, social housing and privately owned properties in the borough;
  • The council lobbies the government for additional capital resources to fund retrofitting sprinklers in high rises above eight storeys; and
  • The council works with schools to raise awareness and encourage eligible parents to apply for free school meals.

The budget will be considered for a final time by the Overview and Scrutiny Committee on 5 February before it goes before a meeting of the full council on 21 February.

You can read the budget proposal documents in full for more details.

Notes to editors:

The council’s 2018/19 budget consultation with residents, local businesses and other stakeholders ran from 12 December 2017 to 22 January 2018.

146 responses to the consultation were received.

Background:

The council has a statutory obligation to set a balanced and sustainable budget and to set the council tax levels for the next financial year by 11 March at the latest.

The setting of the budget is a decision reserved for the full council.

The council’s Budget and Policy Framework requires that a draft budget is issued for consideration by the Overview and Scrutiny Committee to allow for their comments to be considered before the final budget proposals are put before the full council.

The announcements that have been made about government funding for the council in the Autumn Statement and the Provisional Local Government Finance Settlement require a robust and timely response to enable a balanced budget to be set.

The council is in the third year of the four year ‘guaranteed settlement’ from the government.

A Medium Term Financial Strategy (MTFS) covering the entirety of the resources available to the council is considered to be the best way that resource prioritisation and allocation decisions can be considered and agreed in a way that provides a stable and considered approach to service delivery and takes into account relevant risks and uncertainty.

In February 2017, the council agreed a balanced budget for 2017/18 and a Medium Term Financial Plan (MTFP) to 2019/20 identifying spending reductions of £58m to be delivered over the medium term period and a requirement to use £2.8m of general fund reserves.

This was done in the context of some certainty over government grant funding levels afforded by signing up to the four year guaranteed funding settlement covering 2016/20.

Following this, and as we enter into the third year of the four year funding deal, there have been a small number of changes including the chancellor’s autumn statement and the provisional settlement announcement, the agreement by the government to the introduction of a London-wide business rates retention pilot, the addition of a further year to maintain a three year MTFS and revised assessments of growth, inflation and corresponding action that is required to maintain a balanced budget.

-Press realise