The Committee gave consideration to the report and appendix (at pages 36 - 53) as delivered and summarised by the Interim Chief Finance Officer (Section 151 Officer) which should be read together with these minutes as a composite document.
The Chair moved the recommendations as set out at paragraphs 2.1 to 2.3 of the report (at page 36).
Councillor J W Boyce seconded the recommendations.
Councillor J W Boyce stated that challenging times were faced by the public sector and, in particular, local government in terms of strategic budget-setting in the years ahead: however, noted the achievements (viz. customer services transformation, new leisure centres) hitherto made by the Council to respond accordingly.
The Member said that ongoing work was being undertaken in partnership with all stakeholders, including the Local Government Association (LGA), to identify areas to further invest and to save. The role of the Combined Authority for Leicester/shire was further mentioned insofar as it may enjoy new powers to lower rates and demand contributions to local infrastructure. He invited opposition Members to engage in an open dialogue with the Administration and to submit any alternative proposals before 21 February 2017 for due consideration together with robust evidence.
Councillor G A Atwal commended the Budget Strategy. With reference to ‘General Fund Services’ at paragraph 2.8 of the report (at page 39), he enquired as to whether the 3% reduction is salary budgets would result in any job losses at the Council.
The Interim Chief Finance Officer advised that the 3% represented an abstract vacancy factor and that, although this did not indicate to any job losses at the present time, it could not be excluded from future consideration to bridge the funding gap. He reiterated that any decision in this respect would require resolution by Members.
Councillor J W Boyce stated any intimation of redundancies at the present time could not be substantiated until a systematic review of all service-areas was completed to ascertain if it was necessary or not. He said that this process would be conducted in open session through the committee process.
Councillor B Dave noted the democratic-importance of the contributions made by opposition Members to the Budget Strategy and undertook to engage constructively in the process. He further acknowledged the upcoming challenges faced by Council.
Councillor J Kaufman sought the opinion of the KMPG Director as whether the contents of the Annual Governance Report or Statement of Accounts for 2015/16 corroborated any of the recent claims made by the Member of Parliament (MP) for the Harborough Constituency, The Rt Hon Sir Edward Garnier MP QC, against the Council.
The KMPG Director advised that the providing of such an opinion went beyond the terms of reference expected of the auditor’s responsibilities.
Councillor K J Loydall suggested the need for a system of checks and balances in respect of local authorities’ ability to decrease rates and increase rents to reduce the scope for exploitation. He further raised a concern regarding the uncertainty posed to service-delivery without the commensurate need to invest more in infrastructure.
UNANIMOUSLY RESOLVED THAT:
(i) The latest financial projections be noted by Members;
(ii) The draft Budget Strategy set out in the report be considered by Members; and
(iii) The principles set out in the report to form the basis of the Budget Strategy for the financial years 2017/18 and 2018/19 be approved.