The Section 151 Officer delivered a presentation to Members with figures for Revised Budgets 2020/21. This included:
1) General Fund
2) From Original to Current – Q1 and Q2 (savings differences)
3) From Current to Revised Budgets
4) COVID-19 Financial Impact
5) Housing Revenue Account
6) Capital Programme
7) Reserves and Balances
The Section 151 Officer summarised the most important parts of the Revised Budgets, which was that:
1) The Coronavirus pandemic is having a detrimental effect on the Council’s 2020/21 general fund budget.
2) For 2020/21 the revised budget estimate for the housing revenue account is a surplus, this will be transferred to the HRA Development Reserve.
3) Any underspend on general fund will be transferred to the NNDR Growth Protection Reserve.
4) The level of reserves is considered to be adequate to fund planned expenditure and potential issues/risks that we face.
5) The capital programme for 2020/21 is fully financed and does not include any borrowing where MRP is payable.
The Portfolio Holder for Finance and Resources spoke on the presentation and stated that the Council would have to be careful and prudent in the face of reduced income. He also noted that part of the Government’s COVID-19 grant to the Council would go out to Parish Councils because they had been hit hard by the pandemic.
Councillor Janet Tait asked what was in place for businesses struggling because of the pandemic. The Section 151 Officer informed her that a scheme was in place called Local Restrictions Support Grant to help businesses, and details on how to apply were on the Council website. She added that two other discretionary schemes to support businesses would be set up soon.
The Portfolio Holder for Finance and Resources stated that in addition to these grant schemes, there was also a scheme to give COVID-19 self-isolators £500 as encouragement to not go into the workplace. Council officers had also been as supportive as possible in collecting rents from businesses with their lockdown difficulties in mind.
Councillor Tricia Clough referred to mention in the Budget Monitoring Quarter 2 report earlier in the agenda of a meeting taking place in October or November 2020 about spending of Section 106 money before the deadline to spend it, and asked if this meeting had now occurred. The Section 151 Officer assured her that this meeting had happened recently and the officers present were reminded of their individual deadlines to spend Section 106 funds.
Councillor David Dixon referred to the mention in the presentation of grants to Parish Councils and asked if any caveats would be attached to these. The Portfolio Holder for Finance and Resources responded that the Parish Councils had been told that the funding was to keep the Parish Councils running, and they could spend it on all Parish Council duties.
Councillor Maxine Dixon referred to the mention of £500 to business workers self-isolating and asked for more detail on this. The Section 151 Officer explained that it was a scheme being run for individual people (rather than businesses) by the NHS Test and Trace system, so applications to receive the grant should be directed to the NHS.
Councillor Tom Munro referred to Councillor Tricia Clough’s concern about Section 106 funds being spent before the four year deadline, and he assured her that Planning Committee received a report at its previous meeting stating that all Section 106 money would be spent before the deadline. He added that speaking as a Parish Councillor, he was pleased to see the grants to Parish Councils because Parish Council finances relied heavily on services forced to close down in the pandemic like village halls.
Councillor Tom Munro referred to the mention in the presentation of significant savings found by not filling staff vacancies, and sought assurances that this had not meant a reduction in the level of service. The Section 151 Officer assured him that the saving was made up of maternity cover and posts that were earmarked to be filled but now were not. The Portfolio Folder for Finance and Resources added that this would not mean any reduction to services, and not filling vacant posts was something often carried out to balance budgets.
Councillor Tom Munro referred to the reductions in HRA spending because of only urgent repair work being carried out in the pandemic, and asked if provisions were in place once the pandemic was over to address all of the repair work that had not been done. The Section 151 Officer explained that HRA funds not spent on repair work during the pandemic had been put into the HRA reserves, so this would be taken out of these reserves once the pandemic was over.
It was moved by Councillor Ray Heffer and seconded by Andrew Joesbury to note the presentation on Revised Budgets 2020/21.
RESOLVED that the Budget Scrutiny Committee notes the Revised Budgets 2020/21 presentation.