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Agenda item

Our Future Approach to Priority Budgeting

Councillor Cate McDonald (Executive Member for Finance and Resources) and Laurie Brennan (Head of Policy and Partnerships) to report



Councillor Cate MacDonald (Executive Member for Finance and Resources), as an introduction, stated that the Council wished to work closely with the four Transitional Committees in connection with the budget-setting process, specifically seeking views from Members on the priorities for their respective Committees, both in terms of growth and savings.




Also in attendance for this item were Eugene Walker (Executive Director, Resources) and Laurie Brennan (Head of Policy and Partnerships).




Eugene Walker reported on the current budget position, indicating that the Council was facing an overspend of £40m, which represented a major challenge for the city.  He referred to the budget pressures faced by the Council during the Covid-19 pandemic, and the assistance provided by the Government, which had enabled the Council to achieve a balanced budget in 2020/21.  Mr Walker stated that main pressures facing the Council focussed on children's and adult social care, and that this represented a priority in terms of budget allocation.




Laurie Brennan reported on the Council’s one-year plan, and referred to the importance of opening dialogue on the budget with the Transitional Committees in order to find out what their priorities were.




Members of the Committee raised questions, and the following responses were provided:-




·        The Council had to take a much more strategic approach in terms of the budget-setting process, with the budget to be informed by policy priorities.  Members of the four Transitional Committees would be asked for their views in terms of their respective priorities, and such views would help to inform the Co-operative Executive’s decision on the Council’s budget priorities for 2021/22.  The work involved in terms of forwarding the Council's priorities to the Co-operative Executive would represent a significant task, and the consultation with the Transitional Committees provided an opportunity to broaden out that approach.  The Council needed to look at how it could change things within its existing resources, how it could prioritise and deprioritise change activity to achieve its aims and look at specific projects which could attract external funding.




·        There would be officer resource to support the Transitional Committees and, as well as looking at priorities in terms of next year’s budget, the Council was committed to the actions set out in the one-year plan, including the production of a Corporate Plan.




·        Loss of income for the Council had been a major issue during the pandemic, as it had been for all local authorities.  The Council would, as always, look at new potential sources of income, although this would be difficult given the existing legacy created by the pandemic. Recovery had now recommenced, but in a controlled manner, due to the fragility of individuals’ and businesses’ income.




·        The drafting of the budget would involve the usual officer input and overview from Executive Members in terms of their respective portfolio areas.  The new element of the process would involve the Transitional Committees, although it was not envisaged that the Committees would have a detailed input this year.  The views of each of the Transitional Committees would be sought, specifically in terms of their priorities, and considered as part of the budget-setting process.




·        The £40 million overspend was not growing, and the Council was looking at ways of mitigating such amount, but there was always the possibility of an increase, particularly with regard to adult and children's social care.  There were concerns that if the overspend was carried over to 2022/23, this could create further pressures.  The budget would continue to be monitored by the Overview and Scrutiny Management Committee




·        The Council worked closely with other core cities, as well as with the Special Interest Group of Municipal Authorities (SIGOMA) and the Local Government Association (LGA) in connection with lobbying the Government for additional funding.




·        The Council worked very closely with the Chamber of Commerce, and the Leader of the Council (Councillor Terry Fox) had met with the Chamber on a number of occasions in connection with support for businesses in the city. Such discussions would form part of the Council’s formal budget-setting process.  The Council's City Growth Team also undertook a lot of work in this regard.  The Council also had wider discussions with the business community to look at how the city could tackle specific issues, such as poverty and climate change.




·        The Council was always looking at spend to save initiatives, in partnership with other groups and organisations, including the NHS.  There were specific discussions ongoing with regard to Children’s Services where spending on preventative measures could often result in savings in the future, although these efforts had been hampered by the pandemic.




RESOLVED: That the Committee:-




(a)      notes the information now reported, together with the responses to the questions raised;




(b)      thanks Councillor Cate McDonald, Eugene Walker and Laurie Brennan for attending the meeting, and responding to the questions raised; and




(c)      requests that a briefing paper be circulated to members of the Committee on the impact on the Council of the Covid-19 pandemic resulting from the shortfall in Government funding, particularly with regard to social care.