This report sets out the budget proposals for the services covered by this committee ahead of approval at Cabinet in February. An update is also provided on any changes in fees and charges.
Hitesh Jolapara (Strategic Finance Director) introduced the report that set out the budget proposals for the services covered by the Committee. He showed slides that gave context for the scale of the challenge facing local government in recent years. H&F’s general government grant had reduced from £160m in 2010/11 to £90m by 2018/19. He noted that the 2018/19 budget assumed a continued freeze in council tax and no increase in fees and charges in Children’s Services, Adult Social Care, and Housing Services.
The Chair, referring to 3.3 of the report, asked if it was correct that the Government was recommending Councils raise council tax by 6 percent. Hitesh Jolapara said Central Government grant assumptions were based on H&F raising council tax and the precept by a combined 6% per year to 2019/20, though ultimately it was the choice of individual local authorities.
Councillor Harry Phibbs asked if the Section 106 funding in the budget papers was guaranteed or if it was dependent on negotiations with developers. Hitesh Jolapara, referring to paragraph 3.16, noted that the Council currently had £72m of Section 106 contributions banked. Kathleen Corbett added that officers carried out monthly monitoring of these funds as part of the Council’s accounting processes.
Councillor Donald Johnson asked if the recent collapse of Carillion PLC had changed the Council’s appetite for risk regarding the ongoing use of Section 106 funding. Hitesh Jolapara said it was closely monitored on a regular basis.
Councillor Harry Phibbs noted that he was pleased to see efforts to make better use of the Public Health budget. He asked if there was scope to use Public health funding to help alleviate homelessness and alleviate general fund pressures for housing and specialist treatment. Hitesh Jolapara said Councillor Ben Coleman, the Cabinet Member for Health and Adult Social Care, was looking at substitution to see where the money made the most impact. He felt there was huge potential there.
Councillor Harry Phibbs highlighted 7.21 of the report on the Homeless Reduction Act – he noted that Crisis (the homeless charity) had argued the act would reduce costs over the longer term and asked if those savings were reflected in the budget.
David McNulty (Programme Manager working on implementation of the Act) said a pilot in Southwark had shown an increase in pressures across the homeless housing solutions system. The pilot had led to more people presenting and moving through the system. Councillor Lisa Homan noted that the Council was working hard to identify properties to help as many people as possible. The Council had started a property guardian company to help people to get people back on their feet. Creating affordable housing remained a huge challenge across London.
Councillor Adam Connell noted the loss of Council homes due to the Government’s high value void sales policy in 7.8 of the report. He asked if officers were any clearer on the impact of this. Kathleen Corbett said it still wasn’t clear but the Council would not have to pay the sale proceeds to central Government next year.
Councillor Adam Connell asked about the growth required after not being able to successfully source temporary accommodation. Kathleen Corbett said the Council had been consistently outbid by other local authorities. Council’s with families in bed and breakfasts had been paying over the odds for provision.
Councillor Adam Connell asked about the scheme to keep libraries open longer. Councillor Wesley Harcourt stated that the Administration was committed to not closing any libraries and were looking at maintaining or increasing their opening hours. The new opening hours scheme was called ‘smart open’, inspired by a visit to Kentish Town where library cards gave access to libraries outside of the normal opening hours.
Councillor Harry Phibbs suggested officers could explore certain libraries hosting cash machines – both a social benefit to residents and a source of revenue. Officers said they would consider the proposal along with Amazon locker locations, Post Office services etc.
Councillor Adam Connell noted the additional £20,000 coming from new adult learning provision and asked what the new courses were. Kim Dero said officers would provide an answer after the meeting but the team was always trialling new courses. ‘Start your own business’ courses were particularly successful.
That the Committee reviewed and commented on the report.