Tim's Council Diary: This Budget Balances

2 Feb 2024
Agenda Fragment

Proposed and passed by Cabinet, and off to full Council in February: an ACTUALLY balanced budget for Folkestone & Hythe District Council.

https://folkestone-hythe.moderngov.co.uk/ieListDocuments.aspx?CId=142&MId=5276

But I don't write the budget. I just get to present it.

That we've got to the position I can present a budget that includes zero contribution from the General Reserve is testament to the superb work, and commitment of, the Chief Executive, Directors, Officers and staff of the council through the last six months, and not least their engagement with the transformation project.

Transformation included redundancies. We've absolutely tried to minimise that, and we thank all staff, including those now leaving, for their contribution.

Councillors have also played their part in finding other savings, and evaluating the benefits of other savings proposals. I want to flag in particular the role of the Finance Scrutiny Committee who look in detail at the proposals, and whose in depth look is not only invaluable and led to our changing the budget, it even found an error (take a bow Laura!) in allocation we will be correcting.

And all that work means that despite having a forecast £4.501m deficit for this year in last year's forecast and despite having a £1.8m deficit budget set for this year, we'll have *no* deficit next year, secure *all* key services, and have a strong position from which to rebuild.

However one saving the leader Jim Martin and I really regretted, and hoped we could change, was a reduction of £15,000 in ward grants. That reduced the amount each Councillor could allocate to community projects in their ward by £500 (to £2,500).

We hugely value the ability for Councillors to make a direct difference. However we could hardly give that ability back to Councillors from a budget set on the sacrifice of staff and officers.

So we've found a different way to put that £15,000 back in the budget, but clearly at the expense of Councillors. Specifically the Leader and Deputy Leader. They will sacrifice their allowances above cabinet members: Jim and I will no longer take the larger leader and deputy leader allowances. To be clear: the sacrifice on that is 90% Jim Martin and hugely honourable: I'm proud to be working with him.

So, with that amendment (put by myself and Jim) the proposed budget passed Cabinet, and with a few other tweaks will be put to Full Council. All major services: saved. Ward grants: protected. Deficit: eliminated.

Not many Councils in the UK will be saying that in February. Let's take some pride in being one of them.

I'd also like to thank the Fiance Team, who after many years of Lesley Whybroww and myself trying, and Full Council calling for, this year we have introduced an "Envonmental and Ethical" statemewnt into the Council Investment Policy for the first time ever. There are limits to what we can do or say, and the safety of the money is always going to come first, but I'd hope this is a start, and not the end of tis journey. If we can go further, we should, but for right now:

7. ENVIRONMENTAL, SOCIAL AND GOVERNANCE CONSIDERATIONS

7.1 In line with statutory guidance and the CIPFA Treasury Management Code, the proposed TMSS 2024/25 includes an Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) Policy for the authority’s treasury investments. When investing in banks and funds, the authority will prioritise banks that are signatories to the UN Principles for Responsible Banking and funds operated by managers that are signatories to the UN Principles for Responsible Investment, the Net Zero Asset Managers Alliance and/or the UK Stewardship Code.

7.2 For service investments the authority has committed to reducing its own carbon footprint to a net zero target by 2030 and will take the opportunity to be an influencer of change within the district and plans to support local communities, organisations and businesses in the implementation of measures designed to reduce the CO2e footprint to net zero by 2030 of the district as a whole.

7.3 This Carbon Action Plan sits within the framework provided by the council’s draft Corporate Plan 2021-30, ‘Creating Tomorrow Together’ that sets out guiding principles and service ambitions that have helped influence the Carbon Action Plan which has been developed alongside it. The purpose of which is to identify an evidence-based pathway to deliver cleaner growth, and specifically, strategies and actions to eliminate poor air quality, reduce fuel poverty and deliver an affordable, clean, and secure energy supply.

7.4 Implementing carbon reduction actions and specific targeted measures may have a significant cost as well as many benefits (social, economic, environmental). Sourcing of funding to deliver the Carbon Action Plan objectives for the Council’s own estate and to support / encourage the transition across the district will require careful and deliberate targeting of funds.

Catchy, no?

On another point, this week also saw the regular "voluntary sector briefing" led by the excellent Andrew Hatcher of the Revenues and Benefits Team. I'd normally attend (I have for pretty much every one for the last 4 years) but could not do so this week. It's around a quarterly update to support orgainsations in the district to hear about, and share, the support available to local residents through, from benefit support to Council Tax Reduction and much, much more. The minutes of the most recent session are as below, and if you would be keen to see your support organisation represented at future meetings, just drop me a note and I'll get you an invite!