To consider the draft budget proposals for the financial years 2021/22 to
The Finance and Resources Portfolio Holder presented the 2021/22 to 2025/26 Five Year Draft Budget and highlighted the impact of COVID-19 reserves that would need to be re-built. Within leisure, no support had been received and there was a loss of more than £2.5 million in business rates. Although the Government had introduced a number of grants to mitigate the impact of COVID-19 as part of the local government settlement, these were insufficient to cover the full extent of the additional costs and income lost due to the pandemic.
The Portfolio highlighted, amongst other movements, the Council’s very large deficit, the pay freeze on Councils and the new appointed operator for Kendal Market. There was an ongoing consultation on the increase to car parking fees and a projected deficit of over £1 million. He emphasised the great amount of additional work the Council had undergone while still maintaining control of normal tasks. The Portfolio Holder commended the Council for its commitment to investing in communities and thanked officers in the Finance team for their continual hard work during these difficult times.
Members discussed in depth the raising of car parking fees. The Portfolio holder clarified that the last increase took place over 10 years ago. However, despite the appreciation that fees had not been increased for a considerable amount of time, Members highlighted the need to assist in financial recovery. Under this context, this was the wrong time to increase charges, local businesses needed every support they could get to overcome the pandemic and aid recovery. Members raised great concerns on this subject.
The Finance and Resources Portfolio Holder understood and expected such comments on this topic. However, subsidised parking was an extremely expensive way to help businesses; money could be injected elsewhere, rather than to reduce car parking fees. He found it preferential to support other projects, such as Kendal Visions, directly, rather than indirectly, through other means. The Portfolio Holder voiced his scepticism on the Ulverston Town Council free parking scheme. The Council wanted to support the community at this time, but also needed to be in a reasonable financial situation.
The Economy, Culture and Leisure Portfolio Holder clarified from an economic development perspective, that free car parking, in very broad terms, did not necessarily mean shoppers would spend more money. The research on this area was counter intuitive and these principles were well established.
Members discussed the historic situation of New Road in Kendal, an area converted into a green space, but questions were raised if this car parking was replaced elsewhere. Parking was an emotive topic, particularly with businesses, and over many years, Ulverston business owners requested free car parking to generate greater engagement for shoppers. Some Members were sceptical of this success and were in agreement with some of the points raised by the Economy, Culture and Leisure Portfolio Holder. Further, Members stressed that people had benefited for a long time without an increase in fees, and this was a matter of timing.
The Chairman sought clarification from Members on specifically what comments should be taken forward on to Cabinet and Council.
Members questioned the appropriateness of timing in relation to the increase, and discussed other avenues that could be explored in order to assist with the recovery of highstreets. Other Members drew caution to a reductionin car park charges, concern was generated on who would be pay for a proposed reduction, council tax payers would ultimately pay, and there were costs to maintain.
The Finance Lead Specialist and Section 151 Officer stated that suggestions had been made around a number of proposals, as there was a statutory requirement to balance the budget. Yet, emphasised to Members that if the Council were to introduce free parking, or not increase charges, what other suggestions were available in Members’ thoughts to create a balanced budget? This was the task that needed to be addressed.
The Climate Emergency and Localism Portfolio Holder raised a few different points. Namely, that the fees had not been increased for such a long time and ultimately there was a need to balance the budget. It would be unfair to burden non-driver taxpayers with the extra cost of free car parking. The carbon footprint should also be brought in for consideration, the Council were not punishing drivers, but fairness and equity needed to be created. She echoed the purpose of her Portfolio, that active travel and walking should be encouraged where possible.
In order to reach a resolution, the Monitoring Officer clarified to Members that agreement by assent was required. Members reiterated that they were not approving the increase in fees by this proposal only, as this report would go forward to Council for debate and comment also.
At this point in the proceedings, Councillor John Holmes suggested to add a rider to the resolution. The Overview and Scrutiny Committee should accept the sensitivity of the car park charging increase given the current situation, and note the fact that it had been 8 years since fees were last raised, and that there were little alternative options. The Council would continue to monitor car parking, especially when considering the incoming proposals for the improvement of Kendal.
For clarity, the Monitoring Officer read out the proposals put forward, which were the recommendations as per the report, with the additional rider as above, suggested by Councillor John Holmes.
RESOLVED – That the Overview and Scrutiny Committee:-
1) Notes that the development of the Budget is an iterative process between now and Council on the 23rd February 2021. The assumptions, proposals and calculations included within it will be subject to change as more information from internal and external sources is provided and decisions around the final proposals can be made;
2) Consider the proposals contained in this report and Appendices 3 to 14to achieve a balanced budget from April 2021;
3) Consider the proposals for Fees and Charges from April 2021 set out in Appendix 14 (excluding car parking) and the proposed increase in car parking fees as set out in Appendix 13;
4) Note the projected deficits starting at £0.1m for 2021/22 rising to circa £2.2m by 2025/26;
5) Agrees any comments to be taken forward for consideration at the Cabinet meeting on 3rd February 2021; and
6) Accept the sensitivity of the car park charging increase given the current situation, and note the fact that it had been 8 years since fees were last raised, and that there were little alternative options. The Council would continue to monitor car parking, especially when considering the incoming proposals for the improvement of Kendal.