The draft Medium Term Financial Plan, incorporating the Financial Strategy and the Budget Strategy (referred to collectively as the MTFP) was presented by the Finance and Resources Portfolio Holder, Councillor Andrew Jarvis. The Plan would ensure that the Council had a sound basis for allocating resources and effective financial management over the medium term.
Councillor Jarvis informed Members that the numbers within the MTFP were identical to those approved by Council in February 2019. The key reason behind this was due to the very high level of uncertainty over the Council’s funding, with the timing of Government decisions around Spending Review 2019 and the proposed new local government funding system. Given this uncertainty, the Council continued to assume that the Local Government Financial Settlement based on “fairer funding” would be implemented. As part of this, the pooling arrangement for non-domestic rates would be expected to end, along with the New Homes Bonus. The continuation of the Business Rate Pool was, however, a possibility if changes to local government funding were delayed. Any previous applications had required a rapid response from all authorities about whether to join or remain in a pool. The decision to join a pool had been delegated in both 2017 and 2018 and it was, therefore, requested that the same delegations continue for the current year.
Councillor Jarvis stressed the fact that, despite the high level of uncertainty, the Council was in a strong position compared to most local authorities, with adequate General Fund balances and reserves, robust financial management practices and an excellent track record in achieving efficiency savings. He believed that the Council’s decision to pursue the Customer Connect Programme would make a substantial contribution to reducing the deficit over the next five years, however, that there was, in addition, still considerable work to be done, and key risks remained.
Councillor Jarvis added that, over the next four months, he would be working with Cabinet and the senior leadership team of the Council to focus on identifying options for closing the deficit in the short term and to develop a programme of options for the different scenarios faced by the Council, at the same time the priority remaining both on delivering high quality services whilst ensuring that the Council also acted to protect its long-term financial health for the benefit of residents. The overall position would be constantly reviewed and reported over the rest of 2019 and early 2020 as part of the budget process and update reports.
The report had been considered by the Overview and Scrutiny Committee at its meeting on 12 July 2019 and by Cabinet on 17 July 2019.
Councillor Jarvis moved the recommendation contained within the report and was seconded by Councillor Jonathan Brook, Deputy Leader and Housing and Innovation Portfolio Holder who commended the positive and proactive approach of this ambitious report, the Council at the same time taking into consideration the vulnerable as well as the protection of the environment of South Lakeland.
Whilst concern was expressed at the uncertainty with regard to Government funding, attention was drawn to the fact that the Council’s MTFP included support for numerous ambitious projects, as well as assuming no changes to the existing Council Tax Reduction Scheme for the vulnerable.
RESOLVED – That the draft Medium Term Financial Plan 2020/21 to 2024/25, as at Appendix 1 to the report, be approved.
Note – Council adjourned for a break at 8.20 p.m. and reconvened at 8.30 p.m.