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Agenda item

2023-2024 Budget and Medium Term Financial Plan




To provide the proposed Budget for 2023-2024, whilst also considering for approval:

1)    The draft base budgets for 2023/24

2)    The Council’s Capital Programme for 2023/24 to 2031/32

3)    The level of Council Tax for 2023/24

4)    The Medium Term Financial Strategy

5)    The Council’s Financial Strategies

6)    Fees and Charges

7)    The Council’s Pay Policy Statement


Subject to the resolutions of the Executive on 8 February 2023, the Executive resolves to recommend the following to Council for approval:


i)             The General Fund revenue budgets as summarised in Annex B

ii)            The updated Medium Term Financial Strategy in Annex E

iii)           The Capital Programme for 2023/24 to 2031/32 as set out in Annex D

iv)           Fees and Charges, as previously circulated and set out in Annex H

v)            The Council’s Pay Policy Statement as set out in Annex J

vi)           The Council’s Capital Strategy as set out in Annex K

vii)          The Council’s Investment Strategy as set out in Annex L

viii)         The Council’s Treasury Strategy as set out in Annex M


Councillor Jane Doughty left the Council Chamber ahead of the Budget Agenda item. Councillor Michele Mead later updated Council to advise that councillor Doughty had been taken to hospital owing to an illness, and that the thoughts of the Council were with her at the time.


Ahead of the introduction of the report, Councillor Andy Graham, Leader of the Council, asked if any Members needed any formal clarification on the budget papers, as a result of more than one version of a document being presented at the meeting. A supplementary paper was provided in addition to the main budget papers in advance of the meeting.


Councillor Ted Fenton asked if any of the MTFS (Medium Term Financial Strategy) figures in the supplement were vastly different to those that had been circulated prior. The Chief Finance Officer responded stating that there was a slight variation on the figures as a result of the Executive meeting that took place 7 days before the Council meeting. Whilst initial reports were published within the normal timescales, this was before the meeting of the Executive. There were slight variations in the figures as a result of an amendment made by Executive, and the final figures for consideration were contained within the supplement.


Councillor Graham introduced the report and outlined the proposals for the budget. A copy of the Leader’s Speech is attached to the original copy of the minutes as an appendix.


Councillor Graham explained that the budget proposals were brought together after a recent consultation with residents of West Oxfordshire, and amidst ongoing certainty, both politically and nationally within Central Government, and also as a result of the ongoing conflict in Ukraine.


An overview of the work that the administration have recently undertaken to make the Council more transparent and available to residents of the district. This has seen events such as ‘Executive on Tour’, and live Question & Answer sessions on social media platforms.


Councillor Graham concluded by thanking Council Officer’s for their ongoing hard work, and also the Council’s Finance Team who had worked with the Administration to develop the Council’s budget.


Councillor Michele Mead, Leader of the Opposition, responded stating that the introduced budget would lead to the Council becoming bankrupt in approximately 2 years. Councillor Mead also highlighted that the administration were committed to spending money, rather than adopting a balanced approach, notwithstanding recent hikes in the cost of energy and fuel.

Councillor Mead summed up stating that the budget, which is not something the oppositions could support, was one of convenience for the administration, and that many years of work by previous administrations was set to be scuppered with the Council destined for bankruptcy.


In the wider budget debate it was highlighted by several members that the proposed budget would lead to the Council becoming bankrupt in the next 2-3 years, and that reserves would reduce in further, forthcoming budgets. This was counteracted by members of the Executive who stated that a ‘cliff edge’ within the budget forecasts was owing to uncertainty of future funding from central government. Whilst it was further acknowledged that having funds in reserve was in the round a good idea, it may not be a current, viable option as a result of levels of inflation that would ultimately mean that reserve funding is worth less overall.


Further representations were made by Members stating that the Council needed to be seen to be taking the lead on helping residents of the District with the help to limit the impact of the cost of living crisis and the climate emergency, as a result of a perceived shortfall in government support. The recent Council purchase of Marriott’s Walk shopping centre in Witney was also praised by Members, which will go a long way to supporting businesses and residents of Witney, whilst also providing regeneration and opportunity to the town, as well as income for the Council. A similar ideology could follow suit in the future.


It was also highlighted that whilst there are external pressures being felt generally, the Budget would see money being spent, just as quickly as it is received, and that this methodology of budgeting was not sustainable in the longer term. Care and consideration needed to be given to the items within the budget ascertaining to growth, whilst also being in a position to fulfil the Council commitments made in documents such as Council Plans and Local Plans.


During the debate, the Chair of the Council, urged members to not be personal within their remarks, and that the Council has a long standing tradition of politeness within political debate. Members also took the opportunity to remind one another that several issues within the local community, such as reductions in speed limits, and the condition of roads within the District, were not a matter for the Budget Debate, and also not the District Council.


Many Members throughout the debate took the opportunity to thank the work of the Chief Finance Officer and the wider Finance Team for their work in preparing the budget for consideration at the meeting. Emphasis was placed on external pressures being felt, and Members were keen to acknowledge work undertaken in the run up to the meeting.


It was highlighted that as a result of the Council’s Agile Working Project, Council Officers and wider staff are able to work more flexibly and remotely if needed, which would free up space within Council buildings. This would see the Council’s Elmfield site being leased out, and would also enable Council Meetings to be livestreamed in the future. This is as a result of Audio and Visual Equipment being installed in the Council’s Committee Rooms, with the Council Chamber following on in due course. The Executive member for Customer Delivery was also keen to note that this investment in technology helps the Council become more transparent, in times where awareness of local government activity is on the rise.


It was noted that Climate Change remains a priority for the residents of the District and that the officer posts contained within the budget are essential in ensuring that action on climate change is taken by the council.


Several members highlighted the Council Tax base that was contained within the budget. It was noted that Council Tax needed to be raised so that appropriate levels of revenue funding were maintained, and that by not raising Council tax levels, the base would not be built upon.


It was also highlighted that traditional working practices of local government were now not always front and centre of the day to day operational output seen at local government level. Recent external pressure and events that have taken place over recent years have seen more emphasis on helping residents with debt management, the provision of basic essentials and signposting help to those that need it to most. It was recognised that the work of volunteers was invaluable, and that modern local governments have had to adapt from what was traditionally accepted as ‘the norm’.


Several members raised concerns as to how the budget debate had been conducted, and that much of the debate had related to ‘point scoring’ and that no alternative solutions had been put forward, or that no amendments had been tabled.


Councillor Dan Levy, Executive Member for Finance, and seconder of the recommendations, was keen to reassure Members that the Council would not go bankrupt, and that it was right to adopt a worst case scenario approach to what funding it would receive from central government. Spending money and not being overly cautious of spending money was as a result of the levels of inflation seen across the economy. Councillor Levy finished by stating that the work being undertaken and the money being spent to ensure that Council meetings are livestreamed and open & transparent to the public, is the least that the Executive can do to ensure that the Council is seen as a fully engaging one.


In formally summing up the Budget Debate, Councillor Graham stated that he was very happy to see that the whole Council has been working collaboratively and together to ensure that it presented a balanced budget for consideration, and that no stone had been left unturned in the budget decision making processes. Many people face strong challenges in their daily lives, and the Council was mandated to assist those who are struggling by investing in the people of the District, investing in regeneration of towns & villages, and working together in partnership for an all-round better District.


Councillor Graham proposed that Council agree the Budget resolutions and this was seconded by Councillor Dan Levy. In accordance with legislation, a recorded vote on the proposition was taken and the result was as follows:


FOR the proposition: J Aitman, L Arciszewska, L Ashbourne, H Ashton, M Brooker, M Cahill, N Chapple, A Coles, O Collins, J Cooper, D Enright, A Graham, D Jackson, N King, R Langridge, L Leffman, D Levy, M Parkinson, R Pearson, E Poskitt, A Prosser, C Rylett, G Saul, A Smith.


AGAINST the proposition: A Al-Yousuf, A Beaney, J Bull, C Dingwall, H Eaglestone, T Fenton, J Haine, G Hill, M Johnson, N Leverton, N MacRae MBE, M McBride, M Mead, L Nicholls, H St. John, A Wilson, B Woodruff.


Abstentions: Nil.


There being 24 votes For, 17 Against, and Nil Abstentions with 8 Members not in attendance. The vote was carried.


Council Resolved to Approve:

  1. The General Fund revenue budgets as summarised in Annex B;
  2. The updated Medium Term Financial Strategy in Annex E;
  3. The Capital Programme for 2023/24 to 2031/32 as set out in Annex D;
  4. Fees and Charges, as previously circulated and set out in Annex H;
  5. The Council’s Pay Policy Statement as set out in Annex J;
  6. The Council’s Capital Strategy as set out in Annex K;
  7. The Council’s Investment Strategy as set out in Annex L;
  8. The Council’s Treasury Strategy as set out in Annex M.

Supporting documents: