In preparing this year's estimates, the opportunity has again been taken to review the way the Council finances its expenditure - using a combination of income and the precept. The proposals put forward by the Policy, Resources and Finance Committee allow us to achieve many of our aspirations with a modest increase in the household precept for the people of Yeovil. We have managed to secure this by a combination of careful budgeting, prudent financial management, more efficient working arrangements, and more effective partnership working.
These proposals include the adoption of a financial strategy aimed at ensuring that the Council achieves a sustainable balanced budget whilst, at the same time, maintaining flexible ways of responding to future requests for unforeseen and inescapable expenditure, and for contributions towards threatened services currently delivered by the District and the County Councils in Yeovil Town, which we feel need to be supported.
As part of this strategy, all Committees have been asked to keep their expenditure within suggested maximum limits – with any proposed increases beyond those suggested being matched by reductions elsewhere in their respective budgets. I’m pleased to say that all Committees have followed this suggestion and I am grateful for their support.
The strategy also identifies the benefits of Committees continuing to pool their contingency funds and bidding for the use of these funds as the necessity arises. This approach is consistent with the way in which unspent revenue balances are dealt with and it ensures that all Committees have the same opportunity to bid for additional expenditure next year. Again, I am pleased to report that all Committees have accepted this proposal.
Put simply, the strategy we have adopted makes sure that we plan not only for next year's expenditure, but also for the years to come. The proposals before you tonight set the foundation for future budgets.
The revised draft committee estimates put forward by the Policy, Resources and Finance Committee total £823,663 excluding the contribution we make each year to the Cemetery deficit. After including this contribution, the proposed total precept for the Town amounts to £921,427, which represents a 1.5% increase in the current budget.
Bearing in mind the impact on the budget of items over which we and all other local authorities have no control - such as inflation, which is currently running at 2.7% and is likely to remain above the Government’s target of 2% in 2013, and fluctuations in interest rates (which affect the income we get from our investments) this is an extremely reasonable budget.
Turning to services, I would like to highlight some of the more important initiatives, which it is proposed be funded by the Town Council during the 2013/14 financial year.
Buildings and Civic Matters Committee
- Contributing almost £31,000 towards CCTV in Yeovil Town Centre. This not only helps to meet the ongoing operating costs of the system but also enables the equipment to be developed and upgraded in future years. Statistics continue to show that this is an effective tool in the prevention and detection of crime and anti-social behaviour in the Town Centre, and its provision is fully supported by the Police.
- Allocating just over £17,000 to cover the costs of the Town Council operating the award-winning public toilets that were built four years ago in Peter Street – to replace those that were previously provided within the Quedam Shopping Centre.
- Providing just over £22,000 to meet the on-going costs of supporting and developing Milford Park. This important facility includes the recently upgraded adventure park, a skate park, a multi-use games area, and a much-used community hall - which in recent years has been redeveloped in line with the aspirations of a “Planning for Real” consultation exercise. All of these facilities are provided with the financial support of the Town Council.
- Setting aside almost £16,000 to help maintain and staff Monmouth Hall – which provides an important meeting place for a number of local organisations and accommodates a local library. In recent years we have undertaken works to install a disabled person’s toilet in the premises and created an enclosed play area.
- Providing sponsorship for the Town Band at £3,000 which, in turn secures the Band’s support for the numerous civic functions and other engagements that the Town Council organises each year.
- Setting aside just over £3,000 to meet the costs of maintaining and improving the Town Council’s offices in Union Street. In recent years, we have installed baby-changing facilities and a hearing induction loop in the Council Chamber, which is extensively used as a meeting room by a wide range of public organisations based in the Town.
- Contributing just over £2,000 towards sports development in the Town.
- Allocating just over £4,000 towards transport support – to help meet the costs of providing new bus shelters and related initiatives.
- Setting aside almost £5,000 for community safety initiatives such as the provision of lighting in unadopted highway areas, CCTV enhancements and other Town Centre security measures. Last year, we used this budget to meet the costs of purchasing a snowplough and a grit spreader attachment that are fitted to a mini-tractor as required, and which proved their worth by keeping the footways and pedestrian precincts in the Town Centre clear of snow during last month’s severe wintry weather.
Grounds and General Maintenance Committee
- Paying almost £187,000 towards the costs of maintaining and enhancing all the open spaces and amenities managed by the Town Council in Yeovil, and Yeovil Country Park. These areas are primarily provided for the benefit of local people, but also help to attract visitors to the Town. We have earmarked specific funding for the provision of additional infrastructure at Preston Park - including improved benches, new litter bins, better signage and additional trees – and the creation of an edible woodland area within Milford Park.
- Setting aside over £28,000 towards allotment maintenance, improvements, development and support. In line with our participative approach to managing allotments, we are continuing to give plotholders a say on how this money is spent. In setting this year’s budget, we carried out a comprehensive review of the rents paid by our tenants and agreed to set them at a level which ensures that the additional expenditure on these facilities is fully covered by a rise in the income we receive from rents.
- Contributing over £11,000 towards the costs of employing a Play Officer as part of our commitment to managing and developing play facilities for young people across the Town. This person ensures that play areas are regularly inspected and that safety issues are monitored and addressed.
- Allocating £5,000 to help meet the costs of providing much needed holiday playschemes for young people living in the most deprived areas of the Town.
Planning and Licensing Committee
- Setting a budget and fees at a level aimed at recovering all of the direct costs of administering the licensing service.
Promotions and Activities Committee
- Effective management and the successful securing of private sponsorship have enabled the Town Council to continue funding the award-winning Yeovil in Bloom initiative at a cost of just over £38,000.
- Providing just over £20,000 towards the installation of a Christmas Lights display making the Town an even more attractive place to visit and shop in the weeks leading up to Christmas.
- Contributing just over £3,000 to the reconstituted Yeovil Town Centre Partnership to help secure and develop its role in the Town. This is an important initiative that helps to fuel the economic prosperity and vibrancy of the Town Centre, and the allocated resources will help the Partnership to flourish and develop new initiatives over the coming years.
- Setting aside £8,000 towards further environmental improvements in the Town Centre. In recent years we have helped fund a variety of enhancements on the western side of Princes Street - which included the provision of new bespoke planters, public seating and landscaping works at the entrance to the United Reformed Church, and new planters opposite the Church Street junction.
- Additional improvements to the northern end of this Street, which include new paving, improved pedestrian access, extra loading/unloading facilities and more bespoke planters have recently been completed. All of these innovative projects are in line with the aspirations of the Yeovil Vision and will undoubtedly play a part in helping us to achieve ongoing success in the Regional Britain in Bloom annual competition.
- Allocating just over £2,500 towards the costs of organising another Annual Flower and Gardeners’ Market in the Town Centre. This exciting initiative, which embraces a wide range of horticultural related activities, incorporates the Annual Yeovil in Bloom and Best Kept Allotment Presentations and is linked with the Buskfest initiative and the monthly Farmers’ Market.
Policy, Resources and Finance Committee
- Providing a grants budget of £20,000 to help new and existing local organisations based in the Town or serving the Town's population.
- Allocating over £5,000 towards the costs of operating the Yeovil Shopmobility Scheme. This initiative continues to provide much-needed personal transport for those residents and visitors who experience mobility problems and allows them to enjoy the wealth of shops that Yeovil has to offer. It also contributes to the economic vitality of the Town Centre.
- Putting aside just over £1,300 towards the valuable work undertaken by Yeovil Youth Council.
- Making just over £2,000 available towards Best Value initiatives aimed at securing continuous improvement in the services we deliver to the people of Yeovil.
- Allocating £10,000 towards the ongoing delivery of the Yeovil Vision which, in recent years co-ordinated the delivery of the long-awaited Reckleford (Option 5) Highway Improvement Project, and is currently working on a range of new initiatives – including the Summerhouse Village Masterplan project.
- Mindful of the need to develop the range of services that we deliver to the people of Yeovil Town, and the need to ensure that additional funding is available to enable contributions to be made towards threatened services currently delivered in Yeovil Town, we have also included a total allocation of £49,300 in the New Initiatives budget.
- A number of suggestions have been put forward and discussed, and a proposal to provide a new safety initiative at the junction of Sunningdale Road and Greenhill Road at a cost of £11,000 has been agreed and is due to be installed in the coming month. The planned works include the construction of a new traffic island, which will act as a pedestrian refuge and incorporate illuminated solar powered “keep left” bollards. Dropped kerbs and tactile paviers will also be installed to make the new structure fully accessible.
- We also agreed to use a total of £17,000 of this fund to help meet the costs of staging last June’s highly popular Music in the Park event, which helped the people of Yeovil celebrate the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee. The Town Council attracted contributions and sponsorship from local organisations totalling £24,500, which helped meet the overall cost of this musical spectacular and fireworks extravaganza – complete with community fayre. Other initiatives that will be funded from this budget include the production of a new leaflet to promote the Town’s regalia and new signage at Sidney Gardens.
- All the service committees will again be invited to put forward bids for the use of this fund over the coming year and the Town Council will continue to decide how this fund will be spent.
- The Town Council has again agreed to use this fund to meet the cost of making a planned £4,000 contribution towards the ongoing provision of tourist information services in Yeovil Town, which were under threat, as well as any other threatened services that we wish to support.
At the moment, this stands at £10,690 with commitments totalling £5,187 which means an unallocated balance of £5,503.
The fund will be boosted by the capital receipt arising from the disposal of the former Goldcroft Allotment Site, which we have agreed will be sold and will include much needed affordable housing.
The disposal of this land will help meet the costs of the Town Council contributing to future capital projects, including the current upgrade and enhancement of the play area at Preston Park.
Taking into account agreed funding partner contributions, S106 contributions from local developers and external grant assistance, the total cost of this scheme is £30,463. However, through negotiations and discussion with funding partners, the overall cost to the Town Council will be £12,500 – just over 41%.
The cost of the Town Council’s contribution to this scheme has already been provisionally earmarked thereby ensuring that it can be delivered in the event that the sale of the Goldcroft land is delayed.
Effective partnership working is the key to success and, by working closely with our funding partners, external funding totalling over £894,000 has been secured in the past five years for the benefit of tens of thousands of local residents and visitors to the Town.
Other capital schemes which have been undertaken this year include the upgrade of the play area at Milford Park at a cost of £150,000, which was met from the Town and District Councils each contributing £20,000 with the remaining £110,000 being secured from a number of organisations – including the Yarlington Housing Group, Viridor Credits, the Yeovil Recreation Charity and the Well Being of Yeovil.
Given that the current programme of play area improvements is coming to an end, the District Council has been asked to consider the suggested phasing of proposed future upgrades having regard to the condition of the play equipment at all of the sites managed by the Town Council and to confirm the availability of contributory funding from the District Council. This has involved a further audit of the play areas by the District Council’s Play and Youth Facilities Team, the results of which are due to be reported to the Town Council next month.
Representations made by the Town Council to include the former Ski and Activity Centre in the masterplan for the nearby urban village - as part of the emerging Core Strategy (Preferred Options) have been successful, and further feasibility work is planned. The Town Council will be involved in the planned further feasibility work on the ski slope site.
Last December, the Town Council agreed that the fixing of the 2013/14 precept be deferred. The reason for taking this approach was to provide a breathing space, which would enable any additional requests for funding assistance towards services under threat that may be made in the meantime by the County and the District Councils to be put before Members, and to consider the impact of the changes recently introduced by the Government in the payment of Council Tax benefits.
As a direct result of these changes, the tax base of the Town Council has been reduced by 14.6% and the net effect of the new arrangements is that the Council’s overall net income has been reduced by £12,480. This shortfall in funding, which is beyond the control of the Town Council, has necessitated a review of the funding of the Town Council’s planned increase of 1.5% in the 2012/13 budget.
Reductions in the level of public expenditure in all tiers of local government have put pressure on the delivery of services and we need to make sure that we identify the reasons for these reductions and have the opportunity to consider how these may potentially affect the people of Yeovil and how we may help to alleviate the impact on services that we feel need to be protected.
With this in mind, we have established the New Initiatives budget to enable the Town Council to respond positively to supported requests and opportunities which for example, in the coming year, may involve the Town Council - in partnership with other local authorities - helping to deliver youth services in the Yeovil area following the County Council’s decision to withdraw funding in the near future.
The Policy, Resources and Finance Committee has recommended that the 2013/14 draft revenue estimates for the various Service Committees of the Council be adopted, it being noted that this would result in a 3.4% increase (equivalent to £3.08 per year or less than 6p per week per Band D property) in the Town Council’s share of the household precept, of which 1.9% is as a direct result of the Government’s changes to the future payment of Council Tax benefits.
Cllr Tony Lock
Chairman of the Policy, Resources and Finance Committee