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 £835,673 excluding the contribution we make each year to the operation of Yeovil Cemetery. After including this contribution, the proposed total precept for the Town amounts to £935,297 which equates to a 1.98% increase in the Town Council’s share of the Council Tax.
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%, 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 2014/15 financial year.
Buildings and Civic Matters Committee
- Contributing just over £31,200 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 almost £22,000 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. This budget also helps meet the costs of operating the Petters Way public toilets, which the Town Council took over from South Somerset District Council last September with the help of an interim grant.
- Providing just over £22,500 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 £16,300 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 £3,200 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 many of whom will help meet the ongoing cost of its provision by making a reasonable contribution towards its facilities.
- Contributing just over £2,000 towards sports development in the Town.
- Allocating almost £4,400 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. In recent years, 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 year’s severe wintry weather.
Grounds and General Maintenance Committee
- Paying just over £187,300 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.
- Setting aside over £28,700 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 further review of the rents paid by our tenants and agreed to set them at a level which not only covers the proposed additional expenditure in 2014/15 but also achieves a more equitable balance between the cost of allotments to individual tenants and local council tax payers by reducing the level of subsidy from 62% to 50%. This ensures that tenants are now meeting an equal share of the costs of these facilities rather than just over a third.
- We also agreed as a matter of policy and having regard to the individual benefit of allotment plots to individual tenants, that the Town Council would seek to recover an increasing proportion of the net cost of providing allotments from the tenants thereby reducing the level of subsidy by council taxpayers.
- Contributing over £11,700 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 almost £8,400 to help meet the costs of providing much needed holiday playschemes for young people living in the most deprived areas of the Town. This budget includes a contribution towards the proposed extension of the initiative to Yew Tree Park.
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 under £39,000. Last year, Yeovil was successful in achieving a Gold award in the South West in Bloom competition for the fifth time.
- Providing just over £21,000 towards the installation of the newly acquired Christmas Lights display - making the Town an even more attractive place to visit and shop in the weeks leading up to Christmas.
- Contributing £3,000 to the reconstituted Yeovil Town Centre Partnership - now known as the Yeovil Town Team - 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 are helping the Partnership to flourish and develop new initiatives such as the Town Centre App, Shopper’s Loyalty Card and last year’s successful Food Festival.
- 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 were completed last year. All of these innovative projects are in line with the aspirations of the Yeovil Vision and undoubtedly play a part in helping us to achieve ongoing success in the Regional Britain in Bloom annual competition.
- Allocating £2,600 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. Last year’s event included a Food Festival, which was organised by the Yeovil Town Team and complemented the Annual 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. This budget helps a wide range of new and existing organisations that benefit Yeovil Town to seek any assistance they may need towards their operation and activities, and the application process that we follow ensures that each application is considered on its individual merits.
- During the Committee’s discussion of the draft budget, reference was made to the proposal by the Finance Working Group that, in line with the funding arrangements for other local organisations, the allocation for Shopmobility be removed from the base budget and that the Organisation be invited to apply for grant assistance in the future as necessary.
- In supporting this approach, it was pointed out that this would improve public accountability by ensuring that Shopmobility was treated in the same way as other local organisations who provided services in the Town with the support of the Town Council, and that any application for such assistance would be considered on its merits.
- Putting aside just over £1,300 towards the valuable work undertaken by Yeovil Youth Council.
- Making £1,800 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.
- Last year, we carried out a review of the use of this budget and agreed various amendments to the definition and procedure in the administration of the New Initiatives budget – including the use of an assessment sheet – to help Members consider the relative merits of each bid that comes forward and to demonstrate that there was community support for the proposal.
- 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,
In the meantime, we have continued to make revenue contributions to capital to match fund play area improvements - including the recent 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 £36,963. However, through negotiations and discussion with funding partners, the overall cost to the Town Council will be £12,500 – just under 34%.
Effective partnership working is the key to success and, by working closely with our funding partners, external funding totalling over £900,000 has been secured in the past five years for the benefit of tens of thousands of local residents and visitors to the Town.
Last year, following a further audit of the play areas managed by the Town Council, a new programme of play area improvements was adopted. This identifies the phasing of proposed future upgrades having regard to the condition of the play equipment at all of the sites managed by the Town Council. Its delivery will continue to be subject to the Town Council allocating 50% of the estimated costs and matching funding being secured from the District Council. The Town Council has already identified how it will meet its planned contribution of £10,000 towards the next upgrade at Summerhouse View, and is awaiting the District Council’s confirmation of its contribution.
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 2014/15 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 introduced last year by the Government in the payment of Council Tax benefits.
As a direct result of these changes, the tax base of the Town Council was reduced in 2013/14 by 14.6% and the net effect of the new arrangements is that the Council’s overall net income has been reduced by £18,923. This shortfall in funding, which is beyond the control of the Town Council, has necessitated a review of the draft budget by the Policy, Resources and Finance Committee.
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 to help protect threatened services currently delivered in Yeovil Town.
The Policy, Resources and Finance Committee has recommended that the 2014/15 draft revenue estimates for the various Service Committees of the Council be adopted, it being noted that this would result in a 1.98% increase (equivalent to £1.86 per year or less than 4p per week per Band D property) in the Town Council’s share of the household precept.
This includes proposed provision of £17,700 towards the costs of delivering youth services in Yeovil Town following the withdrawal of funding by Somerset County Council on 1 April 2014.
In making this recommendation, the Committee noted that the Government had yet to confirm whether it would be applying the council tax referendum rules to town and parish councils and that in the event that this turned out to be the case and the proposed increase would result in the Town Council having to hold a referendum (previously estimated at a non-recoverable cost of £10,000) the proposed provision for youth services be reduced by an appropriate amount to secure compliance with the set rules.
However, it has been confirmed that any necessary reduction in the proposed allocation of £17,700 towards the costs of delivering youth services in the Town, which arose as a direct result of the council tax referendum rules set by the Government, may be offset by a matching contribution toward these services from the New Initiatives budget.
Cllr Tony Lock
Chairman of the Policy, Resources and Finance Committee