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 no 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 £848,448 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 £928,868.
Bearing in mind the impact on the budget of items over which we and all other local authorities have no control - such as inflation - 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 2015/16 financial year.
Buildings and Civic Matters Committee
- Contributing almost £32,000 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 almost £27,000 to cover the costs of the Town Council operating the award-winning public toilets that were built five 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 in September 2013.
- Providing £23,000 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 just over £16,600 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 £3,290 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 now help to meet the ongoing cost of its provision by making a reasonable contribution towards its facilities. Charging for the use of this meeting room is expected to raise £1,390 in 2015/16.
- Contributing just over £2,100 towards sports development in the Town.
- Allocating almost £4,500 towards transport support – to help meet the costs of providing new bus shelters and related initiatives.
- Setting aside just over £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 in recent years during severe wintry weather.
- Allocating £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 been undertaken in recent years. 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.
Grounds and General Maintenance Committee
- Paying just over £191,000 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.
- Setting aside just under £25,000 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 further review of the rents paid by our tenants and took into consideration the rising cost of mains water. In line with a number of other local authorities, we agreed to introduce a system of recharging the cost of mains water and this change in approach, which gives tenants more control over these charges, has enabled us to keep this year’s increase in allotment rents to 1p per square metre.
- Taking this approach, which is in line with the Council’s policy of seeking to recover an increasing proportion of the net cost of providing allotments from the tenants thereby reducing the level of subsidy by council taxpayers, will ensure that tenants are meeting almost 60% of the cost of providing and maintaining allotments rather than the present 50%.
- Contributing almost £12,000 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 almost £8,600 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 ongoing extension of the initiative to Yew Tree Park.
- The inclusion of £2,500 towards the Town Council’s contribution of £10,000 to the upgrade of the Kingston View Play Area. It is proposed that the remaining £7,500 will be met from savings identified by the Committee.
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 £40,000. Last year, Yeovil was successful in achieving a Gold award in the South West in Bloom competition for the sixth time.
- Providing just over £21,600 towards the installation of the 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, the Shopper’s Loyalty Card, and last year’s Children’s Christmas Lantern Parade.
- 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’ and Vintage Markets. Last year’s event, which was promoted as “Super Saturday”, included a number of other attractions including a Food Festival and a performance by Bugfest, which featured a number of exotic and unusual creatures.
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.
- The use of Service Level Agreements, which were introduced last year, has ensured that the Town Council has more influence on grants awarded by way of ongoing financial assistance. These agreements specify how any further grant would be used and give the Council a greater say in the way the organisation delivers its services with the Town Council’s support.
- Allocating £14,000 towards the delivery of youth services across the Town following the County Council’s withdrawal of funding towards these services. With the ongoing commitment and financial support of a number of neighbouring parishes, a three-year contract will shortly be awarded to secure the delivery of youth services in the Yeovil area until April 2018.
- Putting aside £1,400 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.
- Following a review of the use of this budget, we 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 £20,690 with commitments totalling £15,187 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 upgrade and enhancement of the play area at Summerhouse View, which will begin later this month.
The overall cost of this project is £20,000 and a 50% contribution has been secured from the District Council. The Town Council’s contribution will be met from savings already identified and allocated by the Grounds and General Maintenance Committee
Effective partnership working is the key to success and, by working closely with our funding partners, external funding totalling over £910,000 has been secured in the past five years for the benefit of tens of thousands of local residents and visitors to the Town.
Two years ago, 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 draft budget includes £2,500 towards the next planned upgrade at Kingston View, which will cost £20,000, and the Grounds and General Maintenance Committee will be asked to identify further savings to make up the £7,500 shortfall in the Town Council’s pledged contribution of £10,000. The District Council has already confirmed matching funding of £10,000 towards this project.
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.
In the meantime, the proposed development of Yeovil Summerhouse Urban Village has been identified as a strategic location in the emerging Local Plan (Policy YV4) which, if included in the adopted Plan, will strengthen the case for its future delivery at that location.
The recently published Inspector’s Report confirmed that the inclusion of Policy YV4 is justified, and supported the proposed location as an “urban regeneration area where there is significant potential to deliver environmental and other improvements”.
Last December, the Town Council agreed that the fixing of the 2015/16 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 ongoing impact of the changes introduced two years ago by the Government in the payment of Council Tax benefits.
To help offset the impact of this change, the Government has introduced a voluntary arrangement under which billing authorities agree the amount of funding, allocated initially to such authorities, to be passed down to local precepting authorities.
Under the new system, this allocation is reviewed each year by the billing authority, which in this area is South Somerset District Council. SSDC has agreed to allocate £94,180 to the Town Council for 2015/16. This is £25,235 (21.1%) less than last year’s grant of £119,415. As a result of the new arrangements, the overall annual net income of the Town Council has been reduced by £28,144.
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 revised 2015/16 draft revenue estimates for the various Service Committees of the Council be adopted, it being noted that this would result in no increase in the Town Council’s share of the household precept, which will remain at £95.57 for a Band D property – equivalent to £1.84 per week.
Cllr Tony Lock
Chairman of the Policy, Resources and Finance Committee