At a special meeting of Arun District Council held on 17 February 2021, Councillors voted through the proposed budget for 2021/22, as introduced by Leader of the Council, Cllr Dr James Walsh.
This budget has been prepared with an even greater degree of uncertainty than usual due to the current pandemic, but the Leader reported that he believes that the fine balance between prudence and ambition has been achieved. The Council has had to be extremely agile to respond to the needs of Arun residents and bearing in mind the severe financial climate has, inevitably, been exacerbated by the pandemic.
This Budget is part of the Council’s medium-term financial plan to give economic security to the residents of this district and to show that despite facing continuing significant funding challenges this Council can deliver effective efficient services.
Despite uncertainty about local government funding for the future this budget provides extensive services at a cost of £191 per annum for a band D property. Arun’s share of the total bill is less than 10%. The Council has increased its share of the Council Tax by 2.65% or £4.95 (less than 10p per week) and this is constrained by central government, highlighting the lack of control that we have over our most significant source of income. Arun District council’s share constitutes a small percentage of the overall Council Tax bill, with most of this local tax going to the County Council.
We have commented over recent years that we are anticipating New Homes Bonus, which has been one of our most buoyant funding sources, to gradually reduce to zero. This is happening and the Council received just over £1M for 2021/22, compared to a peak of over £4M only five years ago.
Also included is the Housing Revenue Account and this reflects the Business Plan that was presented to Cabinet in January. The primary objectives are to increase the housing stock, ensure that our housing assets are fit for purpose and to maximise our income to make the best use of available resources. This budget will ensure that we are able to provide the best possible service to our tenants within the funding available.
We have a commitment to plan, as best as possible, for increased uncertainty and the only prudent way to achieve this is to maintain a reasonable level of balances. At the July 2020 Cabinet meeting we agreed to transfer approximately £850k to the Funding Resilience reserve, which now stands at approximately £5.8M. This means that we can ensure that the Council can still invest in the District whilst maintaining a financial buffer against future uncertainty.
Despite the severe financial pressures that we are facing, we have a capital programme that maintains our essential assets as well as some exciting new projects.
At the January 2021 Full Council meeting, funding was approved for a new project at the Place St. Maur in Bognor Regis. The vast majority of the funding for this project is from the Coast to Capital Local Economic Partnership. At the same meeting, funds were approved to finance the refurbishment of the Sunken Gardens in Bognor Regis. This will enhance the quality of the site whilst retaining features within the existing footprint of the site. In addition to this we are continuing the annual refurbishment programme for play areas and public conveniences and £3.4m of grant funded Public Realm improvements to Littlehampton High Street and Beach Rd.
The capital programme is a clear commitment to invest in the Council’s essential infrastructure. It has been difficult to commission infrastructure works over the last year but all of the funds, which we have not been able to spend, will be brought forward into 2021/22. This will mean that there will be visible improvements, across the district, which will enhance services to both residents and visitors
The 2021/22 capital programme also includes essential investment in Disabled Facility Grants. These essential grants help to keep people living in their own homes. In addition, the Council are making a significant investment in the IT infrastructure to protect information against the cyber-crime. A substantial investment in an incremental move to cloud technology will increase resilience and ultimately reduce revenue costs, and in partnership with Littlehampton Town Council there will be a new Keystone Youth Centre in Wick, allowing an ADC housing scheme on the old site.
Cllr Dr Walsh noted said: “I am pleased to announce that, despite all of the financial pressures that we are facing, the Council has been able to achieve a balanced budget. In addition to this we have been able to include a sum of approximately £0.5M in our contingencies budget as a buffer against the adverse financial effects of the pandemic. This has been achieved by reserving a significant proportion of the COVID-19 funding allocated by government for 2021/22. We have balanced our budget as well as allocating significant funds to address future funding pressures which demonstrates this administration’s strong commitment to sound financial planning and there is demonstrably no ‘raid on reserves’.”
The financial challenges the Council are having to address are clear and this budget achieves the balance between acting with financial responsibility and providing essential services as well as some exciting new initiatives.