Meeting Update: 20/03/2018

The Joint Committee for Bournemouth, Christchurch and Poole met on 20 March 2018.  Here’s a summary of what was discussed and agreed.

Questions and Deputations:

The full questions and answers will be published alongside the minutes of the meeting.

Question from Cllr Peter Hall to Cllr Beesley asking how Bournemouth Borough Council are intending to balance their books this year as they have a shortfall of £1.3m.

Cllr Beesley confirmed that the current forecast was for a shortfall of £173k. However, there is still sufficient time for this to be achieved.

Question from Mr Fenning around council tax for the new council. It was stated that £948 would be saved by Christchurch residents over seven years. What are the annual decreases?

Cllr Beesley confirmed that modelling has now been revised and the £948 has changed and could now be £1050. There would be no absolute reduction but a saving due to no increase being applied.

Question from Cllr Claire Bath asked if meetings for the new council will be in the evening to ensure members can attend.

Cllr Walton advised that the relevant task and finish group will look at this

Cllr Colin Bungey asked a question around disaggregation issues and whether there would be continuity with social care services and whether service users would have to be reassessed

Cllr Haines and Cllr Broadhead responded to advise transfer of services from one authority to another will not disadvantage service users. No residents that receives care will be required to be reassessed

Mr Sprackling asked how soon will instructions be given that no capital investment or revenue expenditure be made until the shadow authority approves it.

Cllr Haines responded to advise that Chief Finance Officers will highlight all decisions which will impact the new authority. These will be included in financial planning updates.

Cllr Peter Hall asked how Bournemouth Borough Council justified the Mallard Road retail park purchase.

Cllr Beesley responded to advise that the retail park contributes £600k per annum to the council’s Medium Term Financial Plan and loan repayments remain fixed.

There was a question from Cllr Colin Bungey around council tax harmonisation. It is stated in the financial planning that there is unlikely to be a reduction in CBC council tax and figures include an increase for 2019/20 and 2020/21. However, the committee resolved not to increase council tax for Christchurch residents so this seems like a contradiction.

Cllr Beesley responded to advise that the financial planning in Item 8 highlights the CBC assumption within its MTFP that it will increase its council tax and so will Dorset County Council. The council tax harmonisation report recognises that if CBC council tax is not increased by these values then the new council won’t generate the revenues listed and this is highlighted as council tax foregone. There are other options which will not lead to the same level of council tax foregone

The final question to the joint committee came from Cllr Peter Hall who asked if council tax payers could be lumbered with a costly scheme which could lead to negative returns with regards to the Mallard Road retail park.

Cllr Beesley responded to advise that the purchase of the retail park was subject to due diligence by members and officers. Since the purchase there has been increased footfall and the council sees the transfer of this valuable asset as securing its future.

Parliamentary Orders  These are the formal Orders that go through the Parliamentary Process to create the new council.  They legally create it and set up a Shadow Authority as well as dealing with electoral matters.  The Structural Change Order (SCO) is due to be presented to Parliament on 29 March. Once the SCO is approved and until the new council exists, the Shadow Authority will consist of all 120 Members from Bournemouth, Christchurch and Poole councils, who will each nominate members to form the Shadow Executive. The Shadow Executive will be made up proportionally of sixteen councillors with eight from Bournemouth, six from Poole and two from Christchurch.

We expect there to be two further orders once the SCO is approved – a Finance Order and a Miscellaneous Order for all other matters.

The Finance Order is designed to ensure all previous local government finance legislation is applicable to the new Unitary Authority. The order will need to include the high level principles for Council Tax Harmonisation but is unlikely to commit the Committee (or the Shadow Authority) to a specific strategy at this point in time.

The Miscellaneous Order is expected to include all other provisions including the transfer of employees to the new authority by TUPE, recruitment of head of paid service and continuity and responsibility for things such as strategies and planning.

In preparation for the Shadow Authority, members agreed to establish a Task and Finish Group to work with officers on a constitution for the Shadow Authority which will be considered at a future meeting. This group will also look at governance for the new authority.

Financial planning Strong financial management will be fundamental to the success of a new unitary in delivering services and meeting its statutory obligations. Members were presented with a report outlining the potential future budget for the new unitary authority and offering an early indication of the financial challenges it will face.

Developing a financial strategy for 2019/20 will support the delivery of a balanced budget. Members agreed that the Council Tax Harmonisation Task and Finish group will include looking at the savings required to deliver a balanced budget for 2019/20.

Two risks were highlighted with regards to financial planning. the first was around the savings assumed by Dorset County Council (of which 11.84% have been attributed to CBC) as all of these will need to be delivered of the funding gap in the financial planning will increase.

The second was around council tax harmonisation and the fact that the funding gap increases depending on which model is adopted.

Council Tax Harmonisation – Members received an update on how work is progressing with council tax harmonisation having agreed at their meeting in December that the task and finish group would consider options which:

  1. ensure that no Borough’s Council Tax levels will rise at a rate exceeding the Government’s referendum limits; and
  2. include freezes and/or reductions to the absolute level of Council Tax paid by Christchurch residents.

Now that all councils have set their council tax for 2018/19 financial modelling for council tax harmonisation has been revised. The revised modelling now shows that there are five compliant models based on the joint committee’s resolution. The harmonisation period ranges between four and seven years. Members agreed that the task and finish group would report back in April with a recommendation for the information required for the Finance Order around council tax harmonisation.

Civic Functions Members received an update on the work of the Civic Functions Task and Finish Group which is looking at various functions, but primarily the Mayoralty of the three towns. The Mayoralty is an important and respected role and continuing the role across the three boroughs will be important in retaining a sense of local identity. There are two options available for ensuring that these traditions are maintained; the establishment of Charter Trustees or Town/Parish Councils. Members of the Joint Committee unanimously agreed to support the preservation of the civic functions through the establishment of a Charter Trustee for each of the existing boroughs of Bournemouth, Christchurch and Poole.