Agenda item

Questions by Members

To receive questions from Members under Rule 12 of the Constitution

 

Minutes:

Councillor Lawson asked the following question under Rule 12 of the Council and Committee Procedure Rules:

 

We heard at the last Full Council that there are significant balances in the Council’s accounts, largely accrued from Eden residents via their council tax payments. With the impending local government reorganisation, should the council now be seeking to work with its key stakeholders, local communities, town and parish councils to prepare a plan to commit the balances to projects that will benefit Eden residents in the long term with particular regard to investment in assets across the district, that may in the future become the responsibility of those local communities, or councils to manage?

 

The Leader gave the following response:

 

This Executive has over the past three years sought to invest in our district and its assets whilst maintaining a prudent and responsible approach to budget management and any burden on local tax payers.

 

The revised budget for 2021/22 as agreed by Council in November and this budget before members tonight contain significant investment proposals in key assets and services. These include Castle Park, Penrith Leisure Centre, Inspiring Eden Regeneration projects as well as achieving our ambitions for the retention of public sector workers in Penrith Town centre and expanding our investment in arts, culture, green homes and taking steps to deliver on our commitment to address the climate change ecological emergency. These investments are being made with no proposed increase in council tax next year due to the fiscal prudence we have shown in the last three years.

 

As you will see on item 10 on the agenda the Council holds both non earmarked reserves and reserves that are earmarked for specific projects.

 

Earmarked reserves (approx. £4million) forecast to end of 2022/23 will be transferred to the new Westmorland and Furness Council for the purpose they were created for. Non earmarked reserves currently (approximately £2million) will transfer on vesting day to the new authority.

 

A number of considerations need to be made before embarking on using those non earmarked reserves including

·        Our capacity to spend and deliver in a single year

·        Future revenue and capital implications for the new authority (and impact on future Council Tax)

·        Diminishing the resources available to the new Council for important projects – especially those in Eden

·        Creating financial uncertainty for the new authority and threatening services that benefit our residents in the future.

 

It should also be borne in mind that under the procedures for Local Government Reorganisation this and all other Councils in Cumbria are likely to be issued with a specific legal direction requiring any significant spend or new contracts to be agreed with the joint committee or shadow Westmorland and Furness authority before any commitment can be made. This legal direction will include the acquisition, sale or transfer of assets. Future funding decisions for those assets will therefore be the responsibility of the new authority.

 

I would emphasise that this Executive’s commitment to responsible, prudent investment in local services remains as strong as ever as evidenced by the budget laid out for approval at item 10 of tonight’s agenda. Local Government Reorganisation has not diminished desire or ambition to invest in assets and services but we must be mindful of both the impact on future tax burdens and future service provision for our residents. To that end we believe that we have set the right balance in our spending plans.