Members, tonight’s Annual Budget meeting marks the first virtual budget meeting in the Council’s history. Who would have thought this time last year that we would be entering a prolonged period of national lockdowns and restrictions as a result of the global COVID-19 pandemic and the devastating impacts this would have on peoples’ lives and livelihoods.
There are a number of key budget reports on the agenda which my colleague and Executive Lead for Finance, Keith Lynch, will take you through shortly, supported by Ashley Wilson, the Council’s Head of Finance and S151 officer.
The past year has been extremely challenging, which has seen the Council maintain effective service delivery as well as react positively to the COVID response and recovery effort. However, I am pleased to report we are in a position to put forward a three year medium term financial plan despite the severe uncertainty nationally going forward. We are able to present a balanced budget for next year which you will see from the General Fund Budget report. However, as a result of continued Government cuts in our funding and the loss of New Homes Bonus, we have had to take some difficult decisions in raising council tax and green waste charges for the coming financial year. This will help ensure we can continue providing excellent services to our residents and keep focused on the recovery effort, as the country gradually comes out of lockdown.
You will note from these reports our Housing Revenue Account is healthy and that we have kept fees and charges (with the exception of green waste) to inflation only rises.
Our Capital Programme identifies the key projects and programmes that the Council will focus on over the next few years, including the development of the new crematorium. The ambition of the programme is tempered by the financial constraints we have and uncertainty of Government funding going forward.
You will note we have two key motions on the agenda tonight. One about support for carers and the other about providing more adoptable roads in new developments, which I hope you will support.
The Government’s national target of delivering 300,000 houses per year continues to place enormous strain on our communities and the Council’s resources in dealing with a range of speculative development proposals. Our efforts to help protect communities from the unwanted developments has led to unprecedented levels of planning appeals.
Hinckley Rail Freight Depot and Surrounding Area
Plans for this significant new development, adjacent to junction 2 of the M69, continue and we are aware of significant additional development proposals alongside this which are being promoted, which, if it goes ahead, will result in significant infilling of open countryside between Earl Shilton and Burbage and between Elmesthorpe, Stoney Stanton and Sapcote across in Blaby. We will therefore continue to lobby hard against these emerging developments to help protect our communities from the unwanted development and its impact on local countryside.
As a recent meeting of the A5 Partnership we were updated on the success of local policing campaigns along the A5 corridor, with 13 arrests linked to recent haulage thefts. I would like to extend this Council’s thanks to Simon Cole, Leicestershire Chief Constable for his efforts in seeking to join up the five police force areas that straddle the A5 in coordinating such operations. The Partnership has also launched a #A5 Partnership twitter account to share latest information linked to campaigns on the A5.
A key area of concern was raised at the meeting over the Padge Hall Farm development adjacent to Dodwells roundabout, which falls into Rugby Borough Council’s area. We urge Rugby Borough Council to resist any development that will prohibit the opportunity to secure major offline improvements to the A5 and call on Government to provide timely and significant investment to improve the A5 in this area, which is key to our local economy.
Supporting Our Young People in Covid Recovery
I’m delighted to confirm the Council continues to support young people in the Borough, who we know have been particularly hard hit by the impact of Covid lockdowns. After sponsoring Primary Engineers in schools previously we are building on the success of this to also offer Secondary Engineers and the Leaders programmes to inspire young people to consider careers in engineering and to help boost their local employment opportunities. The Council will also be hosting a Virtual Careers Insight day for young people so they can consider the different careers on offer within a Borough council. These programmes and the wider work we do with schools will help build young people’s confidence in their futures and raise aspirations.
I am pleased to report that vaccinations continue to be going well in this area with local GP practices and the Hinckley Leisure Centre working incredibly hard to vaccinate the most vulnerable cohorts, including over 70’s and 80’s. We have received positive feedback for the way the leisure centre facility is supporting vaccinations, with over 15,500 provided to date locally.
National Recovery Announcement
Following the Prime Ministers announcement yesterday, I welcome the re-opening of our local schools from 8th March which will be much welcomed by families and young people throughout the borough. From 29th March all outdoor sports facilities will re-open and we will ensure all our facilities are geared up for that. We will as previously provide advice and support to parishes where necessary to enable them to re-open facilities for their local communities. From 12th April we are to expect shops, hairdressers and other facilities such as leisure centres and zoos to re-open. Again we will work with and support all of these sectors and our town centres to ensure people can continue to use these facilities safely.
Stuart Bray, Leader of the Council, 23 February 2021
In his position statement, the Leader referred to the budget, Hinckley Rail Freight Depot, the A5 Partnership, supporting young people in Covid recovery, vaccinations and the national recovery announcement. He also focussed on concerns over government targets on housebuilding causing pressure on local council and communities and giving rise to matters such as those raised in the petition that had been presented under the previous item.