Chris Blundell introduced the report and made the following points:
· This was a positive budget being proposed to Council, with more money coming into the budget;
· This was a balanced budget;
· There were proposals for investment in services.
Members asked questions and made comments as follows:
· Members welcomed the budget proposals with £55million being set aside for the capital programme over 4 years;
· They congratulated officers for work done to put together a balanced budget;
· In the repairs budget; was there a priority list of which repair projects to carry out?
· What will be the priorities for the five new coastal enforcement posts?
· How did the Council’s CCTV system link up with Kent Police? Did Kent Police have access to the Council’s CCTV system?
· How did the tidal pool issue impact tidal swimmers?
· HRA was well costed but the Port and Harbour budget was not as detailed and well costed;
· One Member requested for more detail regarding the proposal for a ferry;
· Could Panel members be given a tour of the Port and Harbour?
· It was important to carry out a risk analysis of the additional repairs and staffing costs required for the Port and Harbour to determine the best way forward;
· It was good to note that Members would be given access to substantial information relating to the capital programme for the Ramsgate Harbour and Port. Why was the Council not utilising the unused land at the Ramsgate Harbour, even on a short term basis?
· It was also good to note that the budget was proposing to invest on Council staff. Why were salary void targets in the budget?
· The Margate Town Deal aspect of the proposals did not include the development of the Walpole Bay;
· There had been an increased demand for home energy services. Currently the team has two officers. Could Cabinet propose the recruitment of a third officer to join this team?
· This officer would conduct home visits to install home energy saving devices with a budget of £35k per year that could be funded from the Better Homes Care Fund.
· The officer will visit low income households in private sector housing to install low cost energy efficiency measures such as installing power down devices and carbon monoxide detection alarms in homes;
· This proposal was being made now as it was the right time considering the challenges households were experiencing due to increasing fuel costs;
· Implementing the proposal would ensure significant impact for families;
· One Member asked if the above proposal would impact on disability funding. It would be a better approach to first get an officer report after further investigation of this proposal before it can be carried forward;
· Another Member responded that £28k would be for labour and the remainder would go towards the equipment costs. They further said that it was their understanding that such a proposal would not impact on any other services.
Chris Blundell, Bob Porter, Acting Corporate Director Place and the Leader of Council responded to Member comments and questions as follows:
· Repairs Budget: There was an ongoing survey that would inform the repairs priority list decision;
· The Asset Team would be increased in order to drive increase in income from council property portfolio;
· Priority for the new coastal enforcement was an operational issue that would best come from Mike Humber, the Service Director for that service. The town centre car park would be worth considering as part of that work;
· It was important to be as flexible as was possible in the deployment of these additional five roles. This would ensure that they would be mobile, versatile and quick to respond areas of need;
· The team would be utilised to address the pinch points, working on intelligence regarding beach activities coming from the Events Team;
· Access to CCTV by Kent Police: Kent Police had access to CCTV to view CCTV recording as long as they had authorisation;
· It was officer understanding that the tidal pool was a prohibited area for swimming;
· The tidal pool was not covered by the RNLI. There was therefore a risk element at the pool. The solution was to have a Life Guard manning the tidal pool;
· This would require having a concession to cover costs for manning the pool;
· It was important to make that decision by summer;
· Details for the capital programme were considered by the Capital Group (a sub group of senior officers) before the programme was finalised;
· The Leader of Council was going to speak to Mike Humber regarding the request for a Panel visit to the Ramsgate Port and Harbour;
· Officers were able to bring to a future Panel meeting additional information on the work programme (planned work);
· Salary staff voids targets: This information was in the budget because officers were aware that some posts would remain vacant in the coming financial year. This was because the process for replacing staff created such voids due to the notice periods that were required for those posts. It was important to be mindful of that so that the Council would not go over budget;
· The ongoing senior staff restructure was also reported in the new budget;
· Margate Town Deal projects not mentioned in the budget proposals could have been left out because of the need to scale back some of the capital programmes due to high inflation. Additional information was in the Risk Register. Any scaling back would be reported back to Cabinet;
· Funding a proposed third energy services officer: The Better Care Fund was a government grant that was used to fund pay for mandatory Disabled Facilities Grants. The grant was also used to pay for existing energy officers, handyman services, tradesmen who make adaptations for individuals coming out hospital;
· Officers suggested that a report be brought to Cabinet on the current progress regarding the Better Care Fund activities. This would help Members determine whether there was any scope for recruiting a third officer for the energy team.
Councillor Yates proposed, Councillor Currie seconded and the Panel agreed to forward the following recommendation to Cabinet:
That cabinet considered recommending to council for inclusion in the 2023/24 General Fund Revenue Budget, the appointment of a 3rd officer for the home energy services team who will provide a cold buster service.