An issues paper prepared by the Opposition Group is attached for Council to consider.
The Council rules relating to Opposition Business are also attached for information.
Councillor Laban introduced the issues paper, prepared by the Opposition Group.
1. Issues highlighted by Councillor Laban were as follows:
· The concern of the opposition group that the Council budget was not sustainable in the medium term, despite assurances from the Cabinet members and senior finance officers.
· Concern that the Council’s ability to balance the budget in the future was in doubt as reserves might not cover projected expenditure.
· Concerns about increasing debt and that by 2028/29 the Council could owe £2 billion which could result in interest payments of £1.4 million a year which would impact on services.
· Whilst being supportive of project renewals, such as the plans for Joyce Avenue and Snell’s Park Estate, there were concerns about affordability and that these proposals could add £600 billion to the debt.
· There were also concerns regarding auditor comments about a significant risk that the Meridian Water project may not provide value for money.
· Concerns that it would not be possible to build 10,000 homes at Meridian Water as problems around the GLA requirements on Strategic Industrial Land had not been resolved. In the draft London plan, Enfield was being required to find more Strategic Industrial Land, not less.
· There would be a serious impact on day to day services if the Council could not achieve the return on investments that they were planning for.
· The view that the administration should stop overspending and sort out their financial problems to make sure that the budget was sustainable.
2. Councillor Mary Maguire, Cabinet Member for Finance, responded on behalf of the Majority Group highlighting:
· That there was nothing of substance in these concerns. The Council’s Section 151 officer had written to the administration to assure them that the Council’s finances were sound. If she had been concerned, she would have issued a section 151 notice.
· It was a challenging time for all local authorities as they had been underfunded for many years. There were budget pressures, particularly in adult social care and special educational needs transport.
· The Council grants had been cut by £11 million. representing £80 for every household.
· The Council had robust and realistic savings targets. In 2010 it had £52 million reserves, this March £39m. Spending reserves helps to smooth the budget. Other authorities do the same.
· The Auditors were stating a risk, not a conclusion.
· The administration had high ambitions, investing in the future, protecting the vulnerable, to make Enfield a better place. Estate renewal was needed.
· There was a robust 10-year capital programme and a 10 year financial management strategy. The Council were planning for the future, unlike government which could not provide a five year budget plan.
· The Council would make sure that the plans are affordable and would set a legal balanced budget
· It was a myth that the Conservative Government were good with money, as the country was currently £1.8 trillion in debt and austerity was still here.
3. Other issues highlighted during the debate were as follows:
a. The need highlighted by the members of the Opposition Group:
· Although both sides were committed to improving services there was a difference in how they wanted to achieve this.
· The continuing concern about the financial viability of the Council and whether council tax payers were getting value for money.
· The view that the Council had a poor achievement record, many projects had been delayed and were taking much longer than anticipated to complete.
· Acknowledgement that the quality of the financial reports produced had improved.
· Concern that the auditors had failed to sign off the accounts for two years running.
· That fiscal responsibility was key and the Council had to be competitive.
· That legacy projects were unaffordable.
· The view that bringing services back in house was unaffordable and an ideological position.
· That revenue overspends were having to be funded through reserves, which could not continue.
· Concern about high borrowing which would result in high interest payments which could otherwise be spent on front line services.
b. The need highlighted by members of the Majority Group:
· To recognise that the Council was receiving insufficient funding from Government and had no choice but to use reserves and spend capital receipts
· The Opposition were quoting from reports very selectively.
· Confidence that the long-term plans were sustainable.
· Residents had a right to be balloted on projects, before plans were approved.
· The Council was borrowing to invest in projects which could change life chances.
· The Government confidence in the Meridian Water project was shown by the commitment they had made through the Community Infrastructure Fund.
· The Labour administration believed that good terms and conditions for workers should be maintained and were pleased to be able to bring services back in house.
· The Council was suffering increased spending pressures including failure to meet targets on traded services, on special needs transport and unaccompanied asylum seekers.
4. At the end of the debate, Councillor Laban summed up on behalf of the Opposition Group as follows:
Councillor Laban said that she shared the desire to improve the borough, but good finance and good budgeting were essential. She felt that it was important to ensure that the Council got back money invested, and that borrowing was sustainable. Too much borrowing could impact services. The IWE business plan had failed and had had to be bought back in house. She felt that the Council needed to get back on track financially.
5. Councillor Maguire then summed up on behalf of the majority group responding to the recommendations in the Opposition Priority Business Paper:
The recommendations in the Opposition Business paper were not necessary. Officers were continually reviewing the Council’s finances. They were in the process of producing a 10 year capital strategy and a 10 year treasury management plan. They try not to overspend, but cannot turn away those who need help. There is a need to increase budgets to cover increasing costs as in adult social care. Reserves exist to smooth things over. The finances are being looked after, realistic spending targets being set.
After the debate, the Leader’s response to the Conservative Opposition Business paper, was agreed after a vote with the following result: