An overview was received on the Planning and Public Protection and Property and Regeneration draft budget proposals 2021/2022, as detailed in the circulated report.
Members were informed that there were no proposed cuts in budgets for the Planning and Public Protection and Property and Regeneration divisions in 2021/22.
The report captured that
there was a budget pressure of £30k on Planning and Public Protection; Officers
provided detail on the particular pressures which included:
· Asset Sponsorship Management Service – this scheme had been in place for some time and provided the opportunity for local companies to sponsor Council assets and promote their businesses. It was anticipated that the income generated from this service would be significantly affected given the financial impact of the pandemic on businesses and their ability to sponsor assets; the identified pressure of £15k in 2021/22 reflected the anticipated gap in income generation below the target threshold;
· Enabling Natural Resources and Well-being Grant (ENRaW) – Welsh Government was continuing to assess funding commitments and priorities, and as a consequence of this the Countryside and Wildlife team were yet to receive confirmation of whether they had been successful in a significant grant award associated with the South West Wales ‘Connecting Green Infrastructure’ Project. The initial grant application amounted to a budget of £2.42 million over 3 years, of which £981k was direct spend for the Council. A lot of the project delivery and staff were dependant on grant funding generally; the identified pressure of £15k in 2021/22 reflected the fixed staff costs to be funded from the unconfirmed ENRaW Grant;
· Local Development Plan – there wasn’t a pressure identified for the next financial year in regards to the LDP, primarily due to the delays in the formal commencement of the LDP process, therefore there was currently enough funding within the LDP reserve to meet the projected spend for next year. There was a £100k pressure identified in 2022/23 however, which provided for the ongoing commitment to cover the costs of LDP preparation.
The following risks to be carried forward for the Planning and Public Protection division were highlighted (these risks were not currently reflected in the pressures):
· Test, Trace and Protect (TTP) Service and Covid Enforcement Officer Workforce – the current position was that the TTP workforce was fully funded by Welsh Government until 31 March 2021, and partially funded for the duration of the first quarter of 2021/22. The Covid Enforcement Workforce was noted to only be fully funded until 31 March 2021; this workforce was currently funded out of the Local Authority Hardship Fund, and Officers had received confirmation that this particular funding stream would not be extended into 2021/22. Officers were currently in conversation with Welsh Government in order to confirm what their expectations were of the TTP Service and the Covid Enforcement Workforce going into next year;
· Environmental Health and Trading Standards Backlog of ‘Business as Usual’ Work – Officers across the service had been deployed to the front line of the Council’s wider response to the pandemic; as a consequence of this, there was now a backlog of ‘business as usual’ work. The circulated report provided examples of where the backlog of work had developed, and moving forward there was a need to look at how the Council deploys resources in order to address the backlog.
In regards to Property and Regeneration, it was noted that a budget pressure of £549K was identified which made allowances for the following:
· Decarbonisation Measures including staffing and maintenance of recharging points for electric vehicles – as part of the Decarbonisation and Renewable Energy (DARE) Strategy, the Council will be looking at a plan that moves the Council forward to becoming carbon neutral; a number of Electrical Vehicle (EV) charging points had been installed to service the EV fleet that was increasing in size. There were also plans to introduce EV charging points into the community for public use; a piece of work was being completed in which Neath Port Talbot and the rest of South West Wales would be linked with a new strategy. There was an identified pressure of £50K in 2021/22 which would increase to £100K for future financial years to deal with this expansion and the maintenance of the EV infrastructure;
· Reduction in Rental income base budget due to ongoing impact of Covid – there were a number of Council owned properties including industrial units, retail premises and offices, in which were granted rent-free periods due to the impact of the pandemic to ensure they could continue to operate going forward. A provision of £250K was made in the budget for the 2021/22 and £100K for 2022/23 which would cover the reduction of income as a consequence of the rent-free periods and the number of likely rental ‘voids’ as businesses were unable to continue in occupation and new tenants were more difficult to find;
· National Non-Domestic Rates (NNDR) increase re Former Crown Building – the refurbishment was soon to be finished and a handover was due to be completed in the next few weeks; as soon as the building was returned, the Council would then be liable for NNDR. A provision of £79K was set in the budget which would cover the interim period;
· Additional Town Centre Officers – the Council currently operated with one individual who looked after all of the town centres in the County; this was identified to be a challenge and therefore an additional two Officers were proposed to be appointed for additional support in carrying out the work, including addressing issues that arise during the day. As it would still be challenging for three Officers to manage all the town centres, they would be closely liaising with other areas of the Council such as traffic enforcement and streetcare, partners such as the Police and business within the areas to provide a visible town centre presence;
· Regeneration, Economic Development and Business Support additional capacity – the staff numbers within these areas had reduced significantly over the past years, and the volume and complexity of work had increased; therefore it was proposed to provide additional support in terms of staff resources to deliver the existing programmes (including the City Deal), to continue to successfully bid for future funding, and to enable NPT to seek to lead on regional programmes.
The Committee were informed of some of the risks to be carried forward for the Property and Regeneration division:
· Business Support and Economic Development – whilst the additional £100k outlined in the report would provide additional capacity in the service, it was unlikely that it would be sufficient to deal with the complex challenges presented and moving forward with progression, additional support may be required in those areas;
· Decarbonisation – if the Council was to meet the target of being carbon natural by 2030, additional revenue support and major capital investment was needed.
In relation to the decarbonisation measures, Members asked for information on the progress of preparing the strategy and plan for the infrastructure. Officers explained that this was one of the projects within the supporting innovation low carbon growth programme within the City Deal, which was focused on leading EV across the South West Wales region; an EV strategy group was set up for the region, and Officers had recently linked in with this group to help deliver on the project. It was mentioned that Officers had also been in communication with a company who carried out work on this in Dundee, which had one of the best infrastructures in the UK. Members were informed that there was still a lot of work to be done, however good progress was being made; the Council would be working on its own strategy, as well as linking in with the regional strategy. In terms of timescales, it was noted that the regional EV strategy was going to be taken for decision in due course, and if accepted, that decision would provide the funding for the region; the outcome of this will then determine the Councils plan and strategy to ensure that it doesn’t conflict with the regions. It was stated that it would take around 6 months to move this project forward into a reasonable position; in the meantime, the Council was making progress for example, identifying where the EV charging points could be installed.
Officers were asked if the Councils fleet had been expanded, to which it was confirmed that the amount of vehicles in the fleet had increase; they were working well and staff were happy to drive them. It was added that the amount of vans in the fleet would soon to be increased and introduced within the next few months; Officers were in the process of putting the infrastructure in place in order to expand the fleet further, as there needed to be a sufficient amount of chargers in place to do this.
It was queried if the town centre Officers, as part of their role, would be looking to improve the cultural aspects of the town centres. Members were informed that their role was going to be focused on the day to day management; however, if over a period of time spare capacity was identified, then additional tasks could be added to the role where appropriate. It was stated that the Officers would be assisting with festivals and events when they were running again; their role in this could potentially be expanded in the future. Officers highlighted that running events in town centres was difficult due to the need to bring in generators, therefore electrical pop up points had been introduced in Neath, Port Talbot, Pontardawe and Glynneath in order for events to happen easily, especially smaller events.
Officers clarified that the term ‘replacement LDP’, which was used within the circulated report, was used in the context that the current LDP will remain in place until the new LDP was adopted. It was added that Officers would be looking at the overall performance of the LDP as there were some areas where the policies were not performing as anticipated, these policy areas would be the focus in terms of the review process; there will also be parts of the LDP that perform adequately and sufficiently well.
Further discussion took place in relation to the ENRaW grant, which as previously mentioned, Officers hadn’t received confirmation if the Countryside and Wildlife Team had been successful in being awarded that grant. Members were informed that this particular grant and others, were being considered by the Welsh Government Investment Panel the week commencing 22 February 2021, therefore Officers should have a better idea of the Councils position by then. It was noted that the initial grant was submitted for £2.4mil over 3 years, however it would now affectively become a two year spend as this grant would not go beyond the end of 2022/23 financial year; as a consequence to this, the budget and projects will need to be re-profiled.
Following Scrutiny of the budget details contained within the report, Members were reminded that their comments from this meeting would form part of the formal consultation response for the budget 2021/22. They were asked that if they had any other proposals for budget savings, not included within the attached report, that they approach Officers for their consideration.