Announcements and decisions led to optimism for the long term financial forecast at the meeting of Epping Forest District Council on 17 December 2013.
Watch the webcast and read the agenda
Chancellors Autumn Statement
Finance Portfolio Holder, Councillor Syd Stavrou outlined the latest financial and economic issues facing the district following the Chancellors Autumn Statement to Parliament.
Councillor Stavrou reported that signs of improvement in the economy were also true for the public finances as a whole. However, the strategy to eliminate the deficit meant additional spending reductions of £1.1 billion in 2014/15 and £1 billion in 2015/16.
As local authorities have already achieved greater savings than other areas of government they are excluded from these reductions. The Chancellor also stated that in future local government will receive long term settlements. Councillor Stavrou said this would improve the council’s ability to make robust plans for the medium term.
Councillor Stavrou reported that the Chancellors confirmation of the rules on the New Homes Bonus meant income from it could be included in the Council’s Continuing Service Budget next year. This had closed the budget gap for 2014/15 but the council still needed to find savings and cost reductions to help ease the pressure on later years when significant savings are still required.
The Chancellor’s statement also included a £1.1 billion package of measures to assist growth through reducing the burden of business rates including
- The inflationary increase for 2014/15 that would normally have been 3.2% has been capped at 2%
- A £1,000 discount for retail, pubs and cafes with rateable values below £50,000 for 2 years
- The doubling of Small Business Rate Relief for a further year
- The business rates appeal process will be reviewed and action taken to clear the backlog
Councillor Stavrou welcomed the initiatives to help businesses and the Chancellor’s promise that councils would be fully refunded for any loss resulting from the changes.
Purchase of leasehold interest – properties in Torrington Drive, Loughton
Councillors later agreed to buy the head lease of the Debden Broadway Sainsbury’s store in Torrington Drive subject to the agreement of Sainsbury’s to refurbishment including the demolition of existing shop units and a new 49 space car park.
Should the deal go through, the council would receive yearly return on its investment of £224,424, representing a 6.44% net yield on the purchase price of £3,484,000. Full Council also heard that the arrangement would significantly simplify the arrangements between Sainsbury’s and the council as well as aiding long term regeneration aims for the Broadway.
Annual savings of £354,000 will also be achieved following a review of the council’s top-management structure. Chief Executive Glen Chipp presented a report to Full Council which reduces the number of directorates from 7 to 4. Mr Chipp reported that after voluntary redundancy and early retirement costs involving 3 directors and 2 assistant directors, the restructure would pay for itself in just over 1 year.
Council Leader Chris Whitbread complimented Glen Chipp on the restructure and in particular the work with staff to deliver the proposals.
Christmas gift donations
In other items, the importance of sign language formed the introduction to Chairman’s Announcements at Council after Councillor Sartin described her attendance at the Deaf and Deaf Blind service at Chelmsford Cathedral.
As Christmas approached she also thanked residents who donated toys to children spending the holiday period in refuges from domestic abuse. Having collected many gifts donated by residents through a collection organised by Tesco in Waltham Abbey, she reported further donations form the Theydon Oak Public House and St Winifred’s Church in Chigwell.
Songs by The Clash and the Arctic Monkeys featured in a musical evening attended by the Chairman at Davenant Foundation School. Councillor Sartin also attended a very festive Christmas event at Waltham Abbey Town Hall and held her own Christmas Carol Service.
Transport issues dominated the report to Full Council by Councillor Chris Whitbread. He began with an outline of discussions surrounding Stansted Airport, its rail links and the economic impact of the airport on the Epping Forest district. He then went on to outline discussions held with the Leader of Redbridge Council as plans for Cross Rail 2 progress.
Responding to a question from Councillor Penny Smith, Councillor Whitbread described his meeting with the Chief Executive of Stansted as the most positive he could have had. He saw the outlook for jobs and recruitment within Epping Forest district as being very encouraging.
Residents and traders are to be consulted on the introduction of taxi meters and fares to Hackney Carriages licensed in Epping Forest district.