Council Reports

  • Lichfield City Council Report 27/01/20

    Dave Robertson, Lichfield City Council Labour Group Leader

    Budgets, Budgets, Budgets

    The best way to start a new calendar year at Council – dive feet first in to Council finances!

    It was a really important agenda at Council this month as we look at next year’s budget, including Council spending and the increase to Council Tax for 2020/21, but there were several other important decisions to make too.
    Before we arrived at the financials a member of the public had approached the Council to ask a question about fly-posting. This related specifically to some Brexit-themed stickers which had been stuck to lampposts owned by the City. There then proceeded some point scoring and arguments between Lib Dem and Conservative Councillors which got nowhere close to a resolution. Whilst this was pretty much a waste of everyone’s time, it is a good example of the public question though. Anyone who lives in the city can ask questions of the City Council in this manner. If you’d like to take advantage of this in the future please get in touch with Dave Robertson via
    dave.robertson@lichfield.gov.uk

    We then moved on to considering the recommendation of working groups that had been set up to look at the Neighbourhood Plan, Markets and Sheriff’s Ride. The groups had all made recommendations to Council that needed to be passed by a vote before being acted on. Many of these recommendations made good sense and we were pleased to support, particularly around installing new LED street lighting, helping to pay for new doors at Curborough Community Centre and moving the Farmers Market from a Thursday to a Sunday.

    We did disagree with the Sheriff’s Ride group recommendations though. The Sheriff’s Ride is an ancient tradition in the City and is a pretty much unique event across the country. However, costs this year have spiralled as certain security and road closure costs, which were previously provided by Staffs police for free, are now costing over £7000 per year. This has more than doubled the cost of the event which is now costing more than £13,000. Whilst we recognise that this tradition is part of the history of the City, we didn’t feel that we could justify 1.5% of the total City Council budget being spent on a single event which is attended by so few people from Lichfield. On this point we abstained as we don’t want to see the end of a City tradition but could not accept the additional cost to public finances.

    After this we did move on to a long discussion about various financial points which were either related to-, or parts of the Council budget.
    The first point we raised here was to look again at the very modest proposed increases in charges for room hire at the Guildhall. Our group made the case that bookings remained strong and there is already very limited weekend availability for the whole of 2020, and that the building as a whole costs almost £90,000 (an average of over £6.50 per household in Lichfield) more to run than we receive in income from it. We proposed a 5% increase to charges rather than the Conservative proposal of 3%. This would not have raised £90,000 in a year but we made the case that the additional revenue would have decreased the burden on our finances without a significant drop in bookings. The amendment was narrowly lost but there was some cross party support from the Liberal Democrats and from some Conservative members. We’re quite hopeful that a more financially sound proposal will be on the cards for next year’s budget.
    We then raised two points about our current spending, namely that our grants budget was underspent by almost £2,500 this year which means that local good causes, not-for-profits and community groups will; not have benefited from this additional support. We made the point that the Council could do more to ensure that this money is allocated in future and that we, as Councillors could do more to advertise the grant applications. We similarly raised our concerns about the spiralling costs of Civic functions, which are likely to overspend by £9,000 this year. Much of this is due to the Sheriff’s Ride, but other events have cost almost £2,000 more than expected this year. One event was 127% over budget!

    Our final points to make on the budget were the lack of oversight around an enormous windfall that the City Council benefited from recently and about the use of reserves to cover up financial loses. In December the City Council agreed to sell a plot of land for a significant sum of money. This huge capital contribution has been temporarily placed in to general reserves until the audit committee meets later in the year, but our group feels strongly that £1million should be placed in an identified reserve so that it is not frittered away without the benefits being felt by the people of the City. The City Council budget sees the precept increase by a whopping 7% but still predicts that we will run a shortfall of £130,000. This shortfall will have to be made up by reserves which we could not accept the budget in this form and voted against it.

    The final discussion point of the meeting was around the City Centre Masterplan Consultation and the City Council’s formal response. On this point we had all been invited to email our thoughts to the Town Clerk before the meeting. Apparently this had escaped the Liberal Democrats who wanted to raise their thoughts in a meeting rather than in writing where it is most easily done. The proposals were to undermine a central plank of the masterplan and obstruct sightlines with an overpass over Birmingham Road and to increase car parking where there is already over capacity. Unsurprisingly the proposals were not approved by Council. Finally we were able to change the response to support the idea of a circular Minster Pool walk.