News and views from Paul Bull, the Labour and Co-operative Councillor for the St THOMAS Ward of Exeter City Council. Promoted by Dom Collins on behalf of Paul Bull, both of 26b, Clifton Hill, Exeter, EX1 2DJ.
A green-thinking council has won recognition at the highest level for its efforts to become an energy-neutral authority.
Exeter City Council beat off tough competition from dozens of other local authorities to win the Environment Award at last night’s Local Government Chronicle Awards in London.
Judges described Exeter’s submission as an “Excellent project, well-funded and supported and able to demonstrate achievements.”
The reward recognises the City Council’s work over recent years to reduce its carbon footprint and encourage others to do the same. By bringing in environmentally-friendly initiatives like solar panels and energy efficient lighting, the Council is able to save money and protect the environment at the same time.
The City Council is striving to become an energy neutral council by 2050.
Cllr Rachel Sutton, Lead Councillor for City Development, said: “I am delighted that the LGC has recognised the work we are doing at the City Council. Thanks to a whole host of green-thinking initiatives we will see a massive 37% reduction in energy consumption here at the Civic Centre and throughout our other buildings.”
The delivery of a vast programme of energy efficiency and solar PV projects, including some ground-breaking initiatives over the last year will bring about savings and a gross income of over £500,000 per annum. This is of huge benefit to the Council, reducing budgets and protecting Council services, as well as supporting the community and businesses.
Pioneering Solar PV canopies – the first of their kind in the UK – have been placed on two city centre car parks, and the latest installation is a 1.5MW array at the Council’s Livestock Centre. This is believed to be the largest roof top solar array in the South West, with 5,246 panels.
The PV array completed in December, follows the installation of a new roof on the building, funded by the savings and income generated by the solar panels. The array will produce 1,404mwh of energy a year, enough to power 335 homes and save 790 tonnes of carbon a year.
The Council also recently completed a solar PV installation at the former Electricity Building – now the Quay Climbing Centre – which enables the Council to sell renewable energy generated at a discounted price to the leaseholder. A second scheme of this type has also benefited the Exeter CVS at Wat Tyler House.
Other highlights have seen the City Council install Park & Plug car charging points in car parks around the City and the local authority’s involvement in the setting up of district heating networks like the one at Exeter Skypark and in the near future at the Monkerton housing development.
Earlier tonight, Exeter City Council met in the Guildhall to set the Council’s budget for 2016-17.
There has been a series of meeting that contributed towards the setting of the Budget since the Government announced the provisional Local Government Settlement on 17 December 2015. The Council is to receive £5.802 million in 2016/17, which is £110,000 lower than predicted within the Medium Term Financial Plan. However, it was decided NOT to revisit the budgets as the shortfall could be managed within the budget.
The Local Government Finance Settlement also set the referendum level for District Councils in the lowest quartile of Council Tax rates at no more than £5 rather than 1.99%. Exeter falls into this category and therefore has the opportunity to increase its Council Tax by £5 (3.7%). Along with the increase in the taxbase this will raise an additional £269,000.
It should be noted that in the Government spending calculations, they have assumed that all authorities in the lower quartile will raise their Council Tax by £5 and have set the spending reductions accordingly.
The Council’s revenue estimates for next year were considered during thecycle of Scrutiny Committee meetings and the final budget report was discussed at the Executive meeting on 9 February 2016.
Regulations dictates the Council holds an Extraordinary Meeting of the Council when setting its budget
In the absence of Leader Cllr Pete Edwards [LAB, Whipton Barton], the Budget speech was delivered by his Deputy, Cllr Rachel Sutton [LAB, Exwick].
Thank you Lord Mayor.
I would like to start off by paying thanks to the Officers, especially Mark Parkinson, Dave Hodgson and his team, for their help in preparing these figures, and indeed for their work throughout the year.
I would like to set the context for this year’s budget by reminding everyone – members, officers and the wider public – that the reductions in funding received by local authorities like Exeter over the last few years from central government are amongst the most severe cuts we have faced in living memory.
This Council has had a 12.6% reduction in Government Formula Grant for the year 2016/17 on top of equally drastic cuts in previous years. Last year it was a cut of 15.6%.
Between 2010 & 2015 Exeter’s government grant has dropped from £12m to £7.7m but Exeter, unlike some local authorities has not been sleep walking towards oblivion, we have been working hard to make the necessary changes and plans for a future when the money we get from central government will have been cut to a fraction of what it was if indeed it doesn’t disappear completely.
In the financial year 2014/15 we made £1.5m in savings, and we continue to streamline and modernise the services we offer to residents and businesses by finding smarter and more efficient ways of working like setting up Strata with our neighbouring councils to deliver IT services across three local authorities and gain financial savings of 7m over the next 10 years.
We are working with our partners in the NHS, the voluntary sector and at Devon County Council to offer the Integrated Care for Exeter [ICE] project that will deliver better services that meet the needs of our citizens and which will save money and resources across all the partner organisations.
But in setting the budget for 2016-17, I am proposing a balanced budget with much of the lost formula grant replaced by additional income streams guaranteed long into the future. These include the guaranteed income from the Feed In Tariff payments on solar panels fitted on the rooves of two of our Car Parks, the Museum, the Quay Climbing Centre, The Phoenix and the largest solar array in Exeter at over 7,000 panels at the Livestock Centre, which on its own will generate over £160,000 a year in income for the Council. And in addition to the financial savings we are reducing our carbon footprint .
In addition to these solar panels we have also replaced our inefficient boilers at the Civic Centre and installed LED lighting in our offices and car parks.
These projects have also delivered tangible savings without affecting front line service delivery.
Cllr Edwards joined the leaders of more than 50 Labour-run councils in pledging to make all our towns and cities across the UK 100% clean before 2050, in line with the commitments made nationally and internationally at the Paris Summit on Climate Change in December 2015.
Our new and emerging partnership with Exeter City Futures and our own ambitious plans to be an energy neutral council by 2020 will go a long way to deliver the Leader’s Green Pledge.
We continue to deliver much needed housing:
In the last year we have built 26 brand new council houses for local families and we are about to begin work on providing an additional 26 new flats for older people next door to Rennes House
Since 01 April 2014, 64 affordable homes have been delivered with 235 further affordable homes consented and in the pipeline for national house builders.
In Exeter we have seen 3,468 new homes built since 2011-12 – more than any other district in Devon, Plymouth and Torbay – earning the Council £10.2m in New Homes Bonus with a significant proportion of these new homes suitable for wheelchair users.
However it must be pointed out that the Housing & Planning Bill currently going through parliament might put much of these plans in jeopardy threatening our ability to make decisions about how we run our Housing Revenue Account and plan for future building of council houses
We have provided new floodlights for the new and improved Flowerpots Skatepark so that the young people who use it can get the maximum benefit from the facilities
New businesses are now moving on the Exeter Science Park
Work is now progressing on a landmark building to house the Met Office’s £97m High Performance Computer.
Job creation continues to increase with new businesses relocating to the city – our own team have helped create 476 jobs in the city.
We continue to be an ambitious Council and are determined to ensure that the City achieves its potential and our residents receive quality services. We continue to support the City ensuring it stays at the forefront of economic recovery and will support the delivery of:
• A new Leisure Complex built to Passivhaus standards that the City will be proud of
• A modernised Bus Station fit to meet the needs of travellers to and from the City for many years to come;
• Two major events in and around the City in 2016 have already been announced – the Radio 1 Big Weekend at Powderham Castle and the European Rugby sevens event at Sandy Park. The Rugby sevens event will be held at Sandy Park for the next three years and building on the success of the Rugby World Cup, last year will further enhance the reputation of the City.
And all this is without the need to increase our overall borrowing requirement.
As a Council we have also supported greater investment in the infrastructure of the City.
We have this year agreed to provide:
• £1.3 million towards the delivery of the new railway station at Marsh Barton;
• £1.025m towards the delivery of a fully operational junction at Sandy Park to enable further development in the area;
• Over £200,000 towards the improvement of our car parks and to provide a permanent electricity supply to Exeter Farmers market.
Finally, for next year’s budget we have made further efficiency savings in the region of £1.1m.
We have again managed to achieve this without a reduction in front line services.
Lord Mayor, Councillors – the budget that I am proposing to you this evening aims to deliver a balanced budget that will protect and maintain the services which the citizens of Exeter need the most.
I therefore propose to you the recommendation set out in the papers before you in terms of the approval of both the revenue estimates and capital programme for the year 2016/17 and which will result in the setting of a District Council tax of £140.05 for a Band D property.
This is an increase of £5 a year for a Band D property less than 10p a week and still means that Exeter sets the 4th lowest Council Tax of any district.
I so move.
There was then a debate on the Budget.
The Leader of the Tory Group, Cllr Andrew Leadbetter [CON, St Loye ] agreed that central Government were cutting funding – but at the same time were enabling local authorities to find other ways to raise money to fund revenue budgets
However, he felt that his group would have to abstain because, although there were some good things in the Budget, there were other things in it that he and group couldn’t support.
Cllr Phil Bialyk [LAB, Exwick]said that imaginative leadership is taking this Council forward. He was pleased that the Budget proposed by the Labour Group had no additional cuts to frontline Council services. He pointed out that there was all that extra investment – all for an extra fiver a year.
Cllr Rob Hannaford [LAB, St Thomas] pointed out that the Council were working to best practice. He thought that we are still leading the way in delivering an ambitious programme despite the risks in the future – reduced revenue support grant, challenges to the self-financing of Housing Revenue Account, welfare reform cuts, unexplained programme of business rate retention following a futrure NNDR revaluation, devolution, and more. He concluded that he would be supporting a good, balanced and robust Budget.
Cllr Rosie Denham [ LAB, Whipton Barton] looked at one element of the Budget – the role Exeter City Futures will make in the work of the Council and the impact that will have on all of us, and our residents. She was grateful for the cross-party support for the initiative and hopes that the project, by taking a strategic approach, would tackle concerns over traffic congestion, health and the environment. Rosie was adamant that we should always think carefully over proposed schemes, programmes and policies, and noted that we are in the incredibly lucky position to be able to come up with imaginative and creative ways to balance our Budget but we shouldn’t take any of this for granted. She concluded that other local authorities were so fortunate and was frightened for the state of the roads, the schools, heath and social care elsewhere.
Cllr Stella Brock [LD, St David’s] questioned the no cuts message of the Budget and questioned the spending on the Bus Station development site [having voted against it at the outline planning stage].
In reply, Cllr Sutton said that the changes to services highlighted by Cllr Brock were not cuts per se but changes to work in smarter and more efficient ways. Rachel also pointed out that without the planned interventions from ECC, the Bus Station development site wouldn’t have levered in an investment of over £75m from the Crown Estate and TH Real Estate and would remain a blot on the landscape of the city centre.
In concluding the debate, Cllr Sutton said she was disappointed that NO alternative proposals were coming forward from the Conservative Group, describing it as lazy opposition. Indeed, she pointed out that we know what they are against, but they never state what they are for.
The meeting voted and RESOLVED:-
(1) That the following, as submitted in the Estimates Book, be approved:-
(a) the Revenue estimates for 2016-2017
(b) the Capital programme for 2016-2017;
(2) that it be noted that, at the meeting of the Executive on the 26 January 2016, the Council calculated the figure of 35,429, as its council tax base for the year 2016-2017 in accordance with the Local Authorities (Calculation of Council Tax Base) (England) Regulations 2012 made under Section 33(5) of the Local Government Finance Act 1992;
(3) that the following amounts be now calculated by the Council for the year 2016-2017 in accordance with Sections 31A of the Local Government and Finance Act 1992:-
(a) £103,925,695 being the aggregate of the amounts which the Council estimates for the items set out in Section 31A(2)(a) to (f) of the Act;
(b) £98,963,864 being the aggregate of the amounts which the Council estimates for the items set out in Section 31A(3)(a) to (d) of the Act;
(c) £4,961,831 being the amount by which the aggregate at (3)(a) above exceeds the aggregate at (3)(b) above, calculated by the Council, in accordance with Section 31A(4) of the Act, as its council tax requirement for the year;
(d) £140.05 being the amount at (3)(c) above divided by the amount at 2 above, calculated by the Council, in accordance with Section 31B(1) of the Act, as the basic amount of its council tax for the year;
(e) Valuation Bands
(4) That it will be noted that, for the year 2016-2017, Devon County Council, the Office of the Police and Crime Commissioner for Devon and Cornwall and the Devon and Somerset Fire and Rescue Authority have stated the following amounts on precepts issued to the Council, in accordance with Section 83 of the Local Government Act 2003, for each of the categories of the dwellings shown below:-Being the amount given by multiplying the amount at (3)(d) above by the number which, in the proportion set out in Section 5(1) of the Act, is applicable to dwellings listed in a particular valuation band divided by the number which in that proportion is applicable to dwellings listed in valuation band D, calculated by the Council, in accordance with Section 36(1) of the Act, as the amounts to be taken into account for the year in respect of categories of dwellings listed in different valuation bands.
Devon County Council
Office of the Police and Crime Commissioner for Devon and Cornwall
Devon and Somerset Fire and Rescue Authority
(5) That, having calculated the aggregate in each case of the amounts at (3)(e) and (4) above, the Council, in accordance with Section 30(2) of the Local Government Finance Act 1992, hereby set the following amounts as the amounts of council tax for the year 2016-2017 for each of the categories of dwellings shown below:-
Although the amended legislation came into force on 25 February 2014. there was anexpectation of the Government that authoritiesholding their annual budget meeting before this date will adopt the new ruling when setting their annual budget and council tax. ECC used a named vote at their budget setting meeting in 2015.
Cllr Bialyk, Cllr Branston, Cllr Brimble, Cllr Bull, Cllr Buswell, Cllr Choules, Cllr Denham, Cllr George, Cllr Hannaford, Cllr Hannan, Cllr Laws, Cllr Lyons, Cllr Morse, Cllr Owen, Cllr Packham, Cllr Pearson, Cllr Raybould, the Deputy Lord Mayor [Cllr Robson], Cllr Sheldon, Cllr Spackman, Cllr Sutton, Cllr Wardle, Cllr Vizard and Cllr Williams
Cllr Baldwin, the Lord Mayor [Cllr Foggin], Cllr Harvey, Cllr Holland, Cllr Leadbetter, Cllr Mottram, Cllr Newby, Cllr Prowse, Cllr Shiel and Cllr Thompson
West Exe Technology College has now applied for Academy status and the college is currently awaiting a decision from the Department for Education on their application.
Paul Bull, Cllr Heather Morris, Cllr Rachel Sutton, Cllr Rob Hannaford and Cllr Adrian Hannaford and several Exeter Labour activists felt it imperative to advise parents and residents living in West Exe on the effects of becoming an Academy may have on both the community, and on other schools in Exeter.
Cllr Heather Morris said: “it is important that when a decision of this scale is made, that a full and proper consultation takes place. Schools are very much at the heart of a community, with families taking into consideration the location and record of a school before choosing where to live. For this reason we felt it necessary to ensure that all residents were made aware of the threats of academisation.”