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Strategic budget consultation: Public feedback

The consultation sought to ascertain the views of interested parties on the financial challenges faced by the council over the next few years. A sample survey was posted to a random sample of 10,000 households in the borough. The same survey was also made available on-line (with a printed version on request) to allow everyone to have their say (universal survey). A total of 919 responses were received from the sample survey and 247 from the universal survey.


Summary (sample survey)
Most respondents agreed with the council’s approach to making the necessary savings: 90% agreed with maximising economic prosperity in Bolton and 87% agreed with ensuring the most vulnerable are impacted least by the budget reductions. Fewer residents agreed that it was important to narrow the gap between the most and least well off (72%) and to minimise the impact on staff and avoid compulsory redundancies (67%).
The majority of respondents also agreed with the set of principles proposed by the council; 93% agreed with maximising proposals that improve efficiency and make savings from management and administration before front line staff, three-quarters (76%) agreed that targeting should take place to protect services to individuals and areas in greatest need and deprivation and two-thirds (66%) agreed that lower levels of savings should be found from children’s and adult’s social care.
When asked how strongly they agreed or disagreed with more specific proposals, there was a slightly more mixed response from respondents; just under three-quarters (64%) agreed with examining alternative ways to deliver services e.g. not-for-profit organisations or working with neighbouring authorities, 63% agreed with reducing reliance on council-led services by encouraging and supporting individuals to deliver the activities and 51% agreed with maintaining the frequency of waste collection services by reducing the size of the grey bin.
Respondents were informed that the proposals put forward assumed a 2% increase in council tax and asked to state how strongly they agreed or disagreed with this. Just over half of respondents (51%) agreed with the proposal to increase council tax by 2%.
Over four-fifth’s (83%) said they were aware of the need for the council to change the way it delivers services and over three-quarters (76%) accepted that budget reductions had to be made but only four out of ten felt the council was doing its best under difficult circumstances.
Respondents were asked to state how the proposals would impact on them or their families. Four out of ten said that the proposals would have ‘no’ (or minimal) impact on them. A third said there could be financial implications due to the increase in council tax or job losses and around a fifth commented on the proposed changes to the bin services.
Respondents were asked to suggest alternative solutions; these included cuts to staff / management, other efficiencies such as dimming street lights, increasing revenue / releasing capital, and cutting the costs of councillors and the mayor.

Detail


  1. Methodology

The consultation sought to ascertain the views of interested parties on the financial challenges faced by the council over the next few years.
A sample survey was posted to a random sample of 10,000 households in the borough. Those selected were sent a copy of the questionnaire, covering letter and supporting information together with a pre-paid envelope for return to us.

As only these 10,000 households had the opportunity to respond, the same questionnaire was made available on-line, with a printed version on request to allow everyone to comment on the proposals. This survey is termed the universal survey.


The consultation was publicised via the press and on the council’s website. It was also sent to eView, the council’s electronic survey panel.
2.0 Analysis information
This section gives results for the sample survey, which can be generalised to the population of the borough.
The 247 responses to the universal survey are included at the end, as the differing methodology means that the two surveys cannot be combined.
Percentages may not total 100 due to rounding or where multiple responses were allowed.
Open-ended questions were included in the survey to give respondents the opportunity to explain the impact of the proposals on themselves and their family and to suggest alternative solutions. Those comments have been categorised into a number of themes.
3.0 Results
919 responses were received to the sample survey. This gives us a confidence interval of +/-3% (meaning that we can be 95% certain that the true results (had everyone in the borough completed a survey) would be + or - 3% of the survey results i.e. had 50% of respondents said ‘yes’ the real answer would be between 47% and 53%.
4.0 Respondent profile
Respondents were asked to indicate in what capacity they were completing the questionnaire, 98% were responding as residents. The ethnic makeup of respondents was 88% White British, 7% Asian or Asian British, with the remainder from other ethnic groups. Sixty-seven per cent had no caring responsibilities and 68% said their day-to-day activities were not limited due to long term illness or disability.


  1. Responses


Q1: Based on the information provided, do you understand what proposals are being put forward?
Base: 803 respondents

5.1 The council’s approach
Whilst achieving the necessary savings is very difficult, the council continues to have a clear strategy for the delivery of its budget, as detailed below.



Q2: Please state how strongly you agree or disagree with each statement





Agree

Neutral

Disagree

Base

Maximise economic prosperity in Bolton ensuring economic growth, development and regeneration and job creation


90%

7%

3%



893

Ensure the most vulnerable are impacted least by the budget reductions as far as possible


87%

8%

5%



901

Narrow the gap between the most and least well off (health inequalities, crime & disorder, housing etc...)


72%

17%

11%



892

While putting the needs of local people and council tax payers first, seek to minimise the impact on staff and avoid compulsory redundancies where possible



67%


16%


16%




892



5.2 Principles
In line with the approach of the council, the allocation of overall savings targets has been undertaken using a set of principles, as detailed below.
Q3: Please state how strongly you agree or disagree with each statement





Agree

Neutral

Disagree

Base

Maximise proposals that improve efficiency and make savings from management and administration where possible before front line services

93%

5%

2%



890

Universal services that have faced substantial reductions (e.g. street cleaning and grass cutting) to be protected from further reductions if possible



80%


12%


8%




896

Targeting should take place to protect services to individuals and areas in greatest need and deprivation


76%

14%

10%



899

Lower levels of savings to be found from children’s and adult’s social care services


66%

17%

17%



894


5.3 Proposals
In order to protect the most vulnerable children and adults, and to avoid deeper cuts to directly delivered services, the council has had to make some very difficult decisions. The proposals that have been put forward are detailed below.
Q4: Please state how strongly you agree or disagree with each statement





Agree

Neutral

Disagree

Base

Deliver savings by examining alternative ways to deliver services such as adult social care and environmental services e.g. arms-length companies, not-for-profit organisations, trusts, working with neighbouring authorities

64%


20%


16%




895

Reduce reliance on council led services by encouraging and supporting communities and individuals to deliver the activities


63%

21%

16%



890

Save money by encouraging people to self-serve and contact the council via the web or by telephone rather than face to face


59%

13%

28%



900

Maintain the frequency of waste collection services and deliver savings by reducing the size of the grey (residual waste) bin


51%

14%

35%



901

Make savings by reducing subsidies for leisure activities and the removal of some free activities


48%

17%

35%



890

Protect services for children in most need by reducing services in other areas such as children’s centres, youth, sport & play services


42%

19%

39%



891

5.4 Council Tax
The proposals put forward assume a 2% increase in council tax which generates £1.6 million. If council tax isn’t increased by 2%, further cuts in services would be needed to make up the shortfall.
Q5 Please state how strongly you agree or disagree that the council should raise council tax by 2% to achieve the savings and avoid even more cuts to services

Base: 907 respondents
Just over half (51%) agree with the proposal to increase council tax, whilst 38% disagree. With a confidence intervals of +/- 3%, this means that had we asked everybody in the borough, between 48% and 54% would agree with the proposal.
5.5 Managing change
The council is going through a period of unprecedented change. As described above, in making decisions about what to change, the council’s priority is to maintain support for vulnerable children and adults.
Q6: With this in mind, please state how strongly you agree or disagree with the following statements.





Agree

Neutral

Disagree

Base

I am aware of the need for the council to change the way it delivers its services


83%

10%

6%



899

I accept that budget reductions have to be made


76%

12%

13%



902

I believe the council is doing its best under difficult circumstances


42%

31%

27%



900

5.6 Impacts of the proposals
Q7 Please describe what you think the impact of the proposals will be on you and your family?
Comments made by 583 respondents have been grouped into categories, which are shown in the folowing table.


Q7 – comments

Number of respondents

Minimal / No impact

231

Financial implications (extra council tax, lose job)

190

Changes to bins / extra waste

113

Concerns about caring for the elderly / vulnerable

86

Cuts to leisure facilities

57

Reduction of other services

50

Deterioration of borough / town centres

49

Deterioration of roads / pavements

32

Those who choose not to work will get more

16

Contact by web / email

16

Need more detail about proposals before can respond

14

Cuts to grass cutting

11

Cuts to library hours / opening days

9

Lighting

5

Four out of ten respondents stated that there would be no or minimal impact on them or their family, however some of these went on to describe the perceived impact on others. Around a third said there would be financial implications due to the rise in council tax, job loses etc.


There were 113 comments related to the proposed changes to the bin service, particularly comments around how large families would cope with a smaller bin and a perceived increase in fly-tipping.
Fifteen per cent of respondents mentioned care for the elderly or other vulnerable members of the community, raising concerns about the future of these services.
57 respondents said the proposals to reduce subsidies for leisure activities would impact on them or their community (including those who felt that anti-social-behaviour would increase as young people would have less to do) and a further 50 respondents mentioned reductions in other services that might impact on them.
The deterioration of the borough (especially town centres) was a concern raised by 49 people and a further 32 people mentioned detrioration of roads and pavements.
Other comments related to lighting, subsidies / benefits for people who choose not work, concerns about contact by web and email, cuts to services such as grass cutting and libraries and a number of people who felt they needed more information before being able to respond.
5.7 Alternative solutions
Q8 Can you think of any other ways Bolton Council can make the savings whist still delivering statutory services?
Comments made by 560 respondents have been grouped into categories, which are shown in the folowing table:



Q8 - Category

Number of respondents

Cut staff costs / management / increase staff efficiencies

183

Other efficiencies (empty bins less, turn lights off etc...)

125

Increase revenue / release capital

117

Cut costs of councillors, mayor, MPs

93

Get unemployed / volunteers / criminals to contribute more

60

Spend on preventative / proactive services (highways, education, self-help)

55

Work with other councils / agencies / private & voluntary sector

49

Cancel / don’t implement projects

43

Restrict or cut services / benefits

42

Comments about race / religion (mosques, translation, asylum seekers)

38

Cut communication costs (letters, publications, Scene)

31

Change / challenge central government

25

Comments about town hall

19

Managers / councillors should listen to public / staff

17

Reduce non-profit making outgoings / events / grants

13

General negative comments

11

Need more detail about proposals before can respond

9

Respondents suggested that staff and management costs could be reduced by cutting numbers, salaries, overtime and bonus payments, pensions and other ‘perks’.



Other efficiencies included emptying recycling bins less frequently, retaining current grey bin but emptying every 3 or 4 weeks, turning street lights down or off within certain hours, solar panels in council buildings etc.
Respondents suggested that the council ‘Increase revenue / realise capital’ by imposing fines for littering / dog-fouling, persuing unpaid council tax, charging for library loans and transport and releasing capital by selling redundant buildings etc.
Councillor / mayoral costs’ could be cut by having fewer councillors, cutting allowances and expenses, getting rid of the mayoral car and holding fewer civic events.
It was suggested that unemployed / volunteers / criminals could do more for the community by picking litter, cleaning streets etc.
Some respondents felt that it was necessary to ‘Spend on preventative / proactive services etc.’ e.g. doing road repairs properly to save money in the long run, educating people to recycle properly, self-help e.g. use the internet rather than seeing someone face-to-face and protect youth services to avoid higher crime rates etc.
Money could also be saved by ‘Working with other Councils / agencies / private and voluntary sector’, which included having joint teams across a number of local councils, combining departments and working with the voluntary sector to deliver services.
Cancel / don’t implement projects’ refers to projects such as the bus station/train station development, town hall / Albert hall developments, resurfacing of pavements in town centre (19 of the 43 specifically mentioned the town hall).
It was also suggested that we ‘Restrict services and benefits’ especially to those who choose not to contribute.
Other comments related to reducing translated documents, cuts to printed-communication such as letters, publications and Bolton Scene, that the council should challenge central government, comments relating to the town hall development, requests that managers / councillors should listen to the public and to staff, that non-profit making outgoings should be reduced and a small number of people who felt they needed more details about the proposals before they could respond.

APPENDIX L



Report to:

The Cabinet







Date:

16th February 2015







Report of:

Borough Treasurer

Report No:
















Contact Officer:

Sue Johnson

Tele No:

Ext 1502







Report Title:
Business Rates Local Transitional Relief Discounts







Non -Confidential:

This report does not contain information which warrants its consideration in the absence of the press or members of the public









Purpose:

To consider and approve amendments to the Non Domestic Rates : Discretionary Rate Relief Framework in accordance with the amended powers available to the Council under Section 47 of the Local Government Finance Act 1988.

















Recommendations:

Cabinet is requested to note and approve and approve the amendments to the discretionary rate relief framework as set out in this report. In particular, to note and approve the inclusion of a local scheme to grant relief on a case by case basis, under Section 47, based on the Government’s 2014 Autumn Statement in relation to the extension of the national transitional relief scheme that billing authorities are being asked to introduce locally.






  1. PURPOSE OF REPORT

To consider and approve amendments to the Non Domestic Rates : Discretionary Rate Relief Framework in accordance with the amended powers available to the Council under Section 47 of the Local Government Finance Act 1988.


  1. RECOMMENDATIONS

Cabinet is requested to note and approve the amendments to the discretionary rate relief framework as set out below. In particular, to note and approve the inclusion of a local scheme to grant relief on a case by case basis, under Section 47, based on the Government’s 2014 Autumn Statement in relation to the extension of the national transitional relief scheme that billing authorities are being asked to introduce locally.


  1. CONSULTATION UNDERTAKEN

3.1.1 The Government announced in the 2014 Autumn Statement a range of business rates measures including their intention to extend in effect the existing transitional relief scheme for two years for properties with a rateable value up to and including £50,000. As a result of this measure, small properties (with a rateable value of less than £18,000) that would otherwise face bill increases above 15% and medium sized properties (with a rateable value of £50,000 or less) that would otherwise face bill increases above 25% will benefit.
3.1.2 Draft guidance for the relief was published by Government in January 2015.


    1. Introduction

3.2.1 The power for granting discretionary rate relief by billing authorities is provided within Section 47 of the Local Government Finance Act 1988. This was amended by the Localism Act 2011 to incorporate wider powers to grant relief under local discretion. The role of local authorities in the business rate system in the past has been to administer the system prescribed by central government. There has been very limited flexibility within the system for councils to support businesses, despite the variations in economic conditions across and within local authority boundaries. The amended Section 47 of the Act allows billing authorities to introduce local business rate discounts to enable local authorities to have the flexibility to respond to such local conditions.
3.2.2 Last year the Government determined three business rates relief initiatives to support businesses which are being delivered by local authorities using their Section 47 powers. These reliefs being:

      • New Build Empty Relief

      • Retail Relief

      • Re occupation Relief

Cabinet agreed from 2014/15 to amend the discretionary rate relief framework to cover the granting of these reliefs.


The extension of the transitional relief scheme is now being delivered in a similar way in that rather than amend the business rates regulations to provide an automatic entitlement to relief the Government will reimburse the costs of relief granted by billing authorities in the circumstances set out in the guidance notes.

Awards will be made based on information already held within business rates records as only a very small number of accounts will benefit. Additionally, where it is felt there could be state aid implications e.g. national organisations, then a letter will be sent asking whether or not they wish to claim the relief before it is granted.


The guidance at Appendix A provides examples of the establishments which are likely to be eligible and not eligible, although as a discretionary award the Council reserves the right not to grant relief where it feels such an award is not in the best interests of the local area.
3.2.3 State Aid

State Aid law is the means by which the European Union regulates state funded support to businesses. Financial support from public bodies to businesses could have the potential to be anti-competitive and affect trade between member states of the EU.


EU state aid rules generally prohibit government subsidies to businesses. Providing discretionary relief to ratepayers can in some cases be deemed to be State Aid.
There is, however, a general exception to the state aid rule where the aid is below a “de minimis” level. The De Minimis Regulations allow an undertaking to receive up to €200,000 of De Minimis aid in a three year period (consisting of the current financial year and the two previous financial years).
To administer De Minimis it is necessary for the Council to establish that the award of aid will not result in the undertaking having received more than €200,000 of De Minimis aid. The Council will ensure compliance with the legal requirements and any permitted exemptions. Each case will be considered based on the organisation’s individual circumstances in full consideration of the state aid rules.



  1. FINANCIAL IMPLICATIONS

The relief is to be fully funded by Government by way of a Section 31 grant to billing authorities. An estimated amount will be paid in year on the basis of the NNDR1 business rates estimate return submitted to DCLG in January each year. The balance of the actual relief granted to be paid in the following year on submission of the NNDR3 final accounts business rates return.

APPENDIX A - DCLG TRANSITIONAL RELIEF GUIDANCE

How will the relief be provided?

1. As this is a measure for 2015-16 and 2016-17, the government is not changing the legislation around transitional relief. Instead the government will, in line with the eligibility criteria set out in this guidance, reimburse local authorities that use their discretionary relief powers, under section 47 of the Local Government Finance Act 1988, as amended, to grant relief. It will be for individual local billing authorities to adopt a local scheme and decide in each individual case when to grant relief under section 47. Central government will fully reimburse local authorities for the local share of the discretionary relief (using a grant under section 31 of the Local Government Act 2003). In view of the fact that such expenditure can be reimbursed, the government expects local government to grant discretionary relief to qualifying ratepayers.


2. Central government will reimburse billing authorities and those major precepting authorities within the rates retention system for the actual cost to them under the rates retention scheme of the relief that falls within the definitions in this guidance.
Which properties will benefit from relief?

3. Properties that will benefit are those with a rateable value up to and including £50,000 who would have received transitional relief in 2015/16 or 2016/17 had the existing transitional relief scheme continued in its current format. In line with the existing thresholds in the transitional relief scheme, the £50,000 rateable value threshold should be based on the rateable value shown for 1/4/10 or the substituted day in the cases of splits and mergers.


4. This policy applies to transitional relief only (i.e. those moving to higher bills).
5. As the grant of the relief is discretionary, authorities may choose not to grant the relief if they consider that appropriate, for example where granting the relief would go against the authority’s wider objectives for the local area. We would encourage councillors to be consulted on the final scheme that the local authority adopts, so there is a clear line of accountability.
How much relief will be available?

6. The government will fund Localism Act discounts to ensure eligible properties receive the same level of protection they would have received had the transitional relief scheme extended into 2015/16 and 2016/17. The transitional relief scheme should be assumed to remain as it is in the current statutory scheme except that:

a. the cap on increases for small properties (with a rateable value of less than £18,000/£25,500 in London) in both 2015/16 & 2016/17 should be assumed to be 15% (before the increase for the change in the multiplier), and

b. the cap on increases for other properties (up to and including £50,000 rateable value) in both 2015/16 and 2016/17 should be assumed to be 25% (before the increase for the change in the multiplier).


7. As explained above, the scheme applies only to properties up to and including £50,000 rateable value based on the value shown for 1/4/10 or the substituted day in the cases of splits and mergers. Changes in rateable value which take effect from a later date should be calculated using the normal rules in the transitional relief scheme. For the avoidance of doubt, properties whose rateable value is £50,000 or less on 1 April 2010 (or the day of merger) but increase above £50,000 from a later date will still be eligible for the relief. Where necessary the Valuation Office Agency will continue to issue certificates for the value at 31 March 20106 or 1 April 2010. The relief should be calculated on a daily basis.
Recalculations of relief

8. As with the current transitional relief scheme, the amount of relief awarded should be recalculated in the event of a change of circumstances. This could include, for example, a backdated change to the rateable value or the hereditament. This change of circumstances could arise during the year in question or during a later year.


9. The Non-Domestic Rating (Discretionery Relief) Regulations 1989 (S.I. 1989/1059) require authorities to provide ratepayers with at least one year’s notice in writing before any decision to revoke or vary a decision so as to increase the amount the ratepayer has to pay takes effect. Such a revocation or variation of a decision can only take effect at the end of a financial year. But within these regulations, local authorities may still make decisions which are conditional upon eligibility criteria or rules for calculating relief which allow the amount of relief to be amended within the year to reflect changing circumstances.
10. Therefore, when making an award for the extension of transitional relief, local authorities should ensure in the conditions of the award that the relief can be recalculated in the event of a change to the rating list for the property concerned (retrospective or otherwise). This is so that the relief can be re-calculated if the rateable value changes.

DCLG RETAIL RELIEF GUIDANCE APPENDIX A

Types of uses that government does consider to be retail use for the purpose of this relief:
i. Hereditaments that are being used for the sale of goods to visiting members of the public:
− Shops (such as: florist, bakers, butchers, grocers, greengrocers, jewellers, stationers, off licence, chemists, newsagents, hardware stores, supermarkets, etc.)

− Charity shops

− Opticians

− Post offices

− Furnishing shops/ display rooms (such as: carpet shops, double glazing, garage doors)

− Car/ caravan show rooms

− Second hard car lots

− Markets

Petrol stations

− Garden centres

− Art galleries (where art is for sale/hire)
ii. Hereditaments that are being used for the provision of the following services to visiting members of the public:
− Hair and beauty services (such as: hairdressers, nail bars, beauty salons, tanning shops, etc.)

− Shoe repairs/ key cutting

− Travel agents

− Ticket offices e.g. for theatre

− Dry cleaners

− Launderettes

− PC/ TV/ domestic appliance repair

− Funeral directors

Photo processing

− DVD/ video rentals

− Tool hire

− Car hire


iii. Hereditaments that are being used for the sale of food and/ or drink to visiting members of the public:
− Restaurants

− Takeaways

− Sandwich shops

− Coffee shops

− Pubs

− Bars
Types of uses that Government does not consider to be retail use for the purpose of this relief:


i. Hereditaments that are being used for the provision of the following services to visiting members of the public:
− Financial services (e.g. banks, building societies, cash points, bureau de change, payday lenders, betting shops, pawn brokers)

− Other services (e.g. estate agents, letting agents, employment agencies)

− Medical services (e.g. vets, dentists, doctors, osteopaths, chiropractors)

− Professional services (e.g. solicitors, accountants, insurance agents/ financial advisers, tutors)

− Post office sorting office
ii. Hereditaments that are not reasonably accessible to visiting members of the public

APPLICATION FORM FOR DISCRETIONARY RELIEF

All applications are considered initially to qualify for 100%




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