The report sets out in further detail the Committee’s Revenue budget performance projections to the 31 March 2024.
The Group Head of Finance and Section 151 Officer was invited by the Chair to present the report, which set out the 2023/24 forecast revenue budget outturn as at Quarter 2. He referred to Table 1 at paragraph 3.1, which anticipated an overspend of £452,000. In referring to the variances outlined at paragraphs 3.2-3-4, he explained that an under achievement of £558,000 for the planning income fee against the budget was anticipated. He explained that the budget for 2023-24 was based on the previous three financial years of data, which had buoyant levels of increased fee income. However, during this financial year that buoyancy had not continued, which was an issue also affecting other local authorities in West Sussex. However, the Government has announced that planning application fee increases would be increased from 6 December 2023. He confirmed that this situation would be closely monitored, as it was too early to assess the impact on the budget. An underspend of £676,000 was anticipated due to the high number of staff vacancies, arising from the difficulties in recruiting suitably qualified staff, but this had been partially been offset by a cost increase of £570,000 in the use of agency staff.
The Chair then invited questions and comments from members. The Group Head of Planning responded to a question, as to whether the Council had seen a sudden increase in planning applications for large developments in anticipation of the increase in planning fees on 6 December 2023. He replied that as the increase in planning fees had only recently been announced, it was too early to take a view. He advised that he would need to confirm but from memory the planning fee increase would be on a varying scale, from 25% for smaller applications and 35% for larger applications. A member noted with interest that planning fee increases going forward were index linked annually, which could result in the receipt of substantial fee income from large developments
Referring to paragraph 3.4 of the report relating to the high number of vacancies across the planning service, a member commented that, neighbouring local planning authorities with similar recruitment issues were now with a full complement of planning officers. He asked if officers were liaising with these local authorities to see how they had resolved their recruitment issues. The Group Head of Planning advised that regular meetings took place with officers across the District, some of which had an advantage of having a ‘360’ degree geographic location to recruit from, whereas the Council was disadvantaged by its location on the coast reducing the Council’s demographic for potential candidates. Details were provided of the use of apprenticeships in Planning over the last nine years. Many of the Planning apprentices had been retained by the Planning Department and developed once they had completed their apprenticeship, although it would take some time to filter into more senior positions. Members were reassured on hearing the success of the apprenticeship scheme.
The Group Head of Planning undertook to recirculate ... view the full minutes text for item 424