Kevin Adderley replied that the target for the last seven years was higher than the actual income. They could set the price that equated to the gap between the income target but it would require changing the whole system. Next year they would publish how much it costs and calculate and publish an estimate of planning fees. They would divide the total costs by the number of expected planning applications to derive at the fee. With no savings there would be a £500,000 shortfall. Cllr Hackett referred to 2.1 on page 35 about the capital program. He asked if he was correct that in respect of capital borrowing it equated to an increase in yearly revenue costs of 10% of the total amount borrowed?
Kevin Adderley answered yes, to borrow £9.63 million would cost £963,000 in interest a year. Cllr Hackett asked if it was possible to delay two schemes for two years? Cllr Mark Johnston said he was nervous about the minutiae and thought such matters fell within the role of the Council Excellence Overview and Scrutiny Committee to be discussed on another day. He wanted to hear all councillors. Cllr Hackett said he was only asking questions and that he wanted to help and advise in a unpartisan way which was surely the idea of scrutiny?
Cllr Hodson said they scrutinised decisions. He asked where the formula for planning fees was? Were they going to take the figures, divide by planning applications with no savings? Kevin Adderley said that was the government’s suggestion which was similar to the way Building Control had been operating since the start of the year. Cllr Hodson said he thought planning applications had dropped in number and asked for his views on the new planning rules. Kevin Adderley said there was a report to the next Cabinet meeting asking for views and a response. It would be a detailed report with suggestions.
Cllr Johnston said there had to be some explanation over why it was included, Cllr Foulkes had mentioned in his address to Council and the press that he would include scrutiny committees. He had expected chairs of committees to draw together and decide on direction, but he had only been given 24 hours notice to decide over the holidays and come to some conclusions. He had not been ready to remove regular items. There wouldn’t be a special meeting, but it was going to make this meeting longer. Cllr Johnston praised officers over the detail, but said the “information isn’t there to make detailed financial decisions”. The councillor said it would be helpful to have the portfolio holder and member of the Executive to present options and give his opinion. They could debate whether or not to engage scrutiny over the issue as well as the practicalities. They could agree to fully cooperate and scrutinise. Alternatively they could refuse to engage. The Executive needed to know by December, but he didn’t want extra work to impact on the agreed Work Program. A middle ground was the Executive giving the scrutiny committee options to scrutinise.
Cllr Hackett said the role of scrutiny was to inform and advise the executive and he thought they should help the executive to make savings. It was last-minute, but scrutiny could help. He had a couple of questions to ask. The first was about planning application fees. He asked if they were based on a realistic target and in the spirit of helping with the budget that if officers had no answers then could a further report come to the committee?
Kevin Adderley continued about the population demographics which was outlined on page 44. He did have good news of a Telegraph report on cities in the UK with the greatest growth over three years measured by companies that had grown 20% year on year. Birkenhead was second best after Aberdeen. 12% companies had grown 20% year on year, however there were signficant challenges in housing and the “worst recession in living memory” which led to small growth and difficult challenges. Universal Credit, housing benefits reforms and the work program being delivered by national providers as well as an aging population and housing were all issues to consider. Kevin talked about employer’s opportunities to retrain young people and keep the average age of the population down as the greatest reduction had been in young people of working age.
It was a changing global economy and the investment strategy had to include businesses and jobs. There was a focus on housing, specifically private sector housing. They were trying to secure inward investment into Wirral to tackle the economic problems. Wirral had 112,000 private sector units. Wirral Waters would help to tackle some of the economic disparities between different parts of the Borough.
The priorities were strategic planning and a strategic function for housing and planning. Hoylake, Devonshire Park and Liscard Neighbourhood were all involved in the Neighbourhood Planning Vanguard pilot. The land charge role was going to change and be opened up to the private sector. There would be partnerships between businesses, registered social landlords and developers. The European funding specification for Merseyside given since the 1980s was due to finish in 2012. There was discussion over continuing the regional program or a UK-wide program, they would lobby to maximise European funding. Cllr Mark Johnston thanked Kevin Adderley and the council officers.