Agenda and minutes

Budget Scrutiny, Corporate Overview and Scrutiny Committee - Thursday 9 January 2020 9.30 am

Venue: Council Chamber - Shire Hall, Gloucester. View directions

Items
No. Item

1.

Council Strategy

Minutes:

1.1       Members met with Cllr Mark Hawthorne, Leader of the Council, and Pete Bungard, Chief Executive to discuss the Council Strategy and receive an introduction to the budget scrutiny day. Throughout the day the committee would meet with the Cabinet Members and Directors under the remit of each Scrutiny Committee and discuss their areas of the budget. Members on each of the Committees were welcome to attend for their relevant sessions or to stay for the whole day.

 

1.2       Members were advised to consider how effectively the proposed budget responded to:

 

·         The changing needs of Gloucestershire residents and communities

·         The priorities and ambitions set out within the Council Strategy – Looking to the Future

·         Any legislative or other changes in national policy or guidance

 

1.3       The Committee understood that the proposed budget included in the December Cabinet Report included cost reductions of £9.588 million, cost increases of £40.792 million with an overall budget of £468.183 million.

 

The Budget issued for consultation was based on 1.99% Council Tax increase and 2% National Social Care Levy.

 

Band D Council Tax of £1,345.32 (a £51.62 p.a. increase)

 

The Budget Consultation period ran from 20th December 2019 to 17th January 2020.

 

1.4       The Chief Executive emphasised that this was a draft budget and could still change based on any announcements from central government regarding funding changes. In addition, the responses of the public engagement and scrutiny’s comments would be taken into account. Members were informed that the number of responses to the draft budget was approaching 400 and there was still a week to go. It was suggested that this budget was more straightforward to present in that it included close to £41million of growth with only £9.588 million in savings. This differed to previous budgets that had been drawn up during a period of austerity.

 

1.5       The Chief Executive drew members attention to the overspend in the current budget for Vulnerable Children. This was in part due to an increase in the average unit cost of looking after a young person. This reflected a ‘broken’ market and a UK wide increase in demand for these services. Even those councils with the best run children’s services were facing similar issues. All other areas of the Council’s budget were within 1% of their allocated budget.

 

1.6       Cllr Mark Hawthorne, Leader of the Council, stated that the Council had received a good financial settlement from central government which provided for extra resources for adult social care and children. He suggested that lobbying through the LGA had delivered this additional funding. Members noted the budget increases in the draft MTFS.

 

1.7       In response to questions, it was explained that the budget did not contain greater contingency for any further deterioration in the children’s external market place. It was stated that the introduction of Trevone House and the additional placements that would bring would help to reduce costs in this area and deliver better outcomes. The Chief Executive stated that practice in Children’s Services was improving  ...  view the full minutes text for item 1.

2.

Environment and Economic Growth

Minutes:

2.1       Cllr Nigel Moor, Cabinet Member Environment and Planning, introduced the session by urging members to consider the Climate Change Strategy which included a range of actions to reduce carbon emissions.

 

2.2       Members noted the strategic intentions outlined within the draft MTFS. This included, during 2020/21 a number of strategically important long-term planning visions need to be developed or implemented including the Joint Core Strategy (Review), Local Plan refreshes, Local Transport Plan, including new rail investment strategy, Joint Municipal Waste Strategy and the Local Industrial Strategy.

 

2.3       In response to a question it was confirmed that there would be a review of household recycling centres in order to make them more accessible and safer. It was stated that this was not a cost cutting review and would include consideration of selling recycled items on the sites.

 

2.4       One member asked what the budget would be to support public transport. The Cabinet Member stated that this would be around £10 million to support commissioned, subsidised and community transport. New initiatives were being considered such as an ‘uber-like’ service in rural areas that would provide a more bespoke service. It was requested that a breakdown be provided to members on this budget along with details of what funding was provided by central government. The member sought reassurance that services would not be lost in the next 12 months and clarification was requested on whether the budget included an increase or decrease in this area.
ACTION         Colin Chick

 

2.5       There was a discussion on how the budget was looking to change behaviours and services in order to meet the commitments around tackling climate change. Cllr Nigel Moor discussed the review of the local transport plan and the ambition to bring about modal change. In response to a specific question it was stated that there was no change to third party recycling credits. The Climate Change Strategy was committed to an 80% reduction in carbon emissions by 2030; some members queried how funding committed to big capital projects that appeared to increase vehicle traffic met that ambition. In  response, it was explained that this was about playing ‘catch up’ and taking it step by step. A £1million pot was available so that work could be progressed in collaboration with districts. The initial focus was on ‘ getting our own house in order’ and show real leadership in carbon reduction. The Local Transport Plan would bring a range of initiatives.

 

2.6       One member stated that in examining the waste budget he could not see the savings being generated from the operation at Javelin Park and asked for a breakdown of the budget including the revenue implications of the Residual Waste Project over the next 12 months. The member was reminded that this was about delivering savings over a 25 year period.
ACTION                     Colin Chick

 

            Economy and Skills

 

2.7       Cllr Patrick Molyneux, Cabinet Member for Economy, Education and Skills, outlined that Gloucestershire had a prosperous and resilient economy. The focus was on increasing demand for services  ...  view the full minutes text for item 2.

3.

Adult Social Care and Communities

Minutes:

Libraries and Parking

 

3.1       Cllr Dave Norman, Cabinet Member for Public Protection, Parking and Libraries, outlined the commissioning intentions in this area, explaining that the review of on street charging would be carried out alongside investment in new parking zones and a new parking enforcement contract. With regards to libraries there would be an expansion of digital services and there would be consultation on an updated library strategy as this had not been looked at since 2012.

 

3.2       In response to a question, it was explained that the consultation document for libraries was still being drafted but this would be about enhancing the service. One member asked if the £10,000 figure was still available for community libraries and whether this would be improved. The Cabinet Member confirmed that there was no intention to reduce this figure. Savings within the budget related to the mobile library no longer being operational along with some staff that were leaving. There would be a staffing review in response.

 

3.3       One member queried the savings within the Registration Service. Cllr Norman said that he would have to come back to the member with the details but believed that this was in relation to targeting higher income in order to support the service.
ACTION                     Colin Chick

 

3.4       In response to a member’s question on residents parking it was explained that there would be no increases in charges above inflation.

 

 

            Public Protection

 

3.5       Cllr Dave Norman explained that the issues within Gloucestershire Fire and Rescue Service had been well documented and had been ongoing for around two years. The draft budget looked to increase the budget for the service in relation to inflation and pensions schemes but also to change the staffing structure of the service to incorporate seventeen returning posts. Historically the service had seen reductions in its budget and had been ‘cut too lean’. The new Chief Fire Officer had reviewed the service and, alongside the reports from the HMICFRS visits, had moved quickly to make changes. The budget included funding to support the Liberal Democrat motion at Council to support young people to access the facilities at Skillzone.

 

3.6       Members welcomed the increase in the budget for the service and emphasised the importance of supporting staff.

 

3.7       One member, while supporting the increase in budget for the Fire and Rescue Service, expressed concern regarding the Trading Standards budget. Cllr Norman explained that if there was an opportunity to enhance the service then he would look at options for that, but it was important to understand the links between that team and their shared remit with other areas of the Council’s work. In addition, Trading Standards teams across regions supported each other and shared expertise. The Chief Fire Officer reiterated that the initial focus had been on the Fire and Rescue Service and that the Trading Standards team was set up to focus on its statutory duties.

3.8       The Committee sought assurances that the increase in budget for the Fire and Rescue Service would allow  ...  view the full minutes text for item 3.

4.

Children and Families

Minutes:

Children’s Safeguarding and Early Years

 

4.1       Cllr Richard Boyles, Cabinet Member for Children’s Safeguarding and Early Years, outlined the commissioning intentions for 2020/21. He stated that the service was projected to overspend in light of pressure on the budget primarily due to external placements that had risen from an average of £50,000 per child to £99,000. The use of agency staff also continued to add to those budget pressures. The draft budget included additional investment of £14.94 million to support vulnerable children, allow for additional social workers, fostering allowances and other staff costs.

 

4.2       In order to mitigate the risks and challenges associated with high cost placements, Trevone House had been developed. This would ensure appropriate placements for children in care at a lower cost and allow them to remain in county.

 

4.3       Some members questioned what provision was being put in place for Early Years prevention work, particularly for children in the first 1001 days. It was confirmed that it was important to provide intervention at the earliest stage when it was at its lower level and this included intervention work pre-birth.  Members noted the increases within the budget of £917,000 for early years-improving outcomes for children, as well as £65,000 for additional capacity. This in conjunction with a joint project with Swindon represented a big proportional increase in spending in early years.

 

4.4       One member asked how the transition period for young people between the ages of 18-25 was managed and how that was reflected in the budget. The Care Leavers Strategy outlined a list of all the support being provided to care leavers including council tax relief and access to community health and fitness centres. This was an evolving document. A Joint Transition Strategy was also being developed with Adult Services to better identify young people at an earlier stage to help them through the transition into other services.

 

4.5       With regards to Education Health and Care Plans (EHCP), it was explained that once a decision was made to initiate an EHCP the team were hitting their targets in terms of timeliness. Members suggested that there were delays earlier in the process. It was explained that potentially this centred around the need for an Educational Psychologist report and that the budget included an extra post so that should help improve the service.

 

4.6       It was clarified that Trevone House would have 18 beds available in addition to ones held for use by the Police and NHS. Rooms would need to be kept free to allow for emergency placements so there was no plan to run at full capacity. The budget assumption was that there would be an average of 12 individuals there in year one.

 

4.7       Members expressed concern regarding the escalation in the Children’s budget over the years and the potential impact on other areas of the Council’s budget and reserves. It was explained that the budget was being constantly monitored and assessed. The amount in the draft budget equated to similar levels as other councils  ...  view the full minutes text for item 4.

5.

Corporate Resources (Core Council)

Minutes:

5.1       Cllr Lynden Stowe, Cabinet Member for Finance and Change, outlined the importance of providing the accommodation and facilities necessary to ensure good quality services. Part of that included the consideration of the Council’s commitment around addressing climate change.

 

5.2       Some members queried the increase in expenditure for the Council’s ICT systems. It was explained that the current systems were not at the level they needed to be so the investment was to improve that in light of cyber crime threats and to take advantage of digitisation of services.

 

5.3       With regards to the disposal of assets, one member suggested that more could be explored to increase income generation. A breakdown of income from assets would be provided.
ACTION         Paul Blacker

 

5.4       There was some discussion around the continuation of services previously used by maintained schools that had now become academies. Team leaders and managers of traded services had met to consider how best to sell those services back to schools.

 

5.5       In response to a question, it was explained that where services overspent but the overall budget was balanced then this would be absorbed within the Council’s whole budget. Where individual services overspent by a significant amount then potentially reserves could be used or other options considered.

 

5.6       There was a specific question regarding a technical finance adjustment in relation to the Energy from Waste Project which related to the way it was funded.

 

5.7       The budget included the potential for capital receipts to be used within the revenue budget for transformation purposes, if there was a requirement to do so. This was the flexibility that had been introduced by the Government and there were no plans for Gloucestershire County Council to take this action.

 

 

6.

Summary

Minutes:

6.1       At the conclusion of the day, the Committee provided feedback to the Leader of Council and Chief Executive. Members outlined a number of recurring themes and areas of concern that they wished to emphasise in addition to the points raised throughout the day.

 

Ø  Members expressed their concern over the pressure on the Vulnerable Children’s budget and, while welcoming the additional investment, expressed caution that this budget needed to be closely monitored.

Ø  Members commented on the importance of the level of general reserves, noting that it was now at less than 4% of the revenue budget. It was recognised that the Section 151 Officer had signed off the draft budget including the level of reserves. Some members emphasised that the reserves provided an important contingency in relation to any loss of control of the Children’s budget.

Ø  Some members asked that consideration be given to presenting the budget information in a more easily accessible way.

Ø  The Committee highlighted the way in which Cabinet Members had considered the Council’s commitment to responding to climate change throughout the day’s discussion. Members welcomed the introduction of a Climate Change Strategy. Some members felt that the commitment should be more explicit within the budget and reflected in the commissioning intentions.

Ø  Some members felt that the £10,000 per member for highways local was disappointing and they would like to see the figure increased.

Ø  The Committee outlined the importance of transport and how it had links to a wider range of areas such as schools, employment and adult social care. Some members highlighted the importance of support for public transport.

Ø  One member commented that in some areas of the budget, savings were attributed to a review of a particular service or staffing structure, but it was unclear how those reviews would save the Council money. It was felt that greater detail was needed to understand how savings would be achieved. The example of libraries was given.