Venue: Council Chamber - Civic Offices. View directions
Contact: A Hendry, Democratic Services (01992 564246) Email: email@example.com
This meeting is to be webcast. Members are reminded of the need to activate their microphones before speaking. The Chairman will read the following announcement:
“The Chairman would like to remind everyone present that this meeting will be broadcast live to the internet (or filmed) and will be capable of repeated viewing (or another use by such third parties).
If you are seated in the lower public seating area it is likely that the recording cameras will capture your image and this will result in the possibility that your image will become part of the broadcast.
This may infringe your human and data protection rights and if you wish to avoid this you should move to the upper public gallery.”
The Chairman reminded everyone present that the meeting would be broadcast live to the Internet, and that the Council had adopted a protocol for the webcasting of its meetings.
Substitute Members (Council Minute 39 - 23.7.02)
To report the appointment of any substitute members for the meeting.
The Committee noted that Councillor H Kane would substitute for Councillor J McIvor for the duration of this meeting.
Declarations of Interest
To declare interests in any item on the agenda.
Councillor Richard Bassett declared a Non Pecuniary interest by virtue of being a Non-Executive Director of Qualis.
To agree the notes of the meeting of the Select Committee held on 26 September 2022.
That the notes of the meeting held 26 September 2022 were agreed as a correct record.
(Chairman/Lead Officer) The Overview and Scrutiny Committee has agreed the terms of reference and work programme for the select committee. Members are invited at each meeting to review both documents.
The Select Committee noted their terms of reference and work programme.
Please see attached and to note that a short video will also be played for this item.
P Maginnis (Service Director- Corporate Services) introduced the Peoples Strategy report, updating the meeting on the recent employee survey carried out in June and July of this year. The meeting also received a short PowerPoint presentation.
The meeting noted that there was a 77% response to this survey and that the results would be put in the Council Bulletin. At present about 53% of staff work from home or remotely most of the time. 81% said that they felt as though they could be flexible in their role. 86% said that having a flexible working pattern was beneficial to them.
Asked about the 77% response rate Ms Maginnis said that amounted to about 410 employees and this also included interim staff.
The committee noted that although 79% had agreed that their manager had supported them on understanding Hybrid working; only 23% would actively promote the council to friends and family – were officers exploring the reasons for this? They were told that they were looking further into the data, but at this stage were not going back to ask specific questions. It seems that the longer a person had been employed here the less they would recommend it.
The committee asked what sort of safeguards did the council have in place that they could monitor that they were getting value for money, and how was the quality of work monitored? They were told that the council had a performance management programme, with managers holding regular one to ones with staff, and also set targets and measurements for individual staff and parts of the organisation. The committee came back by asking how the council controlled the allocation of work to the individuals. They were told that line managers controlled the allocation of work and monitored it.
They had noted that just about 50% of staff did not come into the office, so they could lose contact with their colleagues and managers; was there a policy on how many times a person needed to come into work? They were told that they did not have such a policy, it was down to the line manager how they managed this; some teams did have regular team meetings via ‘Teams’. Although they were aware that a number of organisations had this type of policy, this council had chosen to go down the line to give officers a choice. They try not to lose contact with individuals, and this was where team meetings came in. Working from home was easier for some roles than others. There were benefits and gains from staff working from home, it was a balance.
The committee noted that the issue was that there were not many people in the office anymore and councillors did not know who to contact when they had a problem. It would be handy to have a list of contacts. Also, do we check that the home workers had the right facilities at home and did we pay for equipment? They were told that there was ... view the full minutes text for item 25.
To note and comment the Cabinet report on the proposal to outsource the Concierge Service.
The Service Manager for ICT & BS, C Ferrigi introduced the report going to the next Cabinet meeting on the outsourcing of the Concierge Service. This came to this meeting for any comments the Select Committee may wish to make to be passed on to the Cabinet.
Due to various operational and resource challenges, the Senior Leadership Team (SLT) agreed to explore the outsourcing of the Concierge Service at the Civic Offices, by formally going out to tender, to then review bids and make a decision as to whether the Council proceeds to the formal stages of outsourcing.
Out of four contractors that showed an interest, only one of them, PCS Group, put forward a bid. The bid was a strong, tailored and detailed response, scoring 96.5/100 during the evaluation process.
Based on a three-year contract, the costs for year 1 and 2 were lower than our current operating costs and year 3 was higher. The savings made in the first 2 years offset the increase in the third year. If the service remains in house, costs will increase year on year due to salary increases and the cost of the existing contracts for out of hours and daytime cover.
The committee asked what would happen in year 4. They were told that officers would look at the contract every year and if it worked well, they could extend it and may include the welcome desk into the contract.
The committee asked why only one company choose to put in a bid and noted that what you would lose would be the background knowledge that the council’s current staff had. The contract would be managed by one of our team managers and the existing employees would be TUPE’d across, so we would still retain their knowledge. As for contractors, one of the companies thought that it would be too much for them to handle. And the other was more security focused.
The committee wanted to ensure anyone taking this job would be thoroughly trained and asked if there would be a training handbook that could be referred to; especially for the relief teams who take over at night. They were told that this was something they needed to think about on how this would work.
The committee noted that the company could come back to us should their pension liability exceed the figure they have budgeted for. Have they put a reasonable figure in their quote, otherwise, they could come back with any amount. They were told that they had not put in a figure, but officers had assessed the risks along with some employee relations issues they had at present and were comfortable there was not a risk there. The committee asked if officers knew at what point a figure would be put in, a few months or a few years later. The officer was not sure but said she would find out and put it in the minutes.
ACTION: to confirm when a figure would be given. ... view the full minutes text for item 26.
To note and comment on the quarter 2 Budget Monitoring Report for 2022/23.
The Interim Chief Financial Officer, Chris Hartgrove introduced the quarter 2 budget monitoring report for 2022/23. This report set out the 2022/23 General Fund and Housing Revenue Account positions, for both revenue and capital, as at 30th September 2022 (“Quarter 2”).
In terms of General Fund revenue expenditure – at the Quarter 2 stage – a budget overspend of £1.259 million, with projected net expenditure of £16.890 million against an overall budget provision of £15.631 million, was forecast.
As with Quarter 1, the Quarter 2 position was dominated by a range of substantial spending pressures, as detailed in the report.
The committee thanked Mr Hartgrove and his team for the work they were doing in difficult circumstances. They asked if the council had heard anything about any forthcoming government help? They were told that they have had the autumn statement recently, with some clues in there; but no good news for district councils. It tended to be dominated by adult social care costs and support for business rates. There was no good or bad news at present and because of this, this was a cautious financial plan.
The committee noting the problems with social housing and rents etc., wanted to know what the current collection rates were. They were told it was holding up quite well at present, but as the economic difficulties bite, this would cause problems and may reduce what was collected.
They then wished to know if more people were cancelling direct debits and asked how were our rent collections holding out? Mr Hartgrove did not know but would find out and come back with an answer.
After the meeting Mr Hartgrove supplied this answer:
“In response to the question at the Stronger Council Select Committee on Thursday evening (24th November), regarding the potential cancellation of Council Tax Direct Debits in the light of the worsening economic situation, I can confirm the following:
• April 2022 - number of Direct Debits taken 40,507
• October 2022 - number of Direct Debits taken 41,225
As you can see the numbers have actually increased since the start of the year. However, it was suspected that the Council Tax Energy Rebate scheme has had an impact, whereby the quickest way to get the Rebate (for non-Direct Debit customers) was to sign up to Direct Debit.
This analysis is of course backward looking. As I mentioned on Thursday evening, there appears to be an emerging consensus that the future prospects for Council Tax collection generally are not as bright certainly for 2023/24 and potentially beyond.
As for rent collections: The outcome is that performance on Rent Collection is – so far – comparable to previous years. Thus:
• Arrears as a % of Debit Raised (October 2021) – 1.55%
• Arrears as a % of Debit Raised (October 2022) – 1.59%
Overall therefore performance fractionally down (by 0.04%) compared to last year.”
The committee expressed the hope that the housing teams would be proactive in putting in plans for people having ... view the full minutes text for item 27.
To consider the attached update on the Medium Term Financial Plan.
The Interim Chief Financial Officer, Chris Hartgrove introduced the Updated Medium-Term Financial Plan (2023-24 to 2027-28). He noted that the Cabinet received the Updated Medium-Term Financial Plan for 2022/23 to 2026/27 on 10th October 2022. At that meeting the contents of the report were considered and discussed, including the implications for both the General Fund and Housing Revenue Account.
Cabinet also agreed that the report should go forward for scrutiny by the Stronger Council Select Committee in accordance with the Financial Planning Framework (2023/24 to 2027/28) adopted on 30th September 2022.
This was the first iteration of the MTFP within the 2023/24 budget cycle. It was a forward-looking document which provided a tentative look at the Council’s financial picture over the next five years (2023/24 through to 2027/28) and set the scene by providing a framework for developing both the General Fund and Housing Revenue Account (HRA) budgets for 2023/24.
The General Fund forecast within the MTFP reveals a projected deficit of £4.126 million for 2023/24. This reflects major spending pressures – driven by inflation – (for example) on Employees and Supplies & Services, which is exacerbated by an anticipated drop in Government grants of £1.154 million. Estimated net expenditure in 2023/24 is £19.402 million, compared to available funding of £15.276 million.
Looking further ahead – assuming a balanced budget was achieved for 2023/24, without recourse to the use of reserves – a budget gap was expected to open-up again on the General Fund from 2024/25, with annual budget pressures in the region of £1.4 million anticipated for two consecutive financial years.
The committee commented that a £4million deficit was a large proportion of the council’s budget. We can look to increase the Council Tax, housing rents etc. all options must be considered. Officers confirmed that they were being considered.
The committee noted that the biggest expenditure currently was staff, it used to be accommodation, but not anymore. A substantial amount of saving therefore would come from staff, but was there any more savings to be had from accommodation? They were told that salary costs have always been high, exceeding any other expenditure that the council had. The comparatively high vacancy rate captures some of the potential savings to be had without impacting on staff directly. Options have been presented to Cabinet and they have been working through them. At the next meeting this committee will see a detailed set of proposals as agreed by Cabinet for consultation. The Cabinet are always driven by the desire to maintain services as best they can. This was by far the most difficult, challenging budget we have seen as the impact of inflation and global economic issues had not been conceived at the beginning of this year, so there was no time to plan for it. The priority was still to protect council services by driving up efficiency in council services and maximising income streams where we could. If we could not do this, we would have to look to raising tax and finally ... view the full minutes text for item 28.
Dates of Future Meetings
To note the next meeting date of this Committee will be held on:
24 January 2023;
21 February 2023; and
18 April 2023.
The Committee noted their future meeting dates.