Agenda and minutes

Stronger Council Select Committee
Tuesday, 16th November, 2021 7.00 pm

Venue: Council Chamber - Civic Offices. View directions

Contact: Adrian Hendry, Democratic Services  Email:  democraticservices@eppingforestdc.gov.uk

Media

Items
No. Item

23.

Webcasting Introduction

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.”

Additional documents:

Minutes:

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.

 

 

24.

Subsitute Members (Council Minute 39 - 23.7.02)

To report the appointment of any substitute members for the meeting.

Additional documents:

Minutes:

The Committee noted that there were no substitute members.

 

 

25.

Notes of Previous Meeting pdf icon PDF 235 KB

To agree the notes of the meeting of the Select Committee held on 14 September 2021.

Additional documents:

Minutes:

Resolved:

 

That the notes of the meeting held 14 September 2021 were agreed as a correct record subject to noting the apologies of Councillor Mathews for this meeting.

 

 

26.

Declarations of Interest

To declare interests in any item on the agenda.

Additional documents:

Minutes:

(a)          Pursuant to the Council’s Code of Member Conduct, Councillor R Bassett declared personal interests in various items on the agenda by virtue of being the Chairman of Trustees for Epping Forest Community Transport, on the Board of Trustees of Citizen Advice, Chairman of the Business Stakeholder Group New City College and a Non-Executive Director of  Qualis. The Councillor had determined that his interests were non-pecuniary and he would remain in the meeting for the consideration of this item but not take part in any discussions concerning Qualis.

 

 

27.

Terms of Reference & Work Programme pdf icon PDF 99 KB

(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. 

 

Additional documents:

Minutes:

The Select Committee noted their terms of reference and work programme.

 

Committee members brought up the perceived unequal loading of work between the three Select Committees. They would like to see reports on complaints and on planning. They would also like to have sight of the number of agency staff as it would come under the people’s strategy.

 

It was agreed that this should be discussed at the next joint Chairs and Vice-Chairs meeting.

 

 

28.

Corporate Performance Reporting - Corporate Plan Action Plan pdf icon PDF 131 KB

To consider the attached report and note the progress of project delivery against Q2 milestones.

 

Additional documents:

Minutes:

M Hassall introduced the report on Corporate Performance reviewing progress for quarterly performance measurement delivery against Quarter 2 milestones. They had now put current and previous RAG status on the report and projects marked blue (closed) would be taken off the next time this report came here. Officers were also reviewing the KPIs to see if they were still relevant. One of the KPIs though marked red did not have a comment next to it, this was in connection to sickness absences; the comment should have read that the sickness was higher than anticipated due to long term sickness related to stress from the post pandemic complications.

 

“Post meeting update:

The master report has been updated to reflect the commentary around sickness.”

 

Councillor Jon Whitehouse asked if the Committee would get reports on all projects that had finished and were being removed from the report. He would like to see the closure reports or the results of the projects as once they went into business as usual, we would not know if they had achieved their goals. He was told that if a piece of work had been completed, officers would prepare a closure report, they can then look at why they were moving to business as usual as opposed to just closure report and why it was closed.

 

“Post meeting update:

This has been addressed. The Project Register was incorrect and has now been updated to reflect the correct status of all the projects. Project Closure Reports have been completed where appropriate and other projects are currently going through the formal handover and closure process.

 

The ‘Digital Customer Journey’ Project was discussed at Steering Group and will be managed directly through Customer Services. Comms will be issued to all Members.”

 

Councillor Bassett asked about the underclaimed benefit campaign and the pension credit shortfall; were we telling them that it had been calculated incorrectly. He was told that the officer would get back to him on this. A Small said that this was partly the reason for bringing in the Hub so that partner organisations could advise clients and point them in the right direction.

 

“Post meeting update:

This has been fed back to Rob Pavey (Service Director) – RP has been asked to feed his response directly back to Democratic Services so that this can be communicated to Members.”

 

Councillor Bassett asked about the engagement and wellbeing project and if Members could have a mental health training course, as they would be in contact with people with possible mental health problems. He was told that this suggestion would be taken to the relevant officers for consideration.

 

“Post meeting update:

This has been actioned and fed back to the Peoples Team.”

 

Councillor Bassett asked about the Sheltered Housing Review; who would scrutinise this if the reporting line was removed. He was told it would go to either Council Housebuilding Cabinet Committee or Stronger Place Select Committee.

 

On the new business support package, Councillor Bassett noted that the new city college  ...  view the full minutes text for item 28.

29.

Updated Medium-Term Financial Plan 2022/23 to 2026/27 pdf icon PDF 807 KB

To consider the attached update on the Medium Term Financial Plan.

 

Additional documents:

Minutes:

A Small introduced the report. This was the first iteration of the Medium Term Financial Plan (MTFP) within the 2022/23 budget cycle. It was a forward-looking document which provided a tentative look at the Council’s financial picture over the next five years (2022/23 through to 2025/26) and set the scene by providing a framework for developing both the General Fund and Housing Revenue Account (HRA) budgets for 2022/23.

 

The General Fund forecast within the MTFP revealed a projected deficit of £1.504 million for 2022/23. This primarily reflected the impact of losing Government Support for Covid-19 (£1.263 million) and the contribution from the General Reserve (£1.350 million) compared to 2021/22. Estimated net expenditure in 2022/23 was £16.022 million, compared to available funding of £14.518 million.

 

Looking further ahead, a further budget gap was expected to open-up on the General Fund again from 2023/24, with a peak annual budget pressure of £1.139 million occurring in 2025/26.

 

Councillor H Kane asked about the dates mentioned at the bottom of page 45 of the agenda, they were clearly wrong. She was told that it should have read 2026/27 not 2016/17.

 

Councillor Bassett asked if the figures were just a guestimate, how possible would these figures turn out to be? Mr Small noted that this was one of the more difficult years for preparing a budget, these were the assumptions that we were working on at this time. There were a number of significant risks such as inflation, including pay inflation. We also do not know what the Government would be doing over the next year, we should find out by mid-December. So, they were essentially trying to second guess the government here. He would not like to put a percentage on the degree of certainty for the figures.

 

Councillor Bassett added that in these circumstances the officers had done a good job. Councillor Philip agreed, this was the difference between a guesstimate and an informed guess. It had the potential to vary quite considerably; all we could do was just take a balanced view on this. The bottom line was that we would have a gap to fill of around £1.5million.

 

Councillor Bassett noted that the report mentioned savings but went on to say there were no savings assumed within the projections. And that the view of members would be sought; that was very vague. Did we have any ideas to what area we were to look at. It talks about members, but he did not think members got much say in this. Councillor Philip replied that there would be a report going to Cabinet in December, looking at these things. He would listen to what his colleagues had to say about where we could make savings and in what service areas. He noted that the Council would have to raise the Council Tax to its maximum this time around. A large percentage of the cost to the Council was due to salaries. We had a choice in meeting the pay settlement and reducing  ...  view the full minutes text for item 29.

30.

Capital Programme Update 2022/23 to 2026/27 pdf icon PDF 690 KB

To consider the attached report updating the Capital Programme.

 

Additional documents:

Minutes:

A Small introduced the Capital Programme Update report.  The updated (indicative) Capital Programme was in two parts and comprised total investment of £277.834 million (General Fund £107.537 million, Housing Revenue Account £170.297 million) over the five-year period 2022/23 to 2026/27.

 

The purpose of the report was to present and provide context for consideration by Members – alongside the Medium-Term Financial Plans (for both the General Fund and Housing Revenue Account) – an indicative draft Capital Programme for 2022/23 to 2026/27.

 

The next stage in the process (currently in progress) would see the assumptions and projections further refined (including making the necessary adjustments to the ‘capital consequences’ assumed in revenue budgets), for consideration by Cabinet on 6th December 2021, alongside any feedback from this Committee.

 

Councillor Jon Whitehouse asked where the Capital receipts were in the report as we would have substantive Capital receipts from the disposals to Qualis. Mr Small said that was a question for Mr Hartgrove, but he did not think there were any significant capital receipts assumed within these capital proposals. As for disposals to Qualis, they were technically only notional disposals.

 

RESOLVED:

 

The Committee considered and commented on the Capital Programme Update 2022/23 to 2026/27 as presented to Cabinet on 11th October 2021.

 

 

31.

Quarter 2 Budget Monitoring Report 2021/22 pdf icon PDF 1 MB

To consider the attached report which sets out the 2021/22 General Fund and Housing Revenue Account positions, for both revenue and capital, as at 30th September 2021 (“Quarter 2”).

 

Additional documents:

Minutes:

A Small introduced the quarter 2 budget monitoring report. The report set out the 2021/22 General Fund and Housing Revenue Account positions, for both revenue and capital, as at 30th September 2021 (“Quarter 2”).

 

In terms of General Fund revenue expenditure – at the Quarter 2 stage – a budget under spend of £0.129 million was forecast, with projected net expenditure of £16.682 million against an overall budget provision of £16.811 million.

 

The financial pressures due to the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic had generally stabilised, with the Leisure Facilities budget especially now back on track (albeit based on lower income expectations) as leisure centre usage recovers more sharply than expected. Similarly, Car Park usage was now back to around 80% of pre-pandemic levels, although the budget was off track.

 

The temporary delay in asset disposals to Qualis – as part of the Regeneration element of the initiative – was also causing some financial pressure in areas such as Building Costs and (Qualis) Interest Receivable, although the disposal has subsequently taken place on 20th October 2021, so the financial pressure would not get any worse.

 

As with 2020/21, the Housing Revenue Account position was less affected by the Covid-19 pandemic. However, a range of other financial pressures were combining to result in a projected year-end deficit of £1.403 million. The largest spending pressure relates to Housing Repairs (£560,000), which had been a challenge for the Council in recent years. However, the recently established delivery arrangements through Qualis were expected to deliver significant savings in the medium term.

 

Finally Members were reminded that the Council’s draft Balance Sheet position as at 31st March 2021 was showing that the General Fund unallocated reserve was now getting close to the £4.0 million minimum contingency balance adopted by full Council in February 2021, which was partly a consequence of late accounting adjustments to the 2019/20 Statement of Accounts (reported to Audit and Governance Committee, and approved by full Council in July 2021).

 

Councillor H Kane asked about the section on Repairs and Maintenance, she noted that it said that there had been a substantial number of repair works (both general and void) that currently sat outside the base contract with Qualis; what were these? Councillor Philip replied that there was a detailed contract between Qualis and the Housing department in terms of repairs particularly for voids. This has been an issue for a number of years. We could now track it throughout the year, that is why it was showing up more. Voids were completely demand driven, when a property became void it depended on the state it had been left in. There was no real planning you could do for this. There had been a significant number of voids this year and that was driving this forecast underspend. Mr Small added that when Qualis took over the housing repairs function we had a transitional period where we had some work being done by the previous contractors. 

 

Councillor H Kane went  ...  view the full minutes text for item 31.

32.

Accommodation Closure Report pdf icon PDF 213 KB

As agreed by the Select Committee in July 2021, to receive a closure report for any major project that were finished.

 

The Select Committee to note and discuss the closure report for the accommodation project.

Additional documents:

Minutes:

M Hassall introduced the closure report for the Accommodation project which had been accepted for closure at Cabinet on 13th September 2021.

 

Officers were reviewing closure reports to ensure that they would get better at writing them. This report laid out how the project performed against its original objectives. The project came in on time and on budget; there was also a section on lessons learnt; any unfinished part of the project which came to our notice at the end of the project, would be picked up and finished separately.

 

Councillor H Kane asked when the second floor would be made available. She was told that it had already been let. Councillor H Kane added that there was no mention about when it was finished and if it was under negotiations or it was already let. She was told that this was due to timing. Councillor Philip added that he had reported on the letting of the second floor on a number of occasions at full Council meetings. They were nearly there with the letting to the tenant and this would be finalised within the month or so.

 

Councillor H Kane then asked about the provision of a new entrance for the public to generate more income through a café facility. Where would this be situated? She was told that it would be at the end of the building, below the members room.

 

Councillor Jon Whitehouse noted that it was worth having a closure report coming to the committee. He asked what was happening about the lettable space and what was the occupancy levels of the conference space and when was it most used. He was concerned to see that parking was still one of the outstanding matters in the report and finally what was the initial evaluation of the Community Hub as it has not looked very busy to him. He was told that in relation to the conference suite, they were still at the beginning of this at present, they were still looking at how they were going to market it and because of the Covid, the take up on this was low. They did have some lettings but that was still very few. Officers would bring this back at a later date to show what the plan would look like. This was also tied up with the letting of the second floor and how the spaces got used. Councillor S Kane commented about the parking, there were a few variables on this, one being the negotiations with the tenants on the 2nd floor, the other was the future development of the Conder Building and when we would lose that car park. We know where we would end up and were working towards this. It would ultimately be a phased approach going through to the final position. Councillor Philip noted that when they had started this, they had no intention to rent out the second floor. During the pandemic they had realised that they could do  ...  view the full minutes text for item 32.

33.

Dates of Future Meetings

To note the next meeting date of this Committee will be held on:

 

18 January 2022;

03 March 2022; and

14 April 2022.

 

Additional documents:

Minutes:

The Committee noted their future meeting dates.