Agenda and draft minutes

Finance and Resources Overview and Scrutiny - Tuesday, 9th March, 2021 6.30 pm

Venue: Microsoft Teams - Microsoft Teams. View directions

Contact: Corporate and Democratic Support  01442 228209

Items
No. Item

9.

Minutes pdf icon PDF 216 KB

To confirm the minutes from the previous meeting

Minutes:

The minutes of the meeting held on 2 February 2021 were agreed by the members present and will be signed by the Chairman at the next available opportunity.

 

10.

Apologies for absence

To receive any apologies for absence

Minutes:

There were no apologies for absence.

 

11.

Declarations of Interest

To receive any declarations of interest

 

A member with a disclosable pecuniary interest or a personal interest in a matter who attends a meeting of the authority at which the matter is considered -

 

(i)            must disclose the interest at the start of the meeting or when the interest becomes apparent

 

and, if the interest is a disclosable pecuniary interest, or a personal interest which is also prejudicial

 

(ii)           may not participate in any discussion or vote on the matter (and must withdraw to the public seating area) unless they have been granted a dispensation.

 

A member who discloses at a meeting a disclosable pecuniary interest which is not registered in the Members’ Register of Interests, or is not the subject of a pending notification, must notify the Monitoring Officer of the interest within 28 days of the disclosure.

 

Disclosable pecuniary interests, personal and prejudicial interests are defined in Part 2 of the Code of Conduct For Members

 

[If a member is in any doubt as to whether they have an interest which should be declared they should seek the advice of the Monitoring Officer before the start of the meeting]

 

Minutes:

There were no declarations of interest.

 

12.

Public Participation

An opportunity for members of the public to make statements or ask questions in accordance with the rules as to public participation

Minutes:

There was no public participation.

13.

Consideration of any matter referred to the committee in relation to call-in

Minutes:

None.

14.

Action points from the previous meeting pdf icon PDF 6 KB

Minutes:

The Chairman advised there was one action from the previous meeting that had been completed by N Howcutt so that was now closed.

 

Councillor Symington asked if there had been any progress with timescales for the decision making process in relation to Berkhamsted Leisure Centre.

 

M Brookes advised there was a report going to Cabinet in April on the proposed next steps and that would detail the timescales.

 

Councillor Symington asked if there were timescales or plans for individuals returning to work at The Forum when everyone is vaccinated.

 

L Roberts advised we were working according to the governments timelines and at the moment it is 21 June that all the legislation ceases to have an impact. Between now and then we’re liaising with managers and staff to understand how we want to use The Forum going forward. She explained that some departments will return sooner than others but we’re not expecting a large mainstream return before June.

 

15.

Budget Monitoring Report pdf icon PDF 325 KB

Additional documents:

Minutes:

N Howcutt introduced the item and gave a high level summary of the quarter 3 budget monitoring report. The report shows a general fund pressure of £3.2m of which £2.9m relates to Covid in terms of implications to services. The housing revenue account (HRA) is a different story, we’re projecting a surplus by year end of £2.5m, a significant increase on the end of quarter 2; this is primarily due to the reduction in repairs and maintenance because of not being able to access people’s homes throughout the year due to lockdowns and restrictions. In terms of the capital side, the general fund is relatively on line in terms of budget; there’s a 7-8% slippage and underspend which is not significant. There’s around 5% of slippage and underspend in the HRA so not vastly outside the realms of what we would be looking to see in a normal year.

 

He explained the big stories from the report was from the general fund prospective and was mainly around reduced income from a lot of our income streams which has really hit our bottom line and that’s been the real pressure on the general fund. In terms of the HRA, a circa of £4m underspend of repairs and maintenance, netted off by an increase in bad debt provision of just over £1m which gives you that bottom line surplus. Members of the Housing and Community OSC that were at last week’s meeting would have seen the revised 30 year Housing Business Plan that incorporates significant additional spend over the next three years to make up for the work that couldn’t be done this year. From that perspective the work will be done but will have to be rescheduled for the next few years.

 

Councillor Tindall drew attention to the £85k pressure in neighbourhood delivery due to interim resource to support the delivery of new initiatives within the service. He queried if this was for new ideas that had been recently developed.

 

N Howcutt explained that there were a couple of schemes that he knew about in detail, such as the rollout of recycling to flats that happened earlier in the financial year that needed additional resource to deliver, and there are some additional resources that have been brought in for initiatives around Covid as well as some additional advertising around what to recycle now more people are at home and disposing of more waste.

 

Councillor Tindall said he could understand the pressures around Covid but questioned why we were getting pressure on the waste from flats as that should have been in the programme over the last couple of years.

 

N Howcutt advised it was partly because more work fell into 2021 than was expected for 19/20 as there was slippage in the programme, and partly because the nature of what that involved and because of Covid we couldn’t do mass participation events so it was more one-to-one provision and actually cost more to do than planned.

 

Councillor Tindall referred to the  ...  view the full minutes text for item 15.

16.

Quarter 3 Performance Report - Finance and Resources pdf icon PDF 232 KB

Additional documents:

Minutes:

N Howcutt introduced the report and explained the quarterly performance falls into two sections; the performance report and the operational risk register. He advised we have 6 red rated KPI’s that were shown at paragraph 6 of the report and highlighted in the attached appendix. Quarter on quarter that is an increase of 1 red KPI which is linked to the performance of Council tax and customer contact response within 14 days. He said this had always been a stretched target but we choose to set it despite other authorities choosing not to because we try to achieve a really high standard. Also the amount of additional work the revenues and benefits team has had this past year has been phenomenal. He explained that the other red areas were linked to commercial property rent and the general fund position, which had been discussed under the budget monitoring item.

 

In terms of the operational risk register, he explained we had seen a reasonable amount of change in the first two quarters but no change in quarter 3. He felt this was because they knew what the risks were and what we’re mitigating for.

 

The Chairman referred to page 27 and asked for an explanation on the investment income streams.

 

N Howcutt explained that investment income is where we invest the cash that we hold on a daily or annual basis. He said interest rates on almost everything at the moment is zero, so we’re getting very little returns on our investments; last year we were averaging 0.8% and this year we have 0.2%. Equally, in terms of how much cash we had to invest earlier in the year, we weren’t receiving as much council tax or business rates as we normally would and so our cash balances (the amount we had to invest) were lower. He finalised by saying that those two direct impacts of Covid meant that the return on our investment income got hit significantly and it hits the general fund and the housing revenue account.

 

Councillor Tindall noted the wording market leading level on page 28 and asked if that was a positive or negative thing.

 

N Howcutt advised it was positive because it means our debt and vacancies were so low.

 

Councillor Adeleke referred to the performance for council tax queries. He asked if the queries were increasing in number or nature, and if it was a temporary Covid related issue or if they were considering changing working practices moving forward to cope with the increase.

 

N Howcutt advised that in terms of the council tax team this was both an increase in the volume and complexity of the queries they’re receiving. He said there was more residents earning less money and asking more questions around council tax support and the ability to claim for those. There was also residents asking to delay their council tax payments, so instead of paying for the first ten months of the year they pay the last ten months. On top  ...  view the full minutes text for item 16.

17.

Quarter 3 Performance Report - Corporate and Contracted Services pdf icon PDF 548 KB

Additional documents:

Minutes:

M Brookes introduced the performance report and drew attention to a couple of court cases we had been successful in; one environmental health prosecution and one taxi licensing prosecution. He advised that we had just finished the annual canvass which was particularly tricky this year due to the lockdown and all the PPE required. Despite the difficulties we had managed a really successful canvas with over 95% success rate which was actually the highest ever for the council. He gave credit to the team for that success.

 

Councillor Tindall referred to the legal cases in relation to Stone and Sherman. He said there was no indication of whether we were granted costs or not.

 

F Hussain advised that the Stone case was a closure and the defendant was possibly on benefits so sometimes it was not actually worth seeking costs that we’re not going to recover. The Sherman case was struck out in the early stages so we wouldn’t have applied for those costs.

 

Councillor Tindall referred to the developing Climate Change Strategy and Action Plan on page 54. He queried if there was a timeline on when that was going to be discussed.

 

Action: B Hosier said he would investigate and come back to members with a response.

 

Councillor Symington asked what consultation had been done with residents regarding the Berkhamsted Leisure Centre. She said she hadn’t been made aware of any consultation with residents about what they might want, especially in view of the fact that we have a number of rival projects going on that have come through the Local Plan or have had planning permission granted. She sought clarification on how we’re going to pull all this together.

 

M Brookes explained that the stage they just completed was the feasibility stage where they looked to see what was possible on the site in terms of a facility mix and options for reconfiguring the site. The consultation on that was more focused on user groups; so lots of sports clubs and also national and regional groups and bodies. He advised that the public focus hasn’t happened yet because they wanted to focus on the art of the possible at this stage before we started the detailed design planning, and that would be carried out at the next stage which was stage two. The report going to Cabinet in April was to seek authority to award the consultants that develop that side of the project and that was where the public consultation would come in.

 

Councillor Symington asked for a timeline on how long it would be until it came back to the public domain.

 

M Brookes advised that after Cabinet in April they hope to award the contract and then begin the next stage which will be developing the plan, the design, the business plan and the revenue cost plan. It will be at that stage they would look to go out and do some public consultation. He suggested we would be looking at the summer  ...  view the full minutes text for item 17.

18.

Quarter 3 Performance Report - Performance, People and Innovation pdf icon PDF 569 KB

Additional documents:

Minutes:

L Roberts introduced the report and advised it covered Human Resources and ICT and Digital Services. She was pleased to report that sickness levels had been good although at this time of year we would expect an increase due to colds and flu. Overall sickness rates were lower this year than this time last year which was good considering the pandemic. Long term sickness was still being monitored closely to make sure we’re taking all the right steps.

 

She wanted to update members on what they were doing for the health and wellbeing of all staff during this challenging period. She said they had developed an action plan to support staff and this included running webinars, expert advice on home schooling, time to talk to make sure people are communicating, specialist financial and loneliness workshops, exercise classes three times per week, bulletins to advertise where people can get help and the introduction of protect your lunch break to ensure staff get a break away from their screen. A monthly group has been set up to evolve that programme of work and to suggest what other things could be done to support staff.

 

In relation to ICT and digital services, Microsoft Teams has been an essential part of how we all work now as well as the reliance on our systems to enable people to work from home. This does cause the ICT department a degree of complications as it’s often not the kit that is the problem but the individuals connectivity to the internet which is harder for them to diagnose. Overall the KPI’s show that we are performing well in those areas and staff have been very grateful for the support of the ICT team over the past few months. Finally, we have had an increase again on the number of website users and we’re finding that more and more people are choosing to use it.

 

Councillor Adeleke commended the various activities and measures put in place for the welfare of staff. He said he had seen a video that had been sent by the Chief Executive to update staff which he felt was excellent. He asked if this would be something she intended to repeat given the current situation.

 

L Roberts said she would pass that question on to C Hamilton but believed it was something she would continue to do. She advised that on a regular basis the Chief Executive sent out messages to all staff to talk about things that are happening or coming up.

 

Councillor Adeleke felt staff would appreciate video messages more as they are more personal.

 

Councillor Symington firstly commended all the measures in place to support the staff. She also praised the ICT team and said they had been incredibly helpful during her recent contact with them about Internet Explorer issues. She then queried what the overall risk to the organisation was of using legacy platforms.

 

B Trueman advised that Internet Explorer was a supported product and wasn’t a legacy product in  ...  view the full minutes text for item 18.

19.

Independent Remuneration Panel - Scheme of Members' Allowances for Dacorum Borough Council pdf icon PDF 320 KB

Minutes:

The Chairman highlighted that a revised report for this item was circulated this morning.

 

F Hussain introduced the report and explained that there was an error in the base figure on the initial report because the number of Cabinet members had changed since the last review. She advised that the Council was required to put in place a policy for member’s allowances and the current policy expires at the end of this financial year. The Council is required to take into account the views of an independent panel; the panel was made up of three members who either live or work in the borough. The panel met on three separate occasions and considered a number of documents including the results of a member’s questionnaire, a timetable of committee meetings from the previous year and members allowances schemes from other Hertfordshire authorities.  In summary, the panel recommended an increase of 0.5% to the basic and special responsibility allowances and this is in line with the consumer price index figure for September 2020 and the increase also reflects the schemes in neighbouring local authorities.

 

Councillor Symington referred to the office furniture and equipment allowance. She asked how that was communicated and paid to members as it wasn’t something she was aware of. She advised that a number of members had applied for supplementary computer equipment and their requests had been rejected.

 

F Hussain said she understood that any requests for IT equipment should be passed on through to the IT department.

 

B Trueman agreed that requests should come to the IT service desk. He said there was a core set of equipment that is provided and then there were additional pieces of equipment that would be outside of their budget so in that instance they would ask democratic services for a cost code.

 

Councillor Symington advised that requests had gone through democratic services and suggested that some of the things that had been said and done possibly wouldn’t have happened if there had been more awareness of this allowance. She asked that going forward, could members be made aware of and be given access to this sort of useful information.

 

Action: M Brookes suggested he could put together some guidance as to what that money was for and to ensure it was fairly claimed. This will be publicised through member’s news.

 

The Chairman said he had thought about the report and the calculations and he wondered if it was worth the hassle. He queried why the panel had decided on a 0.5% increase against no increase.

 

Lynda Evans advised that if the panel didn’t decide on an increase, even if it was a small amount over a number of years, then it would fall behind. She said the last time they did this report the members hadn’t received a pay rise for a couple of years so they had to increase the allowances by the recommended amount which is the consumer price index in the September before. They also felt that member’s  ...  view the full minutes text for item 19.

20.

Work Programme pdf icon PDF 158 KB

Minutes:

The following changes were made to the work programme:

 

June

 

·         Add Garages report – J Deane

·         Update on the leisure centres – M Brookes

 

To be scheduled

 

·         Commercial Properties & Future Plans – requested by Councillor Symington