N Howcutt presented the Budget Monitoring Report and then asked Committee for any questions.
Cllr Tindall enquired if there were dates for the utilities to give us the all clear for knocking down the rest of the Civic. N Howcutt confirmed that there was a meeting next week with the utilities providers and that we have submitted plans which have been approved, we are cautiously optimistic that it is all going ahead as planned within the next six to nine months. There is a DevCo report going to Cabinet which will set out more details of progress.
Cllr Tindall asked if there was any way something could be done if it’s going to take a long time for the utilities to be sorted. N Howcutt confirmed that the costs were prohibitive, at present we are not committing those funds but if we think it may take longer then anticipated it may be something we would consider.
Cllr Tindall mentioned the slippage of £155k on the CRM project, we have an item in further down about staffing and the difficulty of professional recruitment, where we say about recruiting a professional resource are we talking about people. L Roberts confirmed that it was a specific dynamics resource which is very highly competitive in the market, it’s not something that we need at that level full time, so it is a temporary resource. We had difficulty at first we found someone, they’ve subsequently left because they were offered a full time job with Microsoft, we’ve now got someone else in.
Cllr Tindall said he was not too keen on people being labelled as a resource.
The Chairman requested clarification on point 6.1 on overachievement of income £210k, the pressure is offset by net additional income over budget relating to Temporary Accommodation. The Council’s own properties are being used to house tenants on a temporary basis, rather than more expensive bed and breakfast elsewhere. The Chairman, thought it was a good thing but also does it impact the people on the housing list having to wait longer for them to be vacated. N Howcutt confirmed this was use of assets that are not deemed appropriate for long term rental so it’s mainly use of assets above the shops, where we’ve got work to do in them, but in the short term they can be used temporary, so effectively using stock that we would rent to the private sector. The levy that we get for temporary accommodation is significantly more than if we’d rented privately.
The Chairman on point 7.5, the cost to the Council on void properties is driving a pressure of £30k, would that be fitting into the accommodation of short term letting. N Howcutt advised that temporary accommodation is in the general fund, this is the HRA assets which effectively is what applicants on the waiting list are waiting for. When these properties become vacant the reason they are void is not because we don’t have people waiting to go into them, it’s because we have works we have to do. This also affects Council Tax but when you consider we have 11,000 units in the HRA and there’s a pressure above what’s been projected, it’s actually quite a small percentage.
Cllr Barrett asked about the pressure of £100k on commercial waste due to declining customer numbers, is that because we are not competitive. N Howcutt confirmed that a review is currently being undertaken by a specialist service to get to the bottom of this. It might be that we are not competitive in the way we create our contracts, ours are more flexible to allow businesses to have the different levels that they need. We are looking at it as part of the review.
The Chairman queried the overachievement of income of £150k as a result of incentive payments from HCC, this is a normal thing they do every year, is this an increase or decrease. N Howcutt said that last year we had an increase in income in what they call the alternative funding model. Last year we had a £50k windfall, projections in terms of tonnage this year are lower than they were last year against targets set by Herts. It’s early in the year so there is a certain amount of caution.
Cllr Tindall advised there is now going to be in the autumn/winter the introduction of recycling at blocks of flats, has that been taken into account when thinking of the rebate from HCC or will that be a further windfall as that is likely to boost our recycling rate. N Howcutt confirmed there is a pilot underway, in terms of the impact of that we have put in a very prudent estimate on how much it will impact recycling levels. It will be monitored very closely once the results come out from that pilot and it will be reported to the various Scrutiny Committees.
Cllr Tindall was thinking of the money from HCC, does that mean that we will have the flats next year will put less in their black bins and more recycling, so ultimately potentially that’s a better return from HCC. N Howcutt advised that for 19/20 we will definitely be looking at modelling that. In terms of the volumes of flats compared to houses is quite small as a percentage and it would have to be a significant change to have an impact.
Cllr McLean asked about the pressure of £100k in Building Control and the over achievement of income in Development Control, are they related. N Howcutt said that there are two elements here, the Development Control side of it we have a few large contracts that we oversee those developments and they’ve been growing, the Building Control side the volume applies to us that have been coming to us on the small sites and they have been receding in recent years. There’s a pressure on Building Control staff and there’s this under achievement. Cllr McLean said this is no way related to residential. N Howcutt confirmed it wasn’t.
Cllr Douris was very pleased to hear about the specialist looking at commercial waste, a number of years ago I raised that we were losing money on commercial waste. There seems to have been a pressure of £100k, I don’t know if that’s the same pressure or if it’s increasing. We do need to do something otherwise we will lose income and we need to be a bit more commercially savvy in how we deal with it.
The Chairman confirmed the recommendation and Committee agreed.