Agenda and minutes

Finance, Economic Development and Corporate Services Overview and Scrutiny Committee
Thursday, 5th September, 2019 10.30 am

Venue: Ballroom - Guildhall Arts Centre, St. Peter's Hill, Grantham. NG31 6PZ. View directions

Items
No. Item

22.

Comments from members of the public

23.

Membership

24.

Apologies

25.

Disclosure of interests

26.

Action notes of the meeting held on 16 July 2019 pdf icon PDF 197 KB

27.

Update from previous meeting

    Minutes:

    Advertising and Sponsorship Initiative

     

    The Vice-Chairman of the Committee apologised for not yet providing a written note to the Committee of the findings of his review regarding the awarding of a contract to Publitas. Having noted the Action notes of the previous meeting, Members confirmed that they were satisfied the relevant points had been covered, and there would be no need for a further written statement from the Vice-Chairman. 

     

    Utilisation of the Disabled Facilities Grant funding

     

    At its meeting on 16 July 2019, the Committee identified the issue of underspending with regards to the Disabled Facilities Grant funding. It was requested that an update be given, to set out the action being taken to reduce the underspend. The Cabinet Member for Communities, Health and Wellbeing received a written response on 9 August 2019. Members requested that this information was circulated.

     

    Action Point

     

    Ø  The Disabled Facilities Grant update to be circulated to all Members of the Committee

     

    The Cabinet Member for Communities, Health and Wellbeing was present to provide an update. He explained that the Council had spent a significant figure on disabled adaptations for our own housing stock, but this could not be included in the expenditure figure under discussion, as Disabled Facilities Grants were not available for the Council to use on its own properties. This was an challenge experienced  by district councils on a national level. The Cabinet Member explained that the funding was distributed via Lincolnshire County Council, with the relevant amounts being dispersed according to each district. The Rural and Communities Overview and Scrutiny Committee would be addressing the dispersal of funds in more detail at their next meeting. One Member expressed concerns that the underutilisation of the Disabled Facilities Grants contradicted national trends indicating an increasingly older, vulnerable population. It was suggested that the availability of the provision could be promoted more effectively to those most likely to require access to the funding. It was, however, noted that the number of referrals received was influenced by the availability of Occupational Therapists across the district.

28.

Finance update report - quarter 1 2019/20 pdf icon PDF 281 KB

    Report of the Cabinet Member for Finance.

    Minutes:

    Members were advised to consider the report of the Cabinet Member for Finance outlining the Council’s forecast 2019/20 financial position as at the end of quarter 1. At the end of quarter 1, the Revenue budget stood at £19.796m and a forecast overspend of £461k. One of the most significant variances to the Revenue Budget General Fund was the forecast underachievement of the workforce efficiency target (vacancy factor). Officers explained that this target was a workforce efficiency measure used to reflect in the budget provision any gaps between an employee leaving the organisation and a replacement being recruited.  

     

    Members were informed of the current known budget pressures for 2019/20, including income from Council-owned car parks, trader levels at markets, operational costs relating to St Martin’s Park and the challenges securing the budgeted transformation and procurement savings. At the end of quarter 1, only a proportion of the budgeted savings and income generation were on target to be achieved. Significant variances to the Housing Revenue Account, General Fund Programme and HRA Capital Programme budgets were outlined to Members.

     

    As the information within the report represented the first quarter of the year only, Members were advised that a clearer understanding of the Council’s financial position in relation to budgets would be able to be given at the end of quarter 2.

     

    Members of the Committee were then given the opportunity to ask questions or discuss different aspects of the report:

     

    ·         One Member noted that it would be useful to have numerical figures relating to market stalls occupied in towns throughout the district, in order to support understanding of the red RAG status for markets in Appendix B.

     

    Action Point

     

    Ø  Officers to provide a breakdown of the usage of market stalls across towns in the district

     

    ·         Members asked for further explanation of the budget variance in relation to dwelling rents in the Housing Revenue Account budget. Officers advised that this variance could be attributed to an increase in right to buys over the 2018/19 period, which reduced the total number of properties from which rent could be collected. It was noted that the working assumption in the Housing Revenue Account business model may need to be updated in light of the sustained increase in right to buys in excess of the associated assumption. 

    ·         One Member asked if there could be an update provided on the New Homes Bonus. Officers explained that they had not received an update from central government regarding this, but at this stage it was assumed that the current four year legacy payment model would continue. As central government was yet to confirm the payment amount for the next financial year, the challenge for the Council moving forward would be balancing the cost of potential external borrowing against investment. 

    ·         Members asked for information regarding income for car parks. It was suggested that an account of historical trends for car parking income over the past couple of years would aid their work to ensure that usage was economically driven.

     

    Action  ...  view the full minutes text for item 28.

29.

Quarter 1 performance pdf icon PDF 204 KB

    Report of the Deputy Leader of the Council.

    Additional documents:

    Minutes:

    At the Committee’s meeting of 16 July 2019, questions had been raised by Members with reference to the performance report for quarters 3 and 4 of 2018/19. Hard copies of the responses to these questions were circulated.

     

    Members were advised to consider the Report of the Deputy Leader of the Council, which set out performance information for quarter 1 of 2019/20. Also included in the report was an update on the progress of the Microsoft Power BI development as a new approach to performance reporting.

     

    Members were advised that of the twenty one corporate performance indicators, three were at amber status, meaning they were not achieving their target at the end of quarter 1.

     

    Included in the indicators at amber status was the percentage of rent collected in the quarter 1 period. This was attributed to an increase in arrears resulting from the further roll out of Universal Credit across the district, in addition to an increase in unrecoverable debts relating to deceased tenants and evictions. It was not considered to be a significant shortfall at this stage in the financial year.

     

    Also at amber status was the number of apprenticeships hosted within the Council. Members were informed that further recruitment opportunities for apprenticeships were in the pipeline, including degree apprenticeships and LGV apprenticeships. The Human Resources team would continue to work with service areas across the Council to identify further apprenticeship opportunities moving forward.

     

    Members noted that the percentage of waste sent for reuse, recycling and composting also remained within the amber threshold for quarter 1. This indicator reflected the ongoing issue of the contamination of silver recycling bins across the district. Officers advised that this issue is part of a county-wide problem currently being addressed by Lincolnshire County Council. Members expressed their concern over the high contaminations levels in silver bins, and felt that this needed considering in further detail by the relevant Committee.

     

    Recommendation

     

    That the Environment Overview and Scrutiny Committee consider the percentage of household waste sent for reuse, recycling and composting, including the level of contamination of silver bins to support the work being undertaken by Lincolnshire County Council and within the Council’s own service area for Waste and Recycling.

     

    Attention then turned to the indicators meeting or exceeding their targets at the end of quarter 1. The percentage of streets meeting the clean streets standard was noted to be performing particularly well, with over 97% of streets assessed meeting the standard. The percentage of planning applications approved also remained high.

     

    A presentation of the new Performance Reporting Framework using Microsoft Power BI software was given by the Strategic Director, Transformation and Change, providing Members with examples of interactive dashboards for different service areas. Dashboards could also be configured for the Overview and Scrutiny Committees, displaying corporate indicators as requested by each Committee. Members were advised that the website displaying the information would be linked directly to analytics, allowing for the display of live data. It was intended that this data could then be used  ...  view the full minutes text for item 29.

30.

Local Plan - proposed main modifications pdf icon PDF 212 KB

    Report of the Cabinet Member for Planning.

    Additional documents:

    Minutes:

    Members were given an explanation of the background behind the development of the Local Plan to date, including a general outline of the proposed Main Modifications of the report. The Main Modifications had been recommended in consultation by the independent Inspector. In order for the Local Plan to be assessed as sound by the Inspector, and thereby adopted by the Council, the Main Modifications were a requirement. If the recommendations were to be rejected, the Council would need to start on the production of a new Local Plan.

     

    The Committee were then invited to make comments relating to the proposed Main Modifications, which would be taken into consideration by Cabinet at its meeting on 10 September 2019. A summary of the comments can be found below:

     

    ·         Concerns were raised from Members with regard to the Main Modification requesting an amendment to Policy H2 on affordable housing (pg. 12 of Schedule of Proposed Main Modifications). Members expressed concerns that reducing the Affordable Housing requirement in the urban area of Grantham to 20% may adversely affect potential residents of lower income households. Although it was confirmed that this Main Modification had been put forward by the Inspector due to independently produced evidence submitted with the Plan, Members requested a more in-depth explanation of why this Modification was needed.

     

    The Assistant Director of Housing confirmed that the Modification related primarily to how the Plan would be deliverable in practical terms. The reduction in the percentage of affordable housing required could potentially increase the number of schemes desiring to develop in the area, thereby also increasing the number of affordable homes available overall. If this percentage were to remain at 30%, it was anticipated that there would not be enough schemes to allow for a deliverable Plan. Work had been independently carried out to inform this decision. Members considered the explanation to address their concerns. It was also noted by Members that the Affordable Housing requirement includes social housing.

     

    ·         Members discussed their concerns relating to the Main Modification to amend policy H1 (pgs. 10 & 11 of the Schedule of Proposed Main Modifications) to increase the indicative number of units in a number of areas. Members considered there to be a significant increase in the number of units in the market towns and villages such as Barrowby and Ancaster. Members expressed their concern surrounding the impact that these developments would have on local residents, including a number of Members’ Ward Constituents and queried whether the development of other areas could have relieved some of this pressure. It was acknowledged, however, that the intention of considering the report was not to scrutinise the original principles included in the Plan (including the proposed areas for development), as these were approved at Full Council on 24th May 2018.  Explanation was given that the Inspector had increased the capacity of some of the village sites discussed for transparency, as some of the sites had gained planning permission or developers had indicated through the Examination that the site could  ...  view the full minutes text for item 30.

31.

Deepings Special Expense Area pdf icon PDF 194 KB

    Report of the Cabinet Member for Finance.

    Minutes:

    Members were invited to consider the report of the Cabinet Member for Finance regarding the review of the Deepings Special Expense Area. Any recommendations made by Members would be considered as part of the budget proposals for 2020/21.

     

    The Local Government Finance Act 1992 permits local authorities to create Special Expense Areas within the district to avoid double taxation. In other areas, expenses covered by a Special Expense Area levy (usually grounds maintenance costs) would be covered by the Parish or Town Council precepts. The tax levy for the Deepings Special Expense Area (SEA) was charged to residents of Market Deeping and Deeping St James. The only cost currently included in the SEA was the grounds maintenance for the Linchfield Road playing field. This created the equivalent charge of around £3 per annum for a Band D Council Tax charge property.

     

    Officers explained that costs needed to continue to be met in order for the maintenance of the playing field to be sustained. The Council would need to decide whether to keep charging the local residents through the SEA levy, or request that the costs be wholly met by the direct users of the field; The Deepings School, The Deepings Rugby Union Football Club and the Deepings Leisure Centre. It was noted that the current review of the Deepings SEA called for further consideration of the principle of using SEAs as a means to meet community facility costs across the District. Bourne, Grantham, Langtoft and Stamford also currently had SEAs.

     

    Members were invited to make comments or ask any questions arising from their consideration of the report:

     

    ·         Some Members expressed that they felt SEAs were no longer the most effective way of collecting the tax levy for the relevant areas.

    ·         One Member noted that the field was closed to the public throughout school periods, and therefore found it unfair to ask the residents to pay for a facility which they would potentially not be able to use. Similarly, during discussion other Members mentioned that as the playing field was used primarily by the school, the leisure centre and the rugby club, it needed to be carefully considered whether all residents in the area should continue to front the tax levy for these services. 

    ·         Some Members pointed out that there were amenities available for public usage in all towns and villages, and as there were no restrictions in place to prevent residents from other areas making use of the provisions, the overall costs should be shared between all tax payers.

    ·         Concerns were raised as to the potential implications of asking stakeholders to meet the costs. Members expressed concern that the charge could deplete school resources, and could potentially  mean that the Rugby Union Football Club would find itself in the position of no longer being financially viable.

    ·         One of the Members for the Market and West Deeping Ward expressed concern as to the level of consultation which had been undertaken with stakeholders.

    ·         It was noted that the Leisure Centre were benefitting  ...  view the full minutes text for item 31.

32.

Work programme pdf icon PDF 58 KB

33.

Any other business, which the Chairman, by reason of special circumstances, decides is urgent

34.

Close of meeting