Meeting documents

Joint Scrutiny Committee (Budget Monitoring)
Monday, 9th January, 2017 2.00 pm

Date: Monday 9th January 2017 Time: 02.00 p.m. Place: Council Chamber, Civic Centre, Ebbw Vale

Please note: all Minutes are subject to approval at the next Meeting

PresentAndReport toReport of
COUNCILLOR M. CROSS (CHAIR)
Item
No
Item/Resolution Status Action
PUBLIC
1. APOLOGIES

Apologies for absence were received from: -

Councillors P. Baldwin, M. Bartlett, K. Brown, B. Clements, Mrs. A. Lewis, M. J. Lewis, Mrs. J. Morgan, J.P., B. Pagett, B. Sutton, Dip.Ed., W.J. Williams, M.B.E, J.P.

Noted
2. DECLARATIONS OF INTEREST AND DISPENSATIONS

There were no declarations of interest or dispensations reported.

Noted
3. REVENUE BUDGET 2017/2018 - SAVINGS PROPOSALS
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Consideration was given to the report of the Chief Finance Officer, which was presented to brief Members on the provisional Revenue Support Grant Settlement and for consideration to be given to the savings proposals for the Revenue Budget 2017/18, whereupon:-

CEX434 - Removal of Underspend on Member Development Budget

Prior to the presentation of the report, the Chair sought clarification (due to new information being received) as to whether the above savings proposal was to be considered as part the overall savings proposals.

The Chief Finance Officer confirmed that Appendix 1 of the report provided a summary of all the savings proposals that had been agreed by Wider CMT and proposal CEX434 was one such proposal that had been submitted for consideration.

At the invitation of the Chair, the Chief Finance Officer, presented the report and highlighted salient points. An opportunity for Members' questions and/or comments was provided at the end of each section of the report.

Background and context/National Position

Account Settlement Transfers

In reply to a question, the Chief Finance Officer advised that Paragraph 1.4 of the report related to specific grant settlement transfers. However, the Council was lobbying Welsh Government via the Welsh Local Government Association to cease the provision of specific grant funding where appropriate and include relevant sums within the revenue support grant. This would then provide the Council with the ability and opportunity to determine spend locally.

Council Tax Reduction Schemes (CTRS)

In reply to a further question, the Chief Finance Officer advised that Welsh Government had continued current policy and funding arrangements for Council Tax Reduction Schemes in 2017/18 and as a consequence 244 million continued to be included in the settlement to support this scheme. From a Blaenau Gwent perspective, during the previous financial year the Council had allocated a budget in excess of 8 million to provide this support.

It was noted that during the current financial year there had been a decrease in the level of claims against this provision (this could potentially be as a result of an increase in economic activity within the area), therefore, as a reflection of this decrease in claims a savings proposal had been submitted for consideration i.e. FM5593 - Removal of Council Contribution in respect of the Non Rechargeable Council Tax Reduction Scheme in the sum of 300,000.

CEX405 - Incremental Increase of Property Rent for Occupation of Premises by Town & Community Councils

In reply to a question relating to the anticipated costs of engaging an external solicitor, the Temporary Head of Public Services confirmed that an external solicitor had not been engaged at this stage and would only be engaged should specialist legal advice be required.

ENV535 - Reduce Subsidised Bus Services

In reply to a question, the Head of Technical Services advised that the bus company was currently in the process of reviewing the regional cross boundary routes at this stage with a view to reducing the subsidy off the neighbouring authorities. If this review was successful Blaenau Gwent's own annual bus subsidy would not be affected at this stage.

The Member requested that a report be presented to the appropriate Scrutiny Committee once the review had been completed.

Use of Reserves

The Leader of the Independent Minority Group expressed his disappointment (as previously agreed) that a schedule detailing and demonstrating the use of all reserves had not been provided for consideration by the Joint Scrutiny Committee. It was noted that this information had been provided as part of the Quarters 1 and 2 budget monitoring process but not for Quarter 3.

The Member referred to the proposal to vire a sum of 800,000 from earmarked reserves to balance the budget and pointed out that it would have been informative for Members to be made aware of which particular reserve this virement would be made from and a narrative provided.

The Leader of the Independent Minority Group continued by referring to the previous meeting of the Joint Scrutiny Committee Budget Monitoring at which a list of earmarked reserves had been produced detailing the in-year movement on the budget forecast as at 31st March, 2017. It was noted that at point in time this amounted to 1.5 million. However, the current report now reflected 2 million and questioned variance between these two figures.

The Chief Finance Officer advised that the reports that were presented to the Joint Scrutiny Committee on a quarterly basis would continue to provide details of reserves forecasts for the current financial year. However, with regard to the Quarter 3 figures for both revenue and capital budgets these had yet to be finalised but would be submitted to the Joint Scrutiny Committee during February 2017 for consideration.

The officer advised that at the point in time when the budget had been agreed for the current financial year the mandatory living wage and one or two other areas were agreed which had amounted to 1.5 million. Upon production of the Quarter 2 budget monitoring report, figures were put forward which related to a further in-year reduction in services of 1 million and 500,000 from the Council Fund and 500,000 from specific reserves. The original figure of 1.5 million and the 500,000 required to balance this budget, therefore, equated to 2 million.

The Leader of the Independent Minority Group pointed out that as Members made decisions in respect of the budget and for them to have a greater financial understanding it was important that the detailed financial aspects and implications be provided within the reports including the detail of the specific reserves that were no longer required.

The Chief Finance Officer advised that the normal quarterly report to scrutiny to forecast the use of reserves in the current financial year would continue, however, the 800,000 virement, which was proposed to balance the budget, would not be included in the forecast for the current financial year but would be incorporated in the forecast for 2017/18 financial year.

The Chief Finance Officer concluding by advising that a list of specific reserves that were no longer required would be collated and made available to Members.

Treasury Management - Loans

In reply to a question from the Chair, the Chief Finance Officer advised that the half yearly Treasury Management reports provided detail of the overall funding package of loans. Officers ensured that the most favourable interest rates were secured and over time the period of these loans would come to an end. It was noted that the proposals contained in the report included treasury management savings.

Appendix 4 - Growth Items - Non Schools - 21st Century Schools Team Manager

The Chief Finance Officer advised that 21st Century Schools Band A programme was reaching its conclusion and there would be a time delay prior to Band B of the programme commencing. A small amount of funding had been used from the revenue budget in order to ensure retention of expertise within the team.

Appendix 4 - Growth Items - Non Schools - Children's Services - Demographic Growth

In reply to a question, the Chief Finance Officer advised that no figures had been included as there were no proposals to fund a new team in Children's Services. It was noted that this item heading should be 'Social Services' and not 'Education' as reported.

Recommendations

The Leader of the Independent Minority Group advised that as in previous years the Minority Group would not participate in any vote in respect of the recommendations and would make comment at the Special Council Meeting scheduled to be held on 12th January, 2016, if necessary.

A Member proposed that the recommendations be noted at this juncture pending the Special Meeting of the Council.

Appreciation

A Member expressed his appreciation to the officers involved in the preparation of the proposals for all their hard work.

RESOLVED to recommend, subject to the foregoing, that the report be accepted and the proposals/recommendations contained therein be noted.

Not Agreed