To consider the report of the Chief Officer
Consideration was given to the report of the Chief Officer Resources which provided the forecast financial outturn position across all portfolios for the financial year 2019/20 (as at 30th September, 2019) and to review the actions taken forward to move towards a balanced outturn position.
The Officer said this was a positive report and stated that the overall forecast financial position across all portfolios at 31st March, 2020 was showing a relatively small adverse variance of £7,200 against a total net revenue budget of £147m. This was an improved position on the forecast position reported in quarter 1. She then spoke to the report and highlighted the main points contained therein.
Environment - £259k adverse variance
A Member referred to Appendix 4 which outlined the actions to be taken to address the adverse variance, in particular reduction of town centre deep cleans and weed spraying. He pointed out that the current administration, in Council in July 2019, gave a commitment to prioritise street cleansing over the next 5 years, and the Member asked whether it was intended to move away from that priority.
He also referred to the development of a second HWRC in Roseheyworth and the associated revenue costs attached. He questioned whether it was financially viable for the Council in light of the adverse variance within the Environment Portfolio, and whether the HWRC had replaced the Leadership’s priority for street cleansing. He expressed concern that the adverse variance within the Portfolio was after the virement of money into the portfolio, and prior to the HWRC being operational.
In response the Corporate Director Community Services & Regeneration said street cleansing remained a priority for the Council, but these actions were necessary to balance the budget. One of the key challenges was the increase in black bag sorting, but recycling continued to improve which would hopefully drive a reduction in costs in order to balance the budget, and then enable us to continue the activities that the Council committed to delivering.
Another Member asked whether some of the street cleansing activities could be undertaken ‘in-house’ in order to reduce costs.
The Corporate Director said some of the actions outlined in the report were short-term, and there would be opportunity to review and consider alternative opportunities as the budget progressed.
A Member said there was nothing in the report to suggest that politically the Council’s priorities had changed. The report outlined the need for ‘cut-backs’ in order to balance the budget, and this may be required across all portfolios.
In relation to income generation, a Member asked whether there were any proposals to expand the facilities available at Augusta House.
The Corporate Director Social Services confirmed that a feasibility study was undertaken and Welsh Government funding had been secured to develop additional facilities for the wider Gwent area.
Cwmcrachen Caravan Site
In response to a question raised by a Member regarding the electricity supply issues at the site, the Corporate Director Community Services & Regeneration confirmed that discussions were ongoing with the energy company regarding the installation of individual metres at the site.
A Member asked whether the Authority could subside the cost of installation of the metres in order to speed up the process, and the Corporate Director undertook to investigate.
In response to a further question, the Corporate Director Community Services & Regeneration explained that the Authority had a management agreement with the owners of the site to keep the site maintained. However, detailed expenditure would be considered moving forward.
Sustainable Social Services Grant
A Member referred to the risk identified at section 5.2.3 of the report, i.e. the risk that the Sustainable Social Services Grant may not be awarded in future years, and asked whether there was any indication of this money coming through.
The Corporate Director of Social Services said there was no indication at the moment and this was likely due to the delay in the budget, but hopefully the money would be received.
Fees & Charges
A Member expressed concern regarding a number of the adverse variances within fees and charges, particularly licensing.
In response the Corporate Director Community Services & Regeneration said in relation to licensing fees, a proposal was submitted to the General Licensing Committee to change the fees to bring them more in line with the cost recovery model, however, the proposal was not accepted by the Committee.
The Chair confirmed that a report would be submitted to the Corporate Overview Scrutiny Committee in January 2020.
In response to a question raised, the Corporate Director Community Services & Regeneration said the current contract was the most efficient option at the moment, and was operating on a cost neutral basis.
The Committee AGREED to recommend that the report be accepted and the Joint Budget Scrutiny:
· Provided appropriate challenge to the financial outcomes in the report;
· Considered the action plans attached at Appendix 4 developed to address the forecast adverse variances at the end of September 2019; and
· Recommend that the Executive approve the budget virements attached at Appendix 5 which exceed £250,000.