Agenda and minutes

Joint Scrutiny Committee (Budget Monitoring)
Monday, 28th September, 2020 10.00 am

Venue: Virtually via Microsoft Teams - if you would like to attend this meeting live via Microsoft Team please contact committee.services@blaenau-gwent.gov.uk

Contact: Democratic Services  7788

Media

Items
No. Item

1.

Simultaneous Translation

You are welcome to use Welsh at the meeting, a minimum notice period of 3 working days is required should you wish to do so.  A simultaneous translation will be provided if requested.

Minutes:

It was noted that no requests had been received for the simultaneous translation service.

 

2.

Apologies

To receive.

Minutes:

Apologies for absence were received from Councillors T. Sharrem, P. Baldwin, D. Wilkshire, G. Paulsen and the Managing Director who was attending a G10 Meeting.

 

3.

Declarations of Interest and Dispensations

To receive.

Minutes:

The following declarations of interest were reported:

 

Item No. 7 Revenue Budget Monitoring 2020/21, Forecast Outturn to 31st March, 2021

 

Councillors J.C. Morgan (Appendix 3 - Tredegar HLF)

Councillor W. Hodgins (Appendix 3 - Aneurin Leisure Trust)

Councillor L. Parsons (Appendix 3 - Aneurin Leisure Trust)

Councillor P. Edwards (Appendix 3 – Markets)

 

Item No. 8 Capital Monitoring, Forecast for 2020/21 Financial Year (as at 30 June 2020)

 

Councillor W. Hodgins (Appendix 1 & 2 - Aneurin Leisure Trust)

Councillor L. Parsons (Appendix 1 & 2 - Aneurin Leisure Trust)

 

4.

Time of Future Meetings

To consider.

Minutes:

The Committee AGREED that future meetings would be held at 10.00 a.m.

 

5.

Joint Scrutiny Committee (Budget Monitoring) pdf icon PDF 321 KB

To receive the minutes of the Joint Scrutiny Committee (Budget Monitoring) held on 9th March, 2020.

 

(Please note the minutes are submitted for points of accuracy only).

Minutes:

The Minutes of the Joint Scrutiny Committee meeting held on 9th March, 2020 were submitted.

 

The Committee AGREED that the Minutes be accepted as a true record of proceedings.

 

6.

Revenue Budget Monitoring -2020/2021, Forecast Outturn to 31 March 2021 (As at 30 June 2020) pdf icon PDF 670 KB

To consider the report of the Chief Officer Resources.

Additional documents:

Minutes:

Consideration was given to report of the Chief Officer Resources.

 

The Chief Officer Resources presented the report which detailed the forecast financial outturn position across all portfolios for the financial year 2020/2021 (as at 30th June 2020); the forecast outturn for Fees & Charges; and progress on the achievement of the Bridging the Gap Projects for 2020/2021.

 

The Officer said the overall forecast outturn as at June 2020 was an adverse variance of £3.185m, before the application of Welsh Government Hardship and Furlough funding forecast at £1.98m, which reduced the forecast adverse variance to £1.2m.  The table at section 5.1.2 of the report detailed the forecast overall financial position across all portfolios at 30th June 2020, and before the inclusion of Covid-19 related expenditure.

 

Following the submission of the WLGA Survey on Loss of Income, four areas have been identified where there was a consistent loss of income across all Welsh Authorities.  These included parking, waste, school catering and cleaning and cultural services.  The Chief Officer confirmed that Welsh Government had considered claims from LA’s for loss of income for Quarter 1 relating to tranche 1, i.e. civil parking enforcement, grounds maintenance, school catering, waste disposal and cultural services) and the Council had received a total sum of £973,000.  As a result, £613,000 of lost income had been re-instated in the portfolio forecasts.

 

The Officer reported that in recent days, an additional £151k had been received from Welsh Government as part of tranche 2 of the Quarter 1 income loss claim.  Taking into account the Hardship Funding, Furlough income and the initial claim for lost income, the net impact on the Council’s Revenue Budget was a forecast adverse variance of £1.2m.  The Officer reported that 50% of the forecast adverse variance related to the increased caseload around the Council Tax Reduction Scheme which was currently forecasting an adverse variance of £0.6m.  Welsh Government were also considering the financial impact of this across Wales.

 

The Officer concluded that action plans to address cost pressures were attached at Appendix 4. However, she pointed out that many of the cost pressures would reduce with the application of further tranches of funding for loss of income (from chargeable services) and potential WG Hardship funding for Council Tax Reduction Support.

 

A Member referred to the Transformation Fund and asked how much money had been committed to the Festival Park project.

 

In response the Officer confirmed that £30k had been agreed.

 

The Member said given the fact that Welsh Government had provided a Hardship Fund, he expressed concern that as a grant funded organisation, the Council had received Furlough Funding when there were small businesses struggling in the Borough and people losing their jobs. 

 

He also said the £460k uncommitted Transformation Fund should be used to address any cost pressures resulting from the pandemic, and whilst the Council pays for the Festival Park Business Case, he was disappointed that earmarked reserves had been utilised for some consultancy fees.  However, he said the fact that the Council’s reserves  ...  view the full minutes text for item 6.

7.

Capital Budget Monitoring, Forecast for 2020/2021 Financial Year (as at 30 June 2020) pdf icon PDF 515 KB

To consider the report of the Chief Officer Resources.

Additional documents:

Minutes:

Consideration was given to report of the Chief Officer Resources.

 

The Chief Officer Resources presented the report which provided an overview of each Portfolio’s actual and forecast capital expenditure against funding approvals for the 2020/2021 financial year, as at 30th June 2020, and details of any significant adverse and/or favourable variances.

 

The overall financial position forecast at 30th June 2020 indicated an adverse variance of £24,000 against a total in year capital budget of £20m.  Despite the Covid-19 Pandemic actual expenditure to June 2020 of £2m was £300,000 higher compared to Quarter 1 in financial year 2019/2020. However, should the pandemic situation continue to improve it was expected that Capital Expenditure would reach £20m by 31st March 2021.

 

The Officer said the forecast over-spend of £24,000 related to the essential capital works following adverse weather and the resulting flood damage in the early part of 2020. A Funding request had been submitted to Welsh Government, however, the Council had yet to receive confirmation of grant funding to cover the costs.  Where overall funding approvals were likely to be exceeded, and additional compensatory funding sources not be identified, budget holders would initially report the consequences to the Corporate Leadership Team, including proposals to defer/delete other approved schemes.

 

P. 88 Flood Damage Emergency Repairs

 

A Member referred to comments made at the previous meeting seeking a more prudent budget in relation to flooding, and said serious consideration should now be given to this in light of the number of flooding incidents across the Borough.

 

P. 85 Play Equipment

 

A Member sought clarification on the Welsh Government funding previously obtained for development of a ‘splash park’ in the Borough, and asked whether the funding had been returned to Welsh Government, or spent elsewhere.

 

In response the Chief Officer Resources explained that the ‘splash park’ proposal was no longer being progressed, however, following discussions with Welsh Government they agreed that the funding could be utilised for the provision of other play equipment in the Borough.

 

In response to a further question the Corporate Director Regeneration & Community Services said this came under the remit of the Community Services Scrutiny Committee.  He confirmed that a report on play equipment had been considered, and recommended for approval, at the last meeting of the Scrutiny Committee, and part of the report gave consideration to the Welsh Government funding being utilised for play equipment, in line with the Council’s Play Strategy previously agreed. 

 

The Chair was experiencing technical difficulties, and the Vice-Chair took the Chair at this juncture.

 

A Member asked whether the Council’s Play Strategy could now be reviewed in light of the additional Welsh Government funding.

 

In response the Corporate Director Regeneration & Community Services said there was no intention to review the Play Strategy, but the additional funding would allow us to go further down the priority list of the Strategy.  The report also outlined the commitment to engage with all Ward Members to discuss sites identified for removal or otherwise.

 

A Member asked for a  ...  view the full minutes text for item 7.

8.

Use of General and Earmarked Reserves 2019/2020 pdf icon PDF 701 KB

To consider the report of the Chief Officer Resources.

Additional documents:

Minutes:

Consideration was given to report of the Chief Officer Resources.

 

The Chief Officer Resources presented the report which provided the Reserves outturn position for 2019/2020 as at Quarter 4 (31st March 2020).  Section 6 of the report provided an overall summary of the financial position in relation to the remaining balances in general and earmarked reserves at 31st March, 2020.

 

The Officer then referred Members to table 1 at Section 6.1.3 which showed the outturn position for the general reserve at year-end 2019/2020 to be an increase of £0.454m, to £6.348m. This balance represented 4.69% of net revenue expenditure, £0.934m above the 4% target level of £5.414m.  As a result of the positive provisional settlement, the Council approved an increase to Reserves in excess of £1.5m for 2020/2021 when setting the 2020/2021 Budget, to support medium term financial planning and strengthen the Council’s financial resilience

 

The Officer concluded that in in comparison to all other Welsh Authorities, at 31st March, 2018 Blaenau Gwent had the lowest level of general and earmarked reserves expressed as a percentage of Gross Revenue Expenditure. Comparative information drawn from audited statutory accounts indicated that this position had improved to the end of 2018/2019.  However, in order to meet the Welsh average, general and earmarked reserves would need to be increased significantly.

 

Appendix 2 Strategic Business Reviews

 

A Member asked why the procurement of specialist consultancy fees to support the Strategic Business Review had come out of earmarked reserves and not the Transformation Budget.

 

In response the Chief Officer Resources explained that the Transformation Budget was not established until the 2020/21 financial year, and these costs were incurred during the 2019/20 financial year.

 

The Committee AGREED to recommend that the report be accepted and Members considered the use of general and earmarked reserves for 2019/20; and

 

·        Noted the draft increase of the General Reserve in 2019/2020 to £6.348m, being 4.69% of net revenue expenditure (above the 4% target level);

·        Considered the impact the £0.454m favourable variance for 2019/2020 would have on the General Reserve target; and

·        Continue to challenge budget overspends and implement appropriate service Action Plans, where required. (Option1).

Maintenance of general reserves at an adequate level was crucial to the Council being able to meet future liabilities arising from risks for which specific provision has not been made.

 

9.

Action Sheet - 9th March 2020 pdf icon PDF 221 KB

To receive the action sheet.

Additional documents:

Minutes:

The action sheet arising from the Joint Scrutiny (Budget Monitoring) Committee held on 9th March, 2020 was submitted, whereupon:-

 

Civil Parking Enforcement

 

A Member said he had requested information on the number of fixed penalty notices that had been issued, and the Corporate Director Regeneration & Community Services confirmed that this information would be included in the Members Briefing Session.

 

A discussion ensued when a Member said he understood the Council had agreed to prioritise the scope of enforcement activity to town centres and outside schools, and expressed concern that fines were being issued within residential areas.

 

Another Member said following the lockdown period there seemed be a lack of presence of traffic wardens within town centres.

 

In response the Corporate Director Regeneration & Community Services explained that Civil Parking Enforcement activity should be visible across the Borough following lockdown.  In terms of the areas covered, whilst it had been agreed to focus activity in town centres and outside schools, it was agreed that parking issues elsewhere would also be reported.

 

A Member said in his opinion patrols of the Borough’s town centres and schools should be ample activity for the enforcement officers without undertaking patrols of residential areas.

 

Another Member said due to the narrow residential streets within the Borough there were many areas where parking was causing problems, particularly access for the Waste & Recycling crews.

 

A Member referred to previous discussions regarding a review of traffic orders across the Borough and sought an update on when this could be expected.

 

The Chair confirmed that this would be subject to a report to the relevant Scrutiny Committee in due course

 

A Member requested that a Members Briefing Session be convened at an appropriate juncture to provide an update to all Members.

 

The Committee AGREED, subject to the foregoing, that the Action Sheet be noted.