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Agenda and minutes

Venue: Committee Room 2 - Waltham Forest Town Hall. View directions

Contact: John Williams, Democratic Services Officer  020 8496 4344 Email: democraticservices@walthamforest.gov.uk

Items
No. Item

38.

APOLOGIES FOR ABSENCE AND SUBSTITUTE MEMBERS

Minutes:

All Members of the Committee were present.

 

Apologies for absence were received from Councillor Clare Coghill, Leader of the Council.  The Chair welcomed to the meeting Councillor Simon Miller, representing the Executive.

39.

DECLARATIONS OF INTEREST

Members are required to declare any pecuniary or non-pecuniary interest they or their spouse/partner may have in any matter that is to be considered at this meeting.  Interests are defined in the front cover of this agenda.

Minutes:

None.

40.

MINUTES OF PREVIOUS MEETING pdf icon PDF 85 KB

To approve the minutes of the meeting held on 12 December 2018.

Minutes:

The minutes of the meeting held on 12 December 2018 were approved as a correct record and signed by the Chair.

41.

ORDER OF BUSINESS

Minutes:

In view of the number of officers present, the Chair proposed and the Committee agreed that Item 5, Budget and Council Tax Setting, be taken as the first substantive item (Minute 44 refers).

42.

PUBLIC PARTICIPATION

Members of the public are welcome to participate in scrutiny meetings.  You may speak for three minutes on a topic related to the Committee’s work, and fifteen minutes in total is allowed for public speaking, at the discretion of the Chair.  If you would like to speak, please contact Democratic Services (details above) by 12 noon on the day before the meeting.

Minutes:

None.

43.

COMMITTEE ACTION TRACKER, UPDATE AND FORWARD PLAN pdf icon PDF 67 KB

Additional documents:

Minutes:

Consideration was given to a report of the Scrutiny Officer.

 

Andrew Spragg introduced the report and outlined the responses received to the Committee’s recommendations on:

 

  • Universal Credit and Risk Indicators
  • Value for Money Benchmarking
  • Corporate Performance
  • Commercial Enterprise

 

Mr Spragg also referred to the Local Government Association (LGA) peer review of finance in the Committee’s forward plan, on which they would receive an update from the Strategic Director of Finance and Governance.  The Chair added that this should build on the greater confidence and capability of Scrutiny in relation to the Council’s budget and the range and frequency of items considered.  

 

Officers responded that a review of Scrutiny could be expected later in the year, and would be discussed at the meeting of Scrutiny Chairs with the Chair of Audit and Governance Committee: however, the number of meetings that could be supported in terms of officer resources and member time had to be borne in mind.

 

Decision

 

The Committee noted:

 

  • the action tracker;

 

  • the action update; and

 

  • the forward plan. 

 

44.

BUDGET AND COUNCIL TAX SETTING 2019-20 pdf icon PDF 505 KB

Additional documents:

Minutes:

Consideration was given to a report of the Strategic Director of Finance and Governance and the Strategic Finance Advisor – Corporate.

 

The Chief Executive said it was important for the Committee to see the Management Board together in relation to the budget.  He introduced Jake Bacchus, the newly appointed Director of Financial Services, who was warmly welcomed by the Committee.

 

Councillor Simon Miller, on behalf of the Leader of the Council, introduced the budget and highlighted the main points, including the following positives:

 

·         A New Homes Bonus that was better than expected

·         A surplus from the National Business Rate

·         Healthy reserves from good budgetary management, structural and social investment

Councillor Miller said that the budget reflected a great deal of work within the Families portfolio.  However, considerable changes are expected in the way local government finance is organised in the course of 2020, and the relatively small budget gap for 2022-23 is a great achievement given the uncertainty.  However the uncertainty and potential shock to the economic system as a result of Brexit must not be overlooked.

 

The Chair thanked Councillor Miller for a clear and concise introduction, which led to a discussion in which the following points were made:

 

Rent levels – It was clarified that the General Fund revenue budget does not cover housing rents.  Councillor Miller added that the maintenance schedule and backlog for the Council’s estate had implications for rents in relation to the rest of the budget.  Housing rents will reduce by on per cent in 2019-20.

 

Business rates – The Chair asked for further detail of the business rate retention process.  The Strategic Director of Finance and Governance said that the Council intended to reset the baseline, and push for a full reset in 2020-21.  The demand for business rates may be overstated meaning the Council could potentially be up to £4 million better off.  In future there will be continuous resets which officers hoped would lead to a smoothening of the process, and continuity rather than frequently shifting goal posts.

 

It was explained that given the mismatch between business rate income in central and outer London, a common position across the capital is less likely than a compromise around relative deprivation.

 

Councillor Miller added that Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) is an unprotected department within the public finances and therefore vulnerable to reductions in public spending.

 

Growth – this is linked to demographics and to contractual obligations: there is no ongoing growth apart from the impact of the capital programme, plus the full-year impact of retendering the refuse collection contract.   The ever-growing demand for care services, which includes housing and homelessness in the broadest sense, means there is in effect no new revenue. 

 

Risk and time-limited funding – Councillor Gray asked if there were many short-term allocations of money that the Council stood to lose: for example the Troubled Families initiative.  The Deputy Chief Executive said the second phase of the programme ended in 2020 and the Council would be in a  ...  view the full minutes text for item 44.

45.

FINANCIAL BENCHMARKING pdf icon PDF 90 KB

Additional documents:

Minutes:

Consideration was given to a report of the Head of Business Intelligence, providing a summary of headline financial statistics, including trends in budget, income and expenditure; and comparison with other London boroughs of the Council’s expenditure per head.

 

Ed Maguire introduced the report and said that the 2017-18 budget had now been included.  The dashboard was quite simple, although comparisons with other local authorities should be treated with caution as measurements and presentation were seldom like-for-like.

 

Key points were that Waltham Forest generally sat in the middle of London statistics, and highways spending was notably lower as it was offset by grants from the GLA and the Department for Transport.

 

The Vice-Chair approved of the colour-coding in the electronic version of the report, but said it would be helpful if it was consistent in relation to the boroughs.  Mr Maguire said he would explore the capabilities of the software further in this respect.

 

The Chair suggested that expenditure per head could be shared more explicitly with services to determine value.  The Director of Financial Services added that although budgets are determined to a large extent by local factors, MHCLG will increasingly be using benchmarking as a tool.  He gave the example of highway repairs costing considerably more in Walthamstow than in Chingford.

 

Officers said it was important to remember that projections in themselves were seldom accurate, but it was important not to ignore trends and to take into account as many factors as possible, while bearing in mind there would be ‘unforeseens’.  Although the dashboard can be updated regularly and fairly simply, the statistics were only produced on an annual basis.  Councillor Moss added that while numbers in themselves did not convey very much, deviations from the mean could carry considerable statistical and comparative weight.

 

The Chair asked how the figures could be used to better understand performance.  Officers responded that not a great deal of the information was financial, but they could explore ways of linking them more explicitly to, for example, the monthly monitor.  Members agreed that the Committee should look at this at their next meeting.

 

Decision

 

The Committee:

 

(a)  noted the report; and

 

(b)  asked that officers explore ways of linking the information provided to existing financial data and ways of improving performance.

46.

DATE OF NEXT MEETING