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To receive apologies for absence
There were no apologies for absence.
Declarations of Interest
To invite Councillors to declare any Disclosable Pecuniary Interests or Other Disclosable Interests they may have in items on the agenda, and to confirm the nature of those interests.
There were no declarations of interest.
The minutes from the Cabinet meeting held on 18th October 2023 were submitted for Members’ consideration.
RESOLVED that the minutes from the Cabinet meeting held on 18th October 2023 be approved as a true and accurate record.
(a) To receive and note the minutes
(b) To consider any recommendations contained within the minutes
There are no recommendations from the Overview and Scrutiny Board meeting held on 16th October 2023. The Board is considering a report which follows on from the Governance Systems Review at its meeting on 20th November 2023. If these recommendations are agreed by the Board, they will be published in a Supplementary Papers pack for this Cabinet meeting.
The Chairman of the Overview and Scrutiny Board provided a verbal update in respect of the Board meeting held on 16th October 2023; andin doing so explained that there were no recommendations to Cabinet made at that meeting. He did explain, however, that a Task Group to investigate the topic of Community Supermarket / Food Bank provision in the District had been established and was due to hold its first meeting in December 2023.
Cabinet welcomed the work that was being undertaken by the Board in this area. It was understood that a list of food banks had been provided to the Board in order to undertake the investigation. Members were informed that this had been provided by Officers and would be updated regularly by the Bromsgrove Partnership.
There was a brief discussion regarding the ‘poor’ rating that had recently been given to the Hillcrest Mental Health Ward. It was noted that there had been discussions regarding this at a recent Worcestershire County Council, Health Overview and Scrutiny Committee meeting, where an alternative provision was discussed. Further updates in respect of this would be available soon.
Following the verbal update, the Principal Democratic Services Officer presented the update report for the Governance Systems Review, which had been considered at the Overview and Scrutiny Board meeting on 20th November 2023. During the presentation the following was highlighted for Members’ attention:
· The update highlighted the work undertaken at the Council to implement the recommendations made by the Governance Systems Task Group and approved at the Council meeting held on 20th September 2023.
· It had been agreed that the Constitution Review Working Group (CRWG) would meet on a monthly basis in order to ensure that all changes would be delivered by the start of the municipal year 2024/25. Thus far, the CRWG had discussed the draft Terms of Reference for Cabinet Advisory Groups (CAGs) and the draft Memorandum of Understanding for cross party working.
· It had been agreed that the term “Cabinet Advisory Groups” (CAGs) would be used instead of Cabinet Advisory Panels.
· That the CAGs were separate to the scrutiny function that was already in place at the Council and that these groups would not duplicate the work of the Overview and Scrutiny Board.
· That it would be up to the relevant Portfolio Holder to call a CAG meeting throughout the municipal year on a topic at an early stage of discussion.
· Included in the draft calendar of meetings for the 2024/25 municipal year were several dates for the CAG meetings which could be used if necessary. However, extra meetings could potentially be held on an ad hoc basis where required.
Members were informed that there had been general agreement from the Board at its meeting on 20th November 2023 in respect of the recommendations included in the report. However, some slight amendments had been agreed. These were as follows:
1) The terms of reference for the Cabinet Advisory Groups be approved, subject to addition of ... view the full minutes text for item 49/23
The Cabinet Member for Health and Wellbeing and Strategic Housing presented the Homelessness Prevention Grant and Domestic Abuse Grant for Members’ consideration.
In doing so the following was highlighted:
· This was an annual report that provided Members with information regarding the allocation of the Homelessness Prevention and Domestic Abuse Grant available in 2024/25. In total there was £339,261 available to allocate to organisations to provide a package of support and services to prevent homelessness and support those who became homeless. Included in this allocation was a £35,000 Domestic Abuse Grant. The report was being considered earlier than usual by Members. This was due to the increased costs incurred by the organisations carrying out support work in this area and the cost of living crisis.
· During the funding round a bid from BEAM had been received for £20,000 to support individuals into the private rented sector. However, the Council had considered that rentals in the private sector to households on benefits were out of range due to the Local Housing Allowance Rate being frozen at 2020 levels and landlords increasing rents significantly when re-letting due to the cost of living crisis and having to meet increased mortgage repayments. The BEAM scheme was seen as a duplication of a service already provided by the Council and BDHT Housing Options team and therefore the bid had not been selected for the municipal year 2024/25.
· A bid from CCP for a Rough Sleeper Outreach Service was still under consideration whilst a potential different way of delivering the service was being explored.
Following the presentation of the report, the Strategic Housing Manager explained that there had been a slight amendment to the report regarding the current challenges being faced by voluntary organisations. The amendment was noted as follows:
“These are voluntary organisations and without this funding it was unlikely this support would be offered or available which in turn would lead to increase direct revenue costs for the Council. Their prevention role was crucial in helping people remain in their existing accommodation wherever possible. This was even more relevant due to affordability issues in the private rented sector and mortgages for first time buyers being more difficult to access due to the increase in interest rates, in addition there had been less churn in social housing, so few properties were becoming available and social housing options were very limited”.
Cabinet was further informed that St Basil’s had been unsuccessful in their supported housing procurement. This would look to be resolved by them in six to twelve months’ time and Worcestershire County Council (WCC) were working with them to resolve this issue. It was confirmed that Worcestershire Childrens’ First were providing the support in this area.
Members queried the anticipated underspend of £23,500 that had been noted in the report. Officers explained that these monies were anticipated to be received as a result of the housing benefits that were received back to the Council through the use of the ‘Crash Pad’ service.
In terms of ... view the full minutes text for item 50/23
The Interim Director of Finance presented the Treasury Management Strategy Half Yearly Report for Cabinet’s consideration.
Members were informed that the report set out the state of the economic climate as advised by the Council’s Treasury advisor Arlingclose.
The Council currently had no long term debt, predominantly due to the previous transfer of housing assets to BDHT. It was also confirmed that there was no short term borrowing. Officers confirmed that debt was quite expensive now and that a 20 year £5m debt would cost £530,000 per annum.
In terms of investments, it was explained that short term investments were made using amounts from the Council Tax and Business rates cash flow. It was clarified that all investments that were made were ethical.
Cabinet was informed that difficult decisions would need to be made as interest rates moved back to ‘normal’.
Following the consideration of the report, Members expressed an interest in how the Council considered investment management organisations to manage its investments. The Interim Director of Finance explained that this was discussed with Arlingclose and that there were a range of investment management organisations that were used. It was confirmed that investments were not currently made outside of the UK.
Council note the position in relation to the Council’s Prudential indicators.
The Interim Director of Finance presented the Medium Term Financial Plan (MTFP) - Tranche 1 Budget Update including Fees and Charges. During the presentation the following was highlighted for Members’ consideration:
· The Council’s budget would be set in two tranches for the 2023/24 financial year as it had been in 2022/23. The final Council Tax Resolution would be approved by Council in February 2024. It was noted that the process would be more difficult in the 2023/24 financial year due to several factors including:
1. the £637,000 overall deficit across the three years of the 2023/24 MTFP.
2. The Council still needed to close its Accounts for the 2020/21 financial year.
3. The loss of key staff.
4. The cost of living crisis.
Some wider factors included:
1. The war in Ukraine and the impact of inflationary increases.
2. Climate Emergencies and associated costs to implement policies linked to these declarations.
Clarification was provided on some of these factors including the national shortage of audit resources to complete the closure of Local Authority accounts. It was estimated that currently there were 900 outstanding audits still to be carried out across the UK between the 2015-16 and 22-23 financial years.
It was anticipated that Central Government would have to look at Local Government funding in a different way going forward, potentially being more prescriptive, in light of the number of Local Councils who had issued S114 Statements as a result of being in significant financial difficulties.
Members were informed that there would be no service related savings during this tranche of the budget. These would be looked at more closely once the Local Government Settlement had been confirmed on 19th December 2023 (the present expected date).
A number of assumptions had been made within the report: the increase of Council Tax by 2 per cent, no increase in Business Rates, an increase in properties as a result of the Local Plan of 150k houses (year 1), 200 (year 2) and 150 (year 3), no New Home Bonus funding pending any announcement within the Local Government Settlement, other Government Grants and pension fund assumptions are as previous years allocations.
Further assumptions were reported to Members, and it was detailed that the Staff Pay Award costs were approximately £770,000 more and that it was prudent to increase the Councils 2024/5 pay award impact from 2 per cent to 3 per cent given the significant increases that have been offered by the Employers during 2022/3 and 2023/4. The 2025/6 and 2026/7 pay awards were assumed to be 2 per cent.
In terms of inflation, it was explained that it was also prudent to include a 5 per cent budget for inflationary increases to contracts.
Officers informed Cabinet that some of these pressures could be partially mitigated as currently only 60 per cent of the additional Utilities budget was being utilised.
Fees and Charges were discussed, and it was highlighted that the proposed Fees and Charges increase for 2024/25 would be 7 per cent ... view the full minutes text for item 52/23
To consider any urgent business, details of which have been notified to the Head of Legal, Democratic and Property Services prior to the commencement of the meeting and which the Chairman, by reason of special circumstances, considers to be of so urgent a nature that it cannot wait until the next meeting
There was no urgent business on this occasion.
The Interim Director of Finance presented the Finance and Performance Monitoring Report Quarter 2 2023/24 for Members’ consideration.
Included in the report were details of the full year revenue budget of £13.8m which was approved by Full Council in February 2023. It was confirmed that training for budget mangers had been undertaken.
Currently the Council was forecasting a revenue overspend of £815,000, which would be mitigated in part by the application of the £351,000 from the Utilities Reserve approved at Quarter 1. This resulted in a £464,000 overspend. Members were informed that the overspend had predominantly been as a result of additional pressures including the staff pay award, fuel and fleet costs and the increased cost of temporary accommodation.
In terms of the Capital Programme, Members were reminded that a £10.9m programme had been approved in March 2023 and that many of the schemes were in partial delivery in the 2022/23 financial year.
Some updates were provided to Members regarding some of the Capital projects including Windsor Street. It was explained that there had been some additional levels of pollution identified at this site which needed to be assessed under new Environment Agency (EA) rules. The Council was currently holding discussions with the Department for Levelling Up, Housing & Communities (DLUHC) to resolve these issues in terms of time and cost. However, it was noted that the EA were carrying out countrywide investigations as a result of the change in rules which might impact on the timing of the Windsor Street site.
Cabinet was informed that there were some proposed changes to the Capital Programme included in the report that required approval. These included the proposal to bring forward £50,000 of the £177,500 capital bid for an ICT server replacement to this municipal year. It was explained that this was an important project for the Council as the cyber security linked tape drive replacements would improve cyber security and help to prevent impacts of any future cyber security attack. An increase to the Capital Programme of £410k in 2023/24 also required approval to ensure the continuation of the Civica OpenRevenues system for the administration of Council Tax, Business Rates and Housing Benefits. A decrease in cost for year 3 of the Barnt Green toilet works as highlighted in the MTFP report also required approval.
Cabinet was informed that the Energy Efficiency Strategy continued to be progressed across the property portfolio and that Housing Property Services had carried out a desktop study to rule out any presence of Reinforced Autoclaved Aerated Concrete (RAAC) in Council properties. It was noted that so far, no RAAC had been identified.
It was reported that work had been undertaken in order to get The Artrix in a position to open for use by a theatre provider.
The procurement pipeline which included Capital and Revenue procurements over £50,000 was briefly discussed and the Interim Director of Finance explained that he was currently in the process of organising an all-Member session to clarify the procurement process. Further details ... view the full minutes text for item 54/23