Up to 30 minutes is allowed for this item; no longer than 10 minutes for presentation of the report and then up to 3 minutes for each question to be put and answered.
Councillor G. Denaro, Portfolio Holder for Finance and Enabling, took the opportunity to thank all officers who had helped collate the report and he also apologised for the omission of the section on Electoral Services, which had been included in Supplementary Agenda Documentation 3. Councillor Denaro advised that he did not intend to repeat the report in his overview but would start with some initial comments overall on the Council’s financial situation, especially following the Leaders comments in respect of the financial position at Redditch Borough Council.
He reminded Members that the Audit, Standards and Governance Committee had met at the end of July, after the full Council meeting, when the Accounts for 2018/2019 had been presented and approved accordingly. The Auditors had commented that “Many councils would give their right arm to have figures like these”. This had been very rewarding, especially in light of some comments in this chamber in recent years in respect of the Council’s financial position. He hoped that those Members were now able to recognise the progress that had been made and acknowledge the hard work by all concerned to achieve this.
Councillor Denaro went on to advice that the Council must not be complacent as there were other challenges ahead. The Medium Term Finance Plan (MTFP) showed that over the next 3 years the Council would have to find savings and additional income in excess of £3m to balance its books without resorting to reserves. The recent Spending Review had brought both good and bad news. The provisional settlement indicated there may be no changes to New Homes Bonus but Council Tax maybe capped at 2% rather than 2.99% as before, which would mean that an additional £30K plus each year would need to be found. The Council need to wait for the final settlement in December to be sure; however work had already started on addressing the deficit. Overall the Council’s finances were in a good place at present but work still needed to be done to ensure that the Council continued to protect the front line Services it delivered to its residents.
Turning to the Finance report Councillor Denaro drew Members attention to the thread running through it in increasing our residents’ ability to engage with the Council digitally. The new Enterprise system would make this available as implementation progressed, but the Council would also be mindful that many residents did not have Smart phones or internet access, it would therefore always ensure face to face and phone access with residents was available.
In respect of Customer Access there was a substantial section of the report that covered many aspects of the Council’s contact with its residents. It was highlighted that online enquiries were now partially responded to automatically in respect of Council Tax Registration and changes in payment methods.
Democratic and Legal Services both provided support to Members and the Council. All Members worked closely with this team and Councillor Denaro took the opportunity to thank the Head of Legal, Democratic and Electoral Services and her teams for all the support received in dealing with increasing service demands, and paperwork which did not appear to be reducing.
Electoral Services had recently completed a Places and Stations review, which was timely in view of the expected elections that may take place in the near future.
It was anticipated that IT Services would have a challenging year with major upgrades due to its systems and operations. A review of Members equipment needs was also under review through the Member Development Steering Group.
Within Human Resource and Operational Development, considerable progress had been made in updating many areas as shown within the report.
As Worcestershire representative of the Board of West Midland Employers Councillor Denaro explained that he got involved in contributing to the National Settlement team.
Finally, he thanked the Leader and Cabinet colleagues for their support and also, from the Chief Executive, the S151 Officer and other senior officers of the Council. He advised that he would attempt to answer any questions but if they required a detailed or technical answer, he would provide a considered written response outside of the meeting.
Following presentation of the report Members raised a number of points with the Portfolio Holder, who responded as follows:
· The need for the DWP to be involved in looking at the structure of the team to improve performance within it. It was noted that the main cause of problems had been brought about by an unexpected bout of sickness, which had in turn highlighted the need for a review of the structure, the Executive Director, Finance and Resources provided some context around this.
· Whether there had been any settlement agreements with staff made following the restructure.
· The structure changes had brought stability to the team and a formal restructure across the teams would be brought forward to Cabinet and Council in December and January 2020.
· Whilst it was acknowledged that the financial position was improved, it was highlighted that this was not through the Council’s efforts but due to the removal of the negative support grant and not through the measures listed in the Efficiency Plan. An update on progress of those would be more useful. It was confirmed that the Council was on target and details would be sent to Members outside of the meeting.
· Risk based recovery and the targeted action referred to – it was confirmed that this information was set out in the table on page 101 of the main agenda pack and Members were reminded that 70% of anything recovered was returned to Worcestershire County Council.