Economic Development and Corporate Issues Scrutiny Panel – 4 October 2010

PRESENT: Councillor Jawaid MBE in the chair.

Councillors Glover (Vice-chairman), Ali, Barkworth, Davison, Poole and Wardle.

The panel met at Pittwood House, Scunthorpe.


Nature of Interest
Councillor Ali 171 Licensed Hackney Carriage Driver

No whip was declared.

169 MINUTES – Resolved – That the minutes of the proceedings of this panel held on 6 September 2010, having been printed and circulated amongst the members, be taken as read and correctly recorded and signed by the chair.

170 PUBLIC SPEAKING – There were no requests received.

171 (3) SEPTEMBER BUDGET REVIEW 2010/2011 – The Service Director Finance submitted a report in connection with the September Budget Review 2010/2011. The report had previously been considered by Cabinet at its meeting on 29 September 2010. The Service Director informed the meeting that the council monitored spending against budget month by month through the year, with a formal report to Cabinet at regular intervals. The report provided an opportunity to take stock of the spending position and to take corrective action where necessary.

The report tracked current expenditure and income for council services in this financial year and provided an opportunity to consider where services had difficulties containing expenditure within budget or compensating for a fall in income. It also considered the actions being taken to resolve problems and identify where there were saving opportunities. he report considered both the revenue and capital programme. Typically, capital schemes had a long lead time and for larger schemes implementation usually took place over more than one financial year. In practice, therefore, the council regularly had to review the phasing of scheme spending from one year to the next. The report also reviewed the management of the council’s cash flow against the criteria of targets set in the Treasury Management Strategy and reported on progress in meeting the council’s efficiency savings target.

The report then considered the current situation. In relation to the revenue budget, services had to deal with a range of spending pressures which typically arose during the year and which needed to be contained within existing resources.

Within the financial monitoring at the end of August, services had indicated a number of specific pressures and savings which would impact within the financial year. These were summarised by service in appendix 1 and set out in detail at paragraph 3.2 of the report. It showed a balanced budget position across services overall. Although the spending pressures identified to date could be contained in 2010/2011, the prospect was that government grants would fall substantially in the 2011/2015 period. Permanent solutions, therefore, had to be found now to the pressures in service based budgets. This would allow savings from cash flow management to be used in future to decrease the level of service reductions required to offset government grant cuts. Indeed, the period ahead would require a fundamental rethink of what public services deliver and how.

In relation to capital, the August monitoring was projecting an underspend of £7.8m in the first year of the 2010/2014 capital programme. This was predominantly an issue of the timing of expenditure on Building Schools for the Future, the primary capital programme, schools devolved capital, Messingham Primary School and a number of other projects where scheme starts were now later than first anticipated. In addition, there were two schemes where programme costs had been reduced. The details were shown at appendix 2 to the report. Cabinet in July 2010 had approved reductions of £1.8m in the programme following government grant cuts and the Corporate Services Cabinet Member had approved a number of virements under delegated powers. This gives planned spending of £86.3m in the first year of the 2010/2014 capital programme, before the further changes proposed in this report.

The report then considered the Treasury Management position which indicated that within the parameters set by the approved strategy for 2010/2011, investments had been made in a narrow range of UK institutions and for periods of one month or less. This included UK banks, the Nationwide Building Society and governmental bodies including the Debt Management Office and other local authorities. Outstanding investments at the end of August 2010 were £36.2m, including £7.3m with the council’s own bankers. Details were contained in appendix 3 to the report. The report also commented on the joint action through the Local Government Association (LGA) in relation to the recovery of funds invested with Icelandic Banks. The latest advice was to expect a return of 85 per cent in the pound for Heritable Bank and 95 per cent in the pound from Landsbanki. The amount received to date by the council was now £1.451m on the council’s claim totalling £3.518m.

Finally, the report considered the previous government’s ambitious target of 10 per cent cash releasing efficiency savings for public sector bodies. These were savings which had no adverse impact on services and which were lasting. For North Lincolnshire Council, the 10 per cent equated to £15.3m. The coalition government had not withdrawn its requirement and cabinet had therefore to agree an in year efficiency target for the final year 2010/2011.

The council’s previous track record was good and it had comfortably achieved its savings target for the 2005/2008 period. However, it identified only modest savings of £2.4m in the first year of the new target regime which covered the period 2008/2011.

This was in part because not all savings generated outside the budget setting process were being captured, efficiencies become harder to find over time and in part because the council’s transformation programme was still in its early stages. A Performance Improvement Panel had been held in November 2009 and an action plan agreed. This increased to £8m in identified cash releasing savings made by 31 March 2010, a substantial step forward. So far in 2010/2011, £1.6m of further savings had been identified largely through the budget process. Details were set out in appendix 4. In previous years this mid year figure had been taken as a target figure for the year. It would leave a shortfall of £5.9m against the three year target of £15.3m. It was unlikely that the full £15.3m could be delivered at this stage of the council’s transformation programme and for now it was proposed that £1.6m be set as an interim target, and that a further exercise be initiated to capture other service efficiencies which had been generated during 2010/2011.

The chair then invited members to question the Service Director Finance on the September Budget Review 2010-2011.

Resolved – (a) That the report be noted, (b) that the Service Director Finance and Corporate Finance Manager be thanked for their attendance and for answering members questions, and (c) that the Service Director Finance be invited to the scrutiny panel’s meeting on 20 December 2010 to discuss the December Budget Review 2010-2011.

172 REVIEW OF CUSTOMER CARE – The Service Director Legal and Democratic informed the meeting that no action plan had been assembled in response to the former Education and Corporate Issues Scrutiny Panel review into ‘Customer Care – Its Effectiveness Within The Local Link Service’. Without an action plan it would be impracticable to revisit the progress on implementing the recommendations contained in the scrutiny panel report. This subject was included on the scrutiny panel’s work programme for 2010-2011.

The chair then invited members to discuss how the scrutiny panel should proceed.

Resolved – That the ‘worksmart’ project and its impact on customer service be added to the scrutiny panel’s work programme for 2010-2011.

173 (4) LEADER OF THE COUNCIL’S FORWARD PLAN – SEPTEMBER TO DECEMBER 2010 – The Service Director Legal and Democratic circulated the Leader of North Lincolnshire Council’s Forward Plan for September to December 2010.

The plan contained details of all matters and issues likely to be the subject of key decisions for a period of the next four months, updated on a monthly basis.

Resolved – That the Leader of the Council’s Forward Plan for September to December 2010 be noted.

174 ADDED ITEM – Councillor Glover informed the panel that in accordance with the council’s constitution, he had informed the Service Director Legal and Democratic of an added item to be included on a future agenda. The added item was titled ‘Appointment of a management contractor to the Baths Hall or Baths Hall and Plowright Theatre’.

Resolved – That a relevant report be prepared by appropriate officers and, in consultation with the chair, the issue be included on a future agenda for consideration by this panel.