Venue: Council Chamber
Contact: Caroline Breheny
Declarations of Interest
There were no declarations of interest received at this point in the meeting.
The minutes of the Overview and Scrutiny Board meeting held on 11 March 2021 were submitted and approved as a correct record.
The minutes of the Overview and Scrutiny Board meeting held on 8 April 2021 were submitted and approved as a correct record.
The Chief Executive submitted a report which identified the forthcoming issues to be considered by the Executive, as outlined in Appendix A to the report. The report provided the Overview and Scrutiny Board with the opportunity to consider whether any item contained within the Executive Forward Work Programme should be considered by the Board, or referred to a Scrutiny Panel.
The Chief Executive will be in attendance to provide the Board with an update in respect of the Council’s response to COVID-19 and other organisational matters.
The Chief Executive was attendance and provided an update to the Board in respect of the following:-
· COVID-19 update
· Liverpool City Council Best Value report
· Upcoming Executive decisions
· Council financial resilience
In terms of the latest local COVID-19 data, as at 28 June 2021 the rolling seven-day rate of cases per 100k of the Middlesbrough population was as follows:
Reference was made to the vaccination rates and to date 91.1% of over 50’s in Middlesbrough had been vaccinated, equating to 48,701 people. This left a total of 8.9% of over 50’s in Middlesbrough who had not been vaccinated, equating to 4,758 people. Information was provided on the vaccination dose 1 uptake rate by Medium Super Output Area (MSOA), which highlighted that the highest proportions of over 50’s who had not been vaccinated were concentrated in the Ayresome, Middlesbrough Central and North Ormesby and Brambles areas.
In relation to the Liverpool City Council Best Value report a number of key findings were highlighted as follows:-
· Failure of senior officers to formally challenge / escalate concerning behaviour
· Individual officers not supported /protected when challenging concerning behaviour
· Member and officer roles and responsibilities not clearly understood / adhered to
· Lack of legal oversight of key processes around regeneration and asset disposals
· Active circumvention of corporate governance allowed without consequence
· Failure to follow policy and procedure on procurement, contract management, partnership governance and financial spending led to unlawful decisions and failure to achieve Best Value
· Weak Member training and lack of consequences for non-completion of training
· Failure to declare hospitality
· Poor records management
The report had identified fundamental corporate governance weaknesses and as a result, commissioners had taken on some Liverpool City Council powers and oversight. It was advised that in light of the publication the Council’s Leadership Team had set ourselves against the Best Vale Liverpool Report to ensure our systems were as tight possible.
In terms of financial resilience the Board was advised that an annual assessment is prepared by CIPFA to assess Councils ability to respond to financial pressures. The assessment was based on 12 separate but linked indicators ranking Local Authorities. Although no overall league table was produced and some of the indicators were subjective, the assessment provided a good insight into the Council’s medium to long term financial position.
The key findings for Middlesbrough were as follows:-
• Middlesbrough’s size / demographics would always leave us vulnerable to financial shocks, therefore maximum mitigation was essential
• Expenditure needed to be carefully controlled
• Council Tax Base needed to grow and have higher average values
• Reserves needed to be protected and at an appropriate level
• We were not over-borrowed, though stringent monitoring is key
• A very high proportion of Council budget was spent on Social ... view the full minutes text for item 20/13
The Director of Regeneration will be in attendance to provide the Board with an update regarding the Future High Streets Fund, as well as an overview of the plans for the transformation of the Town Centre.
The Director of Regeneration was in attendance to provide an update to the Board in respect of the Town Centre and future development. The Board was advised that there were in essence a number of stark messages that everyone nationally and locally was having to face as a result of the pandemic. The decline in traditional town centre models was irreversible and although the town had already lost a number of established national retailers there was no doubt more would be lost over the next couple of years. Although the Council was proactively working with retailers decisions were often taken nationally in respect of store closures.
National experts had already advised that Middlesbrough needed to broaden out the town centre offer. It needed to fulfil a number of functions including being a place where people went to live, to learn, to work, to attend civic functions and to take part in leisure activities. It was not simply for the retail offer, as in two years’ time that would not be the dominant factor and 50 per cent of the town centre would have to offer something else.
In an effort to gain some control over the future of the town centre the Council had purchased a number of key properties including Captain Cook Square and House of Fraser. It was envisaged that Captain Cook Square would be transformed into a leisure offer and there was already substantial interest from businesses in the sector. The Future High Streets Fund and Future Towns Fund provided sufficient investment for the Council to be able to make the Town Centre look and feel different. The development of the Northern School of Art was another key project that would help to change the feel of the town centre. Urban living was a further key element that would play a significant role and Middlehaven would provide for the biggest urban living area.
A Member of the Panel queried whether it was possible to have a list of those businesses that were vulnerable to closure over the next 2 years. In response it was agreed that this information could be provided to Members but was not to be disclosed in the public domain.
The Strategy Delivery Manager and Corporate Strategy Manager provided an update to the Board, which included the following points:
Following the update, Members were afforded the opportunity to ask questions.
A Member commented that the report had been extremely comprehensive and particularly honest. The report had also shown that Middlesbrough was ahead of the game particularly in respect of its pledge to be the first town or city in the UK to ensure every child had access to an internet device to support their education. Reference was also made to the role of community champions and introduction of locality working and the positive effect of these initiatives.
Reference was made to paragraph 40 and the decrease in town centre footfall, which it was acknowledged was worrying. Although it was anticipated that footfall would increase with the further lifting of COVID restrictions.
The Chair thanked the Strategy Delivery Manager and Corporate Strategy Manager for their attendance and contributions to the meeting.
AGREED that the information provided be noted.
The Head of Financial Planning and Support presented the Board with information in respect of the Revenue Budget Outturn Year-End 2020/2021. The following points were made:
● As reported previously, the Covid-19 pandemic has had a significant impact on the Council’s financial position. This has also made the management of the Council finances more difficult in 2020/21 due to the constantly evolving situation, including the receipt of Government grant funding at short notice throughout 2020/21.
●Covid-19 financial pressures were being monitored separately from the normal non-Covid-19 financial position, and these were reported separately in paragraphs 53 to 84.
● The Council underspent its revenue budget by £355,000 on non-Covid elements (following approval by Executive on 15 June 2021 of the following transfers to reserves:-
1) Public Health Grant underspend to Public Health Reserve (£438,000)
2) Adult Social Care underspend to an Adult Social Care Covid Recovery Reserve (£1,598,000)
3) Ofsted Improvement Plan Budget underspend in 2020/21 to carry forward to 2021/22 via an Ofsted Support Reserve (£188,000)
4) Net saving from the clearance of holding and other codes, which are no longer used within Education, to a Children’s Services Improvement Reserve (£175,000)
5) School contributions to capital schemes to a Children’s Services Demand Reserve (£732,000)
6) Saving in Adult Social Care in 2020/21 due to the reduction in demand for long-term residential care to a Social Care Demand Reserve (£500,000)
7) Section 31 Business Rates Relief Grant to a Business Rates Deficit Reserve to fund 2020/21 Collection Fund deficit (£10,555,000)
● It had been proposed to transfer £438,000 of the Public Health Grant underspend to a Public Health reserves and £1,598,000 of the Adult Social Care underspend to an Adult Social Care Covid Recovery Reserve, in order to help to fund future costs arising from Covid-19 recovery in these areas. Executive had approved these transfers to reserves on 15 June 2021.
● Paragraphs 74-81 detailed the revenue budget spending controls, which included a vacancy control process; checks against expenditure over £5,000; and strong controls over staff travel, stationery and first class post. Agency staff were also being looked at, but this had been difficult to implement fully (although was being minimised). The predominant area for agency staff was Children’s Services, which was due to difficulties in recruiting staff.
● Paragraph 7 provided a breakdown of spend per directorate with Children’s Care having the greatest overspend of £4,233 million (excluding Covid-19). Savings in other areas of the Council had resulted in a net underspend overall.
● The £355,000 underspend on non-Covid-19 elements had been transferred to the General Fund Reserve.
● The financial impact of the Covid-19 pandemic in 2020/21 was summarised in a table at paragraph 83, which showed that there had been a financial pressure due to Covid-19 of £416,000 in 2020/21. A breakdown of the funding split between the Government grant funding and the Council was also provided.
● Due to delays on major schemes resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic,
the 2020/21 capital budget final outturn was £42.078m against a revised budget of £45.195m. Full details ... view the full minutes text for item 20/16
The recommendations to be submitted to the Executive were:
1. That a communications plan be implemented that aligns with the refreshed Strategic Plan 2021-2024 to ensure consistency and direction of council communications.
2. To ensure Members are well versed on social media etiquette; a training package be delivered to Members on the appropriate use of social media. Training should be carried out as a mandatory requirement on an annual basis (minimum).
3. That the principles of proper behaviour on social media be reflected in the revised Member Code of Conduct; and
4. As a corollary of recommendations one and two; a framework be developed to provide clarity to all Members on the appropriate use of social media.
AGREED that the findings and recommendations of the Ad Hoc Scrutiny Panel be endorsed and referred to the Executive.
Scrutiny Chairs Update
Ad Hoc Scrutiny Panel – Councillor M.
The Scrutiny Chairs/Vice Chairs provided updates in respect of the work undertaken by their respective panels since the last meeting of the Board.