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 Care
• Middlesbrough had a very low Council Tax Base (lowest in the North East)
• Fees and charges and Business Rates income were relatively low (protected the LA from shocks such as COVID)
• There was a high-dependency on annual discretionary Central Government funding, leaving the LA vulnerable because of outside its control / short notice
In relation to Executive decisions scheduled for July it was noted that a number of reports were due to be considered. These included; a report on Community Engagement; the Community Safety Plan and the Built Asset Investment Plan. The Executive had recently held a meeting in respect of the Stainsby Masterplan, however, a decision had yet to be taken.
Following the update, Members were afforded the opportunity to ask questions.
A Member queried the number of Middlesbrough Borough Council vaccinated to date. In response it was advised that at present this figure was not known, as the only way to ascertain this information would be to ask staff individually.
A Member queried how Councillors could assist in encouraging those refusing vaccinations to take up the offer. It was advised that officers within the Council’s Public Health Team were working closely with the Community Champions to ensure that a ‘trusted voice’ within the community were delivering those positive messages about the benefits of the vaccine to both the individual and the wider community.
A Member queried what impact the Government’s decision to enforce vaccination in the care industry would have locally. It was advised that the Local Authority was liaising with the Care Sector, NHS and CCG to understand any potential impact.
In response to a query as to whether there were any issues in relation to the supply of the vaccine it was advised that there were no known issues. The reasons for non-take up were not supply related.
In terms of the Liverpool City Council Best Value report and the concerns raised in respect of Member Training the view was expressed that currently there was insufficient emphasis on the Nolan Principles and that these should be included in all Member Training. The Chair expressed the view that these should be discussed by the Board and views expressed be fed into the Constitution Committee.
In relation to the upcoming Executive decisions a Member queried whether the Transporter Bridge and Captain Cook Pub would be included in the Built Asset Investment Plan. It was advised that a comprehensive piece of work was being undertaken that would assess all of the Council’s significant assets, as well as the investment required. This information would then be factored into the 2021/2022 budgetary process.
A Member queried the timescales associated with the Stainsby Masterplan particularly in relation to the Local Plan. It was advised that the Local Plan was a statutory document that had to be followed and dictated the requirement for a road. Whereas the Stainsby Masterplan demonstrated the how / approach. It would therefore be very difficult to include any further provisions in respect of that road, which fell outside of the detail in Local Plan.
A Member queried whether ward Members could be made aware when the Council was organising community litter picking events, as recently events were being promoted without the relevant ward Members being advised.
In terms of the Council’s financial resilience it was queried as to how the nearest neighbours’ information had been categorised by CIPFA and why Blackpool was not included. The Head of Financial Planning advised that he would seek clarification from CIPFA on this issue.
A Member queried why Middlesbrough’s spend on children in care was so much higher than Hartlepool. It was advised that poor practice, as well as the high of children in care contributed to the high level of spend. However, new systems were in place that were helping to reduce the numbers in care, the type of care required and improve Social Work practice.
In response to a query about the Council’s development of its own in-house care provision to reduce the costs of care it was advised that plans were on track. Although the plans had been impacted by Covid there were delivering results. An additional briefing on these developments would be provided at the next meeting of OSB.
The Chair thanked the Chief Executive for his attendance and contribution to the meeting.