Greenwich Council

Agenda item.

Budget and Council Tax Setting 2019-20

Overview and Scrutiny Committee is asked to:

 

1.1     Note the current financial position and progress in respect of the previously agreed budget efficiency premium (Section 4 and Section 5)

 

1.2     Note the impact of the local government finance settlement, finalised on 5 February 2019, upon the Council’s Medium Term Financial Strategy (MTFS) (Section 6)

 

1.3     Agree to submit comments to Cabinet on 20 February 2019 in respect of ongoing and one off expenditure proposals (Section 7)

 

1.4     Note the comments on financial standing, future risk and robustness of the budget process, including those specifically relating to the risk posed by the Fair Funding Review (Section 8 / Appendix A).

 

 

 

Minutes:

The Chair advised that members of the Overview and Scrutiny Committee were being asked to submit comments on the report to the meeting of Cabinet being held the next day.  Unfortunately, the Cabinet Member for Finance & Resources was not able to attend due to ill health, but the Leader was happy to take questions from members of the Committee first and then they could discuss any comments they wished to make to the Cabinet meeting.

 

The Leader gave an introduction to the report and firstly thanked the Cabinet Member for Finance & Resources for all the work she had put into this.

 

He said that these were extremely challenging times and that in real terms there had been a reduction in government core funding of 63% since 2010.  At the same time the population in London had increased by just under one million.

 

The Leader advised that these were the most challenging set of finances he had seen since being a Member of the Council.  He had set up a Budget Recovery Board to try and reduce the impact on the budget but at the same time meet the ongoing challenges such as keeping the streets clean on a daily basis.  For the first time ever, he had no choice but to move money allocated for one-off expenditure – such as the £2m that had been set aside for council priorities.  All money had been passported for social care and winter pressures however.  Directors had also been asked to find over £2m worth of savings in their areas which would require some difficult decisions to be made.

 

He went on to say that although he did not like it, there was absolutely no alternative but to raise the Council Tax and he was unaware of any borough that was not doing the same.  Most, in fact, were putting in rises of over 2.75%.  The Mayor’s precept was also having to be increased to help fund the police.

 

There were three key areas that would be supported going forward and these were serious youth violence; support to those facing starting Universal Credit; and a small amount of resources would be given to help those unemployed return to work.

 

Public consultation had been undertaken although the figures had come through from government very late.  325 people had responded - the majority of whom supported the increase in Council Tax and agreed with what the Council suggested prioritising with resources.

 

The Chair thanked the Leader and agreed that whilst he did not like it either, he supported the proposal to increase the rate of Council Tax.

 

The Leader and officers then took questions and responded as follows:

·       It was correct that funding of the VOCU would now cease.  As stated, resources would now be put in to serious youth violence instead.

·       The Leader agreed that parking charges were not to be seen as a source of income but there were several areas in the borough where unlawful parking was a serious issue and the Cabinet Member for Community Safety and Integrated Enforcement was endeavouring to ensure enforcement was improved.

·       The Procurement Strategy was currently being undertaken and would be presented to the Finance and Public Services Scrutiny Panel in the following month and would also be brought to Overview and Scrutiny Committee afterwards.

·       Officers confirmed that there was an adequate level of reserves in place and this has been validated by the external auditors.

·       The Better Care Funding was around £21m and has been allocated.  The Council and the CCG met quarterly to sign this off.

·       The split of the money across the three priority areas would probably be about fifty percent to helping the serious youth violence initiative; £300-400k to help with those affected by Universal Credit and the rest to helping people back into work but the final figures were still to be agreed.

·       It was agreed that some other boroughs had gone out to public consultation earlier than Greenwich had but we had wanted to out with the correct information.

·       If it transpired that any more money was forthcoming either this year or in 2019/20, the Leader’s priority would be to put any extra funds into the Emergency Support Scheme.

·       It was known that the local Citizens’ Advice Bureau was having difficulties with the number of people needing help with moving on to Universal Credit.  Council teams were already working with people they knew would be affected.

·       £100k had been set aside for the Boundary Review which was based on costs previously.  However, everyone would work to keep the cost at an absolute minimum.

·       £3m of new resources are available from the generation of new homes in the borough but this was not all “profit” as such, because services from the council had to then be given to these new dwellings.

·       Directors had been told that they needed to find £2.25m of back office efficiency savings.  How they did this was up to them but the money needed to be found. 

·       There was no separate budget for the use of agency workers, they were paid through the directorate staffing budget.  Agency workers were brought in to cover things such as sickness or maternity leave, where it was impossible to employ someone on a permanent basis.  They were also used for posts such as social workers which had to be covered but were very hard to recruit to permanently.

·       Temporary social workers were recruited through a London-wide network which stopped everyone charging different rates.

·       On the Equality Analysis, Appendix C, Adult Community Learning was listed as having a low overall impact on protected groups.  This was because there would be continuing provision going forward and not a complete withdrawal.

·       Procurement attempted to use local companies where possible and events were regularly held that included local businesses and were well attended by them.

·       The charges for waste collection shown in appendix B of the report were due to a review being undertaken which found that some property management agencies were paying less the Council’s actual costs.  Some blocks of flats were also asking for additional bin collections to be carried out and so these charges were looked at as well.  These charges would not directly affect houses or any individual flat owner.

·       The report did not contain any details on the impact and issues in Greenwich of the 27% increase in knife crime, but this report was more about the headlines.  Further details would be looked at and could be taken at the Community Safety & Environment Scrutiny Panel as well.  Work was being done with CAFC and other external organisations and it was recognised that the Council could not help with this issue without input from the community.

 

Members then discussed what comments they would like to pass on to the Cabinet meeting being held the next day and agreed on three recommendations.

 

Resolved –

 

1.1           That the current financial position and progress in respect of the previously agreed budget efficiency premium (Section 4 and Section 5) be noted.

 

1.2           That the impact of the local government finance settlement, finalised on 5 February 2019, upon the Council’s Medium Term Financial Strategy (MTFS) (Section 6) be noted.

 

1.3           That comments to Cabinet on 20 February 2019 in respect of ongoing and one off expenditure proposals be agreed as follows: -

 

 

1.     Overview and Scrutiny supports the proactive approach of helping those significantly affected by Universal Credit and asks if Cabinet can consider extending this help including working with the Citizens’ Advice Bureau.

 

2.     With the £2.25m efficiency savings that the Directorates are being required to find through 2019/20, the Committee feels that due regard should be given to the use of agency staff to fill positions.

 

3.     With regard to the list of charges for rubbish collection and hire of bins listed in Appendix B, the Committee asks the Cabinet to clarify the rationale for these charges and publish these along with the budget.

 

1.4           That the comments on financial standing, future risk and robustness of the budget process, including those specifically relating to the risk posed by the Fair Funding Review (Section 8 / Appendix A) be noted.

Supporting documents: