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To approve as an accurate record the minutes of the meeting held on 4th July 2018.
Members noted that they appreciated the new action tracker but asked that dates be added to it.
The minutes of the meeting held on 4 July 2018 were approved and signed by the Chair.
Apologies for absence
Apologies for absence were received from Councillors Patricia Quigley and Guy Vincent.
Declarations of interest
If a Committee member has any prejudicial or personal interest in a particular item they should declare the existence and nature of the interest at the commencement of the consideration of that item or as soon as it becomes apparent.
At meetings where members of the public are allowed to be in attendance and speak, any Councillor with a prejudicial interest may also make representations, give evidence or answer questions about the matter. The Councillor must then withdraw immediately from the meeting before the matter is discussed and any vote taken unless a dispensation has been obtained from the Standards Committee.
Where Members of the public are not allowed to be in attendance, then
the Councillor with a prejudicial interest should withdraw from the meeting whilst the matter is under consideration unless the disability has been removed by the Standards Committee.
There were no declarations of interest.
How to Improve Scrutiny
To begin, Erik Hohenstein (Co-optee) asked attendees to consider one change that would improve the PAC in the next year. A short discussion then took place around the following ideas:
· More of a focus on the scrutinising the Cabinet – currently, scrutiny tended to land more on officers and their work rather than the Executive.
· A more formal approach to Cabinet Member scrutiny – the Cabinet Member could be formally invited for specific items rather than simply attending for everything.
· Better recording and tracking of actions. There needed to be a clearer mechanism to log actions rather than have them ‘hidden in the minutes’.
Kim Dero (Chief Executive) suggested there should be a clear separation between the scrutiny and accountability element of the meeting and the policy development element. The two required a different mindset from both members and officers - and she felt a clear delineation would make for a more production session.
The Chair agreed but highlighted the important of the scrutiny and accountability element. It was a critical part of the process, ensuring the Council was making the right decisions and spending tax-payer money wisely and effectively. Holding officers and the executive to account didn’t mean having to be negative in tone, but the challenge needed to be robust.
It was suggested that meetings could be split into two - scrutiny in part one and policy development in part two. Or they could be separate meetings that alternated - scrutiny one month and policy development the next. Officers noted that policy development could also be achieved through the formation of task and finish groups that took place outside the scheduled meetings of the Committee.
Steve Miley (Director for Children's Services) felt the Council needed to do more ideas development – suggesting more think-pieces should be coming to PACs for recommendation to Cabinet. He also highlighted the problem of 'shallow scrutiny' where reports often comprised a basic presentation on a service area that led to simple questions and answers about its function. There needed to be greater focus and depth. Members of the Committee agreed with this assessment.
A member asked how items got on to the agenda – and what happened if a member of the Executive didn't want an item on an agenda. Councillor PJ Murphy (Chair) said ultimately decisions about the agenda rested with the Chair but he always tried to seek consensus. If a member of the public asked for an item to be put on the agenda it would be considered.
Councillor Donald Johnson, on the topic of how to involve more residents, suggested targeting experts in the borough and inviting them for items in their particular areas of interest. Kim Dero said there was a wide range of topics with a lot of public interest – from voluntary sector funding to business rates to community safety. The best examples of resident involvement were open community discussions on areas of local interest.
Members suggested that the work programme needed to be more closely ... view the full minutes text for item 4.
Hitesh Jolapara (Strategic Director for Finance and Governance) and Emily Hill (Assistant Director, Corporate Finance) presented the report that outlined the following five key financial challenges that concerned officers over the longer term:
· Issue 1 - Balancing the budget and future finance strategy
· Issue 2 – Financial resilience
· Issue 3 – Schools Funding
· Issue 4 – Major projects
· Issue 5 – Lessons from Northamptonshire County Council (NCC)
Issue 1 - balancing budget and future finance strategy
Hitesh Jolapara introduced the first issue – noting that there had been a significant budget gap every year since he joined the Council. The National Audit Office reported that there had been a real terms reduction in spending power (grant and local tax) of 28.5% from 2010/11 to 2018/19.
Some members of the Committee felt more focus should be given to what cost cutting means to frontline services.
Kim Dero felt the future finance strategy was an area where the Committee's co-optees could be used to better effect. She suggested a task force could be set up to look at this issue in more detail.
Chris Littmoden wanted the Committee to test the Council’s zero-based budgeting approach.
Councillor Max Schmid (Cabinet Member for Finance) highlighted alternative income streams and commercial opportunities as an area where the Committee could add real value.
Erik Hohenstein questioned whether the Committee was given enough time – and enough detail – to do meaningful budget scrutiny. The Chair suggested officers could do a formal briefing on the budget earlier in the cycle. Councillor Schmid noted, for context, that the timescales for the budget were extremely tight – information on the final allocation from Central Government was sent around Christmas day and budget reports had to be ready by mid-January for scrutiny and mid-February for Full Council.
The Chair suggested the following areas for the work-programme:
· Raising revenue
· Continuing to review service spend
· Review fees – including a more dynamic approach (e.g. flexible pricing for leisure facilities based on usage peaks)
Judith Worthy felt the Committee should understand reserves better – particularly the earmarking process and the practice of services holding on to reserves. She felt corporate finance should be more proactive – taking earmarked reserves back if projects were dormant for too long. She suggested a proper review of the earmarked projects.
Kim Dero suggested greater scrutiny of invest to save projects – did they yield the expected return etc.
Issue 2 - Financial resilience
Judith Worthy felt the Committee should consider the Council’s contractual commitments – how deeply was the organisation bound to expensive contracts? Was this covered in the business continuity planning?
Erik Hohenstein asked if the Council had done any modelling on the potential impacts of Brexit. Hitesh Jolapara said officers had done forecasts and scenario planning. Councillor Max Schmid noted that a risk assessment had been done after the vote including how business rates and council tax revenues would be affected. The Committee suggested testing the assumptions used in these exercises.
Judith Worthy said ... view the full minutes text for item 5.
The Committee is requested to consider the items within the Work Programme attached as Appendix A to this report and suggest any amendments or additional topics to be included in the future.
The group suggested the following items to be considered for the Committee’s work programme:
· Commercialisation – including joint ventures, trading companies etc.
· IT – including major contracts and how a modern council can use IT to engage / interface with residents. IT would be a good area to encourage residents with expert knowledge to inform our strategy.
· Lessons learned on major issues from other Council’s.
· General point – the Committee needed to get information from a wider range of sources than just members and officers. There was a vast range of expertise in the borough that could be tapped into.
· Longer term financial planning (10+ years) and investment strategies.
· Developing an operating model for the organisation.
The Chair thanked everyone for attending and participating in the discussion – and gave a special thanks to Erik Hohenstein for leading the session and Hitesh Jolapara for providing officer support.
Dates of future meetings
The following dates are proposed:
· Monday 5th December 2018
· Tuesday 12th February 2019
· Wednesday 27th March 2019
The following dates were noted.
· 5 December 2018
· 12 February 2019
· 27 March 2019