Agenda and minutes
Venue: Civic Centre, Gravesend, Kent
Contact: Committee Section
No apologies were received.
The minutes of the meeting held Thursday, 16 January 2020 were signed by the Chair.
Declarations of Interest
Cllr Jordan Meade declared an ‘other’ interest in Item 5 Call in – Corporate Peer Challenge Feedback Report in that he provides advice, in a non-financial capacity, on policy for government technology and digital inclusion.
The Chair of the Overview Scrutiny Committee has called in the following Item from the Cabinet agenda (3 February 2020)
Item 10. Corporate Peer Challenge Feedback Report
Reason: To provide Members with an opportunity to evaluate the effectiveness of Appendix 3 - GBC's Response to the LGA Corporate Peer Challenge Key Recommendations (January 2020).
With a particular focus on Section Two of Appendix 3 - "Introduce a clear improvement plan for Planning"
Officers: Director (Planning and Development)
Members: Cabinet Member for Strategic Environment Portfolio
– Cllr Brian Sangha
The Director (Corporate Services) advised that the last GBC Peer Challenge had taken place in 2013 and it is best practice to have one every 5 years. On this occasion the Council decided to postpone the Peer Challenge until after the May 2019 Borough Election.
In October 2019, the Council welcomed a Peer Challenge Team onsite in order for them to undertake a Local Government Association (LGA) Corporate Peer Challenge of the Council. The team was onsite for three days (between 15 October and 17 October) and undertook a number of interviews and focus groups with various officers, Members, residents and external partners of the organisation.
The purpose of the Peer Challenge was to focus on the five core areas of business that make up a Peer Challenge:-
· understanding of the local place and priority setting;
· leadership of place;
· financial planning and viability;
· organisational leadership and governance; and
· capacity to deliver.
In addition, the team was also asked to consider additional areas of scope identified by the Council, in the areas of housing and housing delivery and planning and the planning service.
The Peer Challenge team had prepared a report setting out their findings and key recommendations; the report was attached at appendix two of the report for Members’ information.
In addressing each of the key recommendations, a detailed action plan had now been developed and was attached at appendix three of the report for Member review and approval.
It was also proposed that a report be brought back to the Cabinet in 12 months’ time (February 2021) to provide an update on progress against the action plan. In addition, the LGA Peer Challenge process included a follow-up visit from the LGA. The purpose of the visit will be to assess the impact of the peer challenge and to review the progress that has been made in delivering the action plan. The follow-up visit will be in two years’ time (February 2022).
The Chair explained that he had called in the item to provide Members with an opportunity to evaluate the effectiveness of Appendix 3 - GBC's Response to the LGA Corporate Peer Challenge Key Recommendations (January 2020) with a particular focus on Section Two of Appendix 3 - "Introduce a clear improvement plan for Planning"
The Director (Planning & Development) highlighted the relevant section of Appendix 3 in relation to Planning:
The Assistant Director (Corporate Services) presentedthe Committee with the draft revenue and capital estimates for General Fund services in 2020-21 together with the recommended level of council tax to be levied for 2020-21.
The Assistant Director (Corporate Services) advised that, on 20 December 2019, the Provisional Local Government Finance Settlement for 2020-21 only was announced by the Ministry for Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG). This set out an inflationary increase in the Business Rates Retention Baseline Funding Level of 1.63%, in line with the September 2019 CPI inflation figure, as well as confirming that the government would be eliminating negative RSG amounts in 2020-21.
The Council had also secured indicative New Homes Bonus funding for 2020-21 of £603,010; this was above the level of funding that was previously in the Medium Term Financial Plan (MTFP) with the increase principally due to there being a net increase in the housing stock of the borough of 309 units between October 2018 and October 2019. This was above the national baseline of 0.4%, or 180 net additional homes. The government had stated that funding of New Homes Bonus beyond 2020-21 will be subject to the 2020 Spending Review.
The Kent Business Rates Pool will continue to operate in 2020-21. Modelling of anticipated business rates to be generated in the year (including the projected benefit of membership of the Kent Pool) indicated a benefit to Gravesham of £529,650 beyond that previously expected and reflected in the MTFP.
The current Medium Term Financial Strategy (MTFS) covered the period 2016-17 to 2019-20. Given the current lack of clarity from the government around the future funding of local government, the S151 Officer and the Council’s Senior Management Team agreed that it would be prudent to put in place a one year MTFS for 2020-21. The strategy was attached at appendix three of the report.
In response to the 2020 pay claim, the National Employers indicated that they would not be in a position to respond to the claim until the outcome of the General Election was known. In the absence of any agreed pay claim, the proposed revenue budget for 2020- 21 reflects a 2% pay award for all staff; this is in line with the pay award assumptions of other council’s whose pay negotiations are also managed by the National Employers.
The Kent Superannuation Fund has recently undergone its triennial revaluation and the draft results have been shared with key stakeholders. The review will set the ongoing employer’s contribution rate from 1 April 2020 as well as the level of back funding contributions. The draft figures represent 2020-21 employer contributions for
Gravesham being some £54,000 more than 2019-20 levels, with the balance between future services contribution and back funding having been adjusted. This has been incorporated into the proposed budget.
A Vacancy Allowance of £350,000 has been retained for the General Fund.
£4.2million of bridging the gap / balancing the budget activity has been implemented and reflected in the MTFP
In relation to the ... view the full minutes text for item 136.
The Assistant Director (Corporate Services) presented the Committee withthe draft revenue and capital estimates for Housing Revenue Account Services in 2020-21 together with the determination of the level of rents and service charges for 2020-21.
The Original Estimate for 2020-21 represents a balanced budget position, though this
has only been achieved through drawing £1,389,600 from the HRA General Reserve as expenditure in the year is anticipated to exceed the income generated in the year.
In February 2019, the Government confirmed its intention to set a long term rent deal for social housing landlords in England. The new policy will permit annual rent increases on both social rent and affordable rent properties of up to consumer price index (CPI) plus one percentage point from 2020, for a period of at least five years. The subsequent Rent Standard issued by the Regulator of Social Housing in respect of 2020-21 confirmed that rents could increase by CPI+1% from 1 April 2020 (where CPI is measured at September 2019). Dwelling Rents for 2020-21 will therefore increase by 2.7%. The authority’s average social rent will increase to £89.96 per week in 2020-21 compared to £87.17 per week in 2019-20. The average affordable rent will increase to £159.41 per week (the average social rent increase will not be exactly equal to 2.7% due to re-letting of void properties and additions of properties during the year).
The Assistant Director (Corporate Services) advised that service charges were also levied on Council dwellings to cover a range of services including caretaking services and maintenance of communal areas and communal assets, such as lifts and gardens. Service charges were generally eligible to be met by Housing Benefit, with the exception of charges to individual homes such as heating or lighting within a dwelling. The Council’s average capped service charge will be £3.63 per week for 2020-21. The capped service charge had been increased by 2.7% (based on CPI at September 2019 +1).
Rent levels and service charges for 2020-21 had been determined by the Assistant Director (Housing) and the Director (Corporate Services), in accordance with the Housing Act 1985 and under delegated authority as set out at Annex 1.13B.83 of the Constitution.
The Assistant Director (Corporate Services) advised that this will be the first time in four years since social rent had increased.
The Director (Corporate Services) and Assistant Director (Corporate Services) fielded questions from the Committee and highlighted the following:
· There will be a year on year requirement to borrow in order to fund the new build programme but this will be met by the increase in rent.
· Council owned garages were considered as part of the balancing the budget proposals. There will be a re-allocation of income and expenditure relating to ? Housing Revenue Account and ? General Fund.
· The Local Authority Trading Company will own the properties that are built as part of the Reef development and rent them out privately to members of the public.
Resolved that the Committee note the General Housing Revenue Account Estimates and ... view the full minutes text for item 137.
Scrutiny Review of GBC's Maritime Strategy - Oral Update
The Chair updated the Committee on the Maritime Strategy Review Group:
· A comprehensive tour of Rochester Riverside Plaza took place on 7 February 2020. The tour was very useful and highlighted areas that worked well and some areas that didn’t. One takeaway that Gravesham should consider is getting shops / amenities secured in new developments before the residents move in.
· The Chair has arranged to meet the following clubs on 14 February 2020:
- Gravesend Sailing Club
- Gravesend Rowing Club
- Gravesend Regatta Society
· The Chair has arranged to meet the Young People from the Youth Democracy Scheme to discuss the Maritime Strategy Review on Friday 21 February 2020.
The Committee recommended that the review consider the following:
· The night time economy – connection with the river
· Heritage Assets along the river (engage National Trust / English Heritage)
The Chair advised the Committee that he was happy to take the two suggestions on board and incorporate them into the review.
The Chair clarified that the upcoming meetings are open to all Members of the review group but there had been some difficulty finding dates that all parties could make.
Resolved that the Committee noted the update on the Maritime Strategy Review.
The Chair advised the Committee that he had spoken with the Chief Executive about training opportunities for Members of the Overview Scrutiny Committee.