Agenda, decisions and draft minutes
Venue: Council Chamber, Civic Centre, Windmill Street, Gravesend DA12 1AU. View directions
Contact: Committee Section
The minutes of the meeting held on Monday 2 October 2023 were signed by the Chair.
Declarations of Interest
Cllr John Burden declared an interest in agenda item 6 (Draft report from Rosherville - Rosherville Pension Scheme - Terms of Reference) in that he is a Member of the Kent Superannuation Fund Committee and agenda item 7 (Property Purchase to alleviate Temporary Accommodation Pressures) in that he knows one of the developers referred to within the report. Cllr Burden advised that he would leave the meeting during the discussion and voting of both items.
Delegated Decisions - Cabinet Members
To report any decisions made by Cabinet Members under their delegated powers.
No decisions other than those already circulated had been made.
Vice-Chair in the Chair
That the principle of a pass-through approach between the council and Rosherville Repairs & Maintenance Limited be approved by the Shareholder.
It was also agreed that the Shareholder’s Chief Finance Officer (s151 Officer) will continue to work with representatives from Rosherville Repairs & Maintenance Limited to determine the approach to setting contributions under the pass-through arrangement of the report, and for this to be reported back to the Shareholder to enable a final decision to be made.
Rosherville Repairs & Maintenance Limited was established in April 2022 to provide repairs and maintenance services to the public and other third-party agencies. It was confirmed from the outset that the DSO workforce had no spare capacity and therefore to achieve what had been outlined in the five-year business plan there would be a requirement to recruit directly to the company.
It was agreed that the terms and conditions of the workforce should be comparable and in line with National Joint Council (NJC) Green Book terms and conditions and therefore it was necessary to apply to Kent County Council (KCC) for admittance into the Local Government Pension Scheme (LGPS).
The current statutory regulations that the LGPS were bound by were the 2013 regulations. Rosherville Repairs & Maintenance Limited would be able to join the LGPS by way of making a resolution under Schedule 2 Part 2 of the regulations:-
“5. An entity connected with a local authority listed in paragraphs 1 to 5 of Part 1 of this Schedule where “connected with” has the same meaning as in section 212(6) of the Local Government and Public Involvement in Health Act 2007(e)”.
In order to join the scheme, the company must be established in the first instance and then must commission an actuary report by submitting data such as date of birth, sex, NI number of the employees.
The report sought the Shareholder’s agreement in principle of a pass-through arrangement which would see Gravesham Borough Council sharing the pension risk of Rosherville Repairs & Maintenance Limited. Typically, in such arrangement, the majority of pension risk will be borne by the Council rather than Rosherville Repairs & Maintenance Limited but there were a number of ways in which a pass-through arrangement could be structured. This will require further investigation. Rosherville Repairs & Maintenance Limited will seek to commission the actuary report and work with the Shareholder’s Chief Finance Officer (s151 Officer) to determine the approach to setting contributions.
The intention will be for Rosherville Repairs & Maintenance Limited to pass a written resolution to join the Kent Pension Fund rather than applying to join as an admitted body, which would be a more intensive process.
A report on the proposed approach to pass-through will be presented to the Rosherville Board and to the Shareholder to enable a final decision to be made.
1. the principle of a pass-through approach between the Council and Rosherville Repairs & Maintenance Limited be approved by the Shareholder; and
2. the Shareholder’s Chief Finance Officer (s151 Officer) will continue to work with representatives from Rosherville Repairs & Maintenance Limited to determine the approach to setting contributions under the pass-through arrangement of the report, and for this to be reported back to the Shareholder to enable a final decision to be made.
Note: Cllr John Burden left the Chamber during consideration of this item.
Cabinet delegates authority to the Director (Housing) in consultation with the Section 151 Officer and Lead Member to undertake all the necessary practical, financial and legal steps to purchase the new properties as outlined within the report.
Cabinet recommends to Council to agree to amend the 2023/24 Capital Programme.
The Cabinet was informed that the Council had a duty under the Homelessness Reduction Act 2018 to prevent and relieve homelessness. Where homelessness cannot be prevented and cases move to relief duty, temporary accommodation (TA) may be needed until alternative settled accommodation can be secured or the relief duty ends. Whilst there had been an increase in TA placements, it was important to note that not all households seeking housing assistance from the Council will be placed into TA, and this will only happen if the household was deemed to be in priority need as per the legislation.
There had been an increase in the number of placements made in TA and due to difficulties in accessing the private rented sector and it being unaffordable, there had been a steady rise in the use of expensive nightly paid accommodation. This had considerably, and negatively, impacted the TA budget contained within the Council's General Fund.
Difficulties in accessing private sector accommodation were also exacerbated by other local authorities procuring accommodation within Gravesham where it was more affordable for them to do so when compared to their own local authority area. The Leader of the Council had made contact with counterpart in these Boroughs robustly stating Gravesham’s position, asking them not to add to the ever-increasing problem every authority was grappling with however the issue continued.
Since April 2022, the Head of Housing Solutions had been regularly reporting to Management Team to confirm the monthly position and each month TA placements continued to rise despite increasing the resources in the TA Team to ensure income was being maximised however it continued to be a significant pressure and therefore, it was essential to take action now to help with the financial stability of the Council and to protect cuts in other service areas of the Council that were non-statutory.
As of 12 October 2023, Gravesham had 221 households in TA of which 64% were in expensive nightly paid accommodation by various providers. Gravesham predominately used self-contained units and for some single households, shared HMO accommodation would be utilised.
In addition to an unaffordable private rented sector locally, various other factors had and will have an impact on the Council’s TA position which were detailed in sections 2.3 and 2.4 of the report.
Officers had been exploring options as to how the Council could mitigate the impact; these options included increasing use of Council-owned stock temporarily, partnership working with Housing Associations to access their stock, working with local landlords and agents, the creation of a social letting agency (GBC Lettings) and purchasing properties from the open market all of which were being progressed. On the latter option, the Director (Housing) had been progressing with discussions with two developers to purchase vacant units before they were advertised on the open market that could be used for TA thereby reducing the need for expensive nightly paid accommodation by 60 placements as set out below:
· Scheme 1 – Crescent House, Gravesend. An offer had been made and ... view the full minutes text for item 47.
Chair in the Chair
At the Full Council meeting on Tuesday 17 October 2023, the Leader committed to bringing forward an update report on crime and fear of crime within Gravesham. Therefore, the report presented to the Cabinet sets out that update.
In considering Kent Police recorded crime data, it was important to note that whilst the Council was very committed to working in partnership with all statutory partners in reducing crime in the borough (and the Local Authority had a number of powers and tools that it can and does use to support that endeavour) it was not a primary law enforcement agency when it came to tackling criminal behaviour. The key agencies with that remit remained to be Kent Police and the Probation Service.
The Director (Communities and Inclusive Growth) advised that the report set out the crime rates within Gravesham for different offences and highlighted that all districts in Kent (bar Tonbridge and Malling) had recorded a decrease in total crime with an average reduction countywide of 4.7%. During the same period, Gravesham had recorded the third greatest decrease of 7.8%, further reducing the rate of total crime per 1,000 population in the Borough to 100.1 offences. Whilst this still remained higher than the average Kent rate of 92.5 offences, this was an indication of improvement being sustained and that crime locally was falling at a faster rate than in most parts of the county.
Despite the overall reduction in crime across the borough, fear of crime remained a major issue for residents and visitors, particularly within Gravesend Town Centre. Isolated cases of violent crime often receive significant press and social media attention and leads to rumours and falsehoods spreading online. Prominent antisocial behaviour from street drinkers and large numbers of school age children in certain parts of the town centre were also contributors to this overall perception of crime being on the rise, when it was in fact falling under nearly all measures.
The Cabinet was informed that Council officers recently undertook a Nighttime Economy Audit, spending the evening in Gravesend Town Centre speaking to members of the public and reviewing how safe venues and public spaces felt. When members of the public were asked how safe they felt in Gravesend Town Centre of an evening, the most common response was a rating of 7 out of 10. This figure would however look very different if the question was asked of people who do not go into the town centre at night, suggesting that those using the town centre of an evening were more likely to feel safe than those put off by social media or local news stories.
A common theme when discussing feelings of safety in Gravesend Town Centre of an evening, was that people feel less safe when an area was quiet. Since the start of the pandemic, the town centre’s nighttime economy had declined, with less late-night venues and a subsequent reduction in footfall. Whilst this had a positive impact on crime levels and anti-social behaviour, ... view the full minutes text for item 48.
The Cabinet received the second budget monitoring report for 2023/24 in relation to the General Fund showing the position up to 30 September 2023.
The Cabinet noted the information provided on: -
· actual performance against the approved Revenue and Capital budgets for 2023/24, including projected variances agreed or identified through budgetary control activity; and
· other key areas of financial performance that may impact on the Council’s Medium Term Financial Strategy (MTFS), Medium Term Financial Plan (MTFP), or Financial Statements.
The Assistant Director (Corporate Services) drew Members’ attention to page 46 which held an executive summary of the report. As at Quarter Two, there was a forecasted overspend of £1,089k. The key variances were detailed within the report for Members’ information however a significant variance continued to be temporary accommodation.
The Cabinet was informed that the latest MTFP showed a budget gap of £1.086m. To meet this budget gap, the Council needed to utilise all of its available working balances in 2023/24 and based on current projections draw a further £282k from the General Fund Reserve. Action was underway to pro-actively manage this position with further reports being considered by the Cabinet on 6 November 2023. There were other unknown budgetary pressures emerging that were likely to negatively impact the MTFP during 2023/24 which were detailed in the report for Members’ information such as the continuation of high interest rates, St George’s Centre and staffing costs.
In response to the financial challenges that the Council continued to face, in February 2023, Full Council approved a revised five-year Medium Term Finance Strategy building on 5 key initiatives set out in February 2022 to help improve the financial position. Officers continued to actively monitor progress against those 5 key areas:-
· Reviewing Fees and Charges;
· Budget Rationalisation;
· Trading and Commercial;
· Asset Optimisation; and
· Continuous service reviews.
The Assistant Director (Corporate Services) advised that the report would also be considered by the Finance and Audit Committee on 8 November 2023.
The Cabinet expressed concern regarding the costs associated with homelessness and stated that it had a statutory duty to support those households who were presenting themselves to the Council for housing advice and assistance. The Cabinet stated that funding from Central Government continued to fall significantly short of the financial cost of providing these statutory services and acknowledged that all other local authorities were in a similar position.
The Cabinet also expressed concern regarding the funding cuts to services provided by Kent County Council which will have a significant impact on Gravesham i.e. care leavers as referred to in minute 47 (Property Purchase to alleviate Temporary Accommodation Pressures).
Cllr Shane Mochrie-Cox, as the Council’s representative on GCLL, commended the Council in continuing to support leisure centres as a number of other local authorities have closed their centres due to budget pressures and it being a non-statutory service. Cllr Mochrie-Cox advised that GCLL was working hard to prevent any further impact on this variance.
The Cabinet noted the information contained within the report.
The Cabinet received the second budget monitoring report for 2023/24 in relation to the Housing Revenue Account showing the position up to 30 September 2023.
The Cabinet noted the information provided on:-
· actual performance against the approved Revenue and Capital budgets for 2023/24, including known variances agreed or identified through budgetary control activity; and
· other key arears of financial performance that may affect the Council’s Medium Term Financial Strategy, Medium Term Financial Plan, HRA Business Plan or Financial Statements.
The Assistant Director (Corporate Services) drew Members’ attention to page 67 which held an executive summary of the report. At the end of the Quarter Two, income and expenditure for the year remained balanced. There remained to be an anticipated contribution to reserves at year end.
The Assistant Director (Corporate Services) confirmed that the same robust budgetary control actions as detailed within the previous minute (minute 49 - Q2 Budget Monitoring Report GF) were also being applied to the Housing Revenue Account and that the report would also be considered by the Finance and Audit Committee on 8 November 2023.
The Cabinet noted the information contained within the report.
Cabinet approves the implementation of the revised Car Parking Charges set out at Appendix One to the report and delegates authority to the Parking & Environmental Enforcement Services Manager to undertake all necessary action to implement these charges.
The Director (Corporate Services) advised that, in the last decade, the Council had experienced a sustained period of challenge to its financial sustainability.
In response to ongoing funding cuts from Central Government since 2010/11, in 2016 the Council adopted a four-year Medium Term Financial Strategy (MTFS) in response to the rising challenges to its financial position and embarked on a multifaceted programme of activity intended to optimise income generation, innovate service delivery of services and ensure that resources were appropriately focused on the needs of the borough.
The Council demonstrated its ability to deliver against this programme and, in February 2020, was able to announce that £4.25m of base budget reductions had been reflected in its Medium Term Financial Plan (MTFP) and that the Council had in place a sustainable financial plan for the next 10 years, the period which was covered by the MTFP.
Since March 2020, the Council had been responding to further funding pressures alongside managing the consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic and macroeconomic factors.
During the 2022/23 financial year, the Cabinet received various reports providing information on the service delivery and financial risks to the Council, residents and businesses stemming from the economic situation at that time and its impacts on the Council.
The report provided Members with an updated position statement on the Council’s financial position, both from a General Fund and HRA perspective, and presented the actions to be progressed by the Council as a means of proactively managing the Council’s ongoing financial sustainability.
The Director (Corporate Services) advised that the timing of the report was particularly pertinent as the Council begins to consider revenue and capital budgets for General Fund and HRA Services for 2024/25 and beyond, with budget proposals to be presented to all Members in February 2024.
The latest budget monitoring information from Q2 (six-month period to 30 September 2023) indicated the ongoing in-year challenges to the Council, principally driven by factors beyond the Council’s control. Growing demand pressures and economic factors over the last decade had required the Council to actively manage its budgetary position. As an illustration of this, the Council’s net budget requirement in 2010/11 was £14.4m. Taking into account inflation this would have increased to £23.4m for the current financial year. The actual net budget requirement for 2023/24 was £14.1m.
Despite proactive management of the budget position, the Council’s current projected revenue expenditure plans exceed the anticipated income the Council will be expected to be able to generate from council tax and business rates receipts, fees and charges and funding directly from Central Government. The continuous reduction of Central Government funding had shifted the Council from a position where expenditure on Council services was primarily met by secure, known funding sources to a situation where funding for Council services was met from more volatile, local income sources, including council tax. Therefore, decisions taken by Full Council around annual council tax levels had a significant impact on the Council’s financial position for the year and as a starting ... view the full minutes text for item 51.
The Cabinet noted the minutes of the Climate Change Advisory Board held on Monday 9 October 2023.
The Cabinet noted the Part A minutes of the Northfleet Harbourside Steering Group held on Wednesday 6 September 2023.
The Cabinet noted the minutes of the Crime and Disorder Scrutiny Committee held on Thursday 26 October 2023.
To move, if required, that pursuant to Section 100A (4) of the Local Government Act 1972 that the public be excluded from any items included in Part B of the agenda because it is likely in view of the nature of business to be transacted that if members of the public are present during those items, there would be disclosure to them of exempt information as defined in Part 1 of Schedule 12A of the Act.
Resolved that pursuant to Section 100A(4) of the Local Government Act 1972 that the public be excluded during the following item of business because it was likely in view of the nature of business to be transacted that, if members of the public were present during this item, there would be disclosure to them of exempt information.
CIT Recommendations Report
That the Cabinet agree the following options that they are minded to pursue, and for these to be further explored/taken forward as part of the council’s ‘Balancing the Budget’ process.
· Community Safety - Refining the staffing structure to meet service demand
· CCTV - Consolidation of council CCTV contracts under one contract
· CCTV - Expansion of the shared service for CCTV
· Land Charges - Review of resource requirements
· Land Charges - Fees and Charges
· Property Services - Review of staffing structure
· Property Services - Income Generation - council-owned land
· Property Services - Review current contract for provision of Property Management System
· Public Conveniences - Income Generation – Advertising
Further to minute 49 (Q2 Budget Monitoring Report GF) and 51 (Financial Update and Balancing the Budget), the Cabinet was informed that in response to the financial pressures, in February 2023 the Council approved a 5-year Medium Term Financial Strategy (MTFS) which contained initiatives to address the emerging budget gap. One of the initiatives being ‘Continuous Improvement Reviews/Corporate Improvement Team (CIT)’. The main task of the CIT being to look at services with a view to increase income, reduce costs and improve efficiencies.
The CIT consisted of a core group of 6 officers representing all directorates of the Council. The core group would be supported as and when required by officers who had specialist knowledge and expertise in the areas of HR, Finance and IT.
The intention of the CIT process was to help assist Members make informed decisions regarding the future delivery of services that the Council provided.
The Cabinet was informed that the CIT had concluded a number of reviews and was, therefore, provided with a number of options to consider arising from the CIT process in relation to Community Safety, CCTV, Land Charges, Property Services and Public Conveniences.
The Cabinet considered each of the options in turn and those options, detailed within the recommendation, were identified for further consideration.
Resolved that, the Cabinet agrees the following options that they are minded to pursue, and for these to be further explored/taken forward as part of the Council’s ‘Balancing the Budget’ process:-
· Community Safety - Refining the staffing structure to meet service demand;
· CCTV - Consolidation of council CCTV contracts under one contract;
· CCTV - Expansion of the shared service for CCTV;
· Land Charges - Review of resource requirements;
· Land Charges - Fees and Charges;
· Property Services - Review of staffing structure;
· Property Services - Income Generation - council-owned land;
· Property Services - Review current contract for provision of Property Management System; and
· Public Conveniences - Income Generation – Advertising.
Minutes of meeting of Northfleet Harbourside Steering Group - Wednesday, 06 September 2023 - Part B
The Cabinet noted the Part B minutes of the Northfleet Harbourside Steering Group held on Wednesday 6 September 2023.