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Apologies for Absence and Declarations of Interest
To receive any apologies for absence and declarations of interest.
Apologies were received from Cllrs Criscione and Jones.
To consider the minutes of the previous meeting.
The minutes of the meeting held on 1 September were agreed and would be
signed by the Chair as an accurate record at the next opportunity.
Councillor Pavitt spoke on the Revised Corporate Plan Delivery Plan 2020/21. He said that it was good to see that funding was now available and made reference to taking action on climate change and the need to conserve natural resources. He expressed concern that a target date of 21 March 2021 had become a default date despite the Waters and Rivers motion having been passed at the Council meeting in July 2020.
Councillor Reeve responded that this fell within Councillor Pepper’s remit but that the target might be reached earlier than March 2021. Councillor Pavitt said that he would follow this matter up with Councillor Pepper.
The Chief Executive and the Assistant Director - Planning said that actions arising from the Waters and Rivers motion were being taken forward.
To receive the update report regarding Planning related studies.
The Chair brought this item forward on the Agenda.
The Assistant Director – Planning gave an update of the three planning related
studies that Scrutiny was currently engaged with.
· Airport– related Parking Task and Finish Group. The impact of fly parking was not considered to be significant as a result of Covid-19 although there had been movement towards greater use of private cars than public transport. This matter would be kept under quarterly review.
· Planning Obligations Task and Finish Group. This work had been paused and would be picked up again after Christmas.
· Planning Advisory Service’s (PAS) review of major planning applications. The final report was now scheduled to be issued in October 2020 and would be focused on PAS’s recommendations to further improve the way that the Council managed major planning applications. The Assistant Director – Planning suggested that an Action Plan from the recommendations would be brought back to the Committee early in the new year.
Councillor Driscoll indicated that the Stansted Transport Forum had agreed to speak at the next meeting about fly-parking.
The Chair thanked officers for their hard work and diligence. He referred to the Stansted application and the modal shift from private car to public transport and asked whether it was significant that there was now reverse shift.
The Director - Public Services said that this issue had been flagged up and that work was underway on the part of the appellant to address these concerns.
The Chair noted the updates of the three planning related studies.
Responses of the Executive to reports of the Committee
To consider any responses of the Executive to reports of the Committee.
The Chair said there had been no responses from the Executive to reports of the
Consideration of any matter referred to the Committee in relation to call in of a decision
To consider any matter referred for call in.
The Chair said that there had been no matters referred to the Committee.
To receive the updated Cabinet Forward Plan.
Councillor Dean asked whether the Community Engagement Strategy and the
Statement of Community Involvement would be brought to the Scrutiny
Committee ahead of Cabinet on 20 October 2020. It was confirmed that these
items would come to Scrutiny Committee on 7 October 2020.
Councillor Dean also asked whether the Council’s Corporate Equality Policy
would be brought to the Scrutiny Committee ahead of Cabinet on 20 October
2020. It was indicated that this would not be coming to Scrutiny ahead of the
Cabinet meeting. However, three Councillors were nominated to examine the
document and make comments ahead of Cabinet. Councillors Sell, Dean and
Driscoll volunteered to receive documentation to be provided by the Assistant
Director – Corporate Services.
The Chair referred to the item in respect of Appropriation of Land West of
Woodside Way, Great Dunmow and asked when this matter might be resolved.
The Director - Public Services indicated that it was likely to go to the next but
one Cabinet meeting and that there was no immediate urgency.
To receive the National Audit Office report on Local Authority investment in Commercial property.
The Chair welcomed Councillor Caton, who had sat on the Scrutiny Committee in the previous municipal year and had worked on the matter of Local Authority investments, to present the report.
CouncillorCaton referred to the role of the Public Works Loans Board (PWLB) and the principles of borrowing for yield. He recognised that the Council had been borrowing on the open market. He highlighted the fact that Spelthorne Council had at one point borrowed fifty times their annual budget for commercial investments in comparison with the Council’s current level of £300m, representing 8/9 times the annual budget. He said that the Council needed to look at levels of borrowing and needed to update the Commercial Strategy and be more open and transparent. He suggested that Key Performance Indicators and other performance measures should be considered by Scrutiny Committee. He said that the Council should take a more holistic view of the Investment Strategy, not just from an income point of view and referred to the idea of having an Independent Chair of the Investment Board.
Councillor Reeve, as Chair of the Investment Board, responded. He said that the points being made were not new and the current priority was to complete the portfolio. This would be followed by reviewing the maintenance of the portfolio and updating policy documents.
Councillor Sell said that he sat on the Investment Board and there was a need to determine the relationship between the Board and Scrutiny. He said there was a need to revisit the Commercial Strategy and that matters should not just be financial but should also be reputational.
Councillor Lavelle outlined the current processes in place in respect of investment decisions that he considered to be robust. He agreed that there was a need to ensure that the Investment Board correctly managed reputational risk.
Several Members commented on the governance processes in place prior to approval of investments. The good work of officers in the process was recognised.
The Director – Finance and Corporate Services said that there had been nothing issued yet in respect of PWLB consultation and there was QC opinion that the Council was investing to underpin the budget, not for yield. He said the November meeting of the Investment Board would receive its first Quarterly report and these would include some KPI’s that the Government had recommended. He said that it was the role of GAP Committee to review the KPI’s. He said that the Commercial Strategy was a five year strategy and that actions taken had complied with the strategy as approved in February 2020.
CouncillorCaton welcomed Councillor Reeve’s recognition of the need to look forward at improvements.
The Chair thanked Councillor Caton for his contribution to ensuring that the Council was doing things correctly and he thanked the Investment Board.
Councillor Sell asked about the role of GAP Committee in relation to monitoring KPI’s and also at what point investments were in the public domain.
The Director – Finance and Corporate Services ... view the full minutes text for item 8.
To consider the Medium Term Financial Strategy – Mid Year Update report.
Councillor Hargreaves, as Portfolio holder for Finance and Budget introduced the report. He said that the figures had been produced a few weeks ago and were the best estimate of the Outturn. He said there was a reserve allocation of £500k for the Covid- 19 emergency and that the Covid- 19 impact was showing a net loss of £800k, net of Government assistance but that because commercial investments had come on stream quickly the shortfall could be covered.
He said that in the longer-term the sum of £475k had been assumed for Government transitional funding and that further assumptions had been made that the New Homes Bonus would also continue for a further year. He said that fees and charges were still under review but that the good news was that the Council was on track to be self-funding. He also highlighted the other reserve allocations of £1m for climate change, £450k towards sports facilities, £1m towards business recovery and £1.5m towards a waste depot. He also stated that as the Council now relied on its investment income, it was prudent to set aside monies in case of tenant failure at any one of the commercial assets and that the £1.06m in the Funding Reserve would be transferred to the new Investment Income Protection Reserve.
Members discussed the £1m Business Recovery Reserve and how seed monies could be utilised. The Stansted Business Forum had indicated that it was willing to participate in any discussions and Councillor Reeve indicated that works had already commenced to consider the use of the Business Recovery Reserve.
Councillor Sell referred to the Sports Facility Reserve of £150k per annum and was provided with information as to how to bid for grant monies. The Leader said that some monies would likely be allocated towards the 3G pitch at the County High School, subject to formal approval and that a possible project was being looked at in Dunmow and Councillor Armstrong would welcome proposals for the Stansted area.
In response to questions about the impacts on Council Tax and Business Rates, the Director- Finance and Corporate Services said that most affected businesses were on a business rates holiday and that most council tax payers had received a two months holiday at the start of the financial year. He said that no enforcement was currently taking place and there would inevitably be a fall in income but that half-year figures would be available from 1 October 2020.
In response to a question about the Economic Development team, the Chief Executive outlined the staffing arrangements in place to assist in taking forward the Business Recovery Reserve.
The Chair said that the financial figures were impressive and asked a question about the projected gross service figures and the 2% increase in Council Tax along with the frequency of the Pension Fund deficit payments.
The Assistant Director – Resources explained that the projected gross service figures were largely due to changes in the Local Plan budget. She also ... view the full minutes text for item 9.
To consider the Revised Corporate Plan Delivery Plan 2020/21.
Councillor Reeve, as Portfolio holder for the Economy and Investment, summarised the report. He said that the Corporate Plan 2020 – 2024 had been adopted by Full Council in February 2020. Cabinet had approved the Corporate Plan Delivery Plan (CPDP) in May 2020 and it had been acknowledged that the plan had to reflect the situation the Council found itself in, which had been constrained by the impact of Covid-19. The revised CPDP had been brought back to Scrutiny Committee but should be reviewed in the light of an overriding caveat that the public health emergency would take priority in the use of resources. He said that the elements of the Council’s Corporate Plan in the left hand columns of the document were not up for amendment. The intention was to take this Delivery Plan to Cabinet in October 2020 and then performance update would be considered by GAP Committee in February 2021. He said that the Council’s overriding priorities were the public health emergency and financial sustainability.
The Chair detailed the history of the CPDP and explained that previous meetings of this Scrutiny Committee had expected rather better of the document. He also referred to the Chief Executive’s cover report Paragraph 12 that stated “the reason for the call-in was: ‘because the Corporate Delivery Plan is insufficient insofar as it is, inter alia, not measurable, lacking in both quantified and timed outcomes. It therefore requires further development to meet these good governance standards. The plan should also demonstrate aspirational outcomes achievable in normal times and should not solely be downplayed by current uncertainties caused by the Covid- 19 pandemic.’ “
Councillor Sell said that he agreed with what the Chair had said. He said that some progress had been made but that the document lacked specifics and details of how to measure outputs. He was concerned about deliverability and understanding what was meant by success. He gave the Watford Council Delivery Plan as a good example of a vision and SMART targets.
In response to a question from Councillor Sell, Councillor Reeve explained the process of compiling the CPDP that involved input from Portfolio holders and officers working up elements of line items and then discussing them with Cabinet through the Joint Executive Team.
Councillor Dean said that he had circulated an annotated version of the document with around 60 suggested amendments that he was happy to take off-line. He highlighted the following issues:
· Page 125 Item 2a- he said that date changes were needed,
· Page 126 Item 2c- he had some suggestions for the member development programme,
· Page 133 Item 5- he hoped this was realistic and not just in grand isolation,
· Page 134 Item 5f- he said this did not reflect urgency and the need to get involved in the local economy,
· Page 134 Item 7a- he said the wording suggested delay.
At 9.10pm the Chair asked the Committee whether they were content to continue as the meeting had passed the two hour mark. The ... view the full minutes text for item 10.