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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 Councillor Driscoll, who was substituted by Councillor Sutton.
To consider the minutes of the previous meeting held on 19 January 2021.
The minutes of the meeting held on 19th January 2021 were approved and would be signed by the Chair as a correct record at the next opportunity.
Councillor Dean queried the public speaker section SC34, and specifically the questions raised by Ms Tealby-Watson. He could not see any mention in the minutes of the response given about the issue of the decision notice publication. The Chair said that it was his understanding that Councillor Merifield and Councillor LeCount had undertaken to write a report to be sent to Ms Tealby-Watson. He agreed that this would also be circulated to members.
CouncillorCriscione asked that it was noted in minute SC52 that the final report outlining the recommendations of theTask and Finish Group:Planning Obligations would be ready for the Scrutiny Committee meeting in April.
The Chair said that it had been discussed as part of the forward plan for Scrutiny, that Cabinet members and Officers from Essex County Council (ECC) would be invited to future meetings to discuss matters relating to the quality of services being provided. He asked for general consent for Assistant Director - Corporate Services to set this up.
In response to a question from Councillor Dean the Chair said there would be informal meetings to discuss the work programme but invitations would take longer to set up and therefore it was a good idea to initiate.
Councillor Sell suggested that to start the process the four County members from ECC were invited.
Councillor Criscione was not convinced of the value this would bring and what deliverables would be achieved.
The Chair said the majority of contact from residents did relate to County level activities, for example schools, flooding and pot holes. He said there was an obligation to get involved. He asked if Councillors Sell and Criscione could collaborate to ensure that the maximum value from this exercise was achieved.
Councillor Sell said there was a protocol of how issues were referred to County members which would need to be taken into account. He said it was important that the value of this exercise be kept in mind, but if it improved the delivery of County services, it would be worthwhile.
Councillor LeCount agreed that residents often corresponded about pot holes. He suggested that an Officer from the Highways Panel came to the meeting as he agreed it was difficult to contact ECC about local issues.
Councillor Coote joined the meeting at 7:15pm.
Councillor Jones said the Highways panel did have some influence over small projects and road safety issues. Larger projects are still in the remit of ECC Highways. He said any member could come to the meeting to raise issues. He also volunteered to help with the process.
Councillor Sell raised a point of information. He said anyone could attend the Highways Panel meeting to raise issues following the usual protocol.
The meeting was adjourned at 7:17pm to deal with technical issues, the Chief Executive joined the meeting once it ... view the full minutes text for item 2.
To receive the updated Cabinet Forward Plan.
Councillor Dean said the current forward plan was only until the end of March and asked when it would extend further into the year.
The Chief Executive explained that the meeting schedule for next year was on the agenda of the Council meeting on 23rd February 2021. Once this was agreed the Cabinet Forward Plan would then be populated with items. She said that care also needed to be taken as the pre-election period would begin towards the end of March and therefore, to avoid political advantage, no new policies or items would be brought forward during this time.
Councillor Sell asked for a list of non contentious items to be presented to Committee and then populated with meeting dates in due course.
The Chief Executive said that a list could be produced and made available once the Council meeting had taken place on the 23rd February and the budget approved shortly afterwards.
To consider the Corporate Plan Review 2021-2025
The Chair said there was one significant amendment to the Corporate Plan and that the Corporate Plan Delivery Plan would be presented at the next Scrutiny meeting.
Councillor Dean said he thought this plan was the same as last year and had not changed for 13 months. He had sent a number of comments but these had not been taken up and the plan remained the same.
Councillor Reeve said the administration had considered whether to make substantial changes or to execute the plan with only minor changes to provide stability. He highlighted the two major issues of the Covid-19 pandemic and the Local Plan process. It had been agreed that the content still met the aims that were being worked towards and it was important to get this document approved by Council. He said the major changes would come from the Corporate Plan Delivery Plan.
Councillor Sell said he understood the decision but asked if there was evidence of the plan being delivered. He said residents had not been consulted about the budget, and the document stated that residents deserve high standards of governance. He said he was unsure whether this was currently being delivered.
Councillor Reeve reiterated that the Corporate Plan set out the main themes; the execution of said themes would be covered by the Delivery Plan and discussed at the next meeting.
Councillor Hargreaves said the issue of consultation had been raised a number of times; most Councils did not consult on the detail of the budget, apart from those in dire circumstances when hard choices had to be made.
Councillor Criscione thanked Councillor Reeve for pushing this to the agenda and said he would reserve the right to speak at the next meeting when the Delivery Plan was presented. He said there needed to be a general awareness of the use of language, what was committed to and what decisions needed to be made. He gave the example of page 20, 1a and thought the wording ‘Use locally led Development Corporations to deliver sustainable new settlements’ would annoy residents and questioned the decision to leave it in the document as it did not back up the administrations line that nothing was on or off the table.
Councillor Reeve said no decisions had been made and the direction for the Local Plan had not been decided.
The Chair agreed and said there were other examples throughout the document but was sure that the delivery plan would give more specifics when it would be considered at the next meeting.
To consider the Medium Term Financial Strategy & 2021/22 Budget
Councillor Hargreaves presented the budget and highlighted a number of alterations that had been made:-
· The text in the ‘risk item’ section which related to the Local Plan had been updated.
· Annex A1 – Sports Facilities and Climate Change Reserve – on both these items the text had been changed to indicate that if the money was not spent it would be rolled over rather than put back into the general fund.
· MTFS page 63, the text had been added to make clear that 40% of Business Rates income was not retained but was calculated on a tariff basis.
· General Funds Reserves – changes had been made to make it clearer that the opening balance is boosted by Business Rates section 31 grant to fund the additional relief for Business Rates waived due to the crisis This will be paid out in the following year.
· The reserve for the Local Plan wording had been changed and the word ‘new’ removed with regards to ‘sustainable new communities’. Officers had been given the ability to amend various fees.
Councillor Sell thanked officers for their work. He asked the Director, Finance and Corporate Services to give a brief overview of the impact of Covid-19 on the Council’s finances.
The Director, Finance and Corporate Services said initially there had been concern and emergency spending had been implemented in the early stages of the pandemic to manage the situation, mainly the cash flow. The government funding provided the money needed and had announced funds for next year to cover losses of income, for example, car parking.
He said the budget had been compiled by taking views on expected income and were the best estimates of the position at this time.
Councillor Sell asked what the effect of Business Rates going from 40% to 75% retention and the removal of the new homes bonus would be on the Council’s finances.
Councillor Hargreaves said the 75% retention of Business Rates was included in the Business Rates reform, and these reforms had not taken place. This rolled into the Fair Funding Review which had also been delayed. The Council would not keep the full 75% it would be a proportion. This also applied to the replacement for the new homes bonus, consultation was due to take place later this year.
Councillor Sell said the Town and Parish Councils were the only tier of local government that were not capped.
The Director, Finance and Corporate Services added that the document on page 66 set out the position for future years excluding the new homes bonus and using a lower income figure for Business Rates retention.
The Chief Executive lost connection and left the meeting at 7:50pm.
Councillor Dean said the Commercial Strategy on page 42 and the section on risks raised the on going issue of the accounts not being signed off due to a governance issue and the external investigation. He said the Council was continuing to borrow money and had a £300m liability. He asked if all ... view the full minutes text for item 5.