Agenda and minutes

Scrutiny Commission
Monday, 14 September 2020 10.00 am

Venue: Microsoft Teams

Contact: Mrs J Twomey (Tel: 0116 305 2583)  Email: joanne.twomey@leics.gov.uk

Items
No. Item

Webcast.

A webcast of the meeting can be viewed at https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCWFpwBLs6MnUzG0WjejrQtQ.

In attendance

Mr N. J. Rushton CC

Mr B. L. Pain CC

Mr T. Pendleton CC

 

16.

Question Time.

Minutes:

The Chief Executive reported that no questions had been received under Standing Order 34.

 

17.

Questions asked by members under Standing Order 7(3) and 7(5).

Minutes:

The Chief Executive reported that no questions had been received under Standing Order 7(3) and 7(5).

 

18.

Urgent items

Minutes:

There were no urgent items for consideration.

 

19.

Declarations of interest

Minutes:

The Chairman invited members who wished to do so to declare any interest in respect of items on the agenda for the meeting.

 

All members of the Commission who were also members of a district or parish council declared a person interest in Item 8 on the agenda – Planning for the Future White Paper (minute 24 refers).

 

20.

Declarations of the Party Whip in accordance with Overview and Scrutiny Procedure Rule 16.

Minutes:

There were no declarations of the party whip.

 

21.

Presentation of Petitions under Standing Order 35.

Minutes:

The Chief Executive reported that no petitions had been received under Standing Order 35.

 

22.

Medium Term Financial Strategy Update pdf icon PDF 483 KB

The Cabinet report will be circulated to Members for comment.

 

The Lead Member for Finance and Resources, Mr J. B. Rhodes CC, has been invited to attend for this item.

Additional documents:

Minutes:

The Commission considered a report of the Director of Corporate Resources which provided an update on the 2020/21 revenue budget and capital programme monitoring position and set out the proposed approach for updating the Medium Term Financial Strategy (MTFS) for 2021 to 2025.  A copy of the report marked ‘Agenda Item 7’ is filed with these minutes.

 

The Chairman welcomed to the meeting Mr J. B. Rhodes CC, the Cabinet Lead Member for Finance and Resources.

 

In introducing the report, the Director of Corporate Resources used a power point presentation to highlight the key issues and a copy of that presentation is filed with these minutes.  The Director emphasised the following key points:

 

(i)              The position now outlined showed an in-year overspend of £18million which was a reduction from the previous forecast. However, given the volatility of the situation it was difficult to forecast precisely the likely year end impact.  If the overspend was maintained at this level the use of the General Fund could be avoided which would be a significant achievement;

(ii)             Whilst noting the impact of Covid 19 on the budget it was important not to lose sight of the other significant budget pressures facing the Council in particular around SEN and Children Social Care budgets.  The Government had indicated it was reviewing SEN funding, but the outcome of that review was yet to be published and the indications were that this could be delayed until later in the year;

(iii)           The Government had not progressed their commitment to Fair Funding and implementation had been delayed until at least April 2022.  In addition, given the recent decision by the Government to pause the need for payment of business rates there was some concern about the risk to authorities continuing to pursue business rate retention as a funding stream in the long term;

(iv)           The Comprehensive Spending Review would provide the earliest indication as to whether the Government would make additional resources available to local government.  Given the significant pressures across all Government Departments the likelihood of additional resources was felt to be remote.

Regarding the Capital Programme the Director outlined the changes that had been made so that resources could be released to underwrite the overspend in the current year.  This included removing the requirement for funding of the Lutterworth Development Spine Road.  Members noted that the position on this would be monitored and looked at again if the Council were to be successful in obtaining other government funding for the scheme.

 

In response to questions the Director and Cabinet Lead Member advised:

 

·                The reduction in funding of School Accommodation related to a reduction in forward funding of schemes and greater reliance on developers building directly.  This was a review of funding approach for schemes several years in the future rather than a change to planned places;

·                Further investigations were being undertaken in relation to Zouch bridge including going out to competitive tender with a view to reducing costs.  Works on the bridge were not likely to start this year as previously planned;

·                All Departments had been asked to look at how additional savings could be delivered to meet the financial gap in the MTFS.  These discussions had just started, and it was noted that given the significant financial savings already delivered the task ahead would be challenging.  The Director, however, pointed out that the experience gained from working with Newton Europe to develop a new Target Operating Model for Adult Social Care had shown that there were still areas of the Council which might benefit from a new approach and to that end Newton Europe had  ...  view the full minutes text for item 22.

23.

Planning for the Future White Paper (August 2020) pdf icon PDF 352 KB

Additional documents:

Minutes:

The Commission considered a report of the Chief Executive concerning the Government consultation on the Planning for the Future White Paper and the proposed draft response that had been prepared by officers which would be considered by the Cabinet at its meeting on Friday, 18th September.   A copy of the report marked ‘Agenda Item 8’ is filed with these minutes.

 

The Commission welcomed to the meeting the Leader, Mr N. J. Rushton CC, Deputy Leader and Lead Member for Planning, Mr B. L. Pain CC, and the Lead Member for Highways and Transportation and Strategic Planning, Mr T. J. Pendleton CC.

 

The Commission was advised that the Government had issued a separate consultation paper regarding proposals to improve the current planning system including the method for assessing local housing need which appeared to significantly increase housing numbers for the County.  Members noted that this was a technical consultation affecting the current system and had not therefore been covered as part of the report now presented. 

 

The Assistant Chief Executive confirmed that officers would, in line with usual practice, respond to this technical consultation and would raise robust concerns about the substantial increase in housing numbers proposed to be built in the County, as well as question the underlying evidence to support this.   Members were invited to submit comments for consideration by officers for inclusion in the response but were asked to provide these by no later than Wednesday, 23rd September given the short timetable for submitting a response to government.

 

With regard to the Planning for the Future White Paper the Commission was advised that the aim of the changes proposed was to simplify the current planning process and increase the number of houses built.  Members acknowledged the need for reform and noted the Government’s view that the current system was overly complex and delayed development.  

 

In response to a question regarding existing Local Plans, members were advised that those agreed more recently would be likely to remain in force for about two years before local councils were asked to renew these.  Those with plans agreed some time ago are expected to be asked to prepare new plans in line with the timetable set out in the White Paper.

 

Members welcomed the general proposal for a quicker and clearer planning process as this would provide certainty for residents.  However, in considering the draft response to the White Paper consultation, outlined in the Appendix to the report, Members raised a number of concerns and asked the Cabinet to have regard to the following points when considering its response:

(i)              There was a general lack of detail in some key areas of the White Paper which made it difficult to understand the true impact of some of the changes proposed.  This affected the ability for local authorities to respond in full and it was suggested that this be highlighted as a general issue as part of the Council’s response. 

 

(ii)             The White Paper was overly focussed on the shortcomings of the current planning system but was silent on the failure of developers to always build on land when granted planning permission.   To ensure housing was delivered in practice, this needed to be addressed under any new system as its was currently a matter outside the control of local planning authorities;

(iii)           The proposal that Local Plans would in future allocate land for ‘Growth’ and that applications to build on such land would then automatically be awarded outline planning permission was of particular concern as this would:

 

·                 place significant pressure on the process of developing local plans and therefore require a  ...  view the full minutes text for item 23.

24.

Covid 19 Recovery Update - Chief Executive's Department pdf icon PDF 364 KB

Minutes:

The Commission considered a report of the Chief Executive which provided an update on progress made within the Department in implementing its interim recovery plans following the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic, and to set out initial proposals for longer term recovery planning and strategic change in accordance with the Council’s Recovery Strategy.  A copy of the report marked ‘Agenda Item 9’ is filed with these minutes.

 

The Director of Law and Governance in presenting the report expressed thanks to staff within the Department for their approach to the crisis and commended them for their flexibility and hard work to respond to new areas of work and ways of working and in ensuring that services continued to be delivered to a high standard throughout the period.

 

Arising from the discussion, the following points arose:

(i)               The Trading Standards Service continued to work closely with district council’s regarding the local lock down and the enforcement of the new Coronavirus Regulations which empowered the County Council to take action against businesses where a threat to public health was identified.

(ii)              Some areas of trading standards enforcement work had ceased or reduced in output such as age restricted products enforcement and rogue trading investigations.  It was intended that such services would be resumed to normal levels as soon as possible.  However, many staff were still focused on enforcement work arising from the local lock down and Coronavirus Regulations which remained a priority.  Members emphasised the need for the Trading Standards Service to be properly resourced to enable it to deliver on this new and substantial area of work.

(iii)            School appeals had been undertaken as normal, though by remote means.  The number of appeals had not diminished during the pandemic and in total approximately 800 appeals had been dealt with so far.  Members noted that those appeals received on time had been dealt with within the statutory timeframes.  Some appeals were still ongoing and would likely continue into mid-October.   Feedback received from parents had been largely positive.

(iv)            The Regulations regarding remote meetings had not changed and meetings would likely continue to be held in this way for the foreseeable future.

 

RESOLVED:

 

That the update now provided be noted.

 

25.

Covid 19 Recovery Update - Corporate Resources Department pdf icon PDF 237 KB

Minutes:

The Commission considered a report of the Director of Corporate Resources regarding progress made within the Department in implementing its interim recovery plans following the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic, and to set out initial proposals for longer term recovery planning and strategic change in accordance with the Council’s Recovery Strategy.  A copy of the report marked ‘Agenda Item 10’ is filed with these minutes.

 

Arising from discussion, the following points were noted:

 

(i)               The Council continued to advise staff to work from home where possible.  Enabling staff to meet in person in a safe and socially distanced environment was being looked at.   The Council’s Workplace Strategy would be reviewed to consider longer term working options but for now the situation remained very fluid. 

(ii)              Whilst up to 3,000 people would normally be able to attend at County Hall this was now limited to 550 following a full review of the site having been undertaken with Public Health and Health and Safety colleagues to ensure it was a Covid safe environment.

(iii)            Many events held at Beaumanor Hall had had to be cancelled.  In particular, its largest traded offer of outdoor activities for children could not be resumed and so staff had been furloughed and the Hall remained closed. 

(iv)            School meals were being provided as normal though take up had reduced which was a concern and would be monitored.  Many staff had worked throughout the lock down period as schools remained open during that time.  Those that had been furloughed had now been brought back to work. 

(v)              A member expressed concern that in some schools children were not receiving a hot meal.  It was noted that the Council’s school meals service offered both hot and cold meals which were well balanced and highly rated (gold level accreditation).  However, it was a matter for schools as to whether this offer was taken up.  There was some concern that hot meals might not be being provided for practical reasons, as children in some schools were having to eat at their desk to ensure they remained in their Covid ‘bubble’.  The Chair of the Children and Family Services Overview and Scrutiny Committee confirmed this would be a matter that would be monitored by that Committee.

 

RESOLVED:

 

That the update now provided be noted.

 

 

26.

Dates of future meetings

Future dates of the Commission are scheduled to take place at 10.30am on the following dates:

 

4th November 2020

25th January 2021

16th March 2021

15th April 2021

10th June 2021

9th September 2021

3rd November 2021

 

 

Minutes:

RESOLVED:

 

It was noted that the next meeting of the Commission would be held on 4th November 2020 at 10.30 am.