Agenda and minutes

Budget and Finance Overview and Scrutiny Committee
Wednesday 15 September 2010 7.30 pm

Venue: Committee Room 4, Brent Town Hall, Forty Lane, Wembley, HA9 9HD

Contact: Toby Howes - Senior Democratic Services Officer  020 8937 1307 Email: toby.howes@brent.gov.uk

Note: Please see Budget Panel on the same date for the agenda,reports and minutes. 

Items
No. Item

1.

Declarations of Personal and Prejudicial Interests

Members are invited to declare, at this stage of the meeting, any relevant financial or other interest in the items on this agenda.

Minutes:

None declared.

2.

Minutes of the Previous Meeting Held on 13 July 2010 pdf icon PDF 92 KB

The minutes are attached.

Minutes:

RESOLVED:-

 

That the minutes of the previous meeting held on 13 July 2010 be approved as an accurate record.

3.

Matters Arising

Minutes:

None.

4.

Budget Update pdf icon PDF 257 KB

The Director of Finance and Corporate Resources will provide an update on the current budget position from that reported to the Executive on 26 July 2010.  That report is attached for information.

Minutes:

Duncan McLeod (Director of Finance and Corporate Resources) drew Members’ attention to the Executive report and decisions made at the Executive meeting on 26 July 2010 that set out the financial prospects for the Council in the next four years.  He then gave a brief presentation on the item, advising that the Committee would consider the outcome and implications of the announcement of the Government’s Comprehensive Spending Review at the November meeting.  The Budget set assumed Government support to freeze Council Tax would continue in 2011/12, that there would be a two year freeze on public sector pay for staff earning over £21,000 from 2011/12 and that there would be a control of housing benefit levels from April 2011.  The Committee noted that the Building Schools for the Future (BSF) Programme had been withdrawn and Duncan McLeod suggested that Members may want to consider the overall Capital Programme. Other potential Budget pressures included:-

 

·         Further Government announcements

·         In year spending pressures in 2010/11

·         School Places

·         Growth agreed without compensatory savings

·         Changes to grant distribution methodology from 2011/12

·         New service demands, such as those in Benefits

·         Growth in economy lower than forecast

·         Inflation increases

·         Rising interest rates

 

Duncan McLeod advised that the forecast assumptions had included an overall reduction of 25 per cent in formula and area based grants and Members noted the potential budget gaps for 2011/12 and the subsequent three years based on no Council Tax rise and on a three per cent rise.  A number of measures were to be considered in respect of the Budget Strategy, including the need for the One Council Programme to be the main driver in taking costs out of the base position.  These measurers then needed to be reviewed to see if they were both realistic and deliverable.

 

Members then discussed this item and raised a number of issues.  Councillor A Choudry commented that it would be beneficial if Members were provided with the current budget position of each Service Area before meetings of the Committee in order that Members understood the situation of each, the level of variance, what pressures each budget faced and what contingencies were in place.  Councillor Van Kalwala sought further clarity concerning contingencies in place with regard to the £6 million for inescapable growth in 2011/12 and in each subsequent year and what action could be taken to limit inescapable growth.  He also asked if a Government grant would be available to supplement a freeze in the Council Tax.  The Chair enquired what contribution to savings would staff pay freezes make and which service areas had committed the largest overspends.  In respect of annual growth, he asked whether this was because the cost of providing the service was increasing or due to some services being expanded.  The Chair also asked about the size of the Budget Gap in terms of percentage.

 

In reply, Duncan McLeod advised that the staff pay freeze would contribute around £2.5 million savings.  The largest overspends had occurred in Adult Social Care and Children  ...  view the full minutes text for item 4.

5.

One Council Programme

The Director of Policy and Regeneration will provide members with an overview of the projects in the One Council Programme.  This will include information about the benefits being sought including progress to date.

Minutes:

Phil Newby (Director of Policy and Regeneration) advised Members that the One Council Programme had been introduced two years ago to improve the Council both in terms of efficiency and performance and enhance the Council’s ability to deliver its’ Corporate Strategy.  The economic downturn had obliged the Council to refocus on generating savings and reconsideration of decisions previously made, such the Council Tax freeze, needed to be undertaken as the Budget Gap had increased to £80 million.  Members heard that a project management approach was being taken to deliver the One Council Programme, and projects were chosen that would meet the following objectives:-

 

·         Making changes to the Council

·         Making the Council fitter for purpose

·         Driving efficiencies

 

Phil Newby advised that consideration was being given as to providing services in a more efficient way and how things could be done differently to generate savings.  Members heard that 50 officers worked on developing the Programme which was overseen by the Project Management Office.  Emphasis on service improvements remained but through using less resources.

 

Phil Newby then referred to a document on the One Council Programme circulated at the meeting which outlined projects at tranches one, two and three, with each tranche representing projects at concept, business and delivery stages respectively.  Amongst those at tranche one, the Finance Modernisation project’s objective was to achieve £1.5 million savings a year, whilst the Customer Contact project which aimed to reduce unnecessary and repeated customer contact would be critical in delivering savings and efficiencies.  With regard to tranche two, the Income Maximisation project would consider if a charge for a service would be appropriate and/or what is a reasonable charge, whilst the Children’s Social Care Transformation project would look at issues such as fostering. In respect of tranche three, the Carbon Management project sought to minimise financial penalisations due to CO2 emissions, whilst the Total Place project considered joint budgeting arrangements with the Council’s partners.  Members also noted that the Willesden Green project focused on creating a focal customer point in the south of the Borough and representing the Council’s second centre.  Phil Newby stressed the need to move more projects to tranche three so that progress could be made on bridging the Budget Gap.  Members noted that the Council was on target to meet the £4.5 million savings this year which took account of cost of delivery such as HR costs and external support.  Any projects which bought in external support would be required to generate additional savings to cover the cost of such support.

 

With the approval of the Chair, Councillor S Chouhary addressed the Committee.  He enquired whether the Council could consider increasing the Council Tax by more than three per cent.

 

During Members’ discussion, Councillor A Choudry enquired on the likelihood of the One Council Programme in delivering the objectives in terms of bridging the Budget Gap and asked how savings would be measured.  He commented that each department had responsibility for ensuring that the services it ran met required standards  ...  view the full minutes text for item 5.

6.

Adult Social Care Transformation Programme and Budget Issues

Officers will provide information about issues relating to the Adult Social Care transformation programme and budget challenges for 2011/12.

Minutes:

Martin Cheeseman (Director of Housing and Community Care) gave a presentation on this item, stating that the £2.8 million overspend in Adult Social Care in 2009/20 was not exceptional and was a reflection of demand pressures.   The largest spending area in Adult Social Care was purchasing, whilst concessionary fares were also quite significant and could not be cut.  The demographic pressures on the budget included the fact that people were living longer and as numbers of older residents grew, demand for care also increased and Martin Cheeseman advised that there were, for example, large costs involved in addressing dementia.  Nationally, changes were taking place as to the way Adult Social Care services were delivered, including a move to personalisation and making customers less dependent, whilst there was also discussion with regard to classifying health care and social care and the Council had debated this with Brent Primary Care Trust (PCT).  Adult Social Care tended to exceed its budget because of demand increases, however Martin Cheeseman advised that the Care Quality Commission had rated Adult Social Care services as good, but amongst issues they had raised included the fact that the Council was not assessing customers quickly or effectively enough and not all services were provided quickly enough.  Members noted that Day Centres were experiencing a fall in visitors.  Martin Cheeseman then outlined areas that needed to be undertaken effectively, including for example:-

 

·         Effective gate keeping at the earliest stage to ensure customers were promptly informed of whether they are entitled to a service or not

·         Immediate service designed to promote independence and not long term support and such a measure would also reduce costs

·         Significantly reduce numbers in residential and nursing care of which there was currently a high proportion partly due to transfer of care from Brent PCT

·         Changing services and commissioning and reapplying eligibility criteria

 

Martin Cheeseman advised that a joint West London Adult Social Care procurement exercise could result in £450,000 savings for the Council in the first year of implementation and £900,000 in subsequent years.  Members noted that the Council’s criteria, like most local authorities, for providing adult social care was whether a resident had been assessed as having substantial needs, however consideration could be given as to whether this was being correctly applied, including whether people with low or medium level needs actually received services, and whether to raise the required level to critical needs. A number of projects were being undertaken to improve services and these included projects on Re-ablement, Customer Journey, Direct Services Review, Transport, Commissioning West London, Aids and Equipment and Health.  Members noted that it was estimated that personalisation would generate savings of £1.173 million.  There was also consultation presently taking place in respect of users who visited Day Centres and changes to this service could result in savings of between £852,000 and £1.015 million.

 

During Members’ discussion, Councillor Van Kalwala enquired how the overspends in Adult Social Care had come about in view that spending had been on  ...  view the full minutes text for item 6.

7.

Lobbying Strategy pdf icon PDF 94 KB

The Budget Panel has requested a report about how the Council is developing a plan to provide a strategic focus to the Council’s lobbying activity.

Minutes:

Cheryl Curling (Head of Communications, Communications and Diversity Unit) introduced the report which had been requested by Members at the previous meeting requesting further information about how the Council was developing a strategic approach to lobbying the Government on policy and budgetary changes.  She stressed the need for the Council to have a coordinated approach to lobbying the Government on policy areas that had a negative impact on the Borough and the Council’s ability to set a realistic and robust budget.  Cheryl Curling then outlined the immediate lobbying priorities, which included:-

 

·         Population estimates and Council funding. The Office of National Statistics’ estimated population of Brent of 254,000 contradicted the Council’s independent estimate which estimated the population at around 290,000 and this would impact significantly on funding

·         School places, also linked to discrepancies in population estimates

·         Building Schools for the Future/Academies. Lobbying the Government to overturn decisions in respect of the scrapping of the BSF programme

·         Housing Benefit. The Government’s proposal to cap housing benefit could result in increasing homelessness and overcrowding as families are forced to leave their present homes which they can no longer afford.

·         GPs and Health Services

·         Local Government Finance

·         Adult Social Care

·         Regeneration, housing and employment

 

Amongst steps taken to date, Cheryl Curling advised that a more robust and joined up approach was being established between Policy and Regeneration and Communications and Diversity to ensure a Council-wide lobbying strategy approach was taken.  Identification of who should be lobbied had also been carried out and this included Government ministers, private offices in the Government departments, civil servants and officials, local MPs, the Mayor of London and Transport for London.  In addition, attracting such people to visit Brent, joint lobbying activities between Lead Members and lead officers and cross party groups of councillors working together would also send out a stronger message.  Lobbying activities were also to be reported regularly to the Corporate Management Team (CMT).

 

Cheryl Curling then updated Members with some recent lobbying initiatives.  Members heard that the Leader of the Council had met with the Schools Minister and £46.3 million had been secured to re-build the Crest Schools Academy. School head teachers had recently spoken on BBC Radio 4 about the situation concerning Brent schools following the withdrawal of the BSF Programme, whilst ITN had publicised the lack of school places in London which had included an interview with the Lead Member of Children and Families.  A BBC London programme had highlighted issues in respect of the proposed housing benefit cap and had included an interview with the Director of Housing and Community Care and a lobbying letter had been sent to the Mayor of London and the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions. 

During Members’ discussion, Councillor Mashari expressed approval in the measures being undertaken so far, including the regular reporting of lobbying activity to the CMT and the robust approach taken following the suggestion made by the Committee.  She stressed the need for councillors to cooperate with each other and officers and  ...  view the full minutes text for item 7.

8.

Date of Next Meeting

To be confirmed.

Minutes:

It was noted that the next meeting would take place on 12 October 2010.

9.

Any Other Urgent Business

Notice of items to be raised under this heading must be given in writing to the Democratic Services Manager or his representative before the meeting in accordance with Standing Order 64.

Minutes:

Work Programme

 

The Chair sought advice and suggestions for any future items to be considered by the Committee.  He suggested that pre-meeting briefings could be arranged and asked if briefing papers could be published earlier.  Councillor A Choudry concurred with this suggestion and asked if presentations could be made to Members prior to the meeting.

 

In response, Jacqueline Casson advised that the suggestions made could be accommodated and she remarked that Members could meet informally before the Committee meeting if this was desired.  She advised that reports from the Director of Children and Families and the Director of Environment and Culture updating Members on the respective budgets would be considered at the next meeting, along with an updated report on Revenue and a breakdown of budgets for each service area, including details of variances.