Agenda and minutes

Venue: Boardrooms 7&8 - Brent Civic Centre, Engineers Way, Wembley HA9 0FJ. View directions

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

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 12 November 2013 pdf icon PDF 68 KB

To follow.

Minutes:

RESOLVED:-

 

that the minutes of the previous meeting held on 12 November 2013 be approved as an accurate record of the meeting.

3.

Matters arising

Minutes:

Adult Social Care

 

In reply to a query from a member, Elizabeth Jones (Interim Operational Director – Finance) advised that data in respect of the number of concessionary fare users was still being collated and would be provided to the committee once this had been completed.

 

Budget update

 

Mick Bowden (Operational Director, Finance) advised that contingency arrangements during an emergency at times when the control room was not open were being drafted and consulted upon and further information would be provided to members in due course.

 

In relation to business rate arrears, Mick Bowden informed members that an additional step had been included in the recovery process that would mean that a customer would receive a letter from the council advising that the case would be referred to the bailiffs if they did not contact the council to agree a repayment schedule.

4.

Children and Families budget presentation

The Acting Director of Children and Families will be attending the meeting to present to Members the current budget issues facing this service.

Minutes:

Sara Williams (Interim Director of Children and Families) gave a presentation on the Children and Families budget.  She began by informing members that from the total Children and Families budget of £87.7m, approximately half came from central funds, whilst the rest came from the Dedicated Schools Grant.  Sara Williams referred to services run under Children and Families and advised that it employed 764 permanent staff, although a significant number were part time.  There were also a number of vacancies, currently at 168, which were being filled by temporary staff until permanent appointments had been made.  Sara Williams advised that a recruitment campaign was underway targeting those who may be interested in working in a challenging, but interesting environment such as Brent.  Although there was a large number of graduate social workers in the employment market, the borough needed experienced social workers because of the nature of the environment.  Agency staff were also being encouraged to become permanent staff but success in this area was limited.  Sara Williams referred to the current financial position and explained that overspend forecast for 2013/14 was the worst case scenario and was mainly attributable to pressures from in year growth of school pupil numbers, which were greater than anticipated, and redundancy costs in the schools budget and Children’s Placements budget.  However, the overspend forecast for Children’s Placements was much improved from previous years.  Members then noted the breakdown of individual service spends and the predicted forecast variances, if any.  Sara Williams then outlined the savings found to date for the years 2010/11, 2011/12, 2012/13 and 2013/14 respectively.  With regard to unit cost trends in residential care, these continued to fall in 2013/14 as well as the number of looked after children (LAC) and the council was also working with the West London Alliance (WLA) to commission higher quality LAC places.  Fostering placements costs for 2013/14 were due to remain the same as the previous year, despite higher placement numbers. 

 

Sara Williams then covered the maintained schools budget, which again had fallen in 2013/14 compared to the previous year.  This was partly attributable to a reduction in maintained schools as some schools converted to academy status.  The largest sector of the budget was for primary schools and pupil numbers determined the allocation from central Government.  Sara Williams referred to the Government’s recent announcement about free school lunches being provided to every child in Key Stage One at state-funded schools and expressed concerns that this would be under-funded. 

 

Sara Williams then commented on future challenges for Children and Families.  This included increasing numbers of children and high levels of need. Regulatory regimes also created pressures both in terms of running services and on budgets and this would be exacerbated by new regimes for children with disabilities and special educational needs (SEN).  Funding to support education functions would also be reduced, whilst strong arguments needed to be provided to justify early intervention, such as troubled families and there was a need to put together sustainable plans.

 

During members’  ...  view the full minutes text for item 4.

5.

Review of non-permanent staff arrangements pdf icon PDF 380 KB

This review paper covers all non-permanent staffing arrangements entered into by the council, including temporary workers supplied by an agency, whether under the Reed contract or outside of it; and independent interims and consultants which the Council contracts with directly.

Minutes:

Cara Davani (Operational Director, Human Resources) introduced the report and advised that there were three types of non-permanent staff employed by the council, these being agency staff, consultants and interim managers.  Although agency staff constituted the largest number of non-permanent staff, they were not the largest spend.  Amongst the non-permanent staff, there were a small number of casual workers, none of which were employed on a zero hours contract and they were free to accept or refuse any offer of work.  These casual staff were paid through the council’s payroll and they may also work for other organisations.  Cara Davani drew members’ attention to table one in the report and confirmed that the largest spend on non-permanent staff  from the Reed Managed Services was in Children and Young People.  This was due to the costs involved in employing social workers, care assessors and a number of staff working in the John Billam Resource Centre.  It was hoped that the number of agency staff working in Children and Families would fall in future.  The committee heard that the main agency staff recruited in Regeneration and Growth were benefits assessors.  Cara Davani then invited questions from members.

 

Members sought clarification that all staff were subject to the London Living Wage (LLW) and were agency staff more expensive to employ than permanent staff.  It was queried what steps were being taken to retain social workers and had there been any case study undertaken as to what constituted a safe number of cases for social workers to handle.  It was commented that it was not just the number of cases a social worker may have that could influence the ability to recruit and retain them, but also the cultural environment and the managerial practice of which they worked in.  A member noted the downward trend in agency spend 2010-2013 as set out in table two in the report and asked how workloads were being managed in the context of this.  The committee asked for further details regarding consultant costs for the large spend posts and another member enquired why there had needed to be a spend of £58K for a single consultant spend in Legal and Procurement.  A member noted the relatively high costs in Human Resources (HR) for interims and consultants and another member felt that these costs were excessive in view that these were short term appointments.  It was queried how the staff were selected for the interim and consultant positions in HR and was there any scope for shared services in relation to interim positions. 

 

Members asked what processes had been undertaken to appoint Reed Managed Services as the agency worker provider and how long had they worked with the council.  Reasons were sought as to why the number of consultants used had only reduced significantly in the last two years and were HR able to recruit permanent staff more quickly now.  The question was posed as to whether the need for external staff was due to lack of capacity in  ...  view the full minutes text for item 5.

6.

Budget update

The Operational Director of Finance will provide an update to the committee on issues relating to the development of the 2014/15 budget.

Minutes:

Mick Bowden advised that there were few developments from the previous meeting whilst the Autumn Statement from the Government was awaited on 5 December and the Local Government Financial Settlement was expected in late December.

7.

Work programme 2013/14 pdf icon PDF 56 KB

The work programme is attached.

Minutes:

Members noted the committee’s work programme for 2013/14.  The Chair reminded members that the next meeting would consider the committee’s first interim Budget report.

8.

Date of next meeting

The next meeting of the Budget and Finance Overview and Scrutiny Committee is scheduled to take place on Thursday, 16 January 2013 at

7.00 pm.

Minutes:

It was noted that the next meeting of the Budget and Finance Overview and Scrutiny Committee was scheduled to take place on Thursday, 16 January 2014 at 7.00 pm.

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:

None.