Agenda item

Budget Scrutiny Panel Report

This report set out the findings and recommendations of the Budget Scrutiny Panel.

Minutes:

The committee considered the report of the Budget Scrutiny Panel, which had been convened following the publication of the Cabinet’s draft Budget proposals for 2019/20 and 2020/21 in October 2018 and comprised members from the council’s three Scrutiny Committees. The Chair highlighted that he had chaired the Budget Scrutiny Panel and explained that the Panel had met with Cabinet members, the Chief Executive, Chief Financial Officer as well as Strategic Directors, and Operational Directors from the council’s five departments: Chief Executive’s; Resources; Regeneration, Growth and Environmental Services; Community Wellbeing, and Children and Young People. The purpose of the panel was to scrutinise the Cabinet’s plans and offer suggestions and amendments to improve the proposals where appropriate. In particular, the Panel focused on the Budget proposals set out in appendices to the Cabinet report of 15 October 2018,  which had been divided into four categories: recommended, difficult, very difficult and most difficult.

 

The committee’s attention was drawn to the 32 recommendations of the Budget Scrutiny Panel, set out in the attached report, along with the detailed explanation of each proposal.

 

The Chair advised that Councillor McLennan (Deputy Leader) was present, with Ravinder Jassar (Head of Finance) to help address any questions the committee may have.

 

Councillor McLennan advised that since the publication of the Cabinet’s budget proposals, internal discussions within the Labour Group had determined that certain proposals would not be taken forward at the current stage, including 15 minute care visits and the reduction of library opening hours. Commenting on the recommendations of the Budget Scrutiny Panel, Councillor McLennan confirmed that these all appeared viable suggestions and would be given careful consideration by the Cabinet. The committee was subsequently reminded that the public consultation on the budget proposals did not conclude until 31 January 2019.

 

In the subsequent discussion the committee raised a number of queries. Members sought assurance that if any of the budget proposals had negative unintended consequences following their implementation Cabinet would review the decision and explore alternative options, including reinstating the original service. A Member particularly welcomed the proposal of the Budget Scrutiny Panel that every proposal be subject to an equality impact analysis and questioned whether the council had sufficient officer capacity to undertake such action.

 

Questions were then raised regarding whether Britain’s impending exit from the European Union had yet had any discernible effect on the council tax and business rates base line for the borough. The committee sought assurance that the council’s council tax support scheme would be safeguarded moving forward. The committee highlighted that neighbourhood CIL funds could be used in a more coordinated and strategic way, noting, by way of example, that residents were currently encouraged to bid for funds to replace and plant street trees on an individual/street-by-street basis. Further queries were raised regarding the additional funding provided by central government to repair roads and the progress achieved in raising funds for the borough of culture programme. Members emphasised that the council needed to be mindful that funding provided to the voluntary sector was not reduced to the point at which it was no longer able to function and highlighted that CVS Brent brought a significant amount of money into Brent.

 

Members further questioned whether Cabinet intended to pre-emptively and pro-actively explore the viability of different options for delivery of library services.  Additional details were sought in relation to the operation of the proposed family hubs. Members asked for clarification regarding the implications of Roundwood youth centre being used as school premises and requested an overview of the proposals for Bridge Park. A number of queries were raised regarding community safety and the proposed cuts to the Met Patrol Plus scheme.

 

In response to the committee’s questions, Councillor McLennan confirmed that the Cabinet would of course revisit a decision if it resulted in unintended negative consequences. Ravindar Jassar explained that all of the budget proposals had been subject to initial equalities screenings, undertaken by the appropriate service manager, reviewed by an equalities officer and signed off by the relevant Strategic Director. Where equalities issues were identified, those proposals were then subject to full equalities impact assessments which would be published with the budget proposals in February 2019. Approximately 20 of the proposals had been subject to full equalities impact assessments. Training had been provided for all officers undertaking the equalities screenings and assessments.

 

Ravinder Jassar confirmed that council tax collection and business rates collection was currently on target and there had been growth in business rates from the previous year. With regard to the council tax support scheme, this was currently being reviewed in response to universal credit, with a view to implementing a new scheme for 2020/21. Councillors McLennan and Tatler (Lead Member for Regeneration, Highways and Planning) confirmed that consideration would be given to applying a more co-ordinated approach with respect to applications for neighbourhood CIL funds, though it was emphasised that these could not be used to address revenue gaps and needed to have community support. Councillor Krupa Sheth (Lead Member for Environment) would be asked to specifically consider this with regard to community applications for replacing and planting new street trees. Addressing concerns regarding voluntary sector funding, Councillor McLennan advised that the council would work with its key partners to ensure that the voluntary sector was supported and added that many voluntary organisations had applied for CIL funding.

 

Councillor McLennan reiterated that the proposals contained in the budget proposals report to Cabinet in October 2018 regarding libraries had been discounted at this stage but explained that discussions would continue to be held regarding delivery options for future consideration. Councillor Miller (Lead Member for Community Safety) discussed the possible options and impacts regarding the Met Patrol Plus scheme. The committee heard that a likely outcome would be that the number of officers be reduced to approximately 6 officers, which due to a number of vacancies was what the scheme was currently operating with. The work of the Met Patrol Plus was valuable and enabled a level of responsiveness to issues that residents identified as causing difficulties that might not otherwise be achievable.  The Metropolitan Police had advised that after the current cycle of funding for 2020/21, they were expecting to completely remove funding for the scheme.

 

With the permission of the Chair, a member of the public commented that in some local authorities, the budget scrutiny process was conducted in public and questioned what evidence the Panel had taken with respect to its recommendations regarding libraries. The member of the public further asserted that when previously explored, the option of libraries being delivered via a charitable trust had been found to deliver minimal financial savings. The Chair thanked the member of the public for their contribution and explained that the Budget Scrutiny Panel had put forward suggestions for exploration by Cabinet and were not decisions. It was explained that the recommendations had been formulated after interviewing Lead Members, Strategic Directors and other relevant officers. It was added that unfortunately, savings that had previously been disregarded as minimal might not be considered so in the current financial context. The Chair concluded by acknowledging the concerns raised by the member of the public and proposing that the committee recommend that community libraries are appropriately consulted in any discussions regarding future delivery models for the libraries. 

 

During the discussion the committee requested that the following information, which could not be provided during the meeting, be made available to the committee subsequently:

 

-       Confirmation of whether any data had been gathered regarding the impact of Britain’s impending exit from the EU on West London Business and if so, a summary of the information. 

-       An assessment of whether Britain’s impending exit from the EU had affected council tax and business rates base.

-       Details of the services to be provided within the proposed Family Hubs (when available) 

-       Details of the proposals regarding the redevelopment of Bridge Park

-       A report on the level of indebtedness of those in receipt of council tax support.

-       An update on the council’s property review.

-       An update on the fund raising for the Borough of Culture.

-       An assessment of what the £600k pothole funding provided from central government would achieve for Brent. 

 

RESOLVED:

 

i)     That Cabinet note the committee’s endorsement of the recommendations detailed in the report of the Budget Scrutiny Panel and provide a full response to each of these;

 

ii)    That Cabinet be recommended to take a proactive approach to the future delivery of library services to protect against a reduction in hours and ensuring appropriate consultation with community libraries;

 

iii)   That the Strategic Director for Regeneration and Environment provide a written report to the committee detailing the success or otherwise of the council’s recent community skips initiative, aimed at combatting illegal rubbish dumping (fly-tipping);

 

iv)   That a joint letter from the Lead Member for Community Safety and the Chair of the Resources and Public Realm Scrutiny Committee proposing an equitable funding formula for Met Patrol Plus officers which reflects deprivation and crime levels, be sent to the Mayor’s Office for Policing and Crime.

 

v)    That Cabinet consider a mechanism to ensure that applications for Neighbourhood Community Infrastructure Levy funds may fit into a wider coordinated and strategic programme across the authority, such as for tree planting and replacement.

 

Supporting documents: