Report number: PAS/WS/22/023
[Councillor Andy Neal left the meeting at 6.28pm during the consideration of this item.
Councillors John Augustine and Cliff Waterman left the meeting at 7.05pm during the consideration of this item].
The Committee received Report number PAS/WS/22/023, which set out income recovery, Quarter 2 performance and the forecast 2022 to 2023 revenue and capital positions.
The Covid-19 outbreak had had a significant impact on the council’s financial position. Whilst the council was now in the process of recovering from the pandemic, the effects were likely to be felt for years to come. In addition, the cost-of-living crisis, which the Ukraine War had exacerbated, was not only impacting on communities and businesses, but also adversely putting pressure on the council’s budgets.
All of these elements, as well as national public behavioural changes in travel, shopping and working created by these issues, had had an adverse impact on businesses, retail and public services nationally.
Income generation for public services across the UK had been severely impacted by a combination of all these challenges as well as recent issues, such as national and local lockdowns. West Suffolk Council was not alone in continuing to face these issues although there were good signs of recovery by services and areas – some stronger than others. This included income from leisure and cultural events; trade waste and the garden waste service. In addition, other services were recovering, such as car parks and markets. However, the challenges outlined effected services and localities in different ways.
For 2022 to 2023 the central government funding which had helped to partly mitigate the effects of the pandemic, such as the Sales, Fees and Charges Compensation and the Covid-19 Support Grant were no longer available, meaning the council had to make provision to fully cover any reduced income and increased costs from within its own budgets.
As part of the 2022 to 2023 budget setting process the made had made provision for the sum of around £0.5m in its budgets for the ongoing impacts of Covid-19. This provision was to be funded by a contribution from the council’s general fund (a reserve fund that the council traditionally kept at around £5m to meet emergency issues such as this) and had been factored into the year-end forecasts in the report.
Attached to the Quarter 2 performance and forecast year-end financial position for 2022 to 2023 were a number of appendices as follows:
- Appendix A: Key Performance Indicator Dashboards
- Appendix B: Income and expenditure report
- Appendix C: Capital programme
- Appendix D: Earmarked reserves
- Appendix E: Strategic risk register (A revised risk register was circulated at the meeting and available on the council’s website)
- Exempt Appendix F: Aged debt over 90 days
The Committee was advised that the above appendices for this report were completed before news of the agreed pay award was announced. On 1 November 2022, a pay rise of £1,925 per annum was agreed for all pay scales and was effective from 1 April 2022. The financial impact of this on the financial year would be an additional costs of £1.3m and would be included in the figures for the Quarter 3 report.
The Chief Executive informed the Committee that this was an opportunity for members to scrutinise the council’s performance; shape the performance management process by suggesting changes to key performance indicators (KPIs) and highlighting areas where it would like to receive further information. He then drew the Committee’s attention to a number of KPIs as follows:
- Car parking:
· Officers were working on more granular data, drawn direct from the parking and payment systems to better monitor trends across different towns and across the week.
- Website visitors and page views:
· Officers were carrying out further work to look at the different websites the council had to understand more about what was happening underneath the top-level figures.
- Number of households prevented from becoming homeless:
· The council was beginning to see more activity and demand on preventing homelessness after low figures since the beginning of the financial year. This was where, as a council, it wanted to be focusing its resources, rather than at the point of crisis when it was too late.
- Anglia Revenues Partnership (ARP) – Value of fraud collected:
· This was the highest for the last four years and was positive that ARP’s fraud identification approach was bearing fruit, whilst concerned that levels of fraud was high.
- Routine food hygiene inspections:
· It was encouraging that there was movement on the food safety backlog following Covid.
- Number of contacts received face-to-face:
· This increase was largely related to meetings. In future, officers would look into whether it would be appropriate to separate out meetings from customer contact. However, there was a 33 per cent increase in people presenting without an appointment, particularly for the housing, benefits and council tax and parking teams. Customer services continued to signpost, where appropriate to the public phones, parish council’s or post box.
- Number of performances at the Apex:
· This was a correction to the labelling – it should read “month on month” and not “year to date.”
- Development management:
· Changes had been made to the KPI’s to try and focus them more sharply on the key aspects of performance, and officers would make further changes in future quarters.
The Committee considered the report in detail and asked a number of questions to which responses were provided. In particular discussions were held on registered housing providers and how they allocated their properties to people; the possible increase in Houses in Multiple Occupation (HMOs) and “hot bedding”.
Discussions were also held on socially and privately rented properties and the number of people on the housing waiting list. Officers advised that at present there were 2,046 people on the housing waiting list. However, this was not a precise measure of demand as anybody could put their name forward to go on the list. Page 9 and 11 of the dashboards set out the number of households in temporary accommodation as at the last day of the month, and the number of households relieved from homelessness by securing accommodation for six months or more. The Chief Executive advised that officers would look at the data and speak with the Housing Service and the Portfolio Holder and create a narrative to describe the journey through the system and the relevant indicators, which would be sent to members of the committee.
In response to a question raised whether the council was measuring bin collections and grass cutting KPI’s in a meaningful way, the committee was advised that the council monitored bin collections but there was no KPI for grass cutting, but agreed to look at a KPI, for example, variation from the grass cutting schedule.
In response to a question raised on how the council stood in relation to scrutinising housing stock held by Registered Providers, officers advised that the council could ask for their published KPI’s. Also, the Overview and Scrutiny Committee on 7 November 2022 agreed to invite Havebury Partnership back to its meeting on 12 January 2023, which had been accepted. A work programme suggestion form in relation to Flagship (now Samphire) Housing was currently being looked into.
In response to a question raised relating to Houses in Multiple Occupation, officers confirmed the council was able to track trends and would include a narrative for future reporting and would also look at monitoring “hot bedding”.
In response to a question raised as to why specific reference to Covid had been removed from the risk register, officers explained that the effect of Covid had now been spread across more appropriate areas within the risk register.
The Committee suggested once a year having one meeting solely dedicated to scrutinising performance. In response the Chief Executive agreed to take away and would look at the reporting structure further.
At the conclusion of the discussions, the Committee noted the forecast 2022 to 2023 revenue and capital positions as detailed in Report number PAS/WS/22/013 and attached appendices.