Agenda and draft minutes

Our Council Scrutiny Panel
Wednesday, 3rd December, 2014 6.00 pm

Venue: Committee Room 3 - 3rd Floor - Civic Centre. View directions

Contact: Andrew Harvey  Tel: 01902 552752 or Email: andrew.harvey@wolverhampton.gov.uk

Items
No. Item

1.

Apologies

Minutes:

Apologies were received from Cllr Ian Angus, Cllr Jacqueline Sweetman and Cllr Christopher Haynes. Cllr Siarkiewicz highlighted her apologies for the October 1 meeting had been submitted but not reported. 

 

2.

Declarations of interest

Minutes:

There were no declarations of interest.

3.

Minutes of previous meeting pdf icon PDF 93 KB

[To approve the minutes of the previous meeting as a correct record.]

Minutes:

The minutes of the previous meeting on 1 October were approved as an accurate record.

4.

Matters arising

[To consider any matters arising from the minutes]

Minutes:

There were no matters arising

5.

Budget Review - 2015/16 Budget and Medium Term Financial Strategy 2015/16 - 2018/19 pdf icon PDF 456 KB

Minutes:

The report was introduced by Cllr Johnson, Cabinet Member for Resources and the Director of Finance, who then invited questions from Councillors on the report.

 

Cllr Bolshaw said that as the issuer of loans the Council would be the owner of risk, and questioned how the Council will go about negating this and ensuring minimal risk.

 

Cllr Johnson informed the panel that voluntary groups sometimes own property and one way the Council can minimise the risk is to secure the grants or loans against property or other assets. The panel was also informed that treasury management officers would advise and liaise with external financial services for independent advice.

 

Cllr Johnson explained the Council benefits from relatively low borrowing rates through the Public Works Loans Board. By making this money available for loans, there is a tangible benefit to the community and a small financial advantage to the Council due to interest rate margins.

 

Cllr Potter asked for more information regarding the risks of this strategy.

The Director of Finance advised the panel that the Council will manage any risk to the best of its ability, though loans cannot be risk free. There is a structure of internal and external support and credit assessments prior to any loan being approved. Any proposed loans will be subject to approval by Cabinet (Resources) Panel.

 

Cllr Siarkiewicz stated that grants and loans to community and voluntary groups are worthwhile, however there may be some groups who are looking for loans or grants but may have a poor credit reference, and requested more information about the criteria.

 

Cllr Johnson stated that the criteria are there to minimise risk to the Council and not to exclude anyone from applying for a grant or loan, and the Council would look to minimise risk by securing against assets.

Cllr Photay asked whether additional employees would be needed to manage these applications.

 

Cllr Johnson stated that current employees would be utilised and in certain cases credit reference agencies would be used.

 

The Director of Finance added that if the activity could not be managed within existing resources, additional employees would only be appointed if there was a business case demonstrating cost recovery. The Council will look how it can achieve the aims with the least cost.

 

Sharing Services across the Black Country

Cllr Bolshaw enquired as to whether the saving proposed could be increased.

Cllr Johnson responded by informing the panel that at present the Council cannot enter a wholesale sharing service with other councils in the Black Country due to respective contracts terminating at different times. Cllr Johnson said that waste management shared across the Black Country has the potential to make a saving for the Council, however he did make the panel aware that all councils in the Black Country including Wolverhampton are committed to existing waste management contracts. Moreover the Council already shares its Head of Audit and VAT advisor with Sandwell Council and is looking at the possibility of sharing more Audit services across the  ...  view the full minutes text for item 5.

6.

Budget Update and Review pdf icon PDF 270 KB

Minutes:

The Director of Finance introduced the report, explaining it had also been considered by Cabinet (Resources) Panel. He advised that it included details of any financial risks and how these are managed appropriately. He also explained that section three gave more guidance on the risks related to savings proposals and that the report also detailed quarter two 2014/15 revenue and budget monitoring information.

Cllr Potter asked whether the Council is in the position it wants and needs to be in.

The Director of Finance responded by informing the Panel that, as of June, £25 million of savings had been identified and that with the October update the savings found now stood at £27 million. He highlighted to the panel that these proposals could change as a result of consultation or in their delivery, and identified there could be some risks. Overall the Council is in a reasonable financial position given the prevailing challenges. He identified that there was a modest overspend in the Community directorate due to pressures on the adults’ and children’s budgets. He explained that budget managers across the Council are seeking to identify in-year savings that could assist with reducing expenditure in 2014/15.

Cllr Bolshaw noted that the overall risk for the financial year (2014/15) was rated as amber and asked why that was the case. The Director of Finance stated that the projected overspend in the Community directorate was behind this and therefore the risk could not be rated green.

Cllr Johnson also added that any further austerity measures in the autumn statement or arising after next year’s general election could compromise the Medium Term Financial Strategy. He confirmed that the Council will be keeping a close eye on any updates or changes to funding from central government

Resolved:

To consider the arrangements for:

a) Ensuring adequate identification and management of budget risks;

b) Budget planning and forecasting for future years

7.

Progress report on Individual Electoral Registration pdf icon PDF 127 KB

Minutes:

Martyn Sargeant, Head of Democratic Services and David Garner, Electoral Services Manager, introduced the report. The Head of Democratic Services stated that overall the introduction and implementation of Individual Electoral Registration (IER) had gone well over the summer. The unexpected Police and Crime Commissioner by-election had delayed the roll out of IER but lost ground had been recovered in recent months, and the new electoral register had been published on 1 December under the new arrangements.

 

The Electoral Services Manager, provided Councillors with the most recent information and outlined what the data showed. He highlighted to Councillors the reduction in the electorate and stated that this was mostly due to students not being re-registered. Martyn Sargeant informed Councillors that the Council is working on a data sharing agreement with the University, and had also worked with both the University and Wolverhampton College to encourage student registration, including attendance at fresher’s fairs. This will be followed up in 2015, prior to the general election.

 

The panel was informed that a data match on the July register returned a 90% match, meaning there are currently 10% of the electorate from July that need to re-register and confirm their details. The panel was reassured that this was similar to other councils. The panel was made aware that 375 out of 18,000 people had not renewed their postal vote and will subsequently have to re-apply, and further advised that any electors not confirmed under IER will not be allowed to vote via postal vote or by proxy. The Council will review the situation of postal voters as part of a five year review beginning in January.

Councillors asked whether they would receive an update prior to the election and were assured this could be made available.

 

Cllr Bolshaw enquired whether any in-year surplus from IER funding could be used for other means or if it was ring-fenced only for IER. The panel was informed that the funding was only for IER purposes and that any surplus would be taken forward for next year’s budget. The panel was also informed about the possibility of further ring-fenced funding for the 2015/16 financial year.

 

Cllr Jaspal asked if it was worthwhile spending resources on students as they are only here to study for three years. The panel was made aware that one objective of IER was to target under-registered groups and Wolverhampton had identified students as such a group in its proposals to the Cabinet Office. The Head of Democratic Services also stated that the Council had a statutory responsibility to encourage participation.

 

Resolved:

(1)  To receive the IER project closure report.

 

(2)  To receive an update on voter registration data prior to the general election.

 

8.

C3 Programme pdf icon PDF 3 MB

Minutes:

The Managing Director introduced the report and updated the panel that the report before them has been to Scrutiny Board for pre-decision scrutiny and that if Councillors have any feedback or comments on the proposals that they should send this to Charlotte Johns, Head of Policy by Tuesday 9 December.

The Managing Director highlighted that the Council had done some targeted work to improve external communications; however the focus in 2015 will be on internal communications including the introductions of employee briefings in their respective teams.

 

The Managing Director praised the former marketing strategy and corporate logo, but proposed a new logo and branding of ‘City of Wolverhampton’ in order to emphasise our status as a city. The managing director brought attention to the fact Wolverhampton is the only city in the Black Country and 19th largest city in England by population. The Managing Director also informed the Panel that the editor of the LGC visited the City recently and that it is important that the profile of the city is kept in the eye of the public. Further to this the regeneration programme for the city was starting to take physical shape with block 11 work starting and Sainsbury’s now finished.

 

The Managing Director also added there was a need for the Council to look professional and throughout the creation of the new corporate logo.  The Leader and Deputy  Leader were keen to keep the coats of arms and keep both the traditional aspect with the new name when creating the logo.

 

Cllr M Jaspal agreed stated that a strong corporate identity and good brand name breeds confidence in the Council and the City, however he did note that it is important to also focus on small issues such as officers smoking outside the Civic Centre and other Council buildings as well as things such as dirty pavements and weed or grass overgrowing onto pathways, as these all create a negative impact and undermine the Council’s hard work. The Managing Director responded by stating employees have been informed not to smoke close to Council buildings and get one warning before being disciplined, he also told Councillors that extra investment was being put into the cleanliness of the roads and streets of the City.

 

Cllr Siarkiewicz stated that it is important to get the balance right between the reality and the superficial when it comes to the rebranding and what actually happens and what residents see. The Managing Director replied that the delivery of services is an essential part of the transformation of the Council.  The Managing Director highlighted the investment of money and time to transform customer services including reviewing the time people were left on hold and the introduction of ring back software.  The Managing Director identified that all stages of transformation are important and that it is essential that we try and simplify everything we do as a Council.

 

Cllr Siarkiewicz commented that it is essential that these messages and programmes are timed correctly as residents  ...  view the full minutes text for item 8.