Contact: Emma James/ Jo Weston Overview and Scrutiny Officers
Apologies and Welcome
The Chairman welcomed everyone and confirmed the arrangements for the remote meeting.
Declarations of Interest and of any Party Whip
Members of the public wishing to take part should notify the Assistant Director for Legal and Governance in writing or by email indicating the nature and content of their proposed participation no later than 9.00am on the working day before the meeting (in this case 29 January 2021). Enquiries can be made through the telephone number/email address below.
The Chairman reported that five members of the public had asked to speak. A summary of the key points from the participants was as follows:
· Mr Lee referred to the draft Budget, in particular the fact that the Council had successfully applied for £519,000 from Government for promotion of active travel
· Given the health benefits of active travel, Mr Lee was concerned that planning for the active travel programme was programmed as a subject for possible future scrutiny
· The Chairman reported that the Panel did refresh their Work Programme regularly and that given County Council elections were in May, future items were a matter for the incoming Panel, although active travel would likely feature.
· Ms Cooke referred to the Panel’s Work Programme, in particular, the reference that an update on drainage system technology was only a subject for possible scrutiny
· How would the Council keep up to date and act upon new flooding solutions and property flooding resilience?
· The Chairman highlighted that the Council was the lead Authority for Flooding and the Panel did have an Annual Report on Flooding, therefore was sure the matter would be looked into.
· Mr Lyon referred to the Performance Information, specifically that 49% of the total CO2 emissions in Worcestershire were for transport
· A request was made for the Council to provide a plan of transport infrastructure changes required to address the Government’s target of a 68% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2030
· Further investment in walking, cycling and public transport was required to mitigate the climate emergency
· The Panel Chairman reported that these matters would continue to feature on the Panel’s Work Programme, however, a lot of elements were out of the Council’s control.
· Mr Whiting welcomed the £0.5m revenue contribution to the Environment Agency flood mitigation scheme in Bewdley, however, suggested that the building of barriers was not a long-term solution
· Referring to the Directorate’s three areas of challenge (page 21 of the Agenda Report), Mr Whiting suggested adding Land Management to the list. It would highlight the increased level of risk from increased rainfall, soil erosion due to unsustainable farming techniques and inadequate sustainable urban drainage systems on housing developments
· Furthermore, recognition was sought for the likelihood of increased wind, longer periods of draught, higher temperatures and the impact on crops
· The Council should face up to the real challenge that is caused by climate and ecological changes as now was the time to act.
· The Chairman highlighted that flooding was now seen in a holistic way across all relevant authorities and would continue to be on the Panel Work Programme.
· Ms Bell was surprised that there was no mention of Climate Change on the Agenda and asked whether climate and ecological emergency should be a standing Item for the Panel, especially given its importance
· As all County Council activities were impacted upon by climate change, there should be reference to it always
· There appeared to be a lack of ... view the full minutes text for item 402.
Confirmation of the Minutes of the previous meeting
The Minutes of the Meeting held on 9 November 2020 were agreed as a correct record and would be signed by the Chairman.
The Strategic Director, Senior Officers and Cabinet Members with Responsibility had been invited to update the Panel on performance and in-year budget monitoring and to outline the draft Budget 2021/22 for areas within the remit of the Panel.
Draft Budget 2021/22
The Chief Financial Officer (CFO) explained that all of the Overview and Scrutiny Panels had been issued with Papers which reflected the 7 January Cabinet position, however the 4 February Cabinet Agenda had subsequently been published. The changes were minor, however, those relevant to the remit of the Panel included:
· Additional spend for Public Rights of Way (PROW), identified out of Strategic Initiatives, doubling the Capital and Revenue budget
· Increase in the Gigabit voucher scheme usage in rural Broadband rollout, enabling more coverage across the County.
The CFO outlined the overall financial position, reporting that with inflation and predicted demand in services, the Council would need an additional £26.5m for 2021/22. As a result, there was a proposal to increase Council Tax by 2.5%, including a 1.5% general council tax and 1% increase in the Adult Social Care Levy for 2021/22. An additional £9m was expected in grants, including from COVID-19 specific grants. The overall result would be a shortfall of £7.1m across the Council, with £2.2m relevant to the remit of the Panel.
Further savings were anticipated from the Council’s ongoing re-organisation and insourcing of Place Partnership, however, £3m would be required from the use of Reserves.
The final Government Financial Settlement was expected on 4 February and additional grant money was anticipated. The loss of income from non-payment of Council Tax would not be known until September, however, it could be up to £3m. The Government had guaranteed Council’s 75% of this debt.
It was proposed not to look at additional savings at this stage, rather, bridge the gap from Reserves and wait until September to establish the level of need.
The CFO outlined the engagement process since 7 January Cabinet, reporting that all stakeholder feedback would be considered prior to 18 February Council when the 2021/22 Budget would be agreed.
Unfortunately, due to the COVID-19 Pandemic, the Government’s Fair Funding Review had been postponed, however, it was hoped to report in Summer 2021. Furthermore, additional COVID-19 grants may be received over time.
In the ensuing discussion, the following main points were raised:
· The Panel Chairman was particularly pleased to hear of the additional funding for PROW and the Gigabit voucher scheme, although commented that the administration of the scheme was quite cumbersome and it would be helpful if this could be reviewed
· For clarity, the Council had received some New Homes Bonus, however, it was £1.1m less than predicted due to the lack of houses being built during the pandemic. The future of the Bonus was uncertain; however, it was believed that it was important to have some incentive
· The Panel sought assurance that the additional PROW funding would be fully utilised by using volunteers to assist with projects, especially as the health and wellbeing ... view the full minutes text for item 404.
Officers had been invited to provide a short update on developer funded highways infrastructure, in particular delays to technical approvals, in advance of potential further scrutiny after the County Council elections in May 2021.
The Senior Programme Manager talked through the Report, stating that a review of key areas of the County Council’s Section 278/38 Development Control activity had been initiated by the Directorate and had recently commenced, with some progress being made. A working group had been established, with 3 major housing developers involved, and an initial meeting had been arranged.
It was hoped that a protocol for working together could be established, including expectations and requirements from both the developers and the Council. Furthermore, reviews of aspects of work, such as streetlighting and streetscape design were planned.
In the ensuing discussion, the following main points were raised:
· A Member reported that in their experience, issues tended to arise after a project had been completed and not at the time, citing one issue which had been ongoing for over ten years
· Panel Members were sympathetic with the frustrations that residents faced, especially in relation to the adoption of sewers or roads. Officers reported that drainage was also a key issue for the Council
· It was noted that not everything was in the control of the County Council, as Building Control, for example, was a District Council function. In relation to the regulations, there was a difference between what was acceptable in relation to housebuilding compared to building a public asset
· By undertaking the review, Officers hoped that the requirements of the Council could be made clearer to developers, and additional Council resource be allocated for early intervention and therefore more timely approvals of technical submissions in the future. It was hoped that future scrutiny of performance in this area would show improvement
· The Streetscape Design Guide would be updated to reflect current practice and assist Developers in planning
· The Streetlighting Technical Review process was already underway and would be finalised in conjunction with Developers Working Group
· Improvements in technology were being investigated, with a view to making the process more streamlined, especially with tracking of applications.
The Panel was supportive of the review and welcomed the aim of establishing a protocol, especially if a set of principles could be agreed. Some Members also looked forward to the additional scrutiny, to ensure that previous poor experience was not repeated and public confidence in the system could be rebuilt.
Further information was requested on:
· the 11 s278 schemes which were approved in 2020-21
· the number of schemes currently in the pipeline.
Members had nothing to add at this time.