Agenda and minutes

Cabinet
Thursday 5th November 2020 6.00 pm

Venue: Virtual meeting

Contact: Jane Game  Democratic Services Officer

Items
No. Item

1.

Apologies

Minutes:

Apologies were received from Cllr Tildesley.

2.

Declaration of Interest

To receive declarations of interest from Members.

Minutes:

None were received.

3.

Questions and Deputations

To answer any questions, if any asked by any resident of the Borough pursuant to Standing Orders.

Minutes:

None were received.

4.

Minutes pdf icon PDF 486 KB

To receive for information only the minutes of the previous meeting held on 1 October 2020.

Minutes:

The minutes of the meeting held on 1 October 2020 were presented for information only.

 

RESOLVED:

That the minutes of the meeting held on 1 October 2020 be received for information only.

5.

COUNCIL TAX REDUCTION SCHEME 2021/22 pdf icon PDF 186 KB

To provide an update on Solihull Council’s Council Tax Reduction (CTR) Scheme from April 2021.

Minutes:

The Cabinet was provided with an update on Solihull Council’s Council Tax Reduction (CTR) Scheme from April 2021.

 

Members were reminded of the current arrangements of the Council’s CTR Scheme which was that all working age residents who were liable for council tax should pay a minimum of 15% towards their council tax irrespective of income, and that

Pensioners were protected under the original scheme rules.

 

The report set out the impact Covid-19 had, had in the increase in the number of new claims received for CTR. Since March 2020 the CTR caseload had increased by 1,203. The report provided Members with an update on collection rates and the various support mechanisms which continued to be place.

 

Members were advised that at this time Officers were recommending no changes to the current CTR scheme for the following reasons:-

 

a)  The support for customers was based on each individual’s ability to pay and this meant tested approach was fair and equitable;

 

(b) Pensioners continued to be protected under the original scheme rules;

 

(c) Collection rates for CTR customers had been achieved in 2017/18, 2018/19  and 2019/20. Although current collection rates were lower than compared to the same time in previous years, this was as a result of the Council’s decision not to undertake any recovery action from March 2020 to July 2020; and

 

(d) The Council provided a variety of support mechanisms as detailed in section 3 of the report. These support mechanisms were available for any CTR claimant who was suffering financial hardship as a result of their council tax liability. The support mechanisms were in place to offer longer term solutions to help claimants with money management.

 

The report detailed the financial implication of the CTR Scheme and the fact that the cost of the CTR scheme had increased significantly as a result of Covid-19. Members were advised that any change to the CTR scheme which increased the costs further would put additional pressure on the MTFS at a time when the Council’s finances were under substantial strain.

 

In considering the report Members questioned whether the soft approach taken in relation to Council tax reminders was the right one. Members were advised that the Council had not ignored Council tax debt but chose the softer approach as it was most appropriate during this difficult time and this approach was consistent with what other local authorities had done. A further observation was made around the use of language and whether the term claimant should be used rather than customer.

 

RESOLVED:

That Full Council be RECOMMENDED to approve the Council’s Council Tax Reduction Scheme for 2021/22.

 

6.

Solihull Town Centre Masterplan pdf icon PDF 214 KB

To present to Cabinet the refreshed Solihull Town Centre Masterplan (‘the Masterplan’), highlighting the process that has been undertaken in developing the Masterplan and providing an overview of the research, engagement, analysis and evidence base that have informed the proposals within it. To seek approval to adopt the Masterplan.

Additional documents:

Minutes:

The Cabinet was presented with a refreshed Solihull Town Centre Masterplan (‘the Masterplan’), highlighting the process that had been undertaken in developing the Masterplan and providing an overview of the research, engagement, analysis and evidence base that had informed the proposals within it. Cabinet was invited to approve the adoption of the Masterplan.

 

Members were advised that the purpose of the refreshed Masterplan was to provide a framework for future investment and development which maximised the opportunities for Solihull town centre, capitalised on its existing assets and set out a clear vision for Solihull in 2036 as a thriving, vibrant and visionary town. Members were advised that

the 2016 Masterplan had been updated over the summer of 2020 to ensure it considered and responded to:-

 

·  recent strategic decisions;

·   local, regional and national policy and best practice;

·  land and property development that had occurred in the intervening four years; and

·  macro and micro economic conditions including the impact of COVID-19.

 

The Leader of the Council took Members through the key points of the refreshed Master Plan.

 

In considering the report a number of observations were made and clarification sought on a number of points which in summary included:

 

·  Some Members expressed frustration at the timing of the report, as they felt it should have been available as part of the Local Plan discussions, which had only just taken place;

 

·  There was some discussion around housing numbers and whether the proposed figure should be higher;

 

·  Questions were also raised over the planned office space, given the change in working patterns with home working increasing, Members questioned whether there was still a demand for office space.

 

Members were advised that the Master Plan was not new, but had been refreshed, and given the time pressures associated with the Local Plan, consideration of the Local Plan could not have been delayed.

 

With regard to housing figures these were based on reasonable assumptions and there could be movement in the future. With regard to office space Members were advised that Grade “A” office space was still at a premium and coupled with the planned location of office accommodation and the desire for town centre living it remained an attractive offer.

 

Members were assured that the plan could be reviewed if required but there was a need to balance housing need and office accommodation to ensure the town centre provided the right mix to encourage economic growth and the sustainability of the Town Centre in the long term. The improvements planned for the public realm along with the improved gateways into the Town Centre would all help enable the objectives set out in the Town Centre Master Plan be achieved.

 

 

RESOLVED:

 

(i)  That the adoption of the Masterplan – as at Appendix A to the report be approved;

 

(ii)  That the next steps involved in publishing, promoting, and delivering the Masterplan be noted; and

 

(iii)That delegated authority be granted to the Assistant Director for Growth and Development to approve any non-material amendments required to the  ...  view the full minutes text for item 6.

7.

Smarter Ways of Working Strategy pdf icon PDF 207 KB

To request Cabinet to approve an allocation from the Budget Strategy Reserve and budget adjustments to support proposals to reset the organisation following the COVID-19 pandemic.

Additional documents:

Minutes:

The Cabinet was requested to approve an allocation from the Budget Strategy Reserve and budget adjustments to support proposals to reset the organisation following the COVID-19 pandemic.

 

Members were advised of how Covid-19 had impacted on how the Council operated, specifically with staff working from home since March 2020, where the job roll allowed for this. The report detailed the results of a staff survey where 95% of respondents had confirmed they enjoyed working from home and a number of benefits had been identified as detailed in the report, with a key benefit being able to maintain a healthier lifestyle and improve overall wellbeing. There was a clear expectation from employees that working from home would be become a permanent feature of how to deliver services in the future.

 

Some challenges had been highlighted as well as needs around video conferencing, the need to connect with colleagues and having the right equipment to use while at home.

 

A Smarter Ways of Working Strategy had been developed and a number of options had been considered which were detailed in the report. The preferred option being proposed was option 2 a blend of working arrangements which combined home and a collaborative workspace model. The reasons why this was the preferred option were detailed in the report, along with the required increase in spending on the Council’s IT infrastructure and hardware. The report also detailed what other opportunities arose from pursuing option 2 in relation to the use and reconfiguration of Council accommodation.

 

Members welcomed the report noting some of the benefits of home working with the increase in productivity, the fall in sickness absence and the carbon emission savings. Members also raised the issue of unintended consequences and the need to monitor these as well. There was also a need to be mindful of the impact the changes to working practices could have on service users as well.

 

 

RESOLVED:

(i)  That an allocation of £332,000 from the Budget Strategy Reserve for the costs of chairs and equipment to support home working be approved; and

 

(ii)  That subject to the approval of the final updated Medium Term Financial Strategy (MTFS) by Full Council in early 2021, an additional on-going £490,000 be included in the MTFS update for 2021/22 and 2022/23 for ICT costs, with the costs being fully offset by savings by 2023/24 be approved.

 

8.

Medium Term Financial Strategy update (incorporating the Period 6 position) as at 30th September 2020 pdf icon PDF 286 KB

The purpose of the report is:

·  To outline the Medium term Financial Strategy (MTFS) latest financial position as at 30th September 2020 (Period 6) including the latest Covid-19 financial impact as at the same date;

·  To report on the latest Red, Amber and Green (RAG) ratings for the delivery of the (MTFS) savings 2020/21 to 2022/23, as detailed in Appendix A;

·  To update on the overall Covid-19 financial position over the current MTFS period compared to the position reported to Cabinet in September 2020. More detail can be found in Appendix B;

·  To provide details of all the budget movements which have taken place up to Period 6 of this financial year, as required by Financial Regulations and the revised budget resulting from those movements, which Members are asked to approve detailed in Appendix C; and

·  To summarise the reports to the individual Cabinet portfolio meetings made during November 2020.

 

Additional documents:

Minutes:

The Cabinet was:-

 

Ø  Provided with an outline of the Medium term Financial Strategy (MTFS) latest financial position as at 30th September 2020 (Period 6) including the latest Covid-19 financial impact as at the same date;

 

Ø  Advised of the latest Red, Amber and Green (RAG) ratings for the delivery of the (MTFS) savings 2020/21 to 2022/23, as detailed in Appendix A to the report;

 

Ø  Provided with an update on the overall Covid-19 financial position over the current MTFS period compared to the position reported to Cabinet in September 2020. More detail was provided in Appendix B to the report;

 

Ø  Provided with details of all the budget movements detailed in Appendix C of the report, which had taken place up to Period 6 of this financial year, as required by Financial Regulations and the revised budget resulting from those movements, which Members were asked to approve; and

 

Ø  Provided with summarises of the reports to the individual Cabinet portfolio meetings made during November 2020.

 

Members were advised of the following:-

 

·  2019/20 Statement of Accounts and External Audit Update – the Final Statement of Accounts would be published by the end of November;

 

·  In year Financial Monitoring for 2020/21 – a general statement was provided;

 

·  Core Council Revenue Budget (excluding Covid-19 financial impact)-forecast out-turn position – There was a net variance on the Core Council and an adverse variance of £8.539m for the DSG, the report provided further detail per Portfolio;

 

·  Dedicated Schools Grant (DSG) – There was an adverse variance of £8.539m and this was subject to separate report on the agenda;

 

·  Core Council Revenue Covid-19 financial impact 2020/21-forecast out-turn position – The Cabinet had previously been advised that the net financial impact of Covid-19 on the Council had been forecast at £14.085m (September 2020). The forecast position had been updated to a revised net pressure of £7.943m over the period 2020/21-2023/24. The reasons for this improved position was set out in the report.

 

The Director of Resources and Deputy Chief Executive provided a verbal update on the night following the introduction of a further national lockdown regarding the allocation of additional grants. An additional £1.082m would be received for Contain Outbreak Management Fund. £3m had been allocated via the Local Restrictions Grant and £4.2m from the Additional Restriction Grant, this grant would be subject to a further report to the Cabinet Portfolio Holder for Resources.

 

·  Capital budget-Forecast out-turn position – The total Capital Programme budget was currently £42.622m for 2020/21. Actual expenditure to the end of September was £17.856m. There was a forecast favourable variance of (£3.107m), and there were no red risks to report; and

 

·  Medium Term Financial Strategy (MTFS) RAG status of savings 2020/21 to 2022/23- progress at the end of September 2020 showed the overall position as positive. Of the overall savings target of £14.174m, only £2.558m was now rated as amber/red, of which £0.417m was due to Covid-19 impacts. Members were advised that there was also £0.018m of savings from previous years that  ...  view the full minutes text for item 8.

9.

Dedicated Schools Grant (DSG) Recovery Plan pdf icon PDF 213 KB

The purpose of the report is to:

 

·  Confirm the actions being taken to improve the availability of education provision and increase capacity within the Borough so that more of our children and young people can have their needs met locally; and

·  Update on the progress of the DSG Recovery Plan and the actions taken following the previous reports to Cabinet in October 2019 and February 2020.

Additional documents:

Minutes:

The Cabinet was advised of the actions being taken to improve the availability of education provision and increase capacity within the Borough so that more of the Borough’s children and young people could have their needs met locally. Cabinet was also updated on the progress of the DSG Recovery Plan and the actions taken following the previous reports to Cabinet in October 2019 and February 2020.

 

The report presented detailed the background to current position and Members were advised that the total adverse variance was now £8.539m. This represented a deficit of 4% against Solihull’s total DSG of £211.958m. This continued to reflect the increase in numbers and costs of school placements, particularly in the independent sector.

 

The report also detailed the guidance received from the Education and Skills Funding Agency (ESFA) as how the variance should be managed. However, since this guidance was issued the impact of Covid-19 had had a significant effect on local authorities and schools since March 2020. As a result the DfE had issued new guidance/regulations, which provided new arrangements for handling overspends with effect from the end of the 2019 to 2020 financial year. The report detailed what the new provisions were and the options available.

 

The Council’s recovery plan had been updated as detailed in Appendix A to the report as result of the new guidance/regulations and used the carry forward flexibility as permitted and still proposed that the accumulated deficit was recovered over a longer period, whilst brining the in year position back to balance by year 3.

 

The report provided a synopsis on what was happening in relation to the demand and financial pressures on the service and what resources were required to develop, implement and monitor the DSG recovery plan actions.

 

Members were advised that the view still remained that recovering the full deficit (i.e. the accumulated deficit in addition to the in year position) would require the implementation of measures that would be detrimental to outcomes and provision for children and young people. It would also leave the Council in a position where it was unable to meet its statutory duties and open to legal challenge. Further, such measures, whilst delivering an initial reduction in costs would also be likely to increase costs in later years as the true financial consequences became apparent. This option had therefore been discounted.

 

Member were reminded that there also remained several variables which would impact the delivery of the plan. Key would be the impact of Covid-19 and the effect on both demand and the ability to progress new provisions. The development of the new Free School would also be a key driver in terms of reducing the Council’s reliance on external provision longer term.

 

The Cabinet Portfolio Holder for Children, Education and Skills took Members through the key points of the report. The Director also commented that the report was not only focussed on the financial aspects but also about improving the availability of provision for children. It was hoped that the  ...  view the full minutes text for item 9.

10.

Property Investment Strategy pdf icon PDF 176 KB

To seek approval for a revised Property Investment Strategy.

Additional documents:

Minutes:

The Cabinet was invited to approve a revised Property Investment Strategy.

 

Members were reminded that the Council’s existing Property Investment Strategy had been agreed in 2017, and the purpose of the Strategy was set out in the report. Since then both the Government and the Charted Institute of Public Finance had issued refreshed property investment guidance, which had been used to inform the revised Strategy. The key points to note included:

 

·  The primary objective of the revised Strategy was to support the Council’s economic development, regeneration and place making objectives;

 

·  Whilst Local Authorities can still invest to generate a return they cannot use borrowing to fund such activities. Investments that were primarily for income would be dealt with under the Council’s Treasury Management Strategy. That Strategy prioritised security and liquidity over yield;

 

·  The Strategy maintained the existing governance arrangements whereby any proposed investment would be reported to the Property Investment Board for detailed consideration prior to any recommendation being made to Full Cabinet; and

 

·  Further performance indicators had been included to demonstrate the financial impact of the investments the Council had made under the Strategy.

 

The Strategy was clear that its property investment activities would continue to support the Council’s objectives, contained robust procedures for the reporting and consideration of proposed transactions and provided transparent information about the impact of those transactions on the Council’s finances.

 

RESOLVED:

That the Property Investment Strategy as attached at Appendix A (Public) and Appendix B (Private) to the report be approved.

 

11.

Exclusion of the Public and Press

The meeting is likely not to be open to the public during discussion of the following items because the reports contain exempt information as defined in Schedule 12A to the Local Government Act 1972

Minutes:

RESOLVED:

That, pursuant to Section 100A (4) of the Local Government Act 1972, the press and public be now excluded from the meeting for the remainder of the business to be transacted, on the grounds that there would be disclosure to them of exempt information in terms of paragraph 3 of Part 1 of Schedule 12A to the said Act.

 

 

12.

Private Appendix Property Investment Strategy

Private Appendix B to be read in conjunction with the public report, item 10 on the agenda.