Agenda and draft minutes

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Contact: Leslie Ashton 

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Items
No. Item

1.

Apologies for absence / Changes in membership

Additional documents:

Minutes:

Apologies were received from Councillors T Egleton, K Wood and M Walsh.

2.

Declarations of Interest

Additional documents:

Minutes:

There were no declarations of interest.

3.

Minutes pdf icon PDF 549 KB

The minutes of the meeting held on 14 October 2021 to be confirmed as a correct record.

Additional documents:

Minutes:

The minutes of the meeting held on 14 October 2021 were agreed as a correct record.

4.

Public Questions

Public questions is an opportunity for people who live, work or study in Buckinghamshire to put a question to a Select Committee.

 

The Committee will hear from members of the public who have submitted questions in advance relating to items on the agenda. The Cabinet Member, relevant key partners and responsible officers will be invited to respond.

 

Further information on how to register can be found here: https://www.buckinghamshire.gov.uk/your-council/get-involved-with-council-decisions/select-committees/

 

Additional documents:

Minutes:

No public questions had been received.

5.

Chairman's update

Additional documents:

Minutes:

The Chairman provided an update on budget scrutiny activity that had taken place since the last meeting. Two briefing sessions had been held in November relating to the Adult Social Care and Children’s and Education areas of the budget respectively, recordings of the sessions had been circulated to committee members. A further private briefing would be held virtually with the section 151 officer on 21 December to give an update on the draft budget position and it was hoped that members could attend. The Section 151 officer would also hold a virtual briefing for Members on 5 January, a week prior to the formal sessions to highlight key areas in the budget and assist members with queries on the supporting paperwork. As a reminder if any members knew that they would be unable to participate in the budget scrutiny inquiry group they were asked to make the Chairman and Scrutiny Officer aware.

 

6.

Better Buckinghamshire update pdf icon PDF 757 KB

The Unitary transformation programme leading up to vesting day focused on ensuring that the new Council was operational on 1st April 2020. Subsequently, the Better Buckinghamshire programme was developed to enable the Council to achieve the ambition detailed in the unitary business case, and to realise the benefits from achieving this. This programme is leading a series of service reviews to modernise and optimise services for the Unitary Council, driving innovation and improving customer experience. Members are invited to comment on and note the contents of the report.

 

Contributors:

John Chilver, Cabinet Member for Finance, Resources, Property and Assets

Roger Goodes, Service Director for Policy and Communications

Matthew Everitt, Assistant Director for Service Improvement

Richard Ambrose, Service Director for Corporate Finance (s.151 Officer)

 

Papers:

Better Buckinghamshire update report

Additional documents:

Minutes:

The Committee received a report on the Better Buckinghamshire Programme. Councillor J Chilver, Cabinet Member for Finance, Resources, Property and Assets presented the update and summarised the report which was appended to the agenda pack.The Better Buckinghamshire programme was developed to enable the Council to achieve the ambition detailed in the unitary business case, and to realise the benefits from achieving this. The programme includes a series of service reviews to modernise and optimise services for the unitary council, driving innovation and improving customer experience.

 

The Cabinet Member highlighted the following key points:

 

  • The aim of the Better Buckinghamshire Programme was not only to deliver the £18.6m savings as noted in the unitary business case, but to provide more efficient, streamlined services to residents. Whilst the Resources Portfolio led on the delivery of the programme, commitment and engagement from all service areas was vital to ensure that the programme would be successful. Paragraphs 3.2 to 3.4 of the report highlighted the main challenges to date, which included an increased level in demand in some areas such as child protection, homelessness and issues carried forward from legacy authorities.
  • The Council had made good progress with service reviews, as detailed in appendix A of the report and they were on track for completion at the end of next year. At present, of the thirty-one reviews, ten had been completed and nineteen were in progress.
  • To date, 56 staffing posts had been deleted and a saving of £2.2 million had been achieved. The target saving for this financial year was £2.6 million. These savings were achieved predominantly through staff reductions, contract harmonisation and property rationalisation.
  • In terms of governance, the service improvement board continued to meet monthly, this was chaired by the Deputy Chief Executive and the Cabinet Member and Deputy Cabinet Member were regularly updated on progress.

 

During discussion, comments and questions raised by the Committee included:

 

  • Members were keen to understand what work had been undertaken on property rationalisation which would also be discussed under agenda item 7. Due to the pandemic, staff working patterns had been impacted and there needed to be an evidence based approach to ensure adequate office accommodation remained in a hybrid model of working. It was noted that it would take time to build an evidence base, and eighteen months of covid restrictions had impacted this data collection. Early assessments indicated that approximately 100,000 square foot of office space would be required, with savings and income opportunities possible through letting spaces out and capital receipts of potential disposals. The full Work Smart strategy had yet to be implemented for a long enough period of time to gather enough data for thorough analysis. However, some buildings had already been successfully let, including office space at Easton Street office space, High Wycombe which provided a revenue stream to the Council.
  • A member requested that where percentages and numbers were used within reports, could both percentages and actual numbers be consistently used to ensure data clarity and assist understanding.  ...  view the full minutes text for item 6.

7.

Work Smart Programme pdf icon PDF 804 KB

The Work Smart Programme is the workstyles strategy based on a hybrid model of working. The covid pandemic has offered a unique opportunity to re-think ways of working with the aim to combine the benefits seen from remote working – reduced travel time, efficiency through technology and improved work/life balance, with the advantages of a workplace – face-to-face communication, team interaction and collaboration. The Committee are invited to comment and provide input on the work undertaken and planned.

 

Contributors:

John Chilver, Cabinet Member for Finance, Resources, Property and Assets

Sarah Murphy-Brookman, Corporate Director for Resources

John Reed, Service Director for Property and Assets

 

Papers:

Work Smart report

Additional documents:

Minutes:

The Committee received a report on the Work Smart Programme which was the programme created to focus on the design of a future working model which met the needs of the Council going forward, as well as reducing costs in line with the unitary business case.

 

Councillor J Chilver, Cabinet Member for Finance, Resources, Property and Assets presented the update, highlighting the following key points:

 

  • Very recent Government guidance had requested that, once again, staff work from home where possible, which would pause the Work Smart return to the office for the time being.
  • The benefits of hybrid working were highlighted, including less commuting, a better work-life balance, fewer working days lost to illness and decreased costs in printing and travelling. By spending two days in an office environment, collaboration between teams could be maintained.
  • Since 22 November, the hybrid model of staff spending two days a week in the office had been in operation. Staff had been categorised under four categories of worker type, with the majority, 57 % identified as ‘any-desk’ workers – those who will work remotely for 3 days per week and were not fixed to a particular location.
  • The importance of engagement for new starters and entry-level workers was emphasised. Face-to-face contact and extra support had been implemented for this group of staff as noted in the report.
  • Feedback from the early stages of implementation of the programme, including from new starters who had been employed through the Government Kickstart initiative had been positive. It was hoped that through offering flexible working arrangements this would also ensure the Council was seen as a top employer and attractive option to potential employees.
  • Hybrid working offered opportunities for potential property rationalisation through significant downsizing.

 

During discussion, the following questions and comments were raised by the Committee:

 

  • The Chairman welcomed the Work Smart initiative and praised its efficiency in terms of flexibility for staff and potential for reduction in office space.
  • A member was interested in the rationale behind working remotely for three days rather than two. Cllr Chilver and the Corporate Director for Resources explained that an examination of staff calendars displayed that for ‘Any Desk’ workers that there was a mix of collaborative meetings, 1-1s but also ‘quiet work’.  On average the collaborative working and 1-1s were assessed to be about 2 days a week, with the rest being quiet work.   In many cases, staff members report that they benefit from having a quiet space at home for focused work. The two days in the office is then focussed  collaborative meetings, training sessions and one to one meetings with line managers. It was also highlighted that the two office days would be the minimum, with staff being able to visit the office more frequently if they wished.
  • Members were concerned about the negative mental health implications of being at home more frequently. The Corporate Director for Resources advised that mental health implications were different for different people. Some members of staff had expressed anxiety about returning  ...  view the full minutes text for item 7.

8.

Budget Performance Monitoring Q2 pdf icon PDF 605 KB

The Quarter 2 Budget Monitoring Report as presented to Cabinet at its meeting on 9 November is attached for the Committee to consider.

 

Contributors:

Mr John Chilver, Cabinet Member for Resources

Mr Richard Ambrose, Service Director for Corporate Finance (Section 151 Officer)

 

Paper:

Q2 Budget Monitoring Report

 

Additional documents:

Minutes:

Councillor John Chilver, Cabinet Member for Finance, Resources, Property and Assets presented the Q2 Budget Monitoring Report which had been presented to Cabinet at its meeting on 9 November. Councillor J Chilver summarised the report which reflected the business as usual and Covid pressures faced during that period. An appendix provided further detail for each Portfolio and information about performance relating to overdue debts and late payments of commercial debt.

 

At the end of the Q2, an overall nil variance was forecast for the revenue budget 2021-22 after allowing for £4.8m of corporate mitigations.  This was a favourable movement of £0.5m since Q1.

 

The nil variance comprised:

(i)                  £4.9m adverse variance on Portfolio Covid related spend (£6.7m adverse August).

(ii)                £0.1m favourable variation on Portfolio BAU (£0.9m adverse August).

(iii)              £2.8m favourable variation on Corporate Contingencies (£4.0m August).

(iv)              £0.9m favourable variation relating to Covid Sales Fees and Charges compensation scheme.

(v)                £1.1m favourable variation on Corporate Budgets, principally capital financing costs.

 

Figure 1 (Cabinet report) detailed high level information for each Portfolio. 

 

The total Portfolio net revenue forecast variance was £4.8m adverse (1.1% of the total Portfolio budget).  Significant risks to the Revenue forecasts had been identified, a proportion of which were likely to materialise. These and any new pressures could potentially be covered by a number of contingencies that were not yet fully committed and could be used, if required.  Appendix 1 provided further detail on the revenue forecast outturn by Portfolio.

 

Figure 2 showed performance, by Portfolio and against savings targets, for the £13.2m of savings that had been incorporated into the 2021-22 revenue budgets.

 

Figure 3 provided information on the Contain Outbreak Management Fund (COMF), funding provided to local authorities to help reduce the spread of coronavirus and support local public health. Buckinghamshire was expected to benefit from £15.9m of funding spread over three financial years.  The approved spend was for £6.125m in each of 2020-21 and 2021-22.

 

Capital Budget Outturn

Capital slippage had increased between Q1 and Q2 from 1.6% (£3.0m) to 7.9% (£14.8m). Whilst this was currently below the corporate target of 10% there was an expectation that slippage may increase further in future months because there were reduced opportunities to catch up on delays as the year progressed.  Details were provided of a number of specific circumstances that had impact on the progress of capital projects.  Further details for each portfolio were found in Appendix 1.

 

During discussion, the following key points were raised by the Committee:

 

  • A member noted that a breakdown of the impact of COVID-19 on the revenue budget for areas such as transport would be helpful in determining budgets for next year. It was advised that COVID-19 assumptions had been forecast when setting the budget for 2021/2022, particularly around income loss in parking, rental and leisure. Members were advised that many of the reduced income variances were related to pandemic implications, but that some of this had been claimed back from the government’s Sales, Fees and Charges income  ...  view the full minutes text for item 8.

9.

Budget Scrutiny Inquiry Group Scoping Paper pdf icon PDF 617 KB

The Committee will discuss the budget scrutiny inquiry group proposals.

 

Contributors:

All Committee Members

 

Papers:

Budget Scrutiny Inquiry Group scoping paper attached

Additional documents:

Minutes:

The Committee received a scoping paper and noted the proposed approach to the budget scrutiny inquiry taking place in January 2022.

10.

Work Programme pdf icon PDF 447 KB

The Committee will discuss the work programme and agree the items for the next meeting.

 

Contributors:

All Committee Members

 

Papers:

Work Programme attached

Additional documents:

Minutes:

The Committee received an up to date version of the work programme to cover the remainder of this municipal year. Members were advised that items had been scheduled for the most appropriate meetings where member input would be most valuable. The Committee was advised that there were no items provisionally scheduled for the April meeting as yet, and there was agreement that the budget scrutiny sessions in January may highlight areas that should be looked at in April.

 

Resolved:

That the work programme be noted.

 

11.

Date and time of the next meeting

The next meeting will take place on Thursday 17 February 2022 at 2 p.m.

Additional documents:

Minutes:

Thursday 17 February 2022 at 2 p.m.