Venue: Abbey House, Abbey Close, Abingdon OX14 3JE.
Contact: Candida Basilio, Democratic Services Officer Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Note: budget setting meeting
Apologies for absence
To record apologies for absence and the attendance of substitute members.
Apologies were received from Councillor Ken Arlett.
Urgent business and chair's announcements
To receive notification of any matters which the chair determines should be considered as urgent business and the special circumstances which have made the matters urgent, and to receive any announcements from the chair.
Chair ran through meeting procedure matters.
Declaration of interests
To receive declarations of disclosable pecuniary interests, other registrable interests and non-registrable interests or any conflicts of interest in respect of items on the agenda for this meeting.
To adopt and sign as a correct record the committee minutes of the meeting held on 6 December 2023.
The minutes of the meeting on 6 December 2023 were agreed as a correct record, with the amend of a typographical error under ‘chair’s announcements’. The chair will sign the minutes as a correct record.
To review the attached scrutiny work schedule. Please note, although the dates are confirmed, the items under consideration are subject to being withdrawn, added to or rearranged without further notice.
Members discussed their work programme.
Suggestions for the programme:
1. Procurement strategy
2. Housing Mix
3. Didcot Gateway project
To receive any questions or statements from members of the public that have registered to speak.
Mr. John Salmons addressed the committee regarding the budget setting report. He questioned the capital budget figure set aside for a potential grounds maintenance hub. He questioned whether the council were still intending to use the site on Great Western Park, Didcot, rather than an industrial site which he felt was more suitable.
The chair thanked Mr. Salmons and asked him to email the statement to Democratic Services for a written response.
For Scrutiny Committee to consider the report of the Head of Finance on Budget Setting 2024/25, and make any recommendations to Cabinet (report to follow).
The Cabinet member for Finance introduced the report, supported by the Council Leader and Head of Finance. He explained this was a continuity budget and was to maintain services, not cut them. Leader mentioned the corporate plan and financial sustainability – the finances were built on the current corporate plan (there will be a way to update this with the new corporate plan). The bottom line was that the deficit was halved compared to the previous iteration Medium Term Financial Plan (MTFP), so the transformation work had led to a more sustainable position.
· Additional waste costs: page 20 Appendix A2. £200k of additional costs? Also Appendix A4? It was responded that in A2, figures were removed for previous one-off support for waste contract work, then brought back into Appendix A4, because officer support was needed/brought back in for the next stages of contract negotiation/retendering. Row 24 was an inflationary increase in contract costs. It was the Council’s biggest and most public-facing service, so the figures were relative to the size of the service and was appropriate for the tendering exercise. It was noted by the Leader that retendering was delayed by two years due to uncertainty from central government on what was expected from councils for waste collection services.
· Homelessness – referring to item 12 on page 29, and page 37 on homelessness prevention. Do we consider this figure to be enough? Cabinet member for Finance explained it was government funding not our own budget. Cabinet member for Community Wellbeing provided detail - we were currently unsure of future funding, it may rise but this was unknown, there were pressures as some councils were close to bankruptcy due to rising demand of temporary accommodation. We do get some money back from temporary accommodation costs, but the gap was getting wider between what it costs and what we get back.
· Appendix A2 line 30, a member wanted to understand costs regarding the community hub, activity grants and corporate plan staffing. Cabinet member explained that this was for 2025/26 onwards, community hub was becoming permanent and was in the budget as ‘business as usual’ and part of the overall revenue budget. Regarding Didcot Community Centres, a member suggested that centres could be part of community provision and which could help to raise income.
· Talked about transition savings – a member asked for examples: transformation programme was becoming permanent to invest in making savings and efficiencies. Examples given included IT efficiencies, and the office move away from Milton Park saved money. A study into Cornerstone can save money in the long-term by investigating how to improve its financial situation. Recruitment of a grant applications officer has been a big boost to securing funds.
· A member asked about contributions to the pension fund with Oxfordshire County Council (OCC) as investment. Officer responded that £5 million was invested twice in the past, such investment was evaluated twice recently and wasn’t showing as a good investment this time around, but can still be reevaluated in future. ... view the full minutes text for item 37.
The Scrutiny Committee is asked to review the approach outlined to develop the Corporate Plan 2024 to 2028 and provide feedback or recommendations to Cabinet.
Cabinet member for Corporate Services introduced the report. The corporate plan should reflect the financial landscape of a council, that sits alongside the MTFP. For the corporate plan to be a credible strategic framework, it can be aspirational and ambitious, but it must be affordable and able to be appropriately budgeted for. The corporate plan was a golden thread where officers could see where their work aligns with the values of the council and of residents. Specific metrics will feature, and quarterly data and annual data would be reported, with a continued development of the data hub for residents.
· Equitable access to leisure facilities – a member asked what happened to creches in leisure centres? Cabinet member explained this could be questioned in consultation, then would have to engage with contractors. Cabinet member for Community Wellbeing explained that she understood the concern, but also the numbers using the service weren’t always there for contractors to invest in it.
· Page 18 homes and infrastructure: housing strategy and action plan – a member asked can we look at entering the private rental market, and keep the private standards up, and generate revenue? Council being a private landlord? Cabinet member for Corporate Services explained we had policy flexibility to look into this.
· How do we introduce the overall vision in light of wider issues (poor living standards, covid etc). How do we be optimistic whilst considering what could go wrong. Cabinet member explained this would be within the document/context, after consultation, to see what issues and concerns were raised by consultees. We will use learnings for the Joint Local Plan consultation process and build on that.
· Support shown for the themes
· Overarching vision needed, state the values that underpin the themes.
· Should we have something about procurement values embedded in the plan due to the upcoming contract negotiations for services.
· Engagement needed to yield us a good database of key contacts/community groups. To be more prepared for the future. Cabinet member explained that various teams – community, grants etc, have their own databases. Also, council member contacts. Our aim was to be a “council in the community”.
· Agreement over merging the climate and nature themes as they were so interlinked. Focus on engagement was approved of.
· Homes and infrastructure – a member asked how we ensure it was an equal mix, fair. Cabinet member responded that we can add this to the vision – treat all demographics equally.
· A member raised the issue of lessons learned from the Joint Local Plan (JLP) consultation, and how there may not be enough time to incorporate those lessons. Officers will review this point but also reminded that this consultation was discretionary.
· Co-production aspirations – go out and facilitate conversations. Cabinet member responded that there was a strong team in-house to facilitate.
· A member raised unfair access to leisure centres for rural residents who are without transport. Cabinet member replied that sustainable transport was being raised at County Council, it was their responsibility so we can only ... view the full minutes text for item 38.
Scrutiny Committee will be reviewing and providing feedback on the draft Cabinet report considering the Future Direction of Cornerstone Arts Centre, Didcot.
Before this item proceeded, chair agreed on a two-minute break for attendees. The committee also voted to extend the meeting as allowed by the Constitution, by half an hour, and this vote was taken part way through the discussion below.
Cabinet member for Community Wellbeing introduced the report.
The Cornerstone and the Arts and Culture sector in general had encountered difficulties in recent years. There was also the challenge of building issues for Cornerstone, such as the boiler and a roof leak. To start, we wanted to define the problems, therefore we commissioned some studies - noting that the studies were a snapshot in time, but there were many useful recommendations to take forward. The cabinet member wanted to hear the committee’s views to help develop the action plan. Cabinet member explained that the 18-month timescale was tight but kept us accountable for keeping on target and monitoring progress.
Also present was the Deputy Chief Executive for Place, the Head of Development and Corporate Landlord. The Arts Centre Director was present online.
Committee raised the following questions and comments:
· A member considered that this was ongoing for a number of years, and he asked why the reports were over a year old, as action was needed sooner and he would like to understand staffing and other aspects. He felt that more time was required to discuss this. How can Cornerstone relate to different age groups, crafts and arts? We needed to understand the lease structure. In response, the cabinet member felt that there had been many challenges for Cornerstone that had been dealt with and responsibility had been taken for those. Cabinet member expressed that the skill sets were needed for improving communications on arts and culture and knowledge of the business, audience development etc.
· A member felt this issue hinged on recruiting the right skilled people to help. There was concern over the action plan impeding any staff recruited with the right skillset. The committee member stated that she would like to see data on response to social media and attendance at shows/events and compare to other theatres. Committee member felt that comedy shows were popular and Cornerstone could offer more like that, and added that Didcot had transport access routes to support more visitors. On the action plan, Cabinet member explained that the action plan had been compiled with the help of expert recommendations therefore shouldn’t impede staff hired to make progress.
· Monthly data was wanted and a comparison with comparable centres in 18-months’ time. Cabinet member explained that staff were already providing this information and would continue to.
· A member recalled that the auditorium was downgraded many years ago, you can’t draw in so many big acts with less seats and he considered the impact of increasing seats.
· It was felt that external funding sources should be sought as soon as possible.
· Effective marketing – a member suggested looking into marketing via other mailing lists such as the Beacon, cross promotion.
· Suggestion of having pantomimes, and the ... view the full minutes text for item 39.
Exclusion of the public
To consider whether to exclude members of the press and public from the meeting for the following item of business under Part 1 of Schedule 12A Section 100A(4) of the Local Government Act 1972 and as amended by the Local Government (Access to Information) (Variation) Order 2006 on the grounds that:
(i) it involves the likely disclosure of exempt information as defined in paragraphs 1-7 Part 1 of Schedule 12A of the Act, and
(ii) the public interest in maintaining the exemption outweighs the public interest in disclosing the information.
In this agenda item, Scrutiny Committee can consider confidential appendices from the report: Future direction of Cornerstone, Didcot, if they require this.