Agenda and draft minutes

Resources and Performance Select Committee - Friday, 18 December 2020 10.00 am

Venue: Ashcombe Suite, County Hall, Kingston upon Thames, Surrey KT1 2DN. View directions

Contact: Kunwar Khan, Scrutiny Officer 

Media

Items
No. Item

1.

APOLOGIES FOR ABSENCE AND SUBSTITUTIONS

    Purpose of the item: To receive any apologies for absence and substitutions.

    Additional documents:

    Minutes:

    Apologies were received from Ayesha Azad, Graham Knight and Naz Islam.

2.

MINUTES OF THE PREVIOUS MEETINGS: 8 OCTOBER 2020 pdf icon PDF 250 KB

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    Purpose of the item: To agree the minutes of the Resources and Performance Select Committee held on 8 October 2020 as a true and accurate record of proceedings.

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    Minutes:

    The minutes were agreed as a true record of the meeting.

3.

DECLARATIONS OF INTEREST

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    Purpose of the item: All Members present are required to declare, at this point in the meeting or as soon as possible thereafter:

     

          I.        Any disclosable pecuniary interests and/or

     

        II.        Other interests arising under the Code of Conduct in respect of any item(s) of business being considered at this meeting.

     

    NOTES:

     

    ·         Members are reminded that they must not participate in any item where they have a disclosable pecuniary interest.

     

    ·         As well as an interest of the Member, this includes any interest, of which the Member is aware, that relates to the Member’s spouse or civil partner (or any person with whom the Member is living as a spouse or civil partner).

     

    ·         Members with a significant personal interest may participate in the discussion and vote on that matter unless that interest could be reasonably regarded as prejudicial.

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    Minutes:

    Rachael Lake declared a personal interest as a family member is an employee of Surrey County Council.

4.

QUESTIONS AND PETITIONS

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    Purpose of the item: To receive any questions or petitions.

     

    NOTES:

     

    1.    Due to the Covid-19 pandemic all questions and petitions received will be responded to in writing and will be contained within the minutes of the meeting.

     

    2.    The deadline for Members’ questions is 12:00pm four working days before the meeting (14 December 2020).

     

    3.    The deadline for public questions is seven days before the meeting (11 December 2020).

     

    4.    The deadline for petitions was 14 days before the meeting, and no petitions have been received.

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    Minutes:

    None received.

5.

SCRUTINY OF 2021/22 DRAFT BUDGET AND MEDIUM-TERM FINANCIAL STRATEGY TO 2025/26 pdf icon PDF 147 KB

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    Purpose of the item: To scrutinise the Draft Budget and Medium-Term Financial Strategy.

    Additional documents:

    Minutes:

    Witnesses:

    Anna D’Alessandro, Director of Corporate Finance

    Mel Few, Cabinet Member for Resources

    Zully Grant Duff, Cabinet Member for Corporate Support

    Nicola O’Connor, Strategic Finance Business Partner (Resources and Transformation, Partnerships and Prosperity)

    Leigh Whitehouse, Executive Director of Resources

    Rachel Wigley, Director of Financial Insight

     

    Key points raised during the discussion:

    1.    The Cabinet Member for Resources informed the Select Committee that the provisional settlement announced by central government had closed the budget gap, which had stood at £18.3m pre-settlement, without the need for the Council to make any further efficiencies. The Executive Director of Resources added that the settlement indicated around £20m Covid-19 funding at the beginning of 2021. These were the initial headlines; some news was still awaited at this stage.

     

    2.    The Director of Financial Insight explained that the Medium-Term Financial Strategy (MTFS) would be updated every year. The provisional settlement only covered one year (2021/22), so the Council could not plan definitively beyond that. The Director of Corporate Finance added that there would be an increase in the tax base over the course of the MTFS due to a 1.99% increase in core council tax, while it was assumed that grant funding and business rates would steadily decrease. Due to the economic impact of the pandemic, central government was trying to reduce the Council’s reliance on income from business rates and grant funding, in favour of locally raised income (i.e. from council tax). The Finance service was in the process of reviewing the Council’s collection fund deficit in light of the provisional settlement; it was expecting to hear more about the government underwriting of 75% of the business rates deficit soon. The Director of Corporate Finance expressed confidence about the Council’s prudence in Covid-19 recovery assumptions over the medium term, and added that the Council was in a healthy position on contingencies and reserves.

     

    3.    A Member noted that there had been a recent tightening of Public Works Loan Board (PWLB) lending criteria, and asked what impact this would have on Surrey County Council. The Director of Corporate Finance responded that the new criteria (from 26 November 2020) meant that Surrey County Council was not allowed to use PWLB money for commercial yield. It could, however, use this money for investment in the county as a result of the greater economic benefit to the county. The new criteria would not have any impact on Surrey, as the Council had no plans to invest outside of county. Also, the new rules did not apply retrospectively.

     

    4.    A Member enquired about the preliminary results and emerging themes from the consultation on the budget, who had been consulted, and whether there were further engagement activities planned. The Cabinet Member for Resources stated that the consultation had been presented to approximately 2,000 residents and approximately 200 responses had been received so far. The main themes and priorities were education, Adult Social Care (ASC) and children’s care. The results were still being looked at, but the response would be available in  ...  view the full minutes text for item 5.

6.

PERFORMANCE REPORT pdf icon PDF 224 KB

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    Additional documents:

    Minutes:

    Witnesses:

    Sarah Bogunovic, Head of Customer Strategy and Futures

    Anna D’Alessandro, Director of Corporate Finance

    Mel Few, Cabinet Member for Resources

    Jacqueline Foglietta, Director of Human Resources and Organisation Development

    Susan Grizzelle, Head of Customer Services

    Nicola O’Connor, Strategic Finance Business Partner (Resources and Transformation, Partnerships and Prosperity)

    Marie Snelling, Executive Director of Communities and Transformation

    Adrian Stockbridge, Head of Portfolios

    Gary Strudwick, Head of Business Intelligence

    Leigh Whitehouse, Executive Director of Resources

    Rachel Wigley, Director of Financial Insight

     

    Key points raised during the discussion:

    1.    The Head of Business Intelligence mentioned that some changes had been made to the report formatting based on recommendations made at the previous meeting of the Select Committee, in October 2020.

     

    2.    A Member asked why the Council was so far off-target on Land and Property capital receipts (the end of year target was £20.5m, and the latest result was only £2.5m). The Cabinet Member for Resources explained that the Council expected to receive a significant part of this target figure when the Kingston County Hall was sold.

     

    3.    A Member asked what the forecast value of unpaid rent and service charges was for the Council’s properties. The Cabinet Member for Resources stated that on average in 2020/21, the Council had been receiving a gross percentage of approximately 80% of rental income budgeted for. The Executive Director of Resources explained that this was what had been collected to date, not what was collectible – it was expected that the further 20% would be collected. In real terms, the figure stood at about £1.5m uncollected funds for properties held directly by Surrey County Council and just in excess of £1.5m for properties held by the Halsey Garton Investment subsidiary.

     

    4.    A Member noted that the Council was a long way off its target for spending the apprenticeship levy (the target was 100%; the latest result was 76.56%) and wondered whether that target was actually feasible. The Director of HR&OD explained that the Council was required by law to spend a certain amount on apprenticeships, and therefore it could not reduce the target spend. Moreover, it was likely that the number of apprentices employed by the Council would soon increase due to additional government funding, the Kickstart programme, which committed the Council to taking on 30 young people on placement programmes, offering a pathway into apprenticeships, and a new strategy to increase employment more broadly across Surrey.

     

    5.    A Member asked whether there was a measure of the number of vacant positions in the Council. The Director of HR&OD replied that at present, overall vacancies amounted to 1,715 posts, which equated to 19% of the workforce. However, it was important to note that this figure included bank workers and the Council did not plan to convert bank workers’ contracts into permanent or fixed-term contracts.

     

    6.    Commending the performance of the Council’s transformation programme, a Member requested that the Select Committee be provided with a written response on how the results recorded under the transformation  ...  view the full minutes text for item 6.

7.

COUNTY HALL MOVE AND AGILE PROGRAMME UPDATE pdf icon PDF 865 KB

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    Purpose of the item: To monitor the progress of the Agile programme, the decant of County Hall in Kingston and the move to the new Civic Heart.

    Additional documents:

    Minutes:

    Witnesses:

    Dominic Barlow, Assistant Director – Corporate Landlord

    Brendon Kavanagh, Portfolio Lead – Corporate

    Leigh Whitehouse, Executive Director of Resources

     

    Key points raised during the discussion:

    1.    The Executive Director of Resources summarised that the closing of County Hall in Kingston upon Thames was on track to be completed by the end of December 2020; Woodhatch Place, the new civic heart, was on track to be open by the start of 2021. All staff had been written to about their new administrative bases. Approximately 20% of staff had been told their new base would be located at Ashley Park House in Walton; however, it had not been possible to use this space, so the decision had been made (and approved by Cabinet) to obtain space in an extra building in Weybridge in which these staff would be located instead. The uncertainty this had created amongst some staff was unfortunate, but the outcome of moving the base to Weybridge was a better outcome, as the commute was easier and cheaper for many staff. Finally, the sale of the Kingston County Hall was progressing as planned and the ‘for sale’ sign outside the building would be updated today (18 December 2020) to read ‘under offer’.

     

    2.    A Member asked what the reaction was amongst staff to the alternative office bases they had been allocated. The Executive Director stated that there might be a sense of frustration among staff whose administrative base had been changed from Ashley Park House to Weybridge – while the outcome had been good, there had been a trade-off with uncertainty. A travel study had been commissioned for all office bases, which would provide guidance. Another main issue was the decant from County Hall, and communications would be sent to staff today about how to collect their belongings. Staff were being reasonable and showing fortitude towards the move.

     

    3.    A Member asked if officers were incorporating disabilities into the travel plans. She noted that, while Surrey’s bus services worked well for people with disabilities, there were many train stations that were not disability compliant. The Portfolio Lead – Corporate replied that disabilities were indeed being incorporated into travel planning, and added that he had met with the Inclusion and Diversity Group the previous day to discuss this topic.

     

    4.    A Member requested that a detailed analysis of the complete results of the travel survey – including the results of the survey conducted with Members – be presented to the County Hall Move and Agile Programme Task Group at its next meeting. The Portfolio Lead agreed to provide detailed analysis.

     

    5.    A Member asked whether any more detail on the sale of County Hall could be shared publicly, and whether the Council would be keeping an interest in the property after selling for long-term income or was selling the property as a capital item. The Executive Director replied that the site was under offer and the Council had a preferred bidder. The details would go to Cabinet in January 2021  ...  view the full minutes text for item 7.

8.

BROADBAND IN SURREY pdf icon PDF 537 KB

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    Purpose of the item: To review, monitor and provide input to the access and improvements to broadband in Surrey.

    Additional documents:

    Minutes:

    Witnesses:

    Katie Brennan, Engagement Manager

    Amanda Richards, Network and Asset Management Group Manager

     

    Key points raised during the discussion:

    1.    The Network and Asset Management Group Manager introduced the report by mentioning the Superfast Surrey programme, delivered in partnership with BT. The programme had resulted in more than 90,000 homes and businesses having faster download speeds, meaning that Surrey was in a good position regarding superfast broadband at the moment. Over the last eight or nine months, many people had been working from home in Surrey, and yet despite this, there had not been a large number of complaints about broadband speeds. However, it was important that Surrey continued to make progress in this area as technology was developing and there would be a need for faster technology in Surrey.

     

    2.    The Group Manager continued to detail what Surrey County Council was focusing on at the moment, which included improving broadband speeds in rural areas by accessing government funding to upgrade a few schools and promoting government gigabit vouchers to communities in rural areas. Network operators such as Openreach had announced several areas in Surrey and were working on improving and expanding their gigabit-capable broadband, taking inspiration from other parts of the country. Surrey County Council was in the process of developing a Digital Infrastructure Strategy and this would be reported on in the coming months and brought to the Select Committee before being progressed.

     

    3.    A Member asked how big the broadband team was and where the two witnesses present fitted into the structure. The Group Manager explained that currently the superfast broadband team comprised the Engagement Manager only. The Group Manager worked in the highways department and the Engagement Manager reported to the Group Manager. Both witnesses worked together to look at how superfast broadband could tie in with and improve highways going forward, amongst other things.

     

    4.    A Member enquired how Surrey’s gigabit broadband coverage compared with neighbouring authorities. The Engagement Manager responded that currently, Surrey had about 16% gigabit-capable coverage. Network operators such as Openreach or Virgin Media generally looked for areas that were commercially viable, which were usually more urban areas due to their denser population. Urban areas such as London had been more heavily covered by operators such as Virgin Media; also, Virgin Media had regularly upgraded broadband coverage in London, meaning London had a high rate of gigabit-capable coverage. Surrey, on the other hand, had a relatively high rate of Virgin Media coverage at 66%, but this technology was ultrafast and had not yet been upgraded to be gigabit-capable. Discrepancies between coverage related primarily to how urban or rural an area was, rather than varying county by county.

     

    5.    A Member asked whether the government’s expectation that the private sector deliver gigabit-capable broadband to around 80% of premises in the UK was reasonable in the Surrey context. The Engagement Manager explained that this depended on operators upgrading their infrastructure, and Surrey was covered by few operators, including Virgin Media, Openreach and a few  ...  view the full minutes text for item 8.

9.

TASK GROUP UPDATES pdf icon PDF 222 KB

10.

FORWARD WORK PROGRAMME AND RECOMMENDATION TRACKER pdf icon PDF 95 KB

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    Purpose of the item: For the Select Committee to review the attached Forward Work Programme and Recommendation Tracker, making suggestions for additions or amendments as appropriate.

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    Minutes:

    The Select Committee noted the Forward Work Programme and Recommendation Tracker.

11.

DATE OF THE NEXT MEETING

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    The next meeting of the Resources and Performance Select Committee will be held on 21 January 2021.

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    Minutes:

    The next meeting of the Resources and Performance Select Committee would be held on 21 January 2021.