Purpose of the item:For the Select Committee to receive an update from the Cabinet Member for Corporate Support and Cabinet Member for Finance on their priorities and objectives for the year ahead.
The Chairman informed the Committee and those present at the meeting that there had been an accident on the M25 and therefore a number of attendees were running late including the Cabinet Member for Corporate Support and Vice-Chairman.
Declarations of interest:
Dr Zully Grant-Duff, Cabinet Member for Corporate Support
Mr Mel Few, Cabinet Member for Finance
Leigh Whitehouse, Executive Director of Resources
Key points raised during the discussion:
1. The Vice-Chairman started with questioning asking the Cabinet Member for Finance the following questions: what his top three priorities for the year ahead were, what his greatest areas of concern were within his portfolio, how these concerns would be tackled and finally how the Cabinet Member would work with the Cabinet Member for Corporate Support going forward. The Cabinet Member for Finance started by saying that the main area of focus for him was the budget and delivering the savings plan of £100m, which included £80m for transformation plans and £20m for operational budgets. The second focus was the delivery of capital projects and the third focus would be working to have a regular cash flow presented. Property was included as a priority and specifically how the council develop and dispose of properties and ensure property is aligned with service requirements. Staffing in property would also need attention.
2. The Cabinet Member for Finance explained that the Cabinet Member for Corporate Support was responsible for the daily running of council property whilst he was responsible for the Capital side of property. The Cabinet Member for Corporate Support was also responsible for agile working, IMT and transforming Orbis.
3. A Member queried how the Cabinet Member for Finance was involved with the development and disposal of property assets alongside services. The Cabinet Member for Finance explained that services were responsible for setting their own property agendas and property requirements were forwarded from the service to the property team for actioning. All capital investments come forward on an investment proposal which have a payback analysis.
4. The Chairman queried to what degree property savings had been separated out from operational savings and if there were savings targets for the property function. The Executive Director of Resources explained that the MTFP was currently being refreshed for the next four years and targets would be coming forward from savings flowing from the assets and place strategy which was agreed by Cabinet earlier in the year. These savings would be counted against property. To date there are some examples where service changes include some property savings which are being tracked to ensure they are being delivered. It was added that the council would be operating a corporate landlord model as part of the assets and place strategy which would require close collaboration between the service and property. Services would also be asked to develop property strategies over the next five years which sets out there service requirements going forward.
5. It was confirmed that service property strategies would focus on delivering service outcomes within financial envelopes rather than purely just being about delivering savings. The Cabinet Member for Finance added that each service now has a budget envelope to operate within.
6. A Member queried what benchmarks would be used to evaluate the property we have or look to acquire. The Cabinet Member for Finance explained that there were two elements in property which included Halsey Garton Property Investments which was set up to drive additional revenue to support council services. CBRE as the council’s property advisors identify properties on market and there is a vigorous programme to identify those which will bring in an appropriate return on investment. On the internal side which deals with the council’s property portfolio, there is an assessment process as part of the capital expenditure programme which looks to see if the property meets the service requirements and delivers service objectives.
7. The Cabinet Member for Finance confirmed that there was vigorous criteria in place to ensure properties are generating income as with Halsey Garton Property Investments through the Strategic Investment Board. A committee Member queried if properties would be rejected if they no longer met the council’s objectives. The committee were assured that each property would be assessed as explained in the assets and place strategy and then either disposed of or used to generate income.
8. It was queried whether the council paid business rates on empty buildings. The Cabinet Member for Finance stated that he did not have this information available to hand but would provide the Member asking with this information.
9. A Member of the Committee queried if there was a process in place to monitor capital investments, such as an investment re-appraisal process. The Member was of the view that this was something the council should be undertaking rather than leaving to external consultants. The Cabinet Member for Finance explained that with Halsey Garton he does this re-appraisal himself. With internal property, this was a new process which audit were looking through. The Executive Director of Resources added that the Cabinet Member for Finance had been a driving force in making sure investment property was making a return. For the capital programme, work was being done to widen out how capital projects were being monitored, with delivery and outcomes being at the forefront.
10. The Chairman commented that the returns from Halsey Garton were modest, further questioning what had changed culturally with regards to finance reporting. The Cabinet Member for Finance stated that Cabinet Members were now taking personal responsibilities for their budgets and that he would be meeting with them every month to go through performance appraisals and discuss any issues with their budgets. This approach was supported by the Leader. The Executive Director of Resources added that CIPFA (Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy) had visited the authority and were clear that the relationship between finance and managers had not been working well. The finance improvement programme has led to the development of the partnership protocol which is jointly produced by finance and managers and sets out how finance and managers will work together. This could be shared with the committee in the autumn.
Dr Zully Grant-Duff, Cabinet Member for Corporate Support arrived at 10:40
11. It was agreed for the Committee to consider Item 5 and then return to this item later to consider the Cabinet Member for Corporate Support’s priorities.
12. The Cabinet Member for Corporate Support explained that her overarching priorities were interlinked and impacted numerous services. She went onto say that her top three priorities were to ensure there was an IT and digital strategy in place by October 2019, improve the customer experience enabling residents to self-serve and create an agile workforce.
13. A Member queried if the workforce were supportive of agile working and if lessons around agile working/IT could be taken from other councils. The Cabinet Member for Corporate Support stated that agile working was a work in progress and that the council needed to increase the pace of digitisation and technology integration. The council was moving towards Windows 10 and staff had been surveyed about equipment they need to perform and progress in their roles. Discussions had also started to take place with IT around preparations required for agile working and PPDC would be receiving regular reports on the impacts of agile working on the workforce.
14. It was queried what the desk to staff ratio was as part of the agile working programme. The Executive Director explained that the assumption was that the council would move to an aggressive desk ratio and this would be dependent on which building what chosen as the civic heart. Studies of desk utilisations had taken place in council buildings and the Executive Director was of the opinion that the biggest challenge would be the culture change for staff.
15. A Member asked what financial implications were attached to agile working. The Executive Director stated that there was a workstream within the moving closer to resident’s project which would be investigating costs associated with agile working.
16. A Member flagged that only 3% of the workforce had declared a disability and asked if there was anything more that could be done to attract people with disabilities to work for the council. It was agreed that the Director for HR & OD could provide more information around these figures.
17. It was argued that virtual meetings should be at the forefront of agile working and it was important that staff role modelled these technologies.
18. It was queried what timeframes had been set to help accelerate the digitisation process. The Cabinet Member for Corporate Support stated that for each transformation programme which the digital project is part off, a timeline including aspirations are in place which officers are working too. The Chairman stated that it would be helpful to understand the key tasks associated with each transformation project. This would be an item for consideration by the committee in October and December.
19. With regards to Orbis, Members were informed by the Executive Director that a decision in principle had been made across all three Orbis partners that HR and finance would return as sovereign Surrey functions. Any centres of expertise within finance would remain within the partnership. There is an agreement that all partners would have their property functions returned to them but integration in this area would be explored.
20. The Chairman invited the Cabinet Member for Corporate Support to pension board meetings explaining that the pension service was experiencing challenging times. The Cabinet Member for Corporate Support said that she was receiving regular reports from the service on the pension’s improvement plan.
21. Work was being undertaken to revisit the method for distributing cost across the Orbis partnership by all three partners which is due to report back to the Orbis Joint Committee in October.
22. The Chairman was of the view that the current year procurement plan should be shared with the Committee. There is an attempt to involve Cabinet early in the procurement process and hence the development of the procurement forward plan.
That the Resources and Performance Select Committee:
I. receive an update at each of its formal meetings from the Cabinet Member for Corporate Support and Cabinet Member for Finance on priorities and work undertaken,
II. to be provided with the specific project targets and timescales in relation to each transformation programme within the Committee’s remit at its October and December meetings.