This report provides an update to the Joint committee on the financial position of Orbis.
1. The Committee considered a report by Nigel Manvell (Deputy Chief Finance Officer Brighton & Hove City Council), Kevin Foster (Chief Operating Officer East Sussex County Council), Leigh Whitehouse (Executive Director of Resources Surrey County Council) which highlighted:
a) The Quarter 1 position, previously reported to the three partner authorities, which shows a £965k overspend, in part due to pausing of planned restructures during the pandemic
b) Past performance in over-delivery of savings, with 2020/21 being year 2 of a three year plan
c) Targeting of support to IT and Agile programmes, to enable staff to work flexibly during the pandemic, and supporting suppliers and their payments, and ensuring payroll continues to operate
d) Some targets had been set at an ambitious level, based on traded services and process automation, neither of which have been achievable during the pandemic
e) Surrey and East Sussex have major financial system replacement programmes under way, which are a large factor in delivery of future efficiencies and savings
2. The Committee asked questions about:
a) Whether Business Operations savings targets are achievable
b) Spend on Agency staff, and the patterns across the authorities
c) Traded services
d) Increased expenditure on staff during the pandemic, and whether that could be set against Government Covid-19 related funds
e) Staffing cost figures shown in table 2
3. Officers responded
a) Business Services is developing proposals to meet its savings target, with stricter control on recruitment and strategic oversight of vacancies. Further savings may come with service implications: any options and proposals will be developed together with the potential impacts and be presented to the Committee before any determination by each partner authority. The new finance systems are due to come online in 2022/23 and 2023/24.
b) Spending on agency staff is being managed down, with a reduction on spend to cover vacancies. The remaining area of spend is mainly project-based to cover increased demand, much of it IT related with niche and specialist staff. Monthly figures are provided to the officer team to monitor and challenge the position, and Orbis is not an outlier.
c) Focus has been on serving the three partner authorities rather than expanding traded services, with the re-procurement of the finance systems as a factor, as it is an intensive process. There would be a risk of focus on the traded service impacting on delivery of the change programme. The correct pricing structure, to ensure the balance of risk, would need to be assessed. There is also a risk under-performing and impacting on the quality of the service provided and exposure to claims. The service is looking to a future growth agenda with longer term gains rather than short term activity.
d) The Government’s Covid-19 funding did not match the expenditure, but the Finance Teams are overseeing that transactions are coded correctly to ensure that all claims are accurate.
e) Staffing costs show an impact of the pandemic, with increased agency spend during the quarter which will not occur in future quarters. The spend profile needs analysis and can be affected by vacancy rates, and finance managers meet regularly with budget holders. Quarter 1 saw unusual patterns of spend, with staff covering colleagues who were isolating and savings initiatives being put on pause.
1. The Committee noted the report and
2. agreed to consider proposals for any future savings, ahead of them being presented to partner authorities.