Agenda item

Review of budget and corporate plan proposals for 2020/21 relating to the remit of the adults and wellbeing scrutiny committee

To seek the views of the adults and wellbeing scrutiny committee on the budget proposals for 2020/21 and on the draft corporate plan as they relate to the remit of the committee.


The chairperson reminded the committee that the budget and corporate plan proposals had been considered initially at the 18 November 2019 meeting of the committee (minute 26 refers) and the purpose of this item was to reconsider the proposals following the conclusion of public consultation.


The chief finance officer presented the report, the principal points included:


1.         The updated corporate plan summary was appended to the report (agenda page 69) and the full corporate plan would be presented to the general scrutiny committee on 20 January 2020.


2.         The public consultation on the priorities for additional investment indicated that a high proportion of respondents supported investment in council-owned care homes or villages (81%), and publicly-owned affordable housing (79%).


3.         51.5% of respondents considered a 4% increase in Council Tax to be ‘about right’ (36.9%) or ‘too little’ (14.6%).


4.         53% disagreed with the allocation of Council Tax as set out in the budget till receipt.  Comments that expressed an opinion mostly said that not enough was allocated to particular services, especially services related to environment and place.


5.         The settlement from government had confirmed the provisional settlement, provided an increase in the revenue support grant (£635k), and confirmed the rural services delivery grant (£5.101m).  This resulted in an updated total net budget (£157.117m).  In addition, the settlement included funding in relation to new homes bonus (£2.2m); this had not be part of the budget assumptions.  Consultation on the settlement would end on 17 January 2020.


6.         The base net budget requirement for adults and communities remained the same (£56.282m).  Increases were identified for corporate services in relation to legal services (£700k) and to meet additional costs of borrowing (£318k) due to an increase in the public works loan board interest rate.


7.         It was clear that this was a one year settlement from government, with further policy announcements and changes expected later in the year.  This would enable Council to set a balanced budget for 2020/21 at its 14 February 2020 meeting.


8.         Work was ongoing on the models for delivering council housing which could lead to an investment of up to £100m in housing in the four years from 2022/23.  The funding from new homes bonus was earmarked to facilitate the delivery of houses.


9.         The 2020/21 assumptions had been adjusted, reflecting a 3.9% increase in Council Tax (1.9% general, 2% adults social care).  It was reported that the improved better care fund (£6.6m) and public health grant (£9.2m) would continue for another year.  It was noted that work was continuing on calculating the impact of the rise in the national living wage, including conversations with providers.


The chairperson invited contributions from the director for adults and communities and the attending cabinet members, the key points included:


i.           The director commented on the budget setting process and on the continuing development of the business cases to support the capital investment proposals.


ii.         The cabinet member - finance and corporate services welcomed suggestions and challenge in order to inform the plans ahead of the meeting of Council.


Comments made by the chairperson included:


·                It was suggested that there should be ongoing involvement of councillors as the business cases progressed.


·                In response to a question, the assistant director all ages commissioning confirmed that the potential for a mix of build and acquisition would be included in scope for the proposed investment in council-owned care homes.


·                The investment in housing was potentially a significant intervention and the involvement of councillors would be useful in order to explore all aspects.


·                The public consultation on the priorities for additional investment clearly identified ‘invest money in developing additional affordable housing stock and retaining it in public ownership’ whereas reference was made in the report to other local authorities ‘developing and managing both affordable housing and open market homes’.  It was suggested that the needs and the right way to meet those needs, in a sustainable way, should be included in scope.


·                Reflecting on the issues of recruitment and retention in the NHS, as discussed earlier in the meeting, and also acknowledging the challenges for social care, it was also suggested that key worker accommodation be included in scope.


·                The public consultation on the priorities for additional investment did not invite any either / or choices, and further engagement could be helpful.


·                In response to a question about paragraph 5 of the report (agenda page 58) and the ‘200 additional new homes above the assumed growth in new homes’, the head of corporate finance confirmed that there had been an actual increase in the tax base of 1.3% which was higher than the forecast of 0.9% in the medium term financial strategy.


The vice-chairperson welcomed the key findings of the public consultation and the updated report.  The vice-chairperson reiterated the need for involvement in the capital investment projects and said that there was also a need to understand more about the social care pooled budget.


The cabinet member - finance and corporate services: emphasised that the capital investment proposals would be subject to individual decisions and consultations, so there would be further opportunities to shape and influence the projects; outlined some of the options in terms of additional affordable housing stock, including rented and shared ownership schemes; said that the council was not looking to compete with housing associations but there was a need to address demand that was not currently being satisfied by the market; and, in terms of the social care pooled budget, a joined up plan for transformational change would be developed.


The director for adults and communities said that: the adults and communities directorate and the children and families directorate were working together to address shared challenges; Talk Community was an all ages programme of work; there were opportunities to upstream support to communities to avoid the need for people to enter care; and there was a need for focus on vulnerable people with complex care needs.


A committee member drew attention to the minutes of the previous meeting on the ‘multi-bedded care home and/or extra care facility’ and noted that the issue of acquisition had not been explored during that debate.  It was questioned whether the acquisition of care homes could: undermine the arguments for the identified facility; limit the funding available for the facility; and represent a conflict of interest with the licensing functions of the authority.  In response, the assistant director all ages commissioning said that: no decisions had been taken at this point and acquisition was an option to be considered, adding that this was about increasing council controlled capacity in a fragile and difficult market, and in locations across Herefordshire; the level of capital investment required to make any particular property fit for purpose would need to form part of any business case; and the high proportion of self-funders in the market meant that that the fees demanded by many providers were not affordable to the council.  In response to a further question, the assistant director confirmed that no approaches had been made to any provider at this point but, as part of the options appraisal, the council was examining whether there were commercially viable properties available. 


The chairperson said that the discussion demonstrated the need to look at the plans at a more developed stage, not necessarily in terms of the committee’s work programme but with general councillor involvement to ensure that there was good understanding of the concepts and opportunities to input ideas.


There was a short adjournment to prepare draft recommendations.  A recommendation suggesting a seminar on workforce pressures was withdrawn.  The resolution below was then agreed by the committee.


Resolved to recommend to general scrutiny committee:


1.       To inform the detailed business cases for the key areas of capital investment and to provide assurance that they are sustainable and represent value for money, the executive be asked to arrange an all members’ seminar to explore the options appraisals.


2.       That the options appraisal for public housing also consider the potential to support key workers with their accommodation needs.


3.       There is further clarification and detail provided on the proposed shared social care pooled budget between the adults’ and children’s directorates when it is available.

Supporting documents: