COMMUNITY SCRUTINY COMMITTEE
16th DECEMBER 2013
(NOTE: THESE MINUTES ARE SUBJECT TO CONFIRMATION BY THE COMMITTEE AT ITS NEXT MEETING)
Councillor D.M. Cundy (Chair)
A.D. Harries, J.K. Howell, J. Owen, G.B. Thomas, J. Thomas, , A.W. Jones, S. Matthews, W.R.A. Davies, H.I. Jones, H.B. Shepardson, E.G. Thomas.
Councillor P. Cooper – Substitute for Councillor S.L. Davies
The following officers were in attendance:
Mr. D. Gilbert – Director of Regeneration & Leisure
Mr. E. Bowen – Head of Planning Services
Mr. N. Davies – Head of European Policy & External Funding
Mr. I. Jones – Head of Leisure & Sport
Mr. C. Moore – Head of Financial Services
Mrs. W. Walters – Head of Economic Development
Mr. J. Morgan – Housing Services Manager
Ms. E. Rees – Group Accountant
Ms. B. Dolan – Senior Consultant
Venue: Chamber, County Hall, Carmarthen (2:00pm – 5:05pm)
Apologies for absence were received from Councillor S.L. Davies.
2. DECLARATIONS OF PERSONAL INTEREST
Item 4 Councillor J.K. Howell declared an interest in that he is a member of the Management Committee for Newcastle Emlyn Swimming Pool
3. DECLARATION OF PROHIBITED PARTY WHIPS
There were no declarations of prohibited party whips.
4. REVENUE BUDGET STRATEGY CONSULTATION 2014/15 TO 2016/17
The Committee considered the current view of the Revenue Budget for 2014/2015 together with indicative figures for 2015/2016 and 2016/2017. The report also reflected departmental submissions on efficiencies over the 3 year period as well as the 2014/2015 charging digest for the relevant services within the Committee’s remit. The Committee was advised that the final settlement had now been received which had provided the Authority with an additional £150k, however the main change within the settlement was down to the inclusion of the Pensioners Council Tax Subsidy Scheme which had previously been funded by specific grant. This year the scheme had cost in the region of £240k.
The following issues were discussed during consideration of the report:
Further detail was requested in relation to the severance scheme. The Head of Financial Services clarified that it was voluntary and that in the region of 600 expressions of interest had been received of which 130 were being supported this financial year subject to viable business cases. The payback for the applications currently being supported was approximately 2 years.
It was asked whether or not schools holding reserves of more than 5% could be subject to claw back. The Head of Financial Services advised that schools were autonomous and, whilst there was guidance and a process for claw back, in the first instance schools had to be given the opportunity to demonstrate how they plan to utilise their balances. School Improvement Officers work with schools to review their balances and proposals.
Additional information was requested regarding the impact of school use on Leisure Services income generation. The Head of Leisure & Sport stated that a former scrutiny task and finish review had calculated the cost of school use as £525k and the report included a proposal to recharge schools for using leisure facilities, as happens in other counties. The Head of Financial Services added that school funding was generally based on pupil numbers and that funding should enable schools to provide the curriculum requirements.
It was asked if other authorities included inflationary factors in their budget strategies given the impact on efficiency targets. The Head of Financial Services stated that some authorities may approach validation in a slightly different manner and not validate inflation however Carmarthenshire’s approach was to validate the budget on known inflation factors such as pay and fuel costs and to make assumptions about any other types of validation. General inflation was estimated at 2.4% for 2014/2015 which equated to £1.7m.
Clarification was requested in relation to which figures related to controllable and non controllable budgets. The Head of Financial Services advised that the efficiency proposals were identified within controllable budgets however Appendix B (i) reported the proposed 3 year service budgets including non controllable costs such as central and departmental recharges. All services, including those recharged, had identified efficiency proposals so, going forward, those recharges would be lower across the board. The Director added that internally apportionment of overhead did not make a difference however it did where services such as building control operated in a competitive environment.
Further information was requested regarding the inclusion of funding for the Pensioners Council Tax Subsidy Scheme in the final settlement and the likely impact going forward. The Head of Financial Services advised that the implications were unclear at the moment however the settlement had provided additional net funding of £150k and expenditure on the scheme was about £240k. The scheme had been introduced 3 years ago, with the entitlement rules changing slightly each year, and this year it was targeted at benefit pensioners entitled to partial Council Tax reduction benefit.
It was asked whether or not the FTE posts identified with managerial efficiency proposals would have an adverse impact on service delivery. The Director noted that there were some concerns about planning services as delivery may become slower however demand was still low. If this increased the additional income generated would support increasing staff resources. Experienced officers were leaving in areas such as conservation however the intention was to develop less experienced officers. Potentially the delegated function from CADW would need to be reviewed in the future. However a highly experienced Development Manager had recently been recruited which would help to mitigate against the impact of the new Planning Act.
A question was asked about the deliverability of the action plan for developing Pembrey Country Park given the financial climate. The Head of Leisure & Sport advised details would be included in the Annual Report to the Committee in April 2014 however a development loan bid would be made for infrastructure improvements needed to help generate additional income going forward. Caravan site fee income had generated approximately £50k over 5 – 6 weeks during the summer however income targets had been missed over the last few years.
Further information was requested about the efficiency proposals within Housing Investment and Re-housing services. The Housing Services Manager advised that Women’s Aid had 2 separate entities operating within the county and grant funding of £55k was being challenged in terms of value for money. They also received funding from other sources in the Authority. Gwalia operated a bond scheme on behalf of the division however it was felt that this could be done in-house at less cost through the homelessness prevention fund and given the success of the Social Lettings Agency.
A question was asked about the efficiency proposal regarding Newcastle Emlyn Sports Centre and Swimming Pool. The Head of Leisure & Sport advised that negotiations were underway with the Management Committee about how the Pool could be managed more efficiently to reduce the subsidy, for example the School used the Pool on an ad-hoc basis rather than by block booking. Given there was little community use of the Sports Centre during the day, it was also proposed to handover daytime use to the School.
It was asked how achievable increased income from Leisure Services was given these days of austerity and if other ways of utilising facilities had been considered. The Head of Leisure & Sport stated that it was necessary to recognise trends and what people wanted. He cited the success of the 365 packaging of family membership for a variety of activities which had increased from 1,700 members to more 5,000. Demands for facilities had also been considered however community use tended to peak in weekday evenings, particularly in relation to sports clubs, whereas daytime demand was limited. Charging structures reflected this.
The proposal to increase mooring fees at Burry Port Harbour was referred to and challenged given the condition. It was suggested that increasing fees could reduce future income if more boats left. The Head of Leisure & Sport felt this was a reasonable view given the ongoing problems with silt in the inner Harbour and the size of the investment needed to tackle the problem at over £200k. He noted that there would not be a material impact if the fees were not increased as proposed.
Concerns were expressed about proposals to increase pitch fees particularly within parks. The Head of Leisure & Sport advised that parks were run by Technical Services and the Committee was being asked to endorse charges in relation to leisure facilities. There was inconsistency and inequity in how different sports clubs were being supported as some received subsidies whilst others were self-financing and sustainable. In response to an additional question about the sports development budget, he clarified that was mainly externally funded and was highly successful in linking 5x60 sports secondary school schemes and Dragon primary level sports with voluntary community activities and targeting gaps. Activity reported through the recent school survey had seen an increase from 29% to 40%.The fund also supported coaching qualifications in the community. The Group Accountant added that grants were also given to sports clubs. The Director noted that proposals within parks had been considered by the Environmental and Public Protection Scrutiny Committee.
4.1 Receive the report.
4.2 To endorse the Charging Digest subject to recommending that the Executive Board refer the proposal to increase mooring fees at Burry Port Harbour back to the Head of Leisure & Sport for re-consideration.
5. FIVE YEAR CAPITAL PROGRAMME 2014/15 TO 2018/19
The Committee considered an initial view of the 5 year Capital Programme together with the potential further funding identified through additional capital receipts, Reserves and the Outcome Agreement Grant to reduce shortfalls in the later years. It was noted that Welsh Government had included £851k for renewal areas in the provisional settlement which had been included without match funding.
The following issues were discussed during consideration of the report:
Further information was requested about the proposal for a new Leisure Centre in Llanelli. The Head of Financial Services advised that there was potential to use Llanelli Joint Venture funds however additional match and external funding was required to meet the total cost. It had therefore not been included in the programme however options would continue to be pursued.
In response to a question about the lack of detail included in the Regeneration capital programme, the Director noted that the programme included completion of existing schemes however funds had been earmarked in the County Regeneration Fund for match funding within the new structural funds. The detailed programme could not be developed until the new regulations were in place.
UNANIMOUSLY RESOLVED to endorse the 5 year Capital Programme.
The Committee unanimously resolved to suspend standing orders to allow the remaining items on the agenda to be discussed.
6. FORTHCOMING ITEMS
The Committee considered the agenda for its next meeting scheduled for the 7th of January, 2014. The Senior Consultant advised that the date was being rescheduled to mid January 2014 to accommodate the inclusion of the HRA Business Plan and Rent Setting Report on the agenda.
UNANIMOUSLY RESOLVED that the report be received.
7. TO SIGN AS A CORRECT RECORD THE MINUTES OF THE MEETING HELD ON THE 11th NOVEMBER, 2013.
UNANIMOUSLY RESOLVED that the minutes of the meeting held on 11th of November 2013, be signed as a correct record.