Agenda and minutes

Corporate Overview and Scrutiny Committee - Thursday, 2nd February, 2023 7.00 pm

Venue: Committee Room 2, Civic Offices, New Road, Grays, RM17 6SL

Contact: Lucy Tricker, Senior Democratic Services Officer  Email:


No. Item


Minutes pdf icon PDF 86 KB

To approve as a correct record the minutes of the Extraordinary Corporate Overview and Scrutiny Committeemeeting held on 29 November 2022.


To approve as a correct record the minutes of the Corporate Overview and Scrutiny Committee meeting held on 8 December 2022.


The minutes of the Association of South Essex Local Authorities (ASELA) meeting held on 15 December 2022 are attached for the Committee’s information.


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The minutes of the extraordinary meeting held on 29 November 2022 were approved as a true and correct record.

The minutes of the meeting held on 8 December 2022 were approved as a true and correct record.


Items of Urgent Business

To receive additional items that the Chair is of the opinion should be considered as a matter of urgency, in accordance with Section 100B (4) (b) of the Local Government Act 1972. To agree any relevant briefing notes submitted to the Committee.

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No items of urgent business had been received.

The Chair explained that one briefing note regarding the Asset Disposals Review and Strategy Update had been received. Councillor Kent stated that the report to Cabinet in July 2022 had proposed disposing of assets worth up to £100m, including scout huts, community halls and other community assets. He asked what the current approach was for disposal, in the context of the Council’s financial crisis, and how these disposals would be recorded. He asked that any future proposed disposals be presented to the relevant overview and scrutiny meeting. The Chair explained that these questions and comments would be sent to the Director for a response.


Declaration of Interests

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There were no interests declared.


Draft General Fund Budget 2023/24 and Medium Term Financial Strategy Update pdf icon PDF 821 KB

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The Acting Director of Finance introduced the report and stated it usually gave Councillors a firm indication of the proposed budget, but highlighted that this report only gave a budgetary indication for this point in time, due to the impact of the S114 notice and the request to government for exceptional financial support (EFS). He stated that the budget position of the Council was still fluctuating and would need reassessment during the 2023/24 financial year. He highlighted appendix 1 of the report, which outlined the Medium-Term Financial Strategy (MTFS) and the request to government for EFS, which had reduced from £184m to £182.5m following further assessment. He explained that the MTFS brought together all elements of the Council’s budget, for example council tax income, inflation, and levels of growth. He added that the Council could be affected by rising costs and inflation, including the rising cost of energy, and growth pressures in Adults and Children’s Social Care. The Acting Director of Finance clarified that £160m of the Council’s deficit stemmed from issues regarding the Minimum Revenue Position (MRP) and investments, but £20m was an operational deficit, which did not include £8m of departmental savings already made. He stated that he would be producing an S25 statement regarding the robustness of the budget and reserves, however the budget remained flexible as the government had not given an indication regarding the level of support they would provide, or the possibility of raising council tax above referendum limits. He confirmed that the proposal of raising council tax above referendum limits had not been included in the budget, as a final position on this had not been decided.

The Acting Director of Finance explained that the committee were being asked to comment on the budget, whilst considering the context of the reliance on government for EFS. He stated that the S25 statement would not be issuable without government intervention and conversations were still ongoing. He added that although the budget was currently not certain, he hoped for a response regarding the levels of council tax, and how this could affect the level of EFS granted, and this would be presented to the appropriate committees when ready.

The Acting Director of Finance highlighted section 3 of the report, which set out his assurances for the budget and the context of the financial situation. He added that separate reports on the Treasury Management and Capital Strategies were also included on the agenda for the meeting, and these would discuss the Council’s debt in more detail. He added that the Council were working to divest investments, which would reduce the MRP charge, and could be critical to the future financial sustainability of the Council. The Acting Director of Finance clarified that Thurrock would be unable to resolve its financial issues without support from central government, but selling investments would help to reduce the need for EFS, and this was understood by central government. He stated that the 2023/24 budget could only be delivered with EFS, and the  ...  view the full minutes text for item 27.


Report of the Cabinet Member for Culture and Communities pdf icon PDF 165 KB

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The Chair agreed to bring forward the report in the agenda.

Councillor Abbas introduced the report and stated that the Council was currently facing difficult financial challenges, so the report needed to be considered in this context. He added that his Portfolio had also been extended and now included the Community Safety Partnership. Councillor Abbas explained that his Portfolio had faced many challenges during the COVID-19 pandemic, but most services had returned to normal in May 2022. He explained that the museum had reopened, and their focus was to digitise their collection by June 2023 and work closely with other local museums to diversify their exhibitions. He stated that the Thameside Theatre required ongoing works due to the life of the building, but the Council had recently increased the seating capacity and undertook maintenance to the vent system. Councillor Abbas clarified that although the Council received grant funding from different organisations for the Thameside Theatre, these were not enough to cover running and maintenance costs.

Councillor Abbas moved on and explained that the Council also ran a Community Led Local Development (CLLD) scheme, which helped to support small and medium enterprises (SMEs) and start-ups in the borough, whilst trying to decrease the level of unemployment. He stated that 1000 SMEs had been contacted as part of the scheme, and 150 residents contacted regarding employment, with 70 of these helped to return to work. He added that he had met with a variety of community groups and voluntary groups during his Portfolio, including those from diverse communities who were harder to reach. He stated that the team had helped link these groups with Council services during the interfaith marketplace which had taken place in the Town Hall. He added that a new Hindu place of prayer had been established within Thurrock, as well as a new Muslim burial site and Gurkha burial site at West Thurrock Cemetery. Councillor Abbas explained that the team had recently been running cost-of-living events to assist residents and businesses with advice and support during the cost-of-living crisis.

Councillor Abbas moved on and stated that the Purfleet Hub had reopened in March 2022 and were now holding classes, had a community fridge and pantry, and a school uniform bank. He thanked officers and volunteers for their hard work at the Purfleet Hub. He added that Grays Library had joined the Library Consortium in April 2022, which allowed members of Grays Library to access 7.3million books, magazines, newspapers, and documents online. He added that Grays Library had also been a deposit for Lower Thames Crossing consultation documents and was now a Barclays Bank hub. He added that in November 2022 libraries had also introduced wi-fi printing and were supporting residents to access mobile phone SIM cards. He added that in March 2023 the public health team would be running a session to upskill the libraries team to ensure better health outcomes for residents.

Councillor Abbas explained that the registrar team had recently moved to the Town Hall, and  ...  view the full minutes text for item 28.


Treasury Management Strategy 2023/24 pdf icon PDF 191 KB

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The Acting Director of Finance introduced the report and stated that three elements of the government directives linked to the Treasury Management Strategy, and these were: the requirement to update the Treasury Management, Capital, and Investment Strategies; the commitment to reduce the MRP linked to debt; and the requirement of an MRP policy refresh. He explained that the Treasury Management Strategy linked to the capital programme, investments, and how the Council could deliver financial sustainability. He stated that the report presented a holding position which was driven by several assumptions outlined on page 2 of the appendix including the request for EFS, asset disposal, and divestment of investments. He explained that borrowing levels were based on these assumptions and outlined the accounting treatments in the past and moving forward. He stated that the report summarised the changes to investment write-down and divestment, and how this strategy would be delivered. The Acting Director of Finance explained that further reports would be brought back to Members as the level of borrowing may need to increase due to changes with investments, EFS and capitalisation directives.

The Acting Director of Finance explained that the Council’s portfolio of investments had been reassessed and a breakdown of these investments was outlined at table 2, including their impairments and full assessment. He stated that all investments were under constant review, and a new committee was being developed to inform Cabinet and the wider investment group. He added that the team were looking into legal actions to help resolve issues, but these could not be outlined until they had been developed further, as they were still in the early stages of discussion.

The Acting Director of Finance highlighted paragraph 42 in the appendix which set out the current issues, assessments, and proposed actions, and formed a key reset of the strategy. He added that the Strategy would drive how the Council managed future risk and would complement the Capital Programme to ensure appropriate resources and financial sustainability. He described how the report also provided historic financial context, such as the replacement of debt with Public Works Loan Board (PWLB) loans. He added that the MRP policy statements also showed how the Prudential Code had developed, and the Council were now compliant. He added that paragraph 76 of the appendix showed the 20-year life of the capitalisation directives, and how cashflow would be managed to enable a reset of debt in the future. He summarised and stated that the team had taken quick action to completely replace and rewrite the Treasury Management Strategy, whilst seeking advice from commissioners and experts, to ensure the Council met the government’s directives and reduced debt as quickly as possible.

The Chair highlighted paragraph 77 of the appendix and asked why the Council had not applied MRP to its capital investments in previous years. The Acting Director of Finance explained that in previous years the MRP had not factored in issues and impairments with assets, such as the solar farm, and therefore the Council  ...  view the full minutes text for item 29.


Capital Bids and Capital Programme Update pdf icon PDF 123 KB

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The Acting Director of Finance introduced the report and stated that an updated version of the paper had been provided to Members, which amended the second paragraph on the first page of the report. He read the updated paragraph verbatim:

The total cost of the draft Capital Programme in 2023/24 is currently projected to be £62.158m, broken down as £37.043m relating to the General Fund and £25.115m relating to the HRA. The HRA capital programme is part funded by borrowing, grants and reserves and the associated revenue costs are managed from within the HRA budget envelope. The General Fund projects require prudential borrowing of £19.859m and the associated revenue impacts are also budgeted.

The Acting Director of Finance explained that the capital programme was currently under review, and the report presented a holding position which was supported by the S114 notice. He stated that the team were currently assessing whether spend on capital programmes should occur, but the Council would not break contractual agreements whilst considering new spend and borrowing. He explained that projects utilising third party funding had more flexibility, for example the school capital programme was grant funded and therefore did not present a wider risk to the Council. He added that a wider piece of work to review the programme and manage spending and borrowing was taking place, and this included removing or reassessing capital programmes. The Acting Director of Finance confirmed that some capital programme projects, such as the Grays underpass and Stanford-le-Hope Interchange, were currently on hold given the current financial context, and these would be reassessed considering the necessity, inflation, and construction costs. He explained that the capital programme would continue to evolve, and more clarity would be presented to Members in further reports. He added that officers were working to increase the transparency of the Capital Programme report and were working on introducing a mechanism for Member feedback.

The Chair highlighted 5.2 of the report and asked how S106 agreements could be used for ‘spend to save’ projects. The Acting Director of Finance explained that some projects, such as new streetlighting, could save the Council money after an initial outlay, for example by using more energy efficient bulbs or having more control over when streetlighting came on and switched off. He stated that grant-funded projects could continue, but all ‘spend to save’ projects would be challenged through Directorate Management Team meetings, the corporate transformation team, and Cabinet. Councillor Kent highlighted appendix two of the report and questioned the proposed river development project. He also questioned why Investment Portfolio ‘spend to save’ project funding increased dramatically between 2023/24 and 2024/25. The Acting Director of Finance replied that he did not have the detail of these projects, and would respond outside of the meeting.

Councillor Kent summarised and felt pleased that the Treasury Management and Capital Programme report had been separated, as this made it easier to understand for Members and residents.

RESOLVED: That the Committee:

1. Noted the charges to the capital programme as  ...  view the full minutes text for item 30.


Coalhouse Fort Update pdf icon PDF 109 KB

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The Assistant Director of Economic Growth and Partnerships introduced the report and stated that Coalhouse Fort was an important heritage asset and believed it was important to maximise its potential for residents and visitors, and preserve the scheduled monument. He stated that Coalhouse Fort had been closed since 2020. He explained that as the Council’s place directorate evolved, it was an opportune moment to consider the Coalhouse Fort, and this would begin with a review and updating of the maintenance and health safety plans. He added that the Council were also planning to undertake a wider review and condition survey for the Fort, and would consider different management options. The Assistant Director of Economic Growth and Partnerships stated that the individual tasks needed to be undertaken for the Fort were outlined in the report, which included a feasibility study, but this would be dependent on, and in the context of the IRP and S114 notice, cost and funding.

Councillor Carter highlighted that a refreshed condition survey would be undertaken, and asked for the timescales for this piece of work. The Assistant Director of Economic Growth and Partnerships stated that they would begin to explore this work over the next three to four months, and a steering group would be put in place, which would be formed of local interest groups and other interested parties. He stated that this was subject to costs, funding, and the IRP, but would hopefully run for six to twelve months. Councillor Kent highlighted the table in the report which listed potential members of the steering group, which did not include local community groups and sought reassurance that they would be included. Councillor Kent added that the process for local community bids could take some time, as the Thameside community bid process had now been ongoing for twenty months. The Assistant Director of Economic Growth and Partnerships explained that community bids for the site had already been received, and the list of steering group members in the report were examples and this would be expanded to include local community groups. Councillor Kent questioned how the Council had advertised for local community bids, and if advertising would continue. The Assistant Director of Economic Growth and Partnerships explained that a process would be developed through the feasibility study and options study to ensure all interested parties had the opportunity to submit a local community bid if they wished. He added that local groups and forums would also be included through consultation as part of the new Cultural Strategy.

Councillor Arnold questioned the outcome if the health and safety and maintenance costs of Coalhouse Fort were too high for the Council. The Assistant Director of Economic Growth and Partnerships replied that if this were the case, the Council would look at other funding opportunities, for example from Natural England, Historic England, and the Lower Thames Crossing. He added that the Council had already received interest from local groups and private individuals to take over the site, and these would  ...  view the full minutes text for item 31.


Work Programme pdf icon PDF 68 KB

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Members did not have any items to add to the Work Programme.