Agenda and draft minutes

Corporate Overview and Scrutiny Committee - Thursday, 6th October, 2022 7.00 pm

Venue: Committtee Room 2, CO3, Civic Offices, New Road, Grays, RM17 6SL

Contact: Lucy Tricker, Senior Democratic Services Officer  Email: Direct.Democracy@thurrock.gov.uk

Media

Items
No. Item

7.

Minutes pdf icon PDF 109 KB

To approve as a correct record the minutes of the Corporate Overview and Scrutiny Committeemeeting held on 12 July 2022.

 

The minutes of the Association of South Essex Local Authorities (ASELA) meeting held on 14 July 2022 are attached for the Committee’s information.

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Minutes:

The minutes of the meeting held on 12 July 2022 were approved as a true and correct record.

8.

Declaration of Interests

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Minutes:

There were no interests declared.

9.

Items of Urgent Business pdf icon PDF 224 KB

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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Minutes:

The Vice-Chair informed the Committee that one item of urgent business had been received, which was a briefing note providing an update on the Council’s borrowing. The Vice-Chair asked if any Members had any comments or feedback on the briefing note. Councillor Muldowney questioned what the interest rates would be from the new Public Works Loan Board (PWLB). The Interim Director of Finance replied that the interest rates for PWLB were currently approximately 4.5%, although this could vary. He stated that PWLB could be cheaper than other loans and provided access to a wider market. Councillor Muldowney questioned what the previous interest rate for PWLB used to be. The Interim Director of Finance stated that interest rates for PWLB used to vary between 0.5% and 3.5%. Councillor Muldowney asked if interest rates could rise further, and if this would present additional risk to the Council. The Interim Director of Finance stated that the Council were currently seeking treasury management advice regarding the longer-term interest rates, as the market was no longer stable and remained subject to change. He added that the debt had been initially replaced with PWLB to create breathing space and this approach formed a key part of the intervention. He commented that further detail on PWLB would be brought to the Committee as part of the Quarter 2 Financial report.

Councillor Kent highlighted that the Chancellor’s mini budget had increased the interest rate for local authorities from 3.96% to 5.36%, and queried if Thurrock’s loans had been taken out at the higher, 5.36% rate. The Interim Director of Finance explained that the loan had been taken out at 3.96% interest rate, but rates fluctuated almost daily, so this was subject to change. Councillor Kent asked if any future loans would be granted to Thurrock at the prevailing rate. He stated that the PWLB rate was linked to government bonds, so was liable to fluctuate. He asked if the finance team had undertaken any modelling to predict the level of interest debt repayment. The Interim Director of Finance agreed that the PWLB interest rate could fluctuate, and the process for monitoring this would be agreed through the Medium-Term Financial Strategy (MTFS). He stated that this could increase the level of debt at Thurrock, as approximately £836million of debt was being recycled into PWLB loans at an average 4.3% interest rate, and the finance team would be considering this differential, which could be approximately £20million. Councillor Kent questioned what the process for agreeing PWLB had been. The Interim Director of Finance explained that Thurrock had sought treasury management advice in response to stories in the local and national press, which had led to limited access on the local authority borrowing market. He stated that the intervention had begun on 2 September 2022, and at this point Thurrock had no access to the local authority borrowing market. He explained that the commissioners had worked with Thurrock to find funding and understand the requirements needed to reduce the debt and how  ...  view the full minutes text for item 9.

10.

Financial Update - Quarter 1 2022/23 pdf icon PDF 292 KB

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Minutes:

The Interim Director of Finance introduced the report and stated that it had been written before the intervention had begun, which was why the intervention was only briefly mentioned. He explained that the situation was moving quickly, but the Quarter 2 2022/23 finance report would include more detail on the situation, and would outline any capital loss and wider impacts, for example the Minimum Revenue Position. He stated that the financial position was fluctuating, which meant that there was currently a limited level of certainty, but regular reports would be brought forward to ensure regular monitoring.

The Interim Director of Finance felt that some service pressures within the Council were significant, but the Council and commissioners were working through a variety of solutions to these pressures that could be implemented next year. He stated that in the short-term, there was a pressure to balance the 2022/23 budget, but explained that this had been a challenge before the commissioners had started working with Thurrock. He explained that some of these pressures were being seen at a national level, for example pressures within Adults Social Care and Children’s Social Care, although stated that this pressure was at a lower level compared to previous years. He added that there were also service pressures in areas such as home to school transport and employee cost pressures. He summarised and stated that the commissioners were working with the Council to assess the financial position and the Minimum Revenue Position (MRP).

Councillor Muldowney felt that refinancing debt at a higher interest rate might have implications on services already experiencing budgetary pressures. She asked if other pressures, such as an increase in inflation which was currently at approximately 10%, would affect the Council. She also asked how the Council would cover the cost of rising inflation, as central government had not committed to covering this rise. The Interim Director of Finance explained that central government would be providing a funding indication at the end of October, which would be finalised in December. The Interim Director of Finance added that a service review had started at the beginning of the year, which had identified service pressures and was working to reduce these. He stated that at the beginning of the financial year, there had been a budget gap of £13million, and explained that £9million of funding to bridge this gap had been agreed, and £3million was in the process of being agreed. He explained that the Council were in the process of setting the budget for 2023/24 with the commissioners, although DHLUC needed to fully understand the scale of the problem before they could act. He explained that any savings made needed to be sustainable and deliverable to ensure that statutory services were maintained. He added that the commissioners would be working with Thurrock for three years. Councillor Muldowney questioned how long the issues would take to resolve, as the approximate figure appeared to be 20 years. The Interim Director of Finance explained that the Council, commissioners and  ...  view the full minutes text for item 10.

11.

Digital and Customer Experience Strategy pdf icon PDF 92 KB

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Minutes:

The Director of HR, OD and Transformation introduced the report and explained that this was the first report that combined the digital and customer strategies and outlined the Council’s digital ambitions framework to transform delivery and customer service through digital access. She stated that the report highlighted the four themes within the strategy:

1. Digital Thurrock – to promote growth through technology for residents.
2. Digital Customers - to increase digital access for residents 24/7.
3. Digital Office – to increase efficiency amongst officers using technology.
4. Digital Foundations – to provide reliable infrastructure and security whilst operating online.

The Director of HR, OD and Transformation highlighted 2.3 of the report which stated that the outcome of the strategy was to transform Thurrock and improve digital access. She stated that this strategy also helped meet budget pressures as it would enable efficiencies and maintain services whilst targeting specific resources.

The Vice-Chair thanked officers for the report, but felt concerned that some residents, such as elderly or vulnerable people, would not be able to access online services. He felt pleased to see that the registry office allowed for weddings to be streamed online, and asked how the business plan for the registrars would improve the service. The Director of Strategy, Engagement and Growth replied that the new digital registry office would allow people from across the world to take part in services such as weddings and citizenship ceremonies, and provide a refreshed approach. She stated that this model could be explored in other areas across the Council. Councillor Muldowney stated that a government review in 2019 had found that approximately 10% of the UK were digitally excluded, as some people could not access online services, could not afford broadband, or did not have the training or understanding needed. She asked how these residents would be included in the digital strategy. The Director of HR, OD and Transformation explained that Thurrock had undertaken research into digital exclusion as part of the consultation process for the Health and Wellbeing Strategy. She stated that this strategy would focus on the approach undertaken by the Council, for example by encouraging online self-service but ensuring that alternatives and back-up options were in place for those who could not access the internet. She explained that the strategy would also encourage people to improve their digital ability, as this could improve other areas of their life that now utilised technology more, such as banking. The Director of Strategy, Engagement and Growth added that residents who could not access the internet could call the contact centre, who would help them over the phone or would refer them to the service directly. She added that the new reception in the Civic Offices was open, so residents could use the tablets, direct-dial phones, or speak to the reception staff who would try and help them with their query. She added that the libraries and hubs also contained direct-dial phones to the contact centre.

Councillor Muldowney highlighted page 57 of the report  ...  view the full minutes text for item 11.

12.

Work Programme pdf icon PDF 66 KB

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Minutes:

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