Councillor Hebb introduced the
report and explained that the Council ran a number of services
which were operated through the payment of fees and charges. He
stated that this provided a small component of Thurrock’s
spending power and highlighted point 3.3 of the report, which
articulated the questions asked during the review of fees and
charges. Councillor Hebb stated that the Corporate Overview and
Scrutiny Committee had encouraged new lines of enquiry, and this
report showed these enquiries. He described how the team looked at
market considerations when discussing fees and charges, and how
they wanted to ensure that services could be self-sufficient,
particularly during the pandemic.
Councillor Halden stated that the care market was at the heart of the adult social care fees and charges, and these proposed increases would help pressures within the service, as well as protecting the market. He stated that domiciliary care fees had been frozen for the previous four years, and felt that the system had become too reliant on income from other areas and was no longer self-sufficient. He stated that the increase in fees would be phased, and highlighted that the majority of residents would continue paying nothing, or only a proportion, as the system would remain means-tested. He explained that domiciliary care fees would increase from £13.06 to £17 and then to £18 over the course of the next three years, which would mean a 5.8% pay-rise for care providers in 2021/22. He felt this would help to stabilise the market and encourage carers to work for Thurrock Council. Councillor Halden then moved on and discussed the increase in fees in care homes, and explained that the cost would rise from £486 per bed to £532, which would help to boost the market.
Councillor Halden explained that the budget still included a council tax cut for foster carers, which was equivalent to £1600 in a Band D property, as he felt this would encourage more Thurrock residents to become foster carers and reduce the £2million spend on foster agencies. He hoped that this figure would half over the next three years as more residents became approved foster carers. He then explained that Thurrock were the lowest spending unitary authority in terms of adult social care, and the third lowest higher tier authority, which meant that the service was already cost efficient. He stated that there was currently a £1.5million social care fund, as well as a £19million general fund, and as well as the proposed 3% adult social care precept increase, this would help to improve flexibility in the service.
Councillor Watkins replied to the comments made by Councillor Redsell and assured her that he wished to improve sports across the borough, and had been a key priority in his annual Full Council report. He explained that he regularly met with sports teams to discuss their concerns, and this would continue as the sporting strategy developed. He stated that he was aware of the concerns raised by the CGS Committee, but felt that the team had strived to balance fees and charges amongst all areas, whilst making sure that sports clubs could be self-sustaining. He thanked Councillor Redsell for her hard work regarding sports clubs and the Sports Council, as well as for her hard work finding external funding for clubs. He explained that funding could be found in numerous ways, including external grants, and the Council could help clubs fill in these funding application forms. Councillor Redsell agreed that sports clubs could raise money in other ways, such as through external funding, and felt it was good to see some clubs were beginning to find external funding streams. She thanked Councillor Watkins for opening a dialogue with sports clubs, and felt that sports could help young and old people once the pandemic had finished.
Councillor Johnson noted the comments from the Housing Overview and Scrutiny Committee as listed in Appendix 3 of the report, and stated that some recommendations they had made had been taken on board, for example regarding carbon monoxide reports. He explained that the Housing O&S Committee had considered the fees and charges report at their meeting on 19 January 2021, and had accepted that the service charge increase would maintain the current level of services. He felt that the approach outlined in the report was the fairest way as it covered the service cost without stopping some important services running.
The Leader thanked Councillor Redsell for her attendance, and felt pleased to see that a scrutiny Chair had attended a Cabinet meeting. He summarised and stated that some fees and charges were set by central government, such as planning application costs, and hoped that local authorities would be able to set their own rates in these areas soon, as this would promote expansion and improve the local economy.
RESOLVED: That Cabinet:
1. Agreed the proposed fees and charges, including those no longer applicable, as per Appendices 1 and 2.
2. Approved the delegated authority to allow fees and charges to be varied within a financial year, in response to commercial requirement, in consultation with the Corporate Director of Finance, Governance and Property and the relevant Portfolio Holder.
3. Cabinet note the feedback from all Overview and Scrutiny Committee meetings as per Appendix 3.
Reason for decision: as outlined in report.
This decision is subject to call-in.