The Corporate Director –
Finance, Governance and Property introduced the report and stated
that it was the final financial update for the 2020/21 financial
year, and reflected previous reports. He explained that Corporate
Overview and Scrutiny had the overall remit to look at the budget,
but specific service issues would be scrutinised by the relevant
overview and scrutiny committee. He then highlighted the table at
section 4 of the report, which showed the impact of COVID-19 on
various services, and explained that COVID-19 had cost the Council
approximately £17million in increased expenses and reduced
income. He stated that the Council had received £14.2million
in government grants, and a further £2.1million towards the
furlough scheme and income compensation scheme. He explained that
some services had underspent this year, but some services had seen
service pressures, such as Children’s social care which had
seen an increased number of high need placements. The Corporate
Director Finance, Governance and Property summarised and stated
that the Council were currently predicting a breakeven position,
but had had to use surpluses to achieve this, and had therefore
removed any future surpluses.
The Chair stated that the Committee had regularly reviewed and debated the financial position of the Council, but felt pleased to see new information pertaining to detailed service level spend and their outturns, as it was good to see individual service pressures. He highlighted page 73 of the agenda regarding the Children’s social care overspend of £851,000, and the Children and Family Services overspend of £1.5million, and questioned whether these were driven by placement costs. He stated that although the Children’s Overview and Scrutiny Committee would look at this in detail, he questioned how this position was being managed, and sought assurance that the Council was providing a quality service whilst also getting best value for money. The Corporate Director of Finance, Governance and Property responded that the children’s services team was being challenged on their finances both internally and externally. He stated that the children’s finance team had been strengthened in terms of numbers and seniority to check and challenge the children’s services and procurement teams. He added that the service also held weekly placement meetings with the Corporate Director, who was very hands on with placements, and other senior officers to ensure these were monitored. He stated that there was also a regular independent review of placements, from other officers within the wider directorate. He explained that the communications team were also running regular campaigns to increase the number of Thurrock foster carers, which reduced the need for more expensive external foster care agencies.
The Chair highlighted point 6.5 of the report and questioned whether the recruitment freeze would lead to an increase in the need for expensive agency staff. The Corporate Director Finance, Governance and Property responded that 90% of all current posts which were being recruited came from the Adult Social Care and Children’s Social Care teams, as these were seen as essential posts. He explained that social workers were often from agencies, but the team had managed to reduce this to 30 agency social workers. He described how the £4million vacant post savings would be measured by the gross salary level of employees against the entire employee budget, which included both internal and agency staff members. He summarised and stated that the Council were still on track to deliver the £4million vacant post savings, and had reduced agency costs from £11-12million in recent years to circa £7.5million.
RESOLVED: That the Committee:
1. Commented on the MTFS and the forecast outturn position for 2020/21.