To question Councillor Pollock, Executive Member for Economic Development and Finance, on the operation of services within his portfolio and upcoming issues.
A list of the Executive Member for Economic Development and Finance’s specific portfolio responsibilities is attached.
The Chairman commented that as part of its role of holding the Executive to account for the delivery of Council services it had decided to invite Councillor Pollock to speak to the activities within his portfolio and take questions from the Committee.
The Committee was referred to the list of Councillor Pollock’s responsibilities, as set out on Agenda page 25 and the tabled list of those Council Plan performance indicators that the Executive Member was responsible for.
Councillor Pollock went through his various areas of responsibility and answered the Committee’s questions. During discussion the following points were made:
· Capital Budget Monitoring – Members noted the improved presentation of data but also asked about ways of identifying that capital projects were delivered to specification as well as to budget. It was confirmed that Officers would investigate ways of presenting this information, possibly through more detailed information in the Capital Out-turn report.
· Council Tax Collection – Members welcomed the achievement of a 99.51% collection rate in 2014/15. It was confirmed that this collection rate was the best of any Council in the country.
· Debtors Collection – Members inquired about progress in setting new targets for this performance indicator. It was confirmed that the new Debtor Collection target would be set at 80% and would be monitored from the start of Quarter 3 in 2015/16.
· Rents Collection – Members asked about the 2014/15 Out-turn figure of 102.04%. It was confirmed that this figure included the collection of arrears from the previous financial year.
· Returns on External Investment of Cash – Members asked about the procedure for monitoring external fund managers who were performing below expectations. It was confirmed that the Council invested through an in-house team and through external fund managers. It was confirmed that all investments were monitored closely with any areas of under-performance being followed up.
· Members asked about the management of risk within Councillor Pollock’s portfolio. It was confirmed that various mechanisms were used to forecast and manage risks. The Council’s annual update of the Medium Term Financial Plan included the Chief Finance Officer’s report which carried out horizon scanning on the financial pressures facing the Council. In addition Members received regular Revenue and Capital Monitoring reports. Each service area was also responsible for the development of risk registers which highlighted key risks and their likely financial consequences.
· Members asked about the management of Council investments and the timescales currently in use. It was confirmed that Council investments were currently limited to 12 months. This reflected the current volatility in world financial markets. The timescales were under review and could be increased to 15 months. The state of the market was closely monitored to determine the appropriate length of investment.
Councillor Pollock also gave feedback to the Committee on the recent Public Budget Consultations. As this was the first year of this form of consultation exercise it was considered to be a good start. There had been some teething problems in terms of public notice, venues, etc. and these would be addressed as part of future events. The following points were raised:
· Members asked about the ideas generated by residents attending the events and how such ideas were to be fed into the Budget process. It was important that residents received feedback on the ideas raised and how they were being taken forward. It was confirmed that the feedback from the events was still being evaluated and that any good ideas would be subject to further investigation.
· Members asked about the involvement of Town and Parish Councils in the consultation events and the potential to use the Borough/Parish Liaison Forum as a sounding board. It was confirmed that a number of Town and Parish Councillors had attended the recent events and that ways of strengthening links with the Towns and Parishes would be investigated further.
· Members inquired about the topics included on discussion boards at the events and the need to give clear guidance to residents e.g. the risks and knock-on effects of terminating or reducing a service. It was confirmed that the discussion topics had been generated by individual service areas. Feedback and ideas raised by the Committee would be used to strengthen the Budget Consultation process in 2016/17.
· Members asked about the potential for incentivising residents and Officers to come forward with good ideas to improve services and/or reduce Council expenditure. It was confirmed that this suggestion was worthy of further investigation and would be included in the discussions about the consultation process for 2016.
1) a report be submitted to the January 2016 meeting of the Committee setting out the range of ideas generated through the recent 2015/16 public Budget Consultation meetings;
2) Councillor Pollock be invited to attend the March 2016 meeting of the Committee to discuss plans for the 2016/17 Public Budget Consultation.