Lleoliad: Siambr y Cyngor, Y Pafiliynau, Parc Hen Lofa'r Cambrian, Cwm Clydach, Tonypandy CF40 2XX
Cyswllt: Sarah Handy- Graduate Scrutiny Officer 01443 424099
In accordance with the Council’s Code of Conduct, there were no declarations made pertaining to the agenda.
Apologies of absence were received from County Borough Councillors M. Diamond, A. Davies-Jones and S. Rees-Owen.
It was RESOLVED to approve the minutes of the XXXX as an accurate reflection of the meeting.
The Graduate Scrutiny Research Officer provided the Committee with the decision of Cabinet following the pre scrutiny opportunity undertaken by the Finance & Performance Scrutiny Committee in respect of the RCT Draft Employment Strategy and Action Plan 2019/21.
Members were reminded that by receiving the Cabinet Decision Notice Members are able to view the feedback of the Cabinet to the pre scrutiny opportunity, which will further strengthen the scrutiny process. The Graduate Scrutiny Officer emphasised that the two way process fosters greater engagement between Scrutiny and the Cabinet, therefore enabling Scrutiny to see the benefits of its pre scrutiny opportunities on the key policy decisions of the Council.
Following discussion, Members RESOLVED to acknowledge the content of the Cabinet Decision Notice in response to the pre scrutiny work undertaken by the Finance & Performance Scrutiny Committee in respect of the RCT Draft Employment Strategy and Action Plan 2019/21.
The Graduate Scrutiny Officerr referenced the consultation links, which were available through the ‘RCT Scrutiny’ website. Members were reminded that Information is provided in respect of relevant consultations for consideration by the Committee, which are circulated on a monthly basis.
Councillor M. Norris (Cabinet Member for Corporate Services) provided an overview of the portfolio responsibilities.
Accountancy Services and Performance and Resources:-
Under this area, the Cabinet Member set out the key priorities for 2019/20, including the delivery of robust in-year financial management and reporting arrangements; maintaining and refreshing the Council’s Medium Term Financial Plan; provision of robust financial management support to key projects; modernisation of the service through the application of up to date digital technology and agile working; and working with services to improve performance management arrangements.
In respect of agile working, the Chair sought clarification on the timescales for further roll out. The Cabinet Member fed back that positive progress had been made to date and the Council is committed to further roll out across the Council, the timescales for which would be informed by lessons learned from the work undertaken to date.
Discussions ensued in respect of agile working and Councillor J. Williams highlighted that the use of agile working may not be as effective in some areas and could potentially have a detrimental impact on staff in the longer term, for example, through less face to face contact with team members. The Cabinet Member acknowledged this and fed back that each area needs to be assessed on an individual basis to determine the service and staff impacts and is an approach that is being applied within the Council.
Councillor Yeo commented that agile working will help the Council in its aim to become more efficient and supported the work that the Council has undertaken to date in this area.
Pensions, Procurement and Transactional Services
The Cabinet Member advised the Committee in respect of the key priority areas for 2019/20 and updated Members in respect of the main areas of progress. This included the Local Government Pension Fund; the consequences of the implementation of the UK Government’s welfare reform agenda within the Benefits Service; maximising information technology to improve service performance and customer access; and procurement advice and support in the delivery of strategic projects.
Discussions ensued and the Chair raised a query in respect of fossil fuel and ethical investments. The Cabinet Member advised the Committee that the Local Government Pension Scheme is not a function of the Executive and fed back that the Fund is committed to a responsible approach to investment, as set out within its published governance documents, and updates are reported regularly to the Pension Fund Committee.
In respect of Council Tax, Non-Domestic Rates and Benefits Speed of Processing, the Cabinet Member informed the Committee that performance was on or ahead of target for each of these areas. The Chair sought clarification in respect of non-domestic business rates and the Service Director advised that this area has been fully devolved to the Welsh Government whereby local authorities collect business rates, the money collected is paid into a national pool administered by Welsh Government and then redistributed to local authorities each year as part of the local government settlement. The Service Director added ... view the full Cofnodion text for item 45.
The Head of Finance: Education and Financial Reporting provided the Committee with an overview of the Council’s Treasury Management activity during the first six months of the financial year 2019/20 and the Prudential and Treasury Indicators for the same period.
The Head of Finance explained the report provides Members with the opportunity to scrutinise the six month activity that was reported to Council on 27th November 2019.
Members were provided with an overview of the general economic environment and were informed that the Bank of England Monetary Policy Committee has maintained the Bank Rate at 0.75% throughout this financial year.
The Head of Finance advised Members that the Council undertook borrowing from the PWLB of £80M when rates had fallen to record lows. The Head of Finance also informed Members that following this, the PWLB raised rates by 1%.
The Head of Finance advised Members that Welsh Government has amended the statutory guidance on Local Government Investments to ensure that risks associated with commercial investments are managed appropriately and noted that the new guidance takes effect from April 2020.
The Head of Finance advised the Committee that no variance is currently being projected for net capital charges, which have a budget for 2019/20 of £18.9M. It was emphasised to Members that this is being achieved despite the challenges faced with investment income and maintaining the Council’s low risk strategy.
Members were advised that during the six months to the 30th September 2019, the Council operated within its prudential limits as set out in the Prudential Code report approved by Council in March 2019.
Members were also reminded that the Council’s borrowing activity is within its Authorised Limit, nothing that the Authorised Limit represents the limit beyond which borrowing is prohibited.
Discussions ensued and Members put their questions forward.
Councillor Cullwick queried what effect a 0.5% Bank of England base rate would have on the Council. The Head of Finance advised Members that if the base rate decreases, the return on the Council’s investments would decrease proportionally. The Head of Finance added that there would not be a significant impact on the Council’s investment income as the strategy has been to reduce investments of surplus cash.
The Vice Chair referred the Committee to paragraph 4.4 of the report and queried how the UK Consumer Price Index (CPI) compares with the CPI in RCT. The Service Director- Finance & Improvement Services informed Members that the UK CPI rate is used as a baseline and that where costs differ locally, these are taken account of, for example, as part of the annual budget setting process. The Service Director added that there is not an all-encompassing local CPI rate for Rhondda Cynon Taf.
A further query was raised by Councillor Powell in respect of the unemployment rate of 3.9% in the UK and he sought clarification as to the unemployment rate in RCT. The Service Director- Finance & Improvement Services advised Members that employment statistics are included within the Council’s quarterly Performance Reports and ... view the full Cofnodion text for item 46.
With the aid of a PowerPoint presentation the Service Director – Finance and Improvement Services provided Members with an overview of the:
• 2020/21 Draft Revenue Budget Strategy;
• Council’s Current Financial Position (2019/2020);
• Phase 1 Budget Consultation – Headlines;
• Provisional Local Government Settlement 2020/2021 – Headlines and Implications for RCT; and
• Phase 2 Budget Consultation.
The Service Director indicated that the overview provided the opportunity for the Committee to pre-scrutinise the draft Revenue Budget Strategy proposals for 2020/21 and also that the views of the Committee would be fed back to Cabinet at its meeting in February 2020 and incorporated into the Revenue Budget Strategy report presented to full Council in March 2020.
Members noted the overview and discussions ensued.
The Vice Chair referred Members to page 61 of the report and queried if the RCT rate of inflation differed from the Consumer Price Index (CPI) rate of inflation. The Service Director indicated that there is not an all-encompassing RCT rate of inflation and explained that the Council uses the CPI rate as a ‘starting point’ and the budget setting process takes account of local inflationary factors that impact on the cost of service delivery in Rhondda Cynon Taf, for example, changes in energy and food costs.
A further query was raised by Councillor Cullwick in respect of the increase in Welsh Government’s Social Care Workforce and Sustainability Pressures Grant from £30Million to £40Million at an all Wales level for 2020/21. The Service Director confirmed that this funding is used to fund the Council’s core base budget and the indicative allocation to the Council was £3.4Million.
Discussions continued and the following Budget Consultation questions were put to Members in order to obtain the Committee’s feedback.
In respect of Council Tax, Members were asked whether they agreed with the increase of 2.85% for the next financial year. Overall, the majority of Members agreed with this increase; however, the Chair queried the difference between the majority of respondents in the Phase 1 consultation process agreeing to a 3% increase and the Council’s proposal to increase by 2.85%. The Service Director fed back that overall 85% of respondents in the phase 1 consultation process supported a 3% or less increase and the draft strategy has taken this information into account together with the better than anticipated provisional settlement level from Welsh Government in proposing a lower Council Tax level.
Discussions ensued and Councillor Cullwick queried whether the United Kingdom General Election in December 2019 had impacted on the information included within the phase 1 budget consultation process or information fed back by respondents. The Director of Legal Services fed back that the Council’s phase 1 consultation process provided opportunity for consultees to feedback their views on the key strategic building blocks of the Council’s budget for 2020/21 and noted that it commenced on 21st November 2019, prior to the United Kingdom General Election result, and closed on the 16th December 2019, the same day as the provisional ... view the full Cofnodion text for item 47.
Adolygiad y Cadeirydd a dod â'r cyfarfod i ben
The Chair thanked everyone for attending and for a positive response in respect of the items considered today and the recommendations taken forward.
The Chair reminded Members that the next meeting will be held on the 24th March 2020 at 5pm and includes:-
· Otr 3 Performance Report;
· Pre-scrutiny of the new draft Digital Strategy;
· Council Corporate & Service Self Assessments; and,
· Corporate Asset Management Plan (Information Report Only)