Agenda and draft minutes
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In welcoming everyone to the meeting, the Chairman explained which officers were in attendance. He advised that, due to changes in political groups, Councillors Richard Darby and Bill Tatton no longer sat on the Committee and that Councillor Corrie Woodford had replaced Councillor Tatton on the Committee.
To approve the Minutes of the Meeting held on 17 June 2021 (Minute Nos. 76 - 81) as a correct record.
The Minutes of the Meeting held on 17 June 2021 (Minutes Nos. 76 -81) were taken as read, approved and signed by the Chairman as a correct record.
Declarations of Interest
Councillors should not act or take decisions in order to gain financial or other material benefits for themselves or their spouse, civil partner or person with whom they are living with as a spouse or civil partner. They must declare and resolve any interests and relationships.
The Chairman will ask Members if they have any interests to declare in respect of items on this agenda, under the following headings:
(a) Disclosable Pecuniary Interests (DPI) under the Localism Act 2011. The nature as well as the existence of any such interest must be declared. After declaring a DPI, the Member must leave the meeting and not take part in the discussion or vote. This applies even if there is provision for public speaking.
(b) Disclosable Non Pecuniary Interests (DNPI) under the Code of Conduct adopted by the Council in May 2012. The nature as well as the existence of any such interest must be declared. After declaring a DNPI interest, the Member may stay, speak and vote on the matter.
(c) Where it is possible that a fair-minded and informed observer, having considered the facts would conclude that there was a real possibility that the Member might be predetermined or biased the Member should declare their predetermination or bias and then leave the meeting while that item is considered.
Advice to Members: If any Councillor has any doubt about the existence or nature of any DPI or DNPI which he/she may have in any item on this agenda, he/she should seek advice from the Monitoring Officer, the Head of Legal or from other Solicitors in Legal Services as early as possible, and in advance of the Meeting.
No interests were declared.
The Committee is asked to consider the Financial Management Report – Financial Outturn Report 2020/21.
The Chairman thanked and acknowledged the former Chief Financial Officer who recently left Swale Borough Council (SBC) and welcomed the Head of Finance and Procurement. The Leader and Cabinet Member for Finance joined the Chairman in his thanks of the former Chief Financial Officer.
The Leader and Cabinet Member for Finance introduced the report which outlined the revenue and capital outturn position of the Council for 2020/21, and he advised that the report had been agreed at Cabinet and the outturn position discussed at the Policy, Housing and Finance Cabinet Advisory Committee.
The Leader and Cabinet Member for Finance drew attention to the headline figures at paragraph 1.3 on page 6 of the report and highlighted the overspend due to the Covid-19 pandemic. He acknowledged that whilst SBC had been well-funded from Government grants during the pandemic, as shown at tables 4 and 5, going forward the Government might not be as financially supportive. He said that Cabinet had agreed that the £1.3m underspend would be allocated to a Covid Recovery Fund.
Drawing attention to the underspend in shared services, the Leader and Cabinet Member for Finance said that officers would be looking at whether spending could be more easily predicted.
The Leader and Cabinet Member for Finance referred to the lower than forecast business rates and council tax income received in 2020/21.
The Chairman thanked to all SBC staff, giving particular praise to the staff who had administered grants during the pandemic. The Chief Executive praised the work of staff throughout a challenging year.
Members asked questions and made general comments including:
· Clarification on what the net other items (£57k) were;
· more detail on loss of income on Garden Waste Collection on Table 1;
· which budget did the Barton Hill, Minster litigation costs come out of?
· clarification on CCTV underspend on Table 1;
· more detail on the underspend on community halls;
· did SBC get any money back from spending if there were legislative changes?;
· would SBC receive any money to offset the loss of income from the leisure centres during the Covid-19 pandemic?;
· would SBC be able to recover historic debts from Council Tax?; and
· clarification on the unrecovered costs on the Network Rail Scheme in the Sittingbourne Regeneration project.
In response, the Leader and Cabinet Member for Finance said that the litigation costs for Barton Hill Drive would come out of the General Fund which would impact on reserves. The Chief Executive advised that if there were significant changes to legislation then funding would be given. The Head of Environment and Leisure said that a one-off payment from the National Lottery of £375k had been received for loss of income from the leisure centres. He also said that there was no loss of income on garden waste and the Council had achieved more income than budgeted. The Head of Finance and Procurement advised that historic Council Tax payment debts would remain and would look to be recovered in the future. He explained that the unrecovered costs from Network ... view the full minutes text for item 169.
Utilities - verbal update
The Chairman referred to a previous visit to a Scrutiny Committee meeting by a representative from SGN in February 2019, who had given an interesting and informative presentation to Members about projects in Swale. The Chairman suggested that other utility companies could be invited to attend to share future plans in Swale in a positive way, not to critique.
In the discussion that followed, the recent pollution court case involving Southern Water was raised. A Member spoke about the provisions and responsibilities of the Civil Contingencies Act 2004. The Chief Executive advised that she met quarterly with Southern Water.
Members were supportive of inviting utility companies to attend a Scrutiny Committee meeting and suggested Southern Water, BT Open Reach and other power networks.
The Chairman said he would work with officers to invite utility companies to attend a future meeting.
The Committee is asked to consider the Forward Plan with a view to identifying possible items for pre-decision scrutiny.
The Chairman advised that due to a recent change in staff since the Forward Plan had been published, some Lead Officers had now changed. The Chief Executive advised that the interim replacement for Anne Adams was Jeremy Pilgrim.
A Member asked why the Master’s House item was not on the Forward Plan?
The Chief Executive advised that written responses to questions unable to be answered at the meeting would be provided.