Agenda and minutes
Venue: Council Chamber - Town Hall, Maidenhead
Apologies for Absence
To receive any apologies for absence.
Apologies for absence were received from Councillor Targowski, Councillor Haseler attended as a substitute.
To receive any declarations of interest.
There were no declarations of interest received.
To consider the minutes of the meeting held on 25th September 2019.
RESOLVED UNAMIOUSLY; That the minutes of the meeting held on 25th September 2019 were approved as a true and accurate record.
To consider the report.
ACTION – The Chairman amended the agenda by bringing item 5: CIPFA Review, to the top of the list of items considered by the Panel.
Councillor Hilton introduced the report and explained that when he became the Lead Member for Finance, he raised concerns about financial monitoring, and as a result agreed with the Managing Director to invite CIPFA to conduct an internal review. The report was commissioned by both the administration and the Managing Director.
Duncan Sharkey, Managing Director, said that there were concerns about financial governance and that CIPFA were asked to focus on one capital project but other wider concerns were found.
Peter Robinson, from CIPFA, explained that CIPFA aimed to promote good financial practise in the public sector. The report set out the initial snapshot findings from an independent six day piece of work carried out by CIPFA approximately twelve weeks ago. Following this, work continued examining the overall arrangements for financial governance within the authority. The work was still ongoing and therefore a final report would not be completed and published until the end of the financial year. While some issues had been identified, these could change as the report enters its second phase. However, Peter Robinson said that he believed improvements were already being made.
The Panel were informed that financial monitoring was the responsibility of everyone within the Council and that an appropriate level of reserves should be set to manage the authorities risks.
Peter Robinson explained that medium term financial plan informed the level at which council tax was set and the long term financial planning of the authority. There was usually a five year plan in place and further work would be carried out in this area.
RBWM’s financial monitoring report said that reserves were deemed to be adequate, but it was noted that compared to other unitary authorities they were low. In 2018, Wokingham Borough Council had around £82 million worth of reserves, while for RBWM the level was under £10 million. This therefore meant that RBWM was more susceptible to financial shocks.
There were a few issues with the Treasury Management Strategy, as it did not comply with the Code of Practise and was inadequate as it did not set out the Council’s borrowing intentions and risks clearly.
In regards to capital monitoring, CIPFA had highlighted that no slippages were reported during the year but by the end of the year it was reported £23 million worth of slippage had occurred, which was a significant amount. Working with the Lead Member they were looking at introducing quarterly capital monitoring reports.
Peter Robinson reiterated that CIPFA had been asked to look at a capital project in Dedworth and that the findings were Ultra Vires. There was no suggestion that a criminal offence had been committed but good governance had not been adhered to. That said, the works carried out were appropriate and provided benefit to residents.
The Chairman asked for clarification of the term used Ultra Vires. He was informed ... view the full minutes text for item 33.
To review the financial update report considered by Cabinet on 26th September 2019.
The Lead Member for Finance introduced the Financial Update report that had been considered by Cabinet in September 2019 and had been brought to the Panel at the request of members.
Councillor Jones asked about the £5.68 million in reserves and whether this would be enough or should be reviewed.
The Lead Member for Finance responded that the level of reserves had been stable over the past few years. However, they needed to be reviewed so that they could support risks in the revenue budget and also fund schemes which would generate revenue or improve efficiency.
Peter Robinson added that most councils have a general fund reserve, but this was held to mitigate risks and financial shocks. Areas such as redundancy reserve should be held separately. The interim S151 officer said that it was important RBWM understood its financial risks and only then could the level of reserve be realised.
Councillor Werner argued that there was complacency across the council and that there should be a warning to RBWM that the problems need to be taken seriously or there is a risk of bankruptcy such as seen at Northampton County Council, especially with regard to a £4 million recurring overspend figure. Peter Robinson responded that due to his work with CIPFA he had worked with Northampton County Council and that RBWM were a long way from their position and thus comparisons were unfounded.
He explained that it was all about knowing and reacting to issues, whilst more reserves would make this easier for the authority to be more resilient.
Councillor Jones raised concerns about the number of undeliverable savings and incomes that had previously been reported and the lack of detail, she asked for reassurance that the saving targets for next year’s budget would be achievable.
The interim S151 officer informed the Panel that the savings targets would be reviewed. He explained that there was a base line forecast, but there were optimistic and pessimistic variables that had to be considered.
The Managing Director informed members that there would be a commissioned piece of work to look at adults and children spend and appropriate forecast models.
Councillor Werner queried the capital programme and its £189 million projected spend, he asked if this would be reduced. The Panel were informed there was planned expenditure on infrastructure, the Braywick Leisure Centre and regeneration in Maidenhead but the debt was expected to fall.
Councillor Jones commented that it would good for scrutiny to see the cash flow forecast. The Managing Director confirmed that it would be part of financial reporting.
The Panel noted the report.
To consider the report.
The Managing Director introduced the report regarding the progress made since the Local Government Association (LGA) peer review.
The Panel were informed that the Local Government Association undertook a peer review of RBWM in September 2017. On 10-11 June 2019 the same team visited to assess progress. The team found positive progress in relation to the original findings and offered further comments contained within the report.
Councillor Jones commented on how the report had highlighted the need for more robust scrunity but this had not materialised, there needed to be more robust scrutiny, task and finish groups and challenge to the executive.
The Lead Member who held responsibility for Governance responded that she would be undertaking a review of the scrutiny function following the changes to Panel structures in May 2019 as a result of the constitutional review. The review would be in conjunction with Karen Shepherd, Head of Governance. Councillor Jones asked if opposition members could be invited to take part in this review.
The Panel noted the positive progress contained within the report, Councillors Jones and Werner felt that scrutiny had not made positive progress.
To review the report due to be considered by Council on 23rd October 2019.
The Executive Director, Andy Jeffs, introduced the Modern Workplace report and explained that he had addressed some of the points raised when the item was considered at council.
The project would cost RBWM £405,000 as the current PC equipment was at the end of its life span and needed to be replaced. Subject to approval, a contract would be awarded by 31st March 2020 and there would be a number of benefits that would be significant and make a real difference in the working environment. The recent pilot scheme highlighted the following issues:
· At least 16 GB of RAM was needed, as the programmes and applications that RBWM uses would not be able to run smoothly on 8 GB
· The laptop resolution was not HD and therefore a higher resolution would be needed
· Docking stations at each desk to allow direct network access rather than via Wi-Fi
· More devices (originally it had been assumed that 100 devices could be re-used)
· The addition of 67 Optalis staff
· An increase in basic costs of 30% due to Brexit
Issues that had been raised at full council included:
· £405,000 being an overspend and a significant cost to RBWM
· Issues with the 10 year borrowing term being longer than the new devices life span
· The insufficient memory and the extra cost that this may incur
· That the plan did not provide an answer to RBWMs needs
The Director informed members that he had viewed work undertaken by a number of other Berkshire councils and was confident that it was the best way for RBWM to move forward and modernise its IT equipment. He also explained that the Microsoft Enterprise Licence would be up for renewal next year, and currently the renewal would cost £900,000 more over the next 3 years.
Councillor Hilton commented that he would often see staff unable to get into the system in the morning and that a significant amount of working time was wasted.
Councillor Sharpe said that it was essential and needed to ensure that staff can work properly. The Microsoft Licence was expiring anyway and while the project was a lot of money, it would be better in the long term.
To consider the Panel’s work programme for the remainder of the Municipal year.
To include consideration of items scheduled on the Cabinet Forward Plan.
Members noted the Work Programme for future meetings of the Panel.
Councillor Jones raised concerns that the Task and Finish group on Highways contract outsourcing had not yet started.