Agenda item

Budget 2021-22

To review and discuss the proposed Budget for the 2021-22 municipal year.


The item was introduced by Cllr Hilton, who advised that the report set out areas of growth and pressures, including those for Covid19; potential savings; and fees, charges and capital schemes relevant to the Panel’s area of interest. Comments from the Panel for consideration by Cabinet were welcomed.


Cllr Carroll stated in his introduction to the Panel that the budget proposals represented four main principles: protection of vulnerable people; innovation; embracing of transformation; and to financially futureproof the Council’s budget. It was noted that a small increase in the adult social care precept had been proposed as part of the overall budget.


Cllr Hunt told the Panel that she would go through each line in each appendix and invite comments and questions from members.


Appendix A


Kevin McDaniel advised that the seven items relating to children’s services reflected the cost of continuing to deliver services that were already being supplied. Regarding line five, Kevin McDaniel said that, following the transfer in 2017, Achieving for Children staff were in a pension fund pool administered by Wandsworth Council which meant their pension costs were no longer included in the RBWM budget.  A tri-annual re-evaluation of the fund had led to an increase in contributions, which was effective from April 2020. Other changes to the budget head described in line five reflected posts that were now being funded directly by the Local Authority as the job roles had been shown to improve delivery of services for children with additional needs; and also the removal of a staff vacancy factor budget as this has shown to be ineffective with the current level of demand.


There were no questions or comments from the Panel relating to lines one to six.


In relation to line seven, Kevin McDaniel responded to a question from Cllr da Costa by explaining that Achieving for Children had a credit facility with RBWM in order to help pay bills to suppliers on time. This had existed previously but had not been included in any earlier budget statements.


Regarding line eight, Lynne Lidster explained that RBWM held an annual contract with DASH to provide support for adults and children who were victims of domestic abuse. The contract was worth £100,000, of which RBWM contributed around £67,000. The rest of the funding came from a grant from Thames Valley Police but it was unclear if they would be able to meet this funding requirement this year. The amount shown in line eight was to cover the funding shortfall in the event Thames Valley Police did not have the grant funding to contribute. Cllr Carroll stated this was a particular service that the Council wanted to futureproof, due to an increase in domestic abuse during the course of the Covid19 pandemic and lockdown.


There were no questions or comments from the Panel in relation to line nine.


Regarding line five, Cllr Baldwin asked for clarification on what was meant by salaries that had previously been funded from capital. Kevin McDaniel said a review of the education estate team, following the recent CIPFA review, showed all salaries were funded through capital; this was not appropriate and had now been reduced accordingly.


The Panel agreed that they had no comments they wished to forward to Cabinet relating to Appendix A of the report.


Appendix B


There were no comments or questions from Panel members on lines one and two.


Regarding line three, in response to a question from Cllr Hunt Kevin McDaniel said all 400 staff had needed to be equipped with mobile phones, so there were a significant number of new devices needed. In addition a new system that enabled previously paper-based information to be shared digitally had been implemented. Some of the budget would also be used to ensure longer-term sustainability of the new working arrangement.


There were no comments or questions from Panel members on lines four to nine.


Regarding line ten, Cllr Tisi asked for clarification on what job roles were being fulfilled by the new staff members. Lin Ferguson said three new members of staff had been recruited, of which two were social workers. The other was an independent reviewing officer to chair child protection conferences, which was required due to an increase in child protection issues during the pandemic.


Adele Taylor advised the Panel that there was £9million worth of Covid-related growth items throughout the whole of the budget, and the majority of this was covered by expected funding from central government. Some areas of underspend during 2020/21 had been set aside to cover ongoing support for Covid-related issues in the 2021/22 budget,. Cllr Carroll said he had been in contact with the government on this issue, as had most other local authorities. He said the Chancellor was due to bring forward a Comprehensive Spending Review in the new financial year.


Responding to a question from Cllr Baldwin relating to line two, Kevin McDaniel said the figure quoted was an estimate based on having to write off receiving any income from the space released by the transformation to family hubs for 2021/22. He explained it was considered impractical to try to dispose of the buildings or seek long term lessors, given current market conditions.


The Panel agreed that they had no comments they wished to forward to Cabinet relating to Appendix B of the report.


Appendix C


In relation to line one, Cllr Tisi asked for details on how developed the plans were for replacing community options, and how the risk was being mitigated. Cllr da Costa asked about ensuring quality of delivery from any volunteer organisations providing support, acknowledging that levels of professionalism differed. Michael Murphy said a number of support networks had been strengthened and the Council was working towards being able to supply services at an earlier point of contact with users. In future community options would not necessarily be wholly reliant on voluntary organisations. Mitigations would depend on the individual needs of each support network, although it would be ensured that the appropriate governance would be put in place to make sure everyone was protected from Covid19. Michael Murphy said anyone using services would be given the appropriate level of safeguarding.


Regarding line two, Hilary Hall said in response to a question from Cllr Tisi that it was a statutory requirement for the Council to assess an individual’s particular needs, and given the proposal listed in line two it was even more vital that assessments were updated in line with the proposed changes. The business case related to supported living was still being worked on, and when this had been completed this would form its own line in future budget papers. Lynne Lidster said the current day centre model was limited in opening times from 9am-5pm on weekdays, and the proposed new model would afford greater flexibility and provide more opportunities. Users with complex needs would use the day centres for socialisation rather than providing respite to their families. The Covid19 pandemic had made the Council look at different ways of providing services and had brought forward the proposed changes to delivering services provided by the day centres. Easement protocols, which were introduced by the government during the pandemic to allow councils not to meet the requirements of the Care Act where they were experiencing significant capacity issues, were in place but they had never been implemented in the Royal Borough.


During discussions, lines three to five were taken together as their subject matter was closely interlinked. Cllr da Costa noted that assessments were made in-house or by Optalis staff and asked for assurance that these would not show any bias. Hilary Hall gave assurances that all assessments were made by qualified staff in Optalis. Cllr Sharpe stated that although value for money needed to be taken into consideration when creating care packages, this should not be to the detriment to the level of care that was provided; instead the focus should be on providing the most appropriate care possible. Hilary Hall assured the Panel that care provision was the primary driver of all statutory assessments, rather than simply value for money. Responding to a question from Cllr Bateson relating to care packages for people leaving hospital, Michael Murphy said levels of care provision would vary. The packages would focus on maximising a person’s ability to function when they left hospital; as an example, sometimes a patient may have muscle wasting from spending a long period being in bed and would need support to get used to being able to use those muscles again, and gain confidence as a result. Michael Murphy said technology existed that meant some patients may now only require one carer, whereas previously they may have needed two. Cllr Tisi asked how likely it was that levels of care package provision may increase. Hilary Hall said she was confident the current arrangements were appropriate, and that all patients in receipt of a care package would receive an annual review. However if there was an increase it was expected that this could be met through the existing budget. 


Regarding line six, Cllr Tisi asked for a real-life example of what was meant by ensuring the level of subsequent long term care was appropriate. Hilary Hall said this was generally aimed at improving a patient’s confidence and functionality, which would be done on a fairly intensive basis to make sure a patient was able to live independently again as soon as possible after leaving hospital. This would generally be done over a six week period. Michael Murphy said around 60 per cent of patients leaving hospital would not need any reablement. Cllr da Costa stated her belief that reablement was better for somebody long-term compared to providing care for them.


There were no comments or questions from Panel members on line seven.


In relation to line eight, Lin Ferguson reassured the Panel that this was not a full restructure of the service as it provided an important function, but this proposal was aimed at improving efficiency. She stated that it was often difficult to recruit new health visitors but recruiting staff nurses was often much easier. The staff nurses would take some tasks away from health visitors to enable them to focus on their main priorities of making new birth visits. Lin Ferguson also said that antenatal contact may cease. Ways of managing clinics in a way that would not disadvantage service users were also being investigated.


There were no comments or questions from Panel members on line nine.


In relation to line ten, Kevin McDaniel explained there was a statutory duty to provide home to school transport assistance to children who were attending their nearest appropriate school when this was either two or three miles away, depending on their age, and for those on low incomes and with disabilities. The proposed budget changes were to ensure a greater level of consistency in the level of subsidy. It was noted for example that the costs some parents were paying in order for their children to attend the Windsor middle schools varied, and the proposals sought to level these out. Kevin McDaniel told the Panel there was no statutory duty to provide transport for those over the age of 16 going to sixth form or further education, and it was proposed to look at the way this could be provided in a fairer way.


There were no comments or questions from Panel members on line 11.


In relation to line 12, Kevin McDaniel said Achieving for Children had reduced printing costs, travel fares and accommodation expenses. For example, prior to the Covid19 restrictions a child who had been placed into care outside of the Borough for their safety might have their case reviewed by three or four officers in a face to face meeting, along with the expenses that would entail. Due to new technology and ways of working the associated costs had been reduced with the key workers still travelling and seeing children face to face.


There were no comments or questions from Panel members on lines 13 to 16.


In relation to line 17, Kevin McDaniel explained that this saving related to the retirement of a member of staff who was not being replaced. He said there was an agreement with the Nursery School Foundation to support all settings as much as possible. Although it was noted there was no additional capacity to support any setting that went into crisis, the Council would be able to call upon the assistance of the NSF for support. In any case, in the event of the proposed closure of a school, there would need to be an 18 month notice period.


In relation to line 18, Lin Ferguson stated she chaired a resource panel comprising commissioning and social care colleagues about the right plans and provision for children, and this had been working well. Children in residential care were tracked on a fortnightly basis to ensure they were in the right place. Commissioners were mindful of costs when allocating settings for children in order to ensure value for money, and some savings had been made over the last year.


There were no comments or questions from Panel members on line 19.


In relation to line 20, Kevin McDaniel said schools’ budgets were set through a different budget to the one being considered in the report. There was a total budget of about £89million available for all schools in the Royal Borough. Currently the maintained schools were not charged for using RBWM’s finance tracking system, and the proposal was for a small charge of between £400 and £750 depending on the size of the school to cover expenses the Council already incurs. It was not straightforward for each school to put in place its own financial system, and in any case it was not considered viable to do so at the current time.


Cllr Tisi proposed that the Panel recommended to Cabinet that the recommended proposals in lines three to five, looking at various packages of care, should be considered from the point of view of providing the appropriate level of care rather than taking into account value for money as the most important aspect when considering packages of care. She said the actual levels of care needed to be the prime concern when making decisions.


Regarding the planned closure of day centres referenced in line two, Cllr da Costa said she felt the proposed changes would provide a better, more enriching service for users, but expressed concern at the speed with which the changes could be implemented. Hilary Hall said any changes would be subject to a full 12 week consultation, subject to them being agreed by Full Council. This was anticipated to be effective from April 1 and would be carried out through many different formats. Work was also being carried out to identify means of alternative provision of services. Cllr Tisi said she had been contacted by residents who were unclear as to how the proposed changes would affect them. The Panel felt the consultation should involve as many parties affected from as early an opportunity as possible.


Cllr Carroll said he was happy to go along with the Panel’s views on the consultation, but stated they were recommendations that he would be making to Cabinet anyway and was a legal requirement.


It was UNANIMOUSLY AGREED that Panel pass the following comments on to Cabinet in relation to Appendix C of the report:


-          Regarding line two, a full and comprehensive consultation on the planned closures of the Windsor and Oakbridge Day Centres should be conducted with all affected parties involved from as early a point as possible, and any closure should not be carried out with undue haste.

-          Regarding lines three to five, the overriding factor when considering residential care placements, supported living packages and community packages for people with learning disabilities, should be the appropriate level of care that is being provided rather than the value for money any agreement would provide.


Appendix D


There were no comments or questions for officers on any of the points in Appendix D of the report, and the Panel agreed they had no comments to forward to Cabinet.


Appendix E


There were no comments or questions for officers on any of the points in Appendix D of the report, and the Panel agreed they had no comments to forward to Cabinet.


Members thanked officers for their help in preparing the report and assisting during the course of the meeting.


Supporting documents: