Agenda, decisions and minutes

Corporate Overview and Scrutiny Committee - Thursday, 10th February, 2022 5.00 pm

Venue: Council Chamber - City Hall, Bradford. View directions

Items
No. Item

57.

DISCLOSURES OF INTEREST

(Members Code of Conduct - Part 4A of the Constitution)

 

To receive disclosures of interests from members and co-opted members on matters to be considered at the meeting. The disclosure must include the nature of the interest.

 

An interest must also be disclosed in the meeting when it becomes apparent to the member during the meeting.

 

Notes:

 

(1)       Members may remain in the meeting and take part fully in discussion and voting unless the interest is a disclosable pecuniary interest or an interest which the Member feels would call into question their compliance with the wider principles set out in the Code of Conduct.  Disclosable pecuniary interests relate to the Member concerned or their spouse/partner.

 

(2)       Members in arrears of Council Tax by more than two months must not vote in decisions on, or which might affect, budget calculations, and must disclose at the meeting that this restriction applies to them.  A failure to comply with these requirements is a criminal offence under section 106 of the Local Government Finance Act 1992. 

 

(3)       Members are also welcome to disclose interests which are not disclosable pecuniary interests but which they consider should be made in the interest of clarity.

 

(4)       Officers must disclose interests in accordance with Council Standing Order 44.

 

Minutes:

In the interests of transparency, Councillor Azam declared, in relation to Council Tax Collection (minute 64) that he held power of attorney for his parents property. The interest was not prejudicial and he remained in the meeting during discussion and voting on that item.

58.

MINUTES

Recommended –

 

That the minutes of the meeting held on 9 December 2021 and 13 January 2022 be signed as a correct record (previously circulated).

 

(Yusuf Patel - 01274 434579)

 

Minutes:

Resolved –

 

That the minutes of the meetings held on 9 December 2021 and 13 January 2022 be signed as a correct record.

59.

INSPECTION OF REPORTS AND BACKGROUND PAPERS

(Access to Information Procedure Rules – Part 3B of the Constitution)

 

Reports and background papers for agenda items may be inspected by contacting the person shown after each agenda item.  Certain reports and background papers may be restricted. 

 

Any request to remove the restriction on a report or background paper should be made to the relevant Strategic Director or Assistant Director whose name is shown on the front page of the report. 

 

If that request is refused, there is a right of appeal to this meeting. 

 

Please contact the officer shown below in advance of the meeting if you wish to appeal. 

 

(Yusuf Patel - 01274 434579)

 

Minutes:

No request to remove the restriction on a report or background paper was made.

 

60.

REFERRALS TO THE OVERVIEW AND SCRUTINY COMMITTEE

No referrals were made at the time of the publication of the agenda.

 

Minutes:

There were no referrals made to the Committee.

 

61.

QTR 3 FINANCE POSITION STATEMENT FOR 2021-22 pdf icon PDF 2 MB

The Director of Finance will submit a report (Document “Z”) which provides Members with an update on the forecast year-end financial position of the Council for 2021-22.

 

It examines the latest spend against revenue and capital budgets and the forecast year-end financial position based on information at Qtr 3. It states the Council’s current balances and reserves and school balances. 

 

Recommended –

 

That the Corporate Overview & Scrutiny Committee review and comment on the Qtr 3 Finance Position Statement for 2021-22

 

(Andrew Cross - 07870 386523)

 

 

Decision:

Resolved

 

The Committee commented on the Third Quarter Financial Position Statement and looked forward to receiving further reports.

 

                                                            (Andrew Cross – 07870 386523)

Minutes:

The Director of Finance presented a report, (Document “Z”) which provided an update on the forecast year-end financial position of the Council for 2021-22.

 

It examined the latest spend against revenue and capital budgets and the forecast year-end financial position based on information at Quarter 3.  It stated the Councils current balances, reserves and school balances.

 

Members were reminded that Document “Z” was the third monitoring report on the Council’s 2021-22 financial position. It provided the forecast revenue and capital financial position of the Council at 31st March 2022. The report included -

 

·         The forecast outturn of the Council’s revenue budget including main changes since Quarter 2.

·         The forecast financial impact of Covid-19.

·         An update on Council Tax and Business Rates collection.

·         A statement on the Council’s reserves including movements.

·         An update on the Capital Investment Plan.

·         The Council’s Strategic Risk Register.

 

Following a detailed presentation Members questioned the financial impact of the recent Government announcement that an independent trust must be set up to run Bradford’s Children’s Social Services.   It was explained that once the trust had been formed a budget for the running of that aspect of Children’s Services would be agreed.

 

A Member questioned what action was being taken to reduce the costly use of agency staff in Children’s Social Services and measures to aid recruitment to permanent roles were reported including facilitated car parking and staff discounts. It was explained that there was not the capacity available for the number of level three social workers required.  The Council had created an academy to develop their own staff including social workers and support staff.  It was agreed to provide Members with details of the recruitment micro site.

 

School balances at Hanson School were queried and it was explained that page 20 of the report revealed the school reserves, including school contingencies, position at 31 March 2022.  The deficit balance held by Hanson School was projected to increase to £5.3m at the end of the 2021/22 forecast.

 

Resolved

 

The Committee commented on the Third Quarter Financial Position Statement and looked forward to receiving further reports.

 

Action: Strategic Director, Corporate Services

62.

UNIVERSAL CREDIT pdf icon PDF 509 KB

The scope of Universal Credit has been gradually expanded since it was first introduced, with different household types falling within its scope over time. In the Bradford District, there are now more households in receipt of Universal Credit than the benefits it has replaced.

 

The DWP forecast that the roll-out of Universal Credit for working-age claimants, nationally, will be completed by March 2025.

 

The Strategic Director Corporate Resources will submit a report (Document “AA”) which examines the progress of, and future plans for, the roll out of Universal Credit, the impact of Covid 19, and the arrangements in place to support residents.

 

Recommended –

 

That Corporate Overview and Scrutiny Committee notes the progress being made in the roll-out of Universal Credit in the District.

 

(Martin Stubbs - 01274 432056)

 

Decision:

Resolved

 

This committee requests that a report be presented in 12 months, which focuses on the:

 

§  Roll-out of Universal Credit in the District;

§  Inclusion of historical data.

 

(Martin Stubbs – 01274 432056)

Minutes:

The Strategic Director, Corporate Services, submitted a report, (Document “AA”) which examined the progress of, and future plans for, the roll out of Universal Credit, the impact of COVID 19 and the arrangements in place in the district to support residents. 

 

It was explained that the scope of Universal Credit (UC) had been gradually expanded since it was first introduced with different household types falling within its scope over time. In the Bradford District there were now more households in receipt of Universal Credit than the benefits it had replaced.

 

The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) had forecast that the roll-out of UC for working-age claimants nationally would be completed by March 2025.

 

Members questioned how the risks to residents of migrating to UC would be managed.  In response it was clarified that there was the potential for some individuals to lose an element of benefit when choosing to migrate to UC and they were advised to seek financial advice.

 

The impact of the removal of the £20 uplift payment was questioned. Members were reminded that the uplift was for support during the pandemic. Government measures introduced to reduce the impact of removal were reported including decreased tapers for that reduction. 

 

It was questioned if there had been any data collated to assess the impact of the removal on residents and it was clarified that initial analysis of the likely impact of the pandemic had been produced.  It was acknowledged that the removal of £20 per week resulted in a £1,000 loss per annum and it was reported that there were now 64,000 claimants of which 40,000 were receiving Universal Credit and two thirds of those were not in employment.  It was reported that food bank usage had increased by 50% and with increased energy costs a lot of people were considerably worse off.  In addition, benefits had been calculated on a likely three per cent inflation rise, however, the Bank of England were predicting a seven point five increase. It was agreed to provide Members with the latest data available. 

 

It was explained that there was some Government support available to people who were struggling and the Department for Work and Pensions had seen an increase in applications for Government funding.  The assisted purchase scheme which had been an interest free loan to enable the purchase of goods had been amended to a grant award scheme.  Winter fuel payments had been made and food vouchers had been provided for some families with school age children. 

 

A table contained in Document AA providing a breakdown of the work status of Universal Credit claimants by Job Centre was queried.  It was explained that not all claimants were required to seek work, for example, if they had an underage child.    - 

 

The report revealed that the Government had identified £113 million to support new claimants in making a claim for Universal Credit through the Future Support Offer and, in response to questions, it was clarified that this work was  ...  view the full minutes text for item 62.

63.

COUNCIL TAX COLLECTION pdf icon PDF 283 KB

The majority of those liable for Council Tax do pay as billed, but some do seek to avoid paying and more formal collection and recovery action needs to be taken in these cases.

 

Actions taken to collect Council Tax are not intended to create undue financial hardship, and the Council seeks to support those in most need. Collecting from low income households, while at the same time supporting the most financially vulnerable, has always been challenging.

 

The Strategic Director Corporate Resources will submit a report (Document “AB”) which examines performance in, and challenges for, Council Tax collection.

 

Recommended –

 

That this committee notes, and gives its view on, progress in the collection of Council Tax.

(Martin Stubbs - 01274 432056)

Decision:

Resolved

 

That a progress report be presented in 12 months.

 

                                                            (Martin Stubbs – 01274 432056)

Minutes:

The report of the Strategic Director, Corporate Resources, Document “AB” examined performance of, and challenges in, the collection of Council Tax.

 

Document “AB” revealed that the majority of those liable for Council Tax did pay as billed, but some did seek to avoid paying and more formal collection and recovery action needed to be taken in those cases. Actions taken to collect Council Tax were not intended to create undue financial hardship and the Council sought to support those in most need. Collecting from low income households, while at the same time supporting the most financially vulnerable, had always been challenging.

 

The report highlighted the process of Council Tax collection; details of the Council Tax Reduction (CTR) scheme; measures to deal with non-payment of Council Tax and service improvements including digital contact with residents. 

 

Future challenges to the service were reported and included managing household debt.

 

Following a detailed presentation Members discussed measures taken to address non-payment.  Whilst the report did not provide the costs of enforcement action taken through the courts it was agreed to provide information on the volumes of cases and costs incurred, via email to Members, following the meeting. 

 

Empty property premium charges and collections were discussed and the effectiveness of the premium charges in reducing the number of empty properties was questioned.  In response it was explained that collection was more difficult from empty properties and court costs were avoided at every opportunity.

 

Resolved

 

That a progress report be presented in 12 months.

 

Action: Strategic Director, Corporate Services

 

64.

BUSINESS RATE COLLECTION pdf icon PDF 317 KB

The impact of the pandemic on trading conditions for local businesses, and the added pressure on the Business Rates service resources to administer the Government’s business support grants, has made 2021/22 the most difficult year ever for the collection of business rates.

 

The Strategic Director Corporate Resources will submit a report (Document “AC”) which sets out the Council’s performance in, and the challenges for, the collection of Business Rates. The report also considers the impact of changes to the business rates system recently announced by Government.

 

Recommended –

 

That this committee notes, and gives its view on, progress in the collection of Business Rates.

 

(Martin Stubbs – 01274 432056)

 

Decision:

Resolved

 

This Committee requests that a progress report be presented in 12 months, which also focuses on the impact of the Governments Business Rate Review.

 

                                                            (Martin Stubbs – 01274 432056)

Minutes:

The report of the Strategic Director, Corporate Services, (Document “AC”) set out the Council’s performance in, and the challenges for, the collection of Business Rates. The report also considered the impact of changes to the business rates system recently announced by Government.

 

Document “AC” reported on the impact of the pandemic on trading conditions for local businesses and the added pressure on the Business Rates service resources to administer the Government’s business support grants which had made 2021/22 the most difficult year ever for the collection of business rates.

 

Members were aware that, as part of its response to the pandemic, the Government had introduced the Expanded Retail Discount (ERD) scheme and the Nursery Discount scheme to help mitigate the impact of restrictions and limitations on the ability to operate and trade

 

As a consequence of the ERD scheme the Council had significantly less business rates to collect during 2020/21 and 2021/22 than in previous years.  A table of collection rates was provided in the report.  Members were advised that since March 2020 the focus of the service had been on processing grant payments Not all businesses were supported by the Government schemes and had full business rates to pay.  Reminders for late payments had been issued and the service had been receptive to struggling businesses.  Assurances were provided that enforcement through the courts had been a last resort in an endeavour to enable businesses to continue to operate and provide employment.

 

It was reported that the Government had undertaken a national business rates review.  No detailed consultation had been received, however, Members were assured that details would be provided when that was received. 

 

The assistance available to businesses at the current time was questioned and it was explained that many had been assisted with in excess of £228 million being provided to 17,000 businesses.  The ERD scheme had been extended to 31 March 2022, however, from 1 April 2022 those businesses would be entitled to 50% business rate relief capped at £110,000.

 

Members noted the significant reduction in collection rates contained in the report and questioned the likelihood of achieving 70 to 80% collection rates over time.  In response it was stated that it was envisaged that collection rates of 97/98% could be achieved over a 5-year period.  It was confirmed that in year collections were always low but were paid over time, however, the difficulty to be faced would be how businesses survived the pandemic.

 

It was queried who paid successful court refund challenges as the business rate collected was divided between the Council which retained 49%, central government which retained 50% and the West Yorkshire Fire Authority which received 1%.  It was explained that rating appeals were funded proportionally to reflect how they were retained. 

 

A Member questioned what action was being taken with regard to fraudulent claims for support and was advised of actions taken against 60 claims up to the end of January 2022.   Awareness and knowledge of fraud had increased and  ...  view the full minutes text for item 64.

65.

EXCLUSION OF THE PUBLIC

Recommended –

 

That the public be excluded from the meeting during consideration of Not for Publication Document “AD” and its related appendices on the grounds that it is likely in view of the nature of the business to be transacted or the nature of the proceedings, that if they were present, exempt information within Paragraph 3 (Information relating to Financial or Business Affairs) of Schedule 12A of the Local Government Act 1972 (as amended), would be disclosed and it is considered that, in all the circumstances, the public interest in excluding public access to the relevant part of the proceedings outweighs the interest in publication of the report.

 

it is in the public interest in maintaining these exemptions

because it is in the overriding interest of proper administration

that Members are made fully aware of the financial implications of

any decision.

 

Minutes:

Resolved –

 

That the public be excluded from the meeting during consideration of Not for Publication Document “AD” and its related appendices on the grounds that it is likely in view of the nature of the business to be transacted or the nature of the proceedings, that if they were present, exempt information within Paragraph 3 (Information relating to Financial or Business Affairs) of Schedule 12A of the Local Government Act 1972 (as amended), would be disclosed and it is considered that, in all the circumstances, the public interest in excluding public access to the relevant part of the proceedings outweighs the interest in publication of the report.

 

it is in the public interest in maintaining these exemptions

because it is in the overriding interest of proper administration

that Members are made fully aware of the financial implications of

any decision.

66.

INDUSTRIAL SERVICES GROUP (ISG)

The Strategic Director of Corporate Resources (NOT FOR PUBLICATION Document “AD”) which provides an update to the Corporate Overview and Scrutiny Committee on the financial performance of ISG.

 

Recommended –

 

That Members consider the recommendations set out in Not for Publication Document “AD”.

(Peter Keeley - 01274 431103)

 

Decision:

Resolved

 

1.    The Committee endorses the current business strategy.

 

2.    This Committee would like to keep an overview of this and requests that a progress report be presented in 12 months, which also specifically focuses on the apprenticeship offer from ISG, for its disabled staff, supporting them to develop their skills and experience.

 

(Peter Keeley – 01274 431103)

Minutes:

The Strategic Director of Corporate Resources (NOT FOR PUBLICATION Document “AD”) provided an update on the financial performance of Industrial Services Group.

 

Resolved

 

1.    The Committee endorses the current business strategy.

 

2.    This Committee would like to keep an overview of this and requests that a progress report be presented in 12 months, which also specifically focuses on the apprenticeship offer from ISG, for its disabled staff, supporting them to develop their skills and experience.

 

Action: Strategic Director, Corporate Services

67.

CORPORATE OVERVIEW AND SCRUTINY COMMITTEE WORK PROGRAMME 2021-22 pdf icon PDF 236 KB

The Chair of the Committee will submit a report (Document “AE”) which presents the Committee’s work programme for 2021/22.

 

Recommended –

 

(1)        That Members consider if they wish to choose to add to or amend the           topics included in the 2021-22 work programme.

 

(2)        That Members consider any detailed scrutiny reviews that they           may wish to consider.

(Mustansir Butt – 01274 432574)

 

 

Additional documents:

Decision:

Resolved

 

The Committee discussed and amended the work programme.

 

(Mustansir Butt – 07582 101597)

Minutes:

The Chair of the Committee submitted a report (Document “AE”) which presented the Committee’s work programme for 2021/22.

 

The Overview and Scrutiny Lead advised Members of an informal meeting being arranged.  The meeting would be similar to a meeting held last year including Regeneration and Economy Overview and Scrutiny Members who would once again be invited to attend.  The West Yorkshire Mayor had also been invited together with colleagues from the West Yorkshire Combined Authority.  The meeting would be held remotely and Members were asked to advise the Overview and Scrutiny Lead of topics they would like to be included.  Clarity on the HS2 project was suggested. 

 

Resolved

 

The Committee discussed and amended the work programme.

 

No Action