Agenda and draft minutes

Extraordinary, Overview and Scrutiny Committee - Monday, 11th December, 2023 7.30 pm

Venue: Council Chamber, Civic Offices, Gloucester Square, Woking, Surrey GU21 6YL

Contact: Toby Nash, Scrutiny & Democratic Services Officer, Ext 3056, Email  toby.nash@woking.gov.uk 

Media

Items
No. Item

1.

Apologies for Absence

To receive any apologies for absence.

Additional documents:

Minutes:

Apologies for absence were received from Councillors Caulfield and Javaid.

2.

Urgent Business pdf icon PDF 106 KB

To consider any business that the Chairman rules may be dealt with under Section 100B(4) of the Local Government Act 1972.

Additional documents:

Minutes:

The Chair ruled that two items due to be considered by the Executive on 14 December 2023 were to be taken as urgent business: Update to Improvement and Recovery Plan and Asset Disposal.

The reason for the urgency, the only opportunity for the Committee to consider the items prior to the Executive resolving the items at its meeting.

Update to Improvement and Recovery Plan

Louise Strongitharm, Strategic Director of Communities, introduced the item and explained that the Council had considered greater corporate oversight was necessary.  The Council wished to ensure that the Council’s housing stock was suitably prioritised and there was a strategic emphasis on it.

Asset Disposal

RESOLVED

That the press and public be excluded from the meeting during consideration of the Asset Disposal item in view of the nature of the proceedings that, if members of the press and public were present during this item, there would be disclosure to them of exempt information as defined in paragraph 3 of Part 1 of Schedule 12A, to the Local Government Act 1972.

Paragraph 3 – Information relating to the financial or business affairs of any particular person (including the authority holding that information).

3.

Declarations of Interest

To receive declarations of disclosable pecuniary and other interests from Members in respect of any item to be considered at the meeting.

Additional documents:

Minutes:

In accordance with the Members’ Code of Conduct, Councillor Rice declared a non-pecuniary interest in Agenda Item 4 – Medium Term Financial Strategy (MTFS) Update – arising from his position as an observer to Woking Community Transport. The interest was such that speaking and voting were permissible.

In accordance with the Members’ Code of Conduct, Councillor Johnson declared a non-pecuniary interest in Agenda Item 4 – Medium Term Financial Strategy (MTFS) Update – arising from his wife’s position as an employee of Citizens Advice Woking.  The interest was such that Councillor Johnson left the Chamber for duration of the discussion on Citizens Advice Woking.

4.

Medium Term Financial Strategy (MTFS) Update OSC23-064 pdf icon PDF 62 KB

Reporting Person: Eugene Walker

Additional documents:

Minutes:

Eugene Walker, Interim Finance Director & Section 151 Officer, introduced the item.

Medium Term Financial Strategy

Officers were benchmarking the Council’s expenditures against other Councils with the support of Local Partnerships.  Through benchmarking it had been revealed that the Council spent above average on the provision of sport and recreation.

Options analysis and the deliverability of savings were being worked on for the Medium Term Financial Strategy (MTFS).  The work was being informed by the Equality Impact Assessments, financial modelling and the likelihood of delivering each saving.

Eugene Walker reiterated that the Council lacked any reserves following the issuing of the Section 114 notice.

The Government had not amended its cap on Council Tax increases and therefore stood at three percent for district councils.  The Section 151 Officer noted that other Councils in intervention had seen increases in excess of the cap.  Woking Borough Council collected Council Tax on behalf of not just itself but also the County Council and the Police and Crime Commissioner.  Officers emphasised that there was no proposal as yet on whether Council Tax would be altered.

The Capital Programme would be reported on at February Council and was intended to focus on core Council spending including the Decent Homes standard which typically formed the biggest single element of a District Council’s Capital Homes.

It was the opinion of the Section 151 Officer that so long as all proposed savings were able to be taken by the Council, if the Council could not set a balanced budget in February 2024, it would not automatically require the issuing of a second Section 114 notice.

Eugene Walker explained that the ordinary mechanism employed by Government for Council’s that have been issued Section 114 notices was a letter of comfort from the Secretary of State which was linked to a capitalisation directive.  However, discussions were ongoing with Government on what mechanism would be sufficient for Woking Borough Council.

Citizens Advice Woking

Lorraine Buchanan, Laurence Oates, and Jakki Mimms, representatives of Citizens Advice Woking (CAW), provided a presentation on the organisation’s work in the Borough.

CAW did not charge for their services and informed that Committee that the national body did not permit its franchises to charge.

Citizens Advice had been applying for grants from other organisations but there was concern that the loss of Council funding could not be wholly replaced.

Citizens Advice advised that Council Officers routinely signposted residents to the organisation or engaged directly for its expertise.

In addition to the core funding received from the Council through the Service Level Agreement CAW also received financial support for its work with refugees, paid by the Council from government funding for resettlement programmes.

Lorraine Buchanan noted that the number of people seeking support from CAW had increased steadily over the previous several years.

Citizens Advice noted that the core funding from the Council had reduced by five percent in the previous year and had been due to be reduced by the same again in each of the next two  ...  view the full minutes text for item 4.

5.

Draft Housing Revenue Account Budget Update 2024-25 OSC23-065 pdf icon PDF 63 KB

Reporting Person: Louise Strongitharm / Eugene Walker

Additional documents:

Minutes:

Louise Strongitharm, Strategic Director of Communities, introduced the item.

Officers were forecasting an ongoing deficit of £1 million on the Housing Revenue Account (HRA) with no reserves available.

The September Consumer Price Index had been published.  There had been no indication from Government of deviation from the CPI+1% policy for increasing rental prices for local authorities.  If that policy were to be employed, it was estimated that rental income would increase by £1.6 million.

Approximately 70% of Council tenants were in receipt of housing benefits or universal credit to pay for rents.  The remaining 30% were self-funding.

Further work was required to be able to set the HRA budget but it was anticipated that it would be at a surplus.  Capital investment for the housing stock required calculation.

The Council was to begin consulting on the closure of the Brockhill facility and how residents would be supported.

Councillor Johnson noted that the CPI for the previous year was 8.2% while the Council had increased rent by 7%.  Additionally, the Government had stipulated that Councils were to reduce rents for several years previously.  Funding was required to be able to effect housing stock repairs and investments.

RESOLVED

That the report be noted.