Report of the Director – Finance and Corporate Services
The Senior Finance Business Partner presented the report of the Director of Finance and Corporate Services which detailed the quarter three position in terms of financial and performance monitoring for 2021/22. The report also highlighted the Covid-19 variances.
The Senior Finance Business Partner explained that the budgets for quarter one were set prudently in anticipation of an adverse impact of Covid but the largest of which had recovered more quickly than anticipated namely - car parks, leisure, planning and community facilities.
The Senior Finance Business Partner referred to Table 1 at paragraph 4.2 of the report which summarised the position at Quarter 3, including lost income and costs due to Covid-19 which showed a net Covid pressure of £0.118m, offset by other in-year efficiency savings of £1.187m, leaving a net revenue efficiency of £1.069m. The Group was informed that Table 1 also showed additional non-ringfenced grant funding of £0.167m (new burdens funding). It was noted that there was a Business Rates surplus of £2.958m, £2.4m of which would be transferred to reserves to cover the anticipated deficit that would arise next year and in 2023/24.
Regarding further commitments from in-year efficiencies, detailed in Appendix A, this included £0.3m to Streetwise and £50k for feasibility in Central Avenue, West Bridgford and £5k for the Bingham Improvement Board.
The Group was informed that the Special Expenses budget had also been impacted by Covid restrictions. However, some activity was covered by Government Sales Fees and Charges funding for Quarter 1 leaving a total Special Expense budget forecast deficit of £15.7k.
It was explained that the Capital Programme forecast an underspend of £5.1m, which mainly related to Bingham Hub, Rushcliffe Oaks Crematorium and LAD funding for green energy grants. Due to current projections, it was unlikely that there would be a need to borrow funding.
The Senior Finance Business Partner referred to Table 2 at paragraph 4.11 and explained that it detailed the grants received and no further grants were anticipated. The projected position was positive with a net £54k efficiency. However, uncertainties over funding, increased cost of goods and services along with government policy reviews, meant that a healthy reserves position was vital to ensure the Council remained financially resilient. It was noted that there was no room for complacency as there remained a great deal of uncertainty such as Business Rates, Comprehensive Spending review, Fair Funding and Brexit not to mention opportunities in the Freeport and Development Corporation. The Council’s financial position would need to be closely monitored.
The Service Manager Corporate Services informed the Group that two strategic tasks still showed as 0% - these related to new legislation expected for Planning and Waste services - due to delays with the introduction of the new legislation.
The Group was informed that of the 13 Performance Indicators (PI), 12 had previously been reported to the Group, which had been made clear in the appendices to the report. There was one new exception - Choice Based Lettings – which was linked to previously raised exceptions. The delay to the PI - LINS32 Average waiting time of applicants rehoused by Choice Based Lettings – was covid related, which had caused a backlog of residents waiting to be rehoused by Metropolitan Housing as tenants had not moved during the pandemic which had paused the turnover of properties. Some people, however, were prepared to wait a long time for the 'right' property.
Regarding the slippage of £5.1m in the Capital programme, the Group asked whether this was due to cash flow or the need to change the year in which it would be spent. They were informed that there was slippage on the Crematorium and the Bingham Hub into next year. They were assured that the money would be spent but not within the timeframe originally intended.
The Group asked whether the percentage of calls answered by the Customer Services Centre within the 40 second target was impacted by the type of call received. The Service Manager Corporate Services responded that the enquiries received during Covid were more detailed and complex, mainly as a result of face-to-face services being closed during the early part of the pandemic. These naturally took longer to address and therefore led to the delay in answering calls within 40 seconds. The target, set in 2005, was unachievable and unrealistic considering the current and changing demands to the service. Following a benchmarking exercise with similar service providers, the target would, therefore, be extended to 60 seconds. The Group was informed that currently 80% of calls received this year had been answered within this timeframe.
The Group asked whether there had been an increased level of investment to utilise the underspend. The Service Manager – Finance explained there had been increased investments as a result of capital and revenue underspends shown through increased interest and investment income figures in the report. Officers assess the level of reserves available and make an informed assessment when setting the Medium-Term Financial Strategy in March 2023.
The Chairman asked whether the staffing difficulties experienced by Metropolitan Housing had been resolved. The Service Manager - Corporate Services agreed to clarify the position and inform the Group.
Regarding appeals related to planning applications, the Chairman asked how much such appeals had cost the Borough Council. The Service Manager – Corporate Services explained that the two planning applications currently with the Planning Inspectorate for non-determination were being processed at the lowest possible level, with low cost to the Council. It was noted that there would be a nominal cost to staffing resources in pulling together the required documentation for the appeal, but that this was not added to the appeal itself.
It was RESOLVED that the Corporate Overview Group noted:
a) the expected revenue budget efficiency for the year of £0.054m inclusive of committed reserves;
b) the planned use of reserves totalling £4.140m (detailed in Appendix A);
c) the capital underspend of £5.1m;
d) the expected outturn position for Special Expenses of £15.7k deficit;
e) the progress to date of Strategic Tasks– Appendix F; and
f) the comments for performance exceptions and considered whether additional scrutiny was required – Appendix G