To consider the report of the Cabinet Member for Performance and Resources presenting the Council’s final general fund revenue, capital outturn positions against agreed budgets for the 2020/21 financial year, and report on the performance against certain key financial performance indicators.
15.1 Deputy Leader of the Council and Cabinet Member for Performance and Resources, Councillor Norman, introduced the report and explained that the year-end position of the general fund balance for the financial year had decreased to £122k against a budgeted decrease of £48k. She noted that a positive improvement of £100k had been made at the year end against a reported position of £222k back at Quarter 3. Councillor Norman confirmed that the level of earmarked reserves had increased by £9.738m to £13.771m which included the creation of a Section 31 Grant Repayment Reserve of £8.929m.
15.2 Councillor Norman confirmed that the Covid-19 pandemic had had a significant impact on variances between Council portfolios, with a net difference for Performance and Resources. She referred to an increased cost of providing housing subsidies, confirming that the Council had managed £36m in housing subsidy and benefit payments. Councillor Norman explained that the final quarter saw an adverse movement which resulted in a final overspend of £931k in this area, however she highlighted that this was out of the control of the Council. Councillor Norman confirmed that the Outturn figures included unrestricted Government support grants of £4.5m, as well as a final claim which was submitted in May 2021 for the period from December 2020 to March 2021. She also confirmed that the table included at 6.1 of the report showed the movement in the Council’s earmarked reserves.
15.3 Councillor Wilson thanked Councillor Norman for the report and referred to the significant items of lost income included in the narrative at 5.1. He noted that the Government had supplied the Council with £4.5m in specific Covid-19 related funding but noted that the lost income figures appear to total £6.2m. Councillor Wilson asked for clarification as to how the Council had managed to fund the shortfall.
15.4 The Head of Policy and Resources confirmed that the Council had managed to cover some of the additional costs through unbudgeted commercial income, such as the purchase of St Oswalds and cost savings as part of the ongoing disposal of the HKP warehouses.
15.5 In response to a further question from Councillor Wilson about the Property Sinking Fund Reserve and the current earmarked balance of £300k, the Head of Policy and Resources confirmed that the Council previously aimed for the fund to reach £1m, however this was unlikely whilst the City was recovering from the Covid-19 pandemic. The Head of Policy and Resources noted that the Council may be in a different position in a few years.
15.6 The Chair invited the Cabinet Member and Head of Policy and Resources to comment on the lost income in Cultural and Leisure Services amounting to £0.901m, and the additional costs in Cultural and Related activities amounting to £0.936m.The Head of Policy and Resources confirmed that he would provide Members with a detailed breakdown of these figures.
15.7 In response to a further question from the Chair about the Aspire Sports and Cultural Trust, the Head of Culture confirmed that the costs were included in the £600k target and noted that the lost income could be explained by the closure of leisure facilities and restrictions on events due to Government pandemic restrictions. The Head of Policy and Resources confirmed that the Council was also unable to charge overhead costs for the Aspire Trust during the previous financial year.
15.8 Councillor Pullen stated that he was pleased to see an improving picture in relation to the year-end figures for the general fund balance. In relation to the requirement for residents to work from home as much as possible over the past year, he asked how this had impacted the Council and for comments on the future outlook. Councillor Pullen also asked how much grant funding had been received by Aspire Leisure and whether they would receive any further funding from the Council.
15.9 The Head of Policy and Resources confirmed that the Council had not seen any significant costs or savings from home working other than a slight impact on losses from car parking income. He stated there had been little financial impact from home working requirements, but noted that this may change in the future as the city emerged from the pandemic. In response to Councillor Pullen’s question on the Aspire Trust, the Head of Policy and Resources confirmed that the Trust had resumed paying for utility costs from May 2021. He referred to the figures in the narrative at 5.19 confirming that the council had met additional costs of £314k to support the Trust, however some of this had been recovered from Government grants and repayments. He noted that some cash flow was still outstanding, however the Aspire Trust were not looking for any further support from the Council at the moment and hoped that they would recover well.
15.10 Councillor Pullen noted that he previously had concerns about the Aspire Trust but was pleased to hear that they were now in a more stable position.
15.11 Councillor Hilton expressed the view that the Outturn position seemed positive given the challenges the Council faced during the pandemic. He noted that the support from Government had lived up to promises. Referring to the narrative at 6.1 in the report, Councillor Hilton asked for an update on the latest position on the installation of defibrillators around the city, noting that the earmarked reserves had a closing balance of £6k.
15.12 Councillor Norman reminded the Committee that prior to the recent election, the Council had had undertaken a mapping exercise of defibrillator locations. She confirmed that this exercise had concluded and that officers were now in the process of identifying gaps around the city. Councillor Norman expressed her view that defibrillators were only as useful as they were accessible and confirmed that the Council was willing to consider whether external defibrillators would be more accessible for emergency services.
15.3 The Chair noted that BT were looking to remove decommissioned phone boxes in some city wards and Councillor Norman suggested that BT may be supportive with infrastructure issues such as power supply. Councillor Hilton confirmed his interest in the costs associated with installing external defibrillators and Councillor Norman agreed that these would be made available to the Committee in due course.
15.4 Councillor Durdey referred to the figures relating to prompt payment performance. He noted that the narrative at 8.1 confirmed that the Council had maintained a strong performance in supplier payments over the past financial year, with 97% of invoices paid within 30 days of receipt in spite of the challenges brought about by the pandemic. He asked whether there were any concerns about this positive position changing in the future.
15.5 Councillor Norman confirmed that the City Council worked with local businesses and suppliers and that it remained a priority to invoice payments as soon as possible. The Head of Policy and Resources explained that several years ago, there was a drive from Government to encourage councils towards local suppliers. He confirmed that the City Council had continued to take this approach since and tries to pay invoices immediately wherever possible. Councillor Durdey expressed the view that the Council should be commended for this.
RESOLVED – That the Overview and Scrutiny Committee NOTE the report.