Agenda and draft minutes

Agenda and draft minutes

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Items
No. Item

73.

Declarations of interest

Minutes:

Cllr Simmonds declared an interest in relation to item 7 given his personal professional involvement with work in relation to the climate emergency but none of which had impacted on or would impact directly  on the work described in the report.

 

74.

Chair's Announcements

Minutes:

 

The Chair welcomed Benita Edwards, Head of Legal Services, to her first meeting of the Committee

75.

Minutes pdf icon PDF 396 KB

 

Recommendation: That the minutes of the meeting held on 12 January 2021 be APPROVED as a true and accurate record.

 

Minutes:

The Committee resolved to APPROVE the minutes of the meeting held on 12 January 2021 as a true and accurate record.

76.

Work Plan and Forward Plan pdf icon PDF 330 KB

The Scrutiny Committee operates within a work plan which is agreed at the start of the Council year the latest version of which is attached.  The work plan is driven to a very large extent by the Cabinet Forward Plan.  A summary of the latest version of the Forward Plan is attached.

 

The Committee is asked to agree the work plan having taken account of any updates and after discussion.

 

The Committee is further asked to agree to a meeting in May to take place in the event that the local elections are delayed. Date to be confirmed when the dates of Cabinet meetings are set.

 

 

Additional documents:

Minutes:

The Scrutiny officer said there had been no changes to the workplan as set out in the papers before the Committee.

 

It was noted that an urgent  delegated officer decision had been made very recently in order to secure £9.5m Salix funding for decarbonisation work across the City. This was something which warranted exploration by Scrutiny, notwithstanding that the decision had been made. Agreed that the Scrutiny Officer, in consultation with Cllr Fry as Chair of the Finance & Performance Panel, would decide how best to address this.

 

77.

Council Tax Reduction Scheme 2021/22 pdf icon PDF 170 KB

Cabinet, at its meeting on 10 February, will consider a report on the Council Tax Reduction Scheme for 2021/22. The Committee is asked to consider the report and agree any recommendations thereon.

Councillor Marie Tidball, Cabinet Member for Supporting Local Communities and Tanya Bandekar, Service Manager Revenue & Benefits, have been invited to attend for this item.

Additional documents:

Minutes:

Cllr Marie Tidball, Cabinet Member for  Supporting Local Communities,  introduced the report. The Council was one of just 30 Councils which offered 100% Council Tax reduction via the scheme. This was increasingly important in the present Covid environment which was particularly challenging for some residents. She highlighted the major outcomes of the consultation which preceded the proposals now before the Committee.

The proposal to introduce a minimum charge for working age claimants to reduce the cost of the scheme was rejected as a result of consultation responses and an underling wish by Members to continue to provide 100% relief.

The following proposals were however supported by the consultation responses and would be going forward to the Cabinet:

·       Uprating  the current Income Bands for UC claimants

 

·       Introduction of an Income Banded scheme for all working age claimants not just UC claimants. The impact of which will be a need for fewer changes to be reported to the Council; less administration; more certainty for claimants and the realisation of  £120k of staff savings

 

·       Administering the scheme  as a discount from the amount of Council Tax due rather than a benefit.

 

·       Simplification of some of the scheme’s rules

 

It was also proposed that the existing Hardship Funding would continue to be available to support anyone adversely affected by unforeseen consequences of  changes to the scheme.

It had been a vibrant consultation with over 400 responses to it, more than in previous years.

The Committee was  pleased to see that it was still proposed to provide 100% relief for those who were entitled.  It was noted that no savings were envisaged beyond those achieved from simplification of the scheme and that the overall cost of the scheme was likely to increase as the number of those entitled to support from it increased. This would, in turn, have consequences from those other organisations which benefit from the collection of Council tax such as the County Council and Thames Valley Police but no adverse representations had been received by them.

The scheme and the language associated with it was not always easily accessible to those not familiar with it.  It  was agreed that future consultations would take this into account. This might include the use of  worked examples and  more consistent/appropriate references to the Oxford Living Wage/National Living Wage.

Cllr Tidball confirmed that the scheme as proposed for 2021-22 was financially sustainable on the basis of the overall budget decisions to be made soon and Members’ wish to continue the scheme on the basis set out in the report. The scheme would continue to be reviewed annually thereafter.

It was noted that the temporary £20 increase in Universal Credit was, perversely, unhelpful for many residents as it would take them to the point of the “Benefit Cap”. Its proposed cessation (April 2021) was unlikely to be of significant consequence for the majority of those benefiting from the CTR. The Government’s discretionary one off “self-isolation” payments of  £500 would be disregarded for CTR purposes as they would  ...  view the full minutes text for item 77.

78.

Draft Budget Review Group Report pdf icon PDF 576 KB

The Committee is asked to consider the Draft Budget Review Group Report, raise any necessary amendments and agree an approved version to submit to Cabinet for response.

This report will be published as a supplement.

Minutes:

Cllr James Fry introduced the report by focussing on the main recommendations. In relation to Floyd’s row there were two recommendations in the light the inability to make full use of it because of the current Covid restrictions and some concerns about the future funding arrangements for it. It was suggested that the savings flowing from the proposal to move to one planning committee should be monitored and, if not achieved, the position should be reversed. It was agreed that the wording of this recommendation should be revised to the effect that there should be consideration of reversing the decision rather than an insistence on doing so. The was a recommendation for a ring fenced trading account for the covered market given the significant resource dedicated to its upkeep, promotion etc so that an eye could be kept on its effectiveness. It was being suggested that the funding for Experience Oxfordshire should be increased, that contributions from neighbouring authorities should be sought in parallel with greater promotion of the City as a tourist destination. There was a recommendation that the Council should consider a wider range of asset classes for its investments  than its current focus on commercial property, and which might extend to, for example, renewable energy. It was also suggested that where property did feature as an investment, there should be a focus on property already owned by the Council.

It was noted that revised budget proposals  would be going to Cabinet the following week, these would include a reduction of the sums proposed for capital investment from £53m, to £20m but the substance of the review group’s recommendations remained valid.

The Council’s move towards increasingly digital delivery of its services was seen to be positive and it was recommended that lessons learnt from recent months should not be lost. The potential of letting one or two floors of St Aldate’s Chambers was a source of some concern lest there was insufficient demand (given the amount of space likely to be available elsewhere in the City centre) so it was important to secure the best advice about the creation of flexible workspace to maximise take up. In the event that the overall financial position turns out to be better than expected, then consideration should be given to reinstating grants that might otherwise be lost. The Council’s dwindling reserves should be replenished if and when possible. In the present climate of uncertainty, a mid-year budget update would be desirable.  The ODS budget distinguishes between income which is secure and that which is not, this is a model which it would be useful for OCHL to follow. The final recommendations represented just the ‘tip of an iceberg’.  The Review Group had conducted a forensic review of all the budget proposals in what was a particularly challenging year from a budget point of view.

The Committee confirmed its agreement to the Review Group’s report and delegated finalisation of it to Cllr Fry and the Scrutiny Office.

 

79.

Zero Carbon Council by 2030: 4th carbon management plan 2021/22 to 2029/30 pdf icon PDF 466 KB

Cabinet, at its meeting on 10 February, will consider a report on the Zero Carbon Council by 2030: 4th carbon management plan 2021/22 to 2029/30. The Committee is asked to consider the report and agree any recommendations thereon.

Councillor Tom Hayes, Cabinet Member for Green Transport and Zero Carbon Oxford and Tim Sadler, Transition Director, have been invited to attend for this item.

 

Additional documents:

Minutes:

Cllr Tom Hayes, Cabinet Member for Green Transport & Zero Carbon Oxford, introduced the report, the intention of which was to bring to an end the Council’s contribution to global warming by 2030 or sooner and outlining how the Council will be net zero carbon by the end of 2021. This proposal built further on the Council’s declaration in 2019 of a climate emergency and the subsequent wish of the majority of the Council’s Citizen’s Assembly to go ‘further and faster’ than the Government’s ambition to achieve zero carbon by 2050. The Council had assembled a robust evidence base to inform policy and provide the basis for plans which were both ambitious and realistic. While the Council’s carbon emissions account for just 1% of those in the City, it had a role to lead by example and galvanise others to do the same. The report looked to the future but it was far from the first step in the Council’s programme of activity to reduce carbon emissions, having reduced them by some 23% since 2014. The Council had been successful in attracting significant external funding to support this area of activity and there was every reason to believe that this would continue to be the case all of which would contribute to the success of this ambitious project.

Tim Sadler, Transition Director, reinforced the point  that the focus of this report was on Scopes 1 and 2 of the plan, and principally about the Council’s operational buildings, and that further reports would come forward in due course  about the Council’s other interests. There was, also, an ambition to come forward with a Zero Oxford plan in due course.

The Committee agreed that this was an ambitious and welcome plan. In order to achieve its ambitions it was suggested that a greater level of rigour was needed in relation to reporting, measuring outcomes, setting targets etc. More generally it was important to adopt a standardised reporting approach in relation to zero carbon. A number of detailed recommendations were suggested and subject to discussion.

Cllr Hayes’s preliminary response was that much of what had been suggested  was not strictly necessary, partly because of the greenhouse gas report which came to the Committee annually which gave a considerable amount of detail  and transparency was ensured by its wide dissemination.

The Transition Director said there would be reluctance to redraft the plan at this stage given the considerable amount of work which had gone into pulling it together across the organisation. He reminded the Committee that the version now before it was based on previous plans and the requirement to report on greenhouse gases. He recognised however the value in seeking to align the plan with other metrics that might be available and useful. He explained that in the case of the Leisure Centres operated by Fusion there was a mechanism to ensure that the Council would benefit from any investment made in those buildings. The successful bid for Salix funding for decarbonisation of Council  ...  view the full minutes text for item 79.

80.

Report back on recommendations and Scrutiny Panel meetings

No Scrutiny reports have been taken to Cabinet since the last meeting.

Councillor James Fry will update the Committee on the meeting of the Finance and Performance Panel held on 27 January 2021.

The meeting of the Housing and Homelessness Panel, scheduled for 01 February, was cancelled as the reports for consideration had been deferred.

 

Minutes:

Cllr Fry reported back on the last meeting of the Finance & Performance Panel which had reviewed the Cabinet report on the Capital Strategy. Among other things the Panel noted that there may well be value in scrutinising projects once complete to see whether or not they represented good value for money.

 

81.

Dates of future meetings

Meetings are scheduled as followed:

 

Scrutiny Committee

• 02 March, 08 April

 

Standing Panels

•Finance & Performance: Provisional meeting scheduled for 06 April (dependent on whether the local elections are delayed)

•Companies Scrutiny:  15 March

•Housing & Homelessness: 04 March

 

All meetings start at 6.00 pm.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Minutes:

Meetings are scheduled as followed:

 

Scrutiny Committee

• 02 March, 08 April

 

Standing Panels

•Finance & Performance: Provisional meeting scheduled for 06 April (dependent on whether the local elections are delayed)

•Companies Scrutiny:  15 March

•Housing & Homelessness: 04 March

 

All meetings start at 6.00 pm.