Report by the Chief Executive.
29.1 The Chief Executive introduced the report, which builds on previous RPPR report received by the Committee. It updates the overall Medium Term Financial Plan (MTFP) with the additional funding announced by central Government for 2020/21, and noted that Cabinet had agreed to plan on the basis the Council will take the option to raise council tax by applying the 2% Adult Social Care (ASC) precept as well as the planned 1.9% increase. The funding announcements will lead to around £6million in one-off funding being available in 2020/21, and the Committee is asked to comment on the use of this funding. The Council does not have to spend all the one-off funding, and there is still an underlying need to make savings in the following financial years. The Council is hoping to get the final details of the local government financial settlement at end of December 2019, but if there is a new Government the Council may not get the settlement details until end of March 2020.
29.2 The options that Officers have developed for the use of the one-off funding are outlined on pages 43-46 of the report. For the services within the remit of the Place Scrutiny Committee the options include a proposal to defer some of the Library Service savings (option S), additional funding for Economic Development (option AB) and additional capital investment for Highway Works Programme Management (option AD). In considering which of these options should be taken forward, the Committee should take into account the principles that apply to the use of the one-off funding outlined in paragraph 5.2 of the Cabinet report. It should be noted that the pressure within Children’s Services (CS) for children’s social care is reflected in the revised MTFP.
29.3 The Committee acknowledged that in taking a whole Council approach, it is right to prioritise the one-off funding for Children’s Services (CS) and Adult Social Care (ASC) where there are pressures on services. However, there is a case for spending some of the funding on services that support the wider community such as those services provided by the Communities, Economy and Transport (CET) department. The spending on ASC and CS services is not as visible, and residents will want to see what services they are getting for the additional Council Tax they will be required to pay.
29.4 The Committee sought clarification on whether the Government is planning to increase funding for road repairs, as the condition of roads in the County is still a concern. The Director of Communities, Economy and Transport outlined that the Council currently receives and bids for roads funding through the Highway Maintenance Challenge Fund and the Pinchpoint Fund. The Department for Transport (DfT) is consulting on a Highways sector deal which is proposing to extend highway maintenance funding to cover a five-year period, rather than the current year by year approach. This is to give more certainty over roads funding and aid investment decision making. It is not clear whether the sector deal will deliver more funding for road repairs, but there may be a one-off pothole fund next year.
29.5 The Chief Executive commented that the evidence shows ESCC road condition is improving by the sustained application of an asset management approach. There is still a large amount of investment needed to get roads up to standard, and this reflects a national issue, where the level of highway authority funding for road repairs needs to be addressed.
29.6 The Committee suggested allocating one-off funding of £75,000 for the installation of dropped kerbs, which would be visible, meet the criteria for one-off spending, and would benefit whole community. The additional funding combined with the existing capital budget of £50,000 per year, would enable the Council to address the back log of requests for dropped kerbs. The Committee also asked if the Council could use Community Infrastructure Levy (CIL) and Section 106 Planning agreement funding for dropped kerbs. The Assistant Director Operations outlined that wherever there is a development the Council will request funding for, or the provision of, dropped kerbs.
29.7 The Committee also suggested that some of the one-off funding could be used to improve the conditions pavements, particularly to reduce falls. Improving the condition of pavements could lead to savings in ASC spending by reducing falls and visits to hospital, especially for the elderly. The Committee considered that the condition of pavements is affecting many people and more spending in this area would be supported by the public. The Director of Communities, Economy and Transport outlined that the Council currently spends around £1.5million per year on maintaining pavements and could do more if the funding is increased.
29.8 The Chief Executive commented that East Sussex is at the leading edge of local authorities where the population is paying a high level of council tax whilst providing services for a relatively small number of people who are in receipt of CS and ASC services. Therefore, the visibility of expenditure is an important issue. The bulk of proposals for one-off funding reflect where there is financial pressure on the Council. If one-off funding for dropped kerbs and additional investment in pavements to prevent falls are areas of spending that the Place Scrutiny want to propose, then Officers can be asked to consider this, and it can be put forward to Cabinet.
29.9 The Committee commented that in considering the previous reports on the agenda, it was evident that the Council has made relatively modest savings in universal services such grass cutting and the HWRS Service which have had an impact on a large number of people. The Committee hopes that if austerity is ended and the Council’s long-term funding improves, that the Council will be able to start spending on roads and other issues that have a high impact on residents.
29.10 The committee RESOLVED to:
1) request Cabinet to consider additional funding for dropped kerbs and pavements as part of the options for spending the one-off funding; and
2) request consideration is given to returning funding to universal services such as roads, waste and grass cutting should austerity measures end, and the Council receives adequate funding through the fairer funding review.