Report by the Chief Executive.
20.1 The Assistant Chief Executive introduced the report. This report provides the opportunity for the Committee to receive updates on the RPPR process since the September Place Scrutiny Committee meeting and identify any information it requires for the Place RPPR Board which will be held in December. The September Cabinet report, which is appended to the Committee report, provides a policy update since the State of the County report. There is still a great deal of uncertainty about the forthcoming Government policy developments, and more information is awaited on the Levelling Up White Paper; the national review of Special Educational Needs and Disability (SEND) provision; the review of Children’s social care; and the review Adult Social Care funding. All of which are expected to be announced later this year or next year.
20.2 It is usual that the Committee receives an update on the proposed savings as part of this report, and in particular the Committee has requested an update on the proposed savings for the Trading Standards service. As set out in the report, the planned savings in the Trading Standards service have been removed following service pressures. The report also sets out an updated Medium Term Financial Plan (MTFP).
20.3 The Chief Finance Officer provided an update on the MTFP since September during which time there has been the Budget Statement and the publication of the Spending Review for 2021. There have been some key financial announcements as part of the Settlement which saw the announcement of three-year grant totals, but not specific grant allocations. The Council is likely to receive only a one year funding allocation from those grants for 2022/23, with the future two years likely to be subject to different types of allocation. There is a level of risk that the methodology for funding allocations will change over the course of the next three years. The Council knows the totals for the grants that have been announced but not the individual allocations to local authorities, and there is still a large degree of uncertainty.
20.4 Some of the key announcements are:
20.5 At present the budget assumptions are based on a 1.99% increase in Council Tax and a 1.5% ASC precept taken in 2022/23. A 1% increase in Council Tax equates to additional income for the Council of around £3.1 million. The Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR) has issued its latest assessment of inflation which is exhibiting an upward trend, and this will have to be factored in to the MTFP which may result in an additional cost pressure when the Council comes to set the budget.
20.6 In response to Covid the Council has received many grants in this financial year and there is £69 million available. The Council is currently estimating that it will have £30 million of that total unallocated at the end of the financial year and it is not yet clear if it will be possible to carry forward some of the specific grants or whether they will have to be spent by the end of the financial year. This will also have to be factored into the MTFP.
20.7 For savings, there is no requirement for additional savings to be found other than those already set out in the report. Details of the Local Government Provision Settlement for ESCC are awaited and the MTFP will be updated once the Council has more detailed financial information on budget allocations.
20.8 The Committee discussed the report and raised a number of questions and made comments, which are summarised below.
20.9 The Committee asked whether any parking charges surplus will be spent in the localities related to the various Civil Parking Enforcement (CPE) schemes (e.g. in Hasting, Eastbourne, Bexhill/Rother etc). The Committee also asked what type of transport measures or schemes the funding will be spent on. For example, the ‘Gear Change’ document sets out how sustainable transport schemes for walking and cycling and active travel can be developed, and the role parking may play in the modal shift to safe and reliable active travel. Some members of the Committee also noted that there is a desire by some residents in the Rother CPE scheme to extend some of the parking restrictions. The Committee asked for a link to be circulated to the annual report on parking surpluses.
20.10 The Director of Communities, Economy and Transport (CET) outlined that parking surpluses are spent on local transport schemes across the County and can be used to support public transport, such as supported bus routes, which may be linked to other areas. The Eastbourne Town Centre Improvement scheme has used funding from this source. Parking charges can help with demand management and surpluses can be used to make public transport more reliable and safe, as well as supporting active travel. Parking reviews are held on a regular basis if parking restrictions need to be changed or expanded. In some cases, the prevention of parking can help with bus reliability. The ‘Gear Change’ document is good in setting out a direction for change, however some of the interventions will be expensive. The implications and any potential use conflicts will need to be examined. The Local Cycling and Walking Infrastructure Plan (LCWIP) will be a key component in the shift to walking and cycling as a mode of transport.
20.11 The Committee noted that parking on the pavement is becoming an increasing problem and asked if the Council could lobby the Government to introduce a national policy to ban parking on the pavement (as is the case in London).
20.12 Councillor Denis commented that he thought the Lewes Town Partnership had an agreement with ESCC that parking surpluses would be spent locally when the CPE scheme was introduced rather than being pooled and spent across East Sussex. He would like this agreement reviewed as the original agreement was to spend parking surpluses locally.
Waste and Recycling
20.13 The Committee commented that if there is a possibility that more Household Waste and Recycling Centres (HWRS) are closed, this could result in more fly-tipping and increased travel for residents to dispose of their waste. There should be a carbon assessment and as this is a very visible service. It would be preferable to look at other options such as reducing opening hours rather than closing sites. The Committee noted that there may be a need for cross border use of HWRS sites where the nearest site is in another local authority’s area. The Committee asked if it would be possible to have a high level agreement for East Sussex residents to access other local authorities’ sites.
20.14 The Director of Communities, Economy and Transport outlined that the department has previously done work on HWRS need and accessibility and clarified that the are no plans to further reduce the number of sites. This will be kept under review if there are changes in waste behaviour or demand. The planned savings will be achieved through efficiency savings in the £1.3 billion Waste PFI (Private Finance Initiative) contract such as additional income generation from the sale of electricity and the processing of commercial waste.
20.15 The Environment Bill which has received Royal assent may introduce changes that have an impact on ESCC through requirements for a food waste collection, consistency in the collection methodology and deposit return schemes. Introducing cross county agreements would have commercial implications for ESCC and would need to be examined carefully in order to understand the impact on tonnages and costs. Work would also need to be undertaken to understand how people travel to HWRS sites and the embodied carbon in the waste contract.
Management of Back Office Systems (MBOS) Programme
20.16 The Committee noted that there was nothing in the revenue budget for the MBOS Programme and asked if all the expenditure will be from the capital budget. The Chief Finance Officer clarified that the MBOS Programme expenditure is capital, but the ongoing revenue costs are reflected in the MTFP through existing budgets.
National Insurance increase and Pressures Protocol
20.17 The Committee asked if the ongoing cost of the National Insurance increase in employer contributions had been built into the budget and for clarification of what is meant by “pressures approved by protocol”. The Chief Finance Officer outlined that the increase in National Insurance has been built into the base budget and therefore the budget reflects the ongoing cost increase. The ‘pressures protocol’ is a process to assess and rank financial pressures (i.e. the need for budget increases to meet a growth in costs such as from inflation, or changes to service requirements) before they are included in the MTFP.
20.18 The Committee RESOLVED to note the information in the attached RPPR Cabinet report of 30 September 2021(appendix A), including the updated Medium Term Financial Plan and savings plans.