Venue: Committee rooms 1 and 2
Contact: Timothy Andrew Email: (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Resolved: that the minutes of the meeting held on 16 December 2019 be agreed as an accurate record.
1.1 Resolved: that the minutes of the meeting held on 16 December 2019 be agreed as an accurate record.
2.1 Councillor Ingleby declared a non-prejudicial interest in relation to item four as a Director of Lewisham Homes.
2.2 Councillor Hall declared a non-prejudicial interest in relation to item four as a former Director of Phoenix Housing.
Resolved: that the response from Mayor and Cabinet be noted.
3.1 David Austin responded to a question from the Committee – the following key point was noted:
· It was acknowledged that there was a common theme in reports regarding the Council’s financial reporting relating to timeliness of its actions and the availability of staff and resources.
· The budget addressed a number of the issues regarding resourcing.
· The Panel and the Chief Executive had made it clear that the timeliness of reporting had to improve.
· Over the last two reporting cycles there had been a marked improvement. If additional resources were required to sustain this improvement then that would be made available.
3.2 Resolved: that the response from Mayor and Cabinet be noted.
Resolved: that the report be noted – with reference to the CYP committee’s comments on the health service and the Committee’s recommendation that funds be made available through the transformation fund to support officers to deliver a new commercial venture (under item five).
4.1 Mayor Egan was invited to address the Committee – the following key points were noted:
· Government narrative about austerity “being over” would be challenged at every opportunity – because it was not the case.
· The Committee would recognise that although some of the figures in the budget were not as bad as had been anticipated – services were still critically underfunded.
· The budget did not forecast that the Council would be required to use its reserves to balance its budget this year – but the recent financial settlement did not come close to reversing the decade of cuts.
· There were still a number of areas of uncertainty – including: over Brexit; funding for adult social care and in education funding.
· The Council was still faced with cutting services by £16.6m.
· Through careful management the Council was able to direct support towards its priorities, including: responding to the climate emergency; the sanctuary borough programme; insourcing services.
· Funding had also been directed to support services in the children and young people directorate in order to bolster early help services and to recruit more foster carers.
· The Council was increasing its focus on social value – and there had been early successes in recruiting more apprentices.
· Borrowing would increase to fund the housing programme and to allow investment in the Council’s transformation programme.
· Council tax would be increased – and it now made up 47% of the budget – which was a significant increase on the position a decade ago.
· Rents would be increased. The rent freeze imposed by government had a significant impact (that would last for decades) on the availability of funds for housing improvements and the delivery of new homes.
· In setting the budget – the Council would have to be sensitive to risks. It was anticipated that an additional £40m of cuts would have to be made over the next three years.
· The Council had a “solid position” regarding its reserves. The housing revenue account reserves could be used to fund the housing delivery programme.
· Government data indicated that Lewisham had the 9th highest reserves of all London boroughs and the Chartered Institute for Public Finance financial resilience index indicated that the Council’s finances were robust.
· Thanks were due to Councillor de Ryk (Cabinet Member for Finance and Resources) and David Austin (Acting Chief Finance Officer) for their hard work and diligence.
4.2 Councillor de Ryk was invited to address the Committee – the following key points were noted:
· The budget had been prepared following a very late announcement of the provisional settlement for local government.
· This was not the comprehensive spending review that had been promised – which had been delayed to 2021.
· It was anticipated that all government departments would be expected to make 5% cuts – which was significant – and would bring Lewisham’s settlement in line with the medium term financial forecasts.
· It was hoped that the base position for future cuts would be the settlement that had been agreed this year – ... view the full minutes text for item 4.
Resolved: that items on: income generation; the commercialisation and culture change review; community wealth building; the audit panel and financial forecasts be added to the agenda for the meeting on 18 March. It was also agreed that a briefing would be provided on the Council’s approach to asset management – in order to inform decisions about future scrutiny.
There was a discussion about the meeting with officers from the London Borough of Waltham Forest before the consideration of the substantive items on the agenda.
5.1 Timothy Andrew (Scrutiny Manager) introduced the write-up from the evidence session with officers from the London Borough of Waltham Forest.
5.2 In the Committee discussion – the following key points were noted:
· The approach being taken by Waltham Forest was different to the approach being taken by Barking and Dagenham (visited previously).
· Waltham Forest had taken a more ‘organic’ rather than ‘big bang’ approach to developing commercialisation and income generation initiatives.
· Officers had been allowed freedom to take measured risks and to behave commercially.
· The freedom had also been given for officers to try things and to fail.
· The Committee would welcome funding for officers in Lewisham to initiate a new commercial project.
· The Waltham Forest approach provided a focal point (through the commercial enterprise) for officers to go with good ideas. This also gave officers the freedom throughout the organisation to think more commercially.
· Members felt that the stage had been reached in Lewisham where something needed to happen. The structures were in place to support a new commercial project and now was the time to “push the button” to make it happen.
· The Waltham Forest approach had already delivered successful financial outcomes.
· Councillors were not involved the direct management of Waltham Forest’s commercial enterprise. It was implied that by having that structure the organisation was able to adapt quickly and make decisions.
· Councillors were involved in the governance at the right levels.
· A balance needed to be reached between enabling a commercial enterprise to be flexible – and ensuring there was public accountability. It was recognised that these issues would have to be considered if any proposal came forward to set up a new commercial body in Lewisham.
· There had to be a degree of separation between a commercial body and the Council.
· Councillors would welcome the opportunity for officers to be more creative and innovative.
· Culture change happened from the ‘bottom up’ as well as ‘top down’ and the two had to work together.
· Further consideration should be given to the ways in which the Council managed its assets.
5.3 Katherine Nidd (Strategic Procurement and Commercial Services Manager) was invited to address the Committee – the following key points were noted:
· There had also been a discussion between Lewisham officers and those from Waltham Forest.
· Lewisham officers were impressed by the Waltham Forest approach to their commercialisation programme and the management of risk.
· The ‘organic’ approach taken in Waltham Forest fitted with the wider culture and the set-up of the Council.
· Lewisham’s new chief executive had initiated a change programme – in consultation with staff – much of it focused on culture and developing new ways of working.
· It was important that income generation did not become ‘siloed’ – or detached from the wider work that was taking place in the organisation to improve ways of working.
· The first commercialisation ... view the full minutes text for item 5.