Resolved: that figures would be provided in future reports regarding the ‘no recourse to public funds’ budget. Additional information would also be provided on the fees paid to suppliers for cashless parking services.
5.1 Selwyn Thompson (Head of Financial Services) introduced the report, the following key points were noted:
· The forecasts presented the Council’s financial position to the end of January 2019 – at that point the Council had overspent its budget by £9.9m against a projection of £10.4m.
· The Council had been using Oracle Cloud for ten months. It would be an increasingly effective tool for assisting managers to control their budgets.
· The Community Services directorate was projecting an underspend of £1.9m.
· The Customer Services directorate was overspent by £2.5m.
· The Public Services division in Customer Services had been underspending by £300k but it was now overspending by £300k. This was as a result of changes in council tax administration and a drop in the recovery of housing benefit overpayments.
· The Children and Young People directorate have been overspent by £9.6m for a number of months.
· An improvement board, chaired by the Cabinet Member for School Performance and Children’s Services was meeting regularly to oversee the improvement plan for children’s social care.
· There was also a CYP finance board – which oversaw spending pressures in the directorate’s budget.
· Community Services had underspent on the funding it had been allocated for winter pressures, which contributed to the directorate’s overall underspending position.
· The Council continued to provide support for schools with their budgets.
· Council tax collection was slightly down on target.
· Income shortfalls on commercial rents had increased the budget pressure on the regeneration and place division.
· It was anticipated that the expenditure of the capital programme would move closer to target towards the end of the year.
5.2 Selwyn Thompson, Mala Dadlani (Group Finance Manager, Children and Young People) and Lynne Farrow (Group Finance Manager, Customer Services) and David Austin responded to questions from the Committee, the following key points were noted:
· The figures provided in the report for volumes of activity and expenditure in children’s services were averages of placements throughout the year. In reality, the costs fluctuated during the year and were dependent on the types of placements being used.
· Further work was taking place on developing the sufficiency strategy for children’s social care placements.
· The issue of placements was complex. This was because the cheapest placement might not be the best for a child. Placing a child in the incorrect placement could lead to problems and increased future costs.
· There was a potential for future pressure in the ‘no recourse to public funds’ budget.
· No immediate figures were available on the impact of Lewisham becoming a ‘sanctuary borough’ for refugees.
· Some additional funding had previously been made available by government to support unaccompanied asylum seeking children.
· Budgets in children’s social care would be reviewed throughout the year to determine how effective the current programme of transformation work was.
· Income and expenditure in the parking service budget had both increased.
· The Council was charged transaction fees and bank charges by providers for cashless parking.
· The budget for the technology and change division had been adjusted for 2019-20. It was originally intended that the shared service would sell its services to others – however – the London Borough of Southwark had joined the service as a partner (rather than as a customer) which meant that previously projected savings had not been achieved.
· There had also been a significant security breach during the course of the year – which required the shared service to update its systems. This resulted in additional costs and contributed to the ongoing overspend in the division.
· There were also additional costs from the introduction of the general data protection regulations.
5.3 In the Committee’s discussions, the following key points were also noted:
· There was challenge to officers regarding the activities being carried out in children’s services to manage overspending in light of the apparent lack of change over the course of the past year.
· There was a challenge to the figures provided in the report detailing placements for children in social care. There appeared to be a £275k variance.
· Whilst supportive of the policy, Members expressed concern about the lack of projections for the additional costs of Lewisham becoming a ‘sanctuary borough’ for refugees. This was particularly the case given the previous pressures on the budget for the ‘no recourse to public funds’ team at the Council.
5.4 Resolved: that figures would be provided in future reports regarding the ‘no recourse to public funds’ budget. Additional information would also be provided on the fees paid to suppliers for cashless parking services.