The Chair of the Panel, Councillor Bill Brown, informed the meeting that Councillor Jim Mallory would provide a feedback following his attendance at the meeting of the Mayor and Cabinet on 10 June 2020 to address on matters relating to the “Council’s response to Covid-19 – Financial update”.
Councillor Mallory gave a summary of the recommendations he presented to the Mayor and Cabinet. The recommendations were welcomed by Members as relevant to help shape the future of the Council’s services post the initial impact of Covid-19 crisis. Councillor Mallory pointed out that equally important was a need for the local community to know and understand how the Council’s current financial situation would impact on service provision.
In response to questions raised, the Interim Director of Corporate Services (CS) advised the Panel that the Council’s capital programme was focused on delivering sustainable and affordable housing for residents. Thus, although it was sometimes necessary to review viability of approved schemes to ensure that value for money continued to be achieved, creating opportunities for jobs and skills remained part of the Council’s regeneration commitments.
The Interim Director CS clarified to Members that possible actions against the Government should it not meet its commitments to reimburse local government for the added responsibilities resulting from the coronavirus outbreak was unclear. However, from officers’ perspective, the Council would continue to access relevant networks and forums to learn and share best practice, with a view to deal with the current financial pressures, and forecast and identify risks that might occur post Covid-19 crisis. Members were also advised that steps were currently being taken b officers to submit returns to the Government in a timely fashion on costs associated with Covid-19 activities.
Continuing with her response, the Interim Director CS advised Members that the Council’s procedures and processes for budget setting would provide a consistent message to residents about its financial position. She highlighted achievements and plans in working with partners as evidence of the Council’s community engagement efforts. Specific to current priorities, the Interim Director CS informed Members that consultation on the budget setting arrangements would commence in the autumn of 2000 for considering by the Mayor and Cabinet prior to submitting at full Council meeting in February 2021.
Councillor Amanda De Ryk, Cabinet Member for Finance and Resources expressed a concern about uncertainties as a result of inconsistent messages from the Government regarding reimbursement of money spent on Covd-19 activities at a time when councils were emerging from austerity measures. Councillor De Ryk gave an assurance to the Panel that various London local government networks would continue to lobby the Government about the refunds, in order to help councils deal with potential financial gaps in their budgets.
The Panel also noted statement by Councillor De Ryk in support of views by the Interim Director of CS that the budget setting process would provide a meaningful engagement with residents about the Council’s financial priorities. Councillor De Ryk informed the meeting that as part of the democracy review findings to explore channels to work better with residents, a video animation by Redbridge Council was being considered with officers for adaptation to further enhance engagement activities.
In his closing remarks, Councillor Mallory stated that while the development of a communication strategy was being considered as part of the budget reporting process, steps should be taken within the next few weeks to inform local residents about efforts and achievements that the Council and its partners were making in response of the current crisis. Councillor Mallory added that the pre-empt information should also include potential challenges to deliver and maintain services post-Covid-19 should the Government fail to reimburse funds to local authorities.
· Officers should, prior to developing a comprehensive communication strategy, publicise information about the work and impact that the Council was making in response the current crisis. The publication should include potential financial gap in service provision should the government not deliver on its commitment to reimburse local authorities for costs directly associated with supporting residents during the Covid-19 crisis.
· Officers to produce a comprehensive communications strategy, with timeline for consulting on the work of the council.