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Apologies for Absence and Notification of Substitute Members
The Committee was advised that apologies for absence had been received from Councillors Jason Fenwick and Steven Lee.
Local Code of Conduct and Declaration of Disclosable Pecuniary Interests
In accordance with the local Code of Conduct, a councillor is required to disclose at the meeting any Disclosable Pecuniary Interest (DPI) that they may have in respect of any matter for consideration on this agenda. Any councillor with a DPI must not participate in any discussion or vote regarding that matter and they must withdraw from the meeting immediately before consideration of the matter.
If that DPI has not been registered, the councillor must notify the Monitoring Officer of the details of the DPI within 28 days of the date of the meeting.
Councillors are further invited to disclose any non-pecuniary interest which may be relevant to any matter on this agenda, in the interests of transparency, and to confirm that it will not affect their objectivity in relation to that matter.
There were no declarations of Disclosable Pecuniary Interests.
To confirm the minutes of the Committee meeting held on 12 September 2023.
The minutes of the Overview and Scrutiny Committee meeting held on 12 September 2023 were agreed.
Lead Councillor Question Session
A question session with the Lead Councillor for Finance and Property, Councillor Richard Lucas.
Councillor Lucas’s specific areas of responsibility: Finance and Accounting (General Fund/Housing Revenue Account); Internal Audit; Procurement; Revenues and Benefits; Property and Land Assets; and Engineers and Facilities.
The Chairman welcomed the Lead Councillor for Finance and Property, Councillor Richard Lucas and invited him to make an introductory statement.
The Lead Councillor for Finance and Property referred to the challenges experienced during the municipal year since May, including turnover in personnel, organisational change, and financial issues, and concluded by praising the work of the Council’s finance officers.
In response to a question from a Committee member about organisational challenges revealed within the Council’s finance function, the Lead Councillor for Finance and Property outlined the Council’s financial problems and concerns with the capability of the Council to address such issues. He indicated to the Committee that the Council had been short of both skills and capacity to deal with its financial issues, the Council’s organisational structure was unsatisfactory, and there had been an apparent lack of sound financial reporting to inform timely decision-making within Council services. In addition, the Lead Councillor for Finance and Property advised the Committee that failings within the financial reporting at the Council in the past had made control of expenditure more difficult. He indicated the need to balance the Council’s budget and reduce the Medium Term Financial Plan and suggested the importance of establishing improved processes and systems that would enable improvements in financial accountability and delegated decision-making by officers at the Council.
A member of the Committee expressed concerns about costings relating to the Housing Revenue Account (HRA) and queried the impact of the large overspend and asked whether a budget had been set aside for possible legal challenges that might result. In addition, the cost of related investigations and the apparent lack of financial oversight were questioned. In reply, the Lead Councillor for Finance and Property advised of improvements in the reporting of contract-spending at the Council. The Joint Executive Head of Finance advised that £300k had been set aside for governance reviews, most of the overspend had occurred through the HRA’s capital programme, and specialist lawyers had been instructed to ensure the Council avoided giving grounds for any legal challenges.
In response to a query from another member of the Committee, the Joint Executive Head of Finance advised that most of the £300k set aside for governance reviews had been allocated from the General Fund and a small element might come from the HRA.
In reply to a question, the Joint Executive Head of Finance confirmed that service accountants now met monthly with budget holders within services to monitor spending, with reports sent monthly to heads of service and directors.
In response to questions, the Lead Councillor for Finance and Property noted the importance of financial reporting within local government and the value to the Council of interim financial personnel to help establish lasting practices and behaviours.
In reply to a query about past financial management at the Council, the Lead Councillor for Finance and Property referred to the impact from the Council’s Future Guildford transformation programme and the introduction of a new computer system to manage the Council’s budget, ... view the full minutes text for item OS19
Interim Procurement Report for the Period 1 April 2022 - 30 September 2023: Updates on Procurement Service Strategy - 2020-23 including Procurement Internal Audit recommendations - 2023-24 and Procurement Savings Strategy - April 2020. PDF 73 KB
The Interim Senior Specialist Procurement introduced and summarised the report submitted to the Committee. He indicated that the Procurement Service Strategy had been adopted in 2020 and was due for a revisit in 2023. The meeting was advised that the Strategy would be affected by the Council’s collaboration with Waverley Borough Council, the adoption of the Procurement Act in 2024, and encouraging engagement with the local supply market. The Interim Senior Specialist Procurement summarised the progress of the Procurement Savings Strategy, including the savings achieved and the approach to future savings.
During the ensuing discussion a number of points were raised and responses offered:
· In reply to a question from a Committee member about ensuring the maintenance of standards for service users, the Interim Senior Specialist Procurement referred to checks undertaken as part of the annual audit of procurement and the role of the Corporate Procurement Board on higher value contracts. In response to the member of the Committee suggesting the value of customer feedback and complaints directly informing the procurement process, the Lead Councillor for Finance and Property indicated that such information could be used to inform the delivery of services rather than the initial procurement process.
· In response to a question on the development of spend control processes, the Committee was advised by the Interim Senior Specialist Procurement of mechanisms being introduced to improve the linking and tracking of spend on individual contracts.
· With reference to the high value risks identified within the audit of the Council’s Procurement (attached as appendix 1 to the report submitted to the Committee), a member of the Committee questioned the controls and actions taken to manage or mitigate any such issues. In response, the Interim Senior Specialist Procurement advised that progress against such targets was reported to the Corporate Procurement Board. The Joint Executive Head of Finance indicated that such concerns would be added to the Council’s financial risk register if appropriate. In addition, he advised the meeting of his duty to prepare a Section 25 report when the Council agrees its annual budget.
· In reply to a query, the Interim Senior Specialist Procurement advised that the Council’s Procurement Procedure Rules provided a framework to capture procurement improvements and that the Rules were currently being reviewed due to the changes from the Procurement Act 2023 and the desire to harmonise with Waverley Borough Council. The Joint Executive Head of Finance indicated that the Financial Procedure Rules and the Procurement Procedure Rules within the Council’s Constitution did reference and link to other internal documents that detailed relevant processes.
· A Councillor questioned why savings achieved through procurement were attributed to the procurement service rather than the individual Council service undertaking each procurement. In response, the Joint Executive Head of Finance advised that he viewed procurement as an enabling service and the existence of a savings target for the Council’s procurement service was historical.
The Chairman asked when the full Procurement Report for 2023-24 would be completed and was advised late June 2024.
RESOLVED: (I) ... view the full minutes text for item OS20
With reference to the report submitted to the Committee, the Interim Senior Specialist Procurement introduced the item. He noted that the report provided an update on the implementation of the Modern Slavery Motion adopted by the Council in 2020 and advised that further recommendations relating to modern slavery were monitored and incorporated into the Council’s procurement processes. The Committee was reminded that the publication of the modern slavery report was an annual requirement.
There were no questions on the item.
RESOLVED: (I) That the annual update report on the Modern Slavery Motion for the financial year ending 31 March 2023, as submitted to the Committee, be noted.
(II) That the Executive be requested to progress actions within sections 7.5-7.8 of the Annual Report on the Modern Slavery Motion:
7.5 Consideration should also be made of some emerging policy from the Home Office published in September 2020 which requires certain organisations with a turnover exceeding £36 million to produce a Modern Slavery Statement for each Financial Year. The Government have outlined the intention to roll this out within Local Government and also for organisations of the same financial standing.
7.6 The Council should consider further training to teams responsible for contract management to assist identification of Modern Slavery when services are being delivered for the Council.
7.7 The Government have now released a Modern Slavery statement registry over 6,000 statements have been submitted covering over 20,000 organisations on a voluntary basis. The Council should publish the 2023 statement on the registry.
7.8 The Council should review the Home Office developments listed below:
a) A modern slavery risk prioritisation tool which aims to help departments risk assess their contracts in accordance with the Cabinet Office Procurement Policy Note – Tackling Modern Slavery in Government Supply Chains Action Note PPN 05/19 September 2019 guidance more easily.
b) An induction pack for anti-slavery advocates to ensure senior commercial directors are better equipped to oversee how their department is tackling modern slavery.
c) Guidance on modern slavery statements to ensure departments have a clear understanding of key information they must include in their first statements.
d) Guidance on developing modern slavery KPIs to help departments measure the effectiveness of the measures they are taking to combat modern slavery.
A presentation by Samantha Hutchison, Joint Executive Head of Community Services.
The Joint Executive Head of Community Services gave a presentation on Community Services and The Hive (the slides for which had been published with the agenda papers). The Committee was informed of the different teams within Community Services: Family Support; Care and Repair and Disabled Facilities Grants; Careline; Refugee Support and resettlement; Community Wellbeing and vulnerable people support; Older People’s Hub; and Community Transport and Community Meals. She advised the meeting that Community Services operated within a wider Social Value Ecosystem with partners that shared the same goals.
The Joint Executive Head of Community Services indicated that The Hive used to be The Park Barn Social Centre. She informed the meeting of the previous uses of The Hive site by the Council and its current use for Community Wellbeing, Community Transport, and the Older People’s Hub. The Joint Executive Head of Community Services indicated that The Hive remained a service depot for Community Transport and Meals.
The presentation outlined the community transport journeys to and from The Hive, the numbers of community meals delivered from the site in 2022/23, and the wider wellbeing support associated with The Hive. The Joint Executive Head of Community Services told the Committee about a Christmas present project for less advantaged families that was supported by Guildford High School.
The Committee were informed of the costs involved with The Hive, the grant contributions from Surrey County Council, the charges for services, and the rates for hire of the hall at The Hive. The Joint Executive Head of Community Services stated that community transport charged service users of The Hive a £3 flat rate for a one-way journey. She told the meeting of £178k in savings achieved in 2023 and indicated that a further £250k of savings had been identified for 2024.
The Joint Executive Head of Community Services highlighted that The Hive:
· Is for the whole Borough
· Is part of the Community Services Offer
· Is the base for Community Transport and Meals
· Is the Care Activities Hub for the Borough
· Has wellbeing services open to all residents
· Is crucial to fulfilling the Council’s commitment to those less advantaged
· Delivers outreach activities to other areas
The Joint Executive Head of Community Services suggested that a further report to the Committee could be informed by a number of key considerations:
· There is no need to replicate the Council’s Community Service operational base at The Hive
· Certain communities might wish to have a community hub in their area
· The Hive is where it is and what it is because it is a Council asset
· Does the Council want to consider using other Borough community assets for community wellbeing space?
· If so – there would need to be a community organisation or group that can lead and shape this with the support of the community services team
· Any approach would need to integrate with the Council’s asset management plan and budget pressures
· If viable, could this space be a hub for voluntary sector partners to use as an outreach ... view the full minutes text for item OS22
To consider the draft Overview and Scrutiny work programme.
The Senior Democratic Services Officer (Scrutiny) advised the meeting of changes to the Overview and Scrutiny Committee work programme since the publication of the agenda. He advised that the meeting on 16 January 2024 would have five items; namely, Guildford-Waverley Collaboration, Performance Monitoring Report 2023-24 (Quarter 2), Operation of the Leisure Management Contract 2022-23, annual report and monitoring arrangements for operation of the G Live contract 2022-23, and a performance and progress update on the Council’s Customer Services. He indicated that three items were scheduled for the 30 January Committee meeting: Thames Water; the question session with the Lead Councillor for Planning, Environment, and Climate Change; and the Air Quality Strategy update.
RESOLVED: That, subject to the re-scheduling of January items stated at the meeting, the overview and scrutiny work programme submitted in the report to the Committee be approved.