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The agenda and reports for this meeting can be found on Wirral Council’s website and this blog post includes video of the meeting.
The Chair welcomed everybody to the meeting, after a short discussion about filming he asked for any declarations of interest or party whip. No declarations of interest or party whip were made. The minutes of the meetings held on the 14th February 2013 and on the 30th January were agreed.
Peter Timmins introduced the month 10 report on the overspend. He started by saying that they’d added £1 million to the budget of Adult Social Services, increasing the original overspend from £17 million to £18 million, however due to the spending freeze the overspend was down to just over £7 million, but that the month eleven report was just about to go to the Chief Officer’s Group which would add a further £200,000 reduction to the overspend.
Part 3 (page 9) of the report detailed the risks of overspends in adult and children’s social care and how they were in talks with Cheshire West and Chester Council about shared services. He felt they could do more on procurement to generate savings and clamp down on “rogue purchasing”.
Cllr Gilchrist asked when the report on bad debts would be reported? Peter Timmins said it was going to a Special Cabinet meeting on the April 18th and that it had led to some interesting discoveries about the Pension Fund. He said they were looking at the processes involved.
Cllr Gilchrist asked about the changes in month ten compared to month nine. Peter Timmins said he would give Cllr Gilchrist the budget book which showed three years budgets which he hoped to have ready by the middle of April as it was now in draft form. They had also done a budget training session for councillors and planned to do more of these and were also training officers in budget management with aids to budget management put on their website. He described sending officers to budget management training courses using the metaphor of sending sheep to be dipped.
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Cllr Phil Davies
Cllr Tony Smith
Cllr Adrian Jones
Cllr Harry Smith
Cllr Brian Kenny
Cllr Pat Hackett
Cllr Chris Jones
Cllr Chris Meaden
Cllr George Davies
Cllr Ann McLachlan
Cllr Phil Davies welcomed people present and commented that the meeting was less noisy than the previous Cabinet meeting. He welcome Joe Blott, the new Strategic Director for Transformation and Resources. No declarations of interest were made.
Cllr Phil Davies asked Peter Timmins to introduce the report. Peter Timmins said that the position on the overspend had improved by a £million, he referred councillors to 2.15 on page 7, talked about the earmarked reserves and referred to table 6 at 3.2 on page 10. He said that the underlying problems had been masked by one-off solutions this year.
Cllr Davies thanked Mr. Timmins for the report and said he wanted to make a few comments. He said it was pleasing to see the overspend this year down, however he said they still had additional pressures such as the bad debts issue in Adult Social Services which there would be a verbal report on later and the Social Services care home fees consultation.
He said they were waiting for a “clear steer from government” in response to the meeting they [the three party leaders] had with the Minister a few weeks ago about flexibility about capitalisation and the way the levies operate. There would be a further meeting with civil servants on Tuesday [29th January] and that they were working hard on the budget options consultation which would end at the end of the month. Following the consultation there would be a report to the Cabinet meeting of the 18th February (where they would also decide on a new three-year Corporate Plan).
Cllr Davies said he wanted to add to the recommendations (which are below):
Add the following to the recommendations in the report:-
1. Cabinet believes that the Government’s austerity policy is proving to be profoundly unfair. Authorities with the highest levels of poverty and deprivation are facing the biggest cuts. At the same time, wealthy areas with the lowest levels of poverty pay less.
2. Wirral is losing £151 per head in cuts. Liverpool is losing £252, Manchester is losing £209, Newcastle is losing £162, Birmingham is losing £166, and Sheffield is losing £140 per head.
3. Milton Keynes is losing just £38 per head. Central Bedfordshire is losing £18 per head. And people in North Dorset are losing just £2 per head.
4. Cabinet also notes that a recent report by SIGOMA (Special Interest Group of Metropolitan Authorities Outside London) indicates that out of the 47 SIGOMA authorities Wirral has had the largest cut in its funding from central government (2.62% cut in revenue spending power 2013-14). This compares with the SIGOMA average of -1.78% and the average for Shire Districts of -1.37%.
5. Cabinet supports the ‘Come Together’ Campaign launched by the Mayor of Liverpool on the 18th January when the Leaders of Core Cities, Merseyside Districts and Faith Leaders met to discuss the impact of the Government’s austerity policy.
6. Cabinet supports the on-line petition which has been launched at www.come-together.co.uk. This calls on the Government to urgently re-think its policy and to apply the cuts more fairly across the country, protecting those most in need, and making sure those in wealthy parts of the country pay their fair share. We urge all residents to sign this petition.
This was seconded by Cllr McLachlan and agreed by the Cabinet.
The first item was the report on the action plan in response to the District Auditor’s report into the Highway and Engineering Services Contract. Colin Hughes informed the Committee that it had been presented to Cabinet on the 18th October.
Councillor Foulkes asked for assurance that Wirral Council was in communication and there was a dialogue with the people who had blown the whistle on the contract?
Colin Hughes replies that he had not been involved personally but could make enquiries. David Armstrong said that when he had been Acting Chief Executive there had been a continuing exchange between himself and the whistle-blower.
Cllr Brighouse referred to Recommendation 14, he wanted them to spend more time looking at implementation which in the past he thought they hadn’t done as well at.
Cllr Abbey thought the timescale of January for Recommendation 20 (the review of Internal Audit) was not much time to get councillors involved.
Mark Niblock, Deputy Chief Internal Auditor said there was currently a review into the effectiveness of Internal Audit and the actions taken to address issues. Following the review a report would be brought back to the Audit and Risk Management Committee.
Cllr Abbey referred again to recommendation 20.
Peter Timmins said in order for councillors to be informed, there was preliminary work that needed to be done. He told them that they were currently sharing a Chief Internal Auditor with Liverpool City Council, who was working with their deputy Chief Internal Auditor Mark Niblock. Mr. Timmins said that they didn’t want to get sidetracked with detailed discussions, which were quite technical, but next month they would produce proposals and anything councillors raised would be answered.
Cllr Sullivan said that it worried him when he said it was too technical for the councillors, he said it was important that the councillors scrutinise before decisions were made. He said he had concerns that the scrutiny committees get reports on serious stuff, but all the decisions had been made and was concerned by being told it’s a bit too technical for councillors.
Peter Timmins responded that they would be bringing recommendations to the Audit and Risk Management Committee, he wanted to translate it out of “audit speak” and their intention was to engage fully and not to hide.
Normally the papers for a meeting have to be (it’s a legal requirement) published five days before a meeting on Wirral Council’s website expect in certain exceptional circumstances.
However when your report is the snappily titled Revenue Monitoring 2012/13 Month 4 (July 2012) detailing exactly why Wirral Council has a projected £14.4 million overspend (or at least it did at the end of July 2012, let’s hope it’s not more now two months later), it’s understandable why somebody wouldn’t want this going out with the regular agenda through the post to councillors on the Council Excellence Overview and Scrutiny Committee before the next meeting on Monday.
In fact publishing on Friday afternoon is a time-honoured way to “bury bad news”, and believe me the news is bad and explains the matters that led to the spending freeze about three weeks ago. By the time anybody has read it and has any questions, most of the relevant Monday to Friday 9-5 Council officers will be enjoying the weekend.
The advantage of course to the online version is it’s in colour, whereas to save costs the Council prints things in black and white (although obviously the lucky few councillors recently given iPads will be able to view it in colour).
However let’s have a look at the highlights and the slightly strange use of statistics and selective quoting of facts. The overspend for months 1 and 2 of Financial Year 2012/2013 seem to be missing from the graph, with no explanation given in the report as to why. However the projected overspends don’t seem to originate from the Department of Finance (who predict a £2.5 million overspend), but the two “usual subjects” of DASS (Department of Adult Social Services) at over £10 million of overspend and CYPD (Children and Young Peoples Department) at around £5 million.
Even the Department of Law, HR and Asset Management headed during some of this period by Bill Norman is projecting a £2 million overspend.
The report of course mentioned that the Labour Cabinet’s response this year has been to spend a further £677,000.
So how does this breakdown compare to what the Budget should be (according to report anyway)? The answer in the report is £3 million over budget on employee spend, £1.3 million overspend on premises and an £11.5 million overspend on “supplies and services”.