This report presents the result of the first round of the Council’s revenue budget monitoring process for 2021/22. The Council’s summary position is presented at Table 1, with sections 4-7 providing the detail for each service area.
The Committee considered a report which presented the first round of the Council’s revenue budget monitoring process for 2021/22. Members noted that the overspend of £8.5M against the £362M revenue budget could be attributed to the pressure in relation to the number and costs of children in care.
The Committee discussed the following:
The likelihood of spending freezes: The Chief Finance Officer reported that services were considering their budgets prior to discussions being held with the Leader and Portfolio Holders. Officers were considering whether the balance between revenue and capital could be managed in a different way to yield a revenue benefit.
Career progression payments in Children’s Services: Members noted that only a small proportion of staff had qualified for this progression and were advised that this funding had been put into the budget as a retention measure for social workers.
10-year plan in relation to the high needs block and SEND: Asked if the Council was confident that this could be delivered, the Chief Finance Officer said legislation allowed the Council to put the high needs deficit in a separate reserve and the Government’s intention was that it would be managed over three to five years. However, this was not considered possible without more Government funding, so the Council was working to a 10-year plan which was largely predicated on the creation of local schools’ provision funded from the general fund. The Chief Finance Officer said that he was confident the plan could be delivered over that timeframe.
Parking revenue projections: The Chief Finance Officer said that in Q2, improvements were being seen in parking revenue as well as leisure, and that gave him confidence in making the projections for 2022/23.
Is the Pentagon Centre delivering the returns expected by Elandi? The Chief Finance Officer advised that very few units in the Pentagon Centre were currently unoccupied and he considered the long-term outlook to be good. However, income was being impacted in the short-term as there had been a number of new tenants who were benefitting from a rent-free period. In addition, the plans for the first floor would result in periods of vacancy as works were being undertaken.
A Member expressed concern that Virgin Media was leaving the Pentagon Centre and also that a number of units were occupied on a temporary basis.
Adult Social Care: Concern was expressed about the large increase in the cost of mental ill health care and the lack of Government funding. It was asked what pooled funding arrangements were in place for KMPT to assist. In response, the Chief Finance Officer said that this issue was always high on the agenda when the Council held discussions with NHS colleagues. He advised that, of the £13B per annum for three years that the Government had announced for the NHS, only £5.4B in total was for social care. He estimated that Medway would receive around £7M per annum to fund the changes the Government had announced. He considered that the additional funding needed to meet the current pressures would come in the form of a precept.
Use of consultants: Noting the reference to the use of consultants in relation to the Local Plan, it was questioned whether consideration was given to recruiting or retraining staff instead. The Chief Finance Officer confirmed that this was undertaken as part of the budget setting process. He agreed to establish whether a list of consultants and the cost could be provided to Members.
The number of children in care: Clarification was sought as, at the Children and Young People Overview and Scrutiny Committee, Members had been advised that there had not been an increase in the number of children in care, but the report indicated that there had been. The Chief Finance Officer advised that the overall number of looked after children had stabilised, but the number of children in costly residential care had increased significantly in the past four years. It was therefore a unit cost pressure rather than a numbers pressure.
a) noted the report; and
b) requested that Members be provided with information on the use of consultants, specifically the number and cost by service area.