Agenda and minutes

Performance and Overview Scrutiny Committee - Monday, 27th February, 2023 10.00 am

Venue: The Council Chamber, County Hall, The Rhadyr, Usk, NP15 1GA with remote attendance


No. Item


Declarations of Interest.





Public Open Forum.


No submissions were received.



Pre-decision scrutiny of the Council Tax Premiums Consultation: Long Term Empty Properties and Second Homes - To consider the findings of the public consultation exercise on introducing council tax premiums from 1st April 2024 (report to follow). pdf icon PDF 173 KB

Additional documents:


Cabinet Member Rachel Garrick presented the report and answered the members’ questions with Ruth Donovan and Matthew Gatehouse.


Can the list of exceptions be reconsidered, particularly regarding empty homes which are listed buildings, given that renovations can take a long time?

Council Tax legislation and guidance must be followed, which is specific about a 12-month allowance for properties being empty before a premium can be charged. A property exempt from council tax isn’t liable for the premium. A 6-month exemption can be granted if substantial renovations are required, and that can be extended to 12 months. The exemptions can also apply to properties for sale, etc. – there is a list of other categories for exemptions.

Is it correct that those who already on the database as owning second homes voted for an increase?

It was an open, public consultation. There are 400 properties on the database classed as empty, and 190 registered as a second home. We wrote to those property owners advising that we were considering a premium and asking for their views in the consultation; we opened it up to the wider public subsequently. We therefore have a mixture of responses from those directly affected and the wider public.

The consultation was only available online?

Some without access contacted us and we took them through the consultation in the contact centres/hubs.

But if someone wasn’t online, they wouldn’t have known about it in the first place?

There was also a press release, so it wasn’t just on the website, and we encouraged people to contact us if they couldn’t complete the form online.

What is the relevance Q.s 11-15 here – are they not an infringement of privacy? Are they generic when a questionnaire is sent out?

Certain questions have to be asked in any public consultation, such as the potential impact on the Welsh language, for example, and others are good practice to be asked when policy changes are being considered, especially if there is a potential disproportionate impact on a particular group, even though they might not be legally required. And these questions are only optional.

Have colleagues in other authorities with high second homes rates found that there are means by which the legislation can be avoided?

No, we haven’t seen or heard of any. Previously, it was legitimate for council tax properties to move into business rates around the thresholds for self-catering, which meant a reduction in the council tax base – other authorities reported a significant shift in this regard, as a result of the premiums.  The rules around self-catering have changed since then: businesses have to be available to let commercially for at least 252 days per year (previously 140), and must be let in the previous 12 months for 182 days (previously 70 days). We anticipate a number of properties will come back into the council tax list, as a result of this threshold changing.

What counts as a ‘derelict’ home, and what potential is there for a long-term  ...  view the full minutes text for item 3.


Month 9 Budget Outturn Report - Budget monitoring report for monthly scrutiny. pdf icon PDF 822 KB

Additional documents:


Cabinet Member Rachel Garrick and Jonathan Davies presented the report and answered the members’ questions with Peter Davies, Will Mclean, Frances O’Brien and Ian Saunders.

Ahead of the questions the Chair noted that it is understood that the picture is a complicated one regarding reserves and the council’s underlying picture but residents will want to know what the financial position is that are identified in the report, as one which by the end of the financial year might not be financially sustainable. It would be reasonable to want to understand the impact on the representation of our position being improved by the additional drawdown of reserves, which can’t go on in perpetuity, and the impact of grants that might never be repeated.


Committee members should note that it is unusual to read some things in the report e.g. 3.19, which refers to the potential difficulty in reducing costs and “more extreme measures”. 3.2.0 is also very unusual in stating that measures will be “vital to ensuring that the Council ends the year in a financially sustainable position”. 3.2.1 states that certain savings “will not necessarily bring any further benefit to future years’ budget” – are we cutting out one-off issues that might result in the deterioration of services?

This wording highlights that there has been a need to strike a balance between our ability to instigate very hard measures in-year, while putting plans together for next year at the same time. The package of measures introduced in the current year has responded to a situation that has evolved very quickly. The point about financial sustainability concerns ensuring that we are instigating the necessary level of cost control now; the further deterioration at Month 9 is disappointing. We need to ensure that we are taking steps for there not to be further deterioration, putting us on a sustainable path to work through next year and beyond.

The contradiction between positive spin on one end and negative at the other is a concern, particularly as related to approaching a critical level of reserves. Do we need to examine the reserves position more closely, and the effect on budgeting in future years?

The increased use of reserves is due to examination of the intent to use capital receipts to cover some of those additional realisations of risk. It has become clear that not all of the areas that we had intended in fact qualify under the capitalisation directive and, therefore, we are having to turn to reserves on that particular piece. In terms of usage, we, as an administration, are concerned about the level of available reserves: the Council hasn’t replenished them over the last few years to any discernible level, apart from the point where we had additional funding for Covid. We have the third lowest reserves in Wales. So, we are also paying extreme attention to where our reserves are, and what can be done about that.

But in terms of drawing on reserves to subsidise our revenue expenditure of  ...  view the full minutes text for item 4.


Performance and Overview Scrutiny Committee Forward Work Programme and Action List. pdf icon PDF 111 KB

Additional documents:


Councillor Chandler noted that there are no Month 11 or Year End budget outturns on the Forward Work Programme, asking when they will come to the committee. Jonathan Davies will check with Democratic Services and update members – ACTION



Cabinet and Council Work Planner. pdf icon PDF 263 KB


To confirm the following minutes:


Ordinary Meeting - Performance and Overview Scrutiny Committee - 17th January 2023. pdf icon PDF 363 KB


The minutes were confirmed and signed as an accurate record, but the Chair noted a correction: the statement that numerous councils across the country are in bankruptcy because of the current economic crisis is inaccurate – there is one bankrupt council but that is due to poor long-term investments. The Chair reminded Cabinet Members and officers that such matters must not be misrepresented, or committee members and the public misinformed.



Special Meeting - Performance and Overview Scrutiny Committee - 25th January 2023. pdf icon PDF 369 KB


The minutes were confirmed and signed as an accurate record.




Next Meeting: Thursday 27th April 2023 at 10.00am.