Budget Scrutiny: Scrutiny of the budget proposals for 2021/22.
- Meeting of Children and Young People Select Committee, Tuesday, 19th January, 2021 10.00 am (Item 4.)
Please use this link to access the papers for this item - available as part of the 20th January 2021 Cabinet agenda.
Peter Davies, Nicola Wellington and Tyrone Stokes delivered the presentation and report, and answered the members’ questions, along with Julie Boothroyd and Cabinet Member Phil Murphy.
Monlife must have lost a lot of revenue from schools using leisure centres, as well as gyms being closed. Are we happy that Monlife will be able to ride the storm?
Timing couldn’t have been any worse for Monlife, in terms of what has happened this year. The income losses suffered by Monlife have been met in full by Welsh Government through the Covid Hardship Fund – to their credit, they have followed through with funding dealing with income shortfalls resulting from the pandemic. We expect this to continue into next year until services are back up and running. Monlife is confident of footfall returning when things can reopen fully. While we have furloughed a number of Monlife staff, we have drawn on that capacity release to support Test, Trace and Protect, and assisted with Business Grants administration, and it will assist in supporting some of the pandemic rollout, working with health.
As our levels of looked-after children have increased, is there any scope for additional grants from Welsh Government, particularly if the increase is greater than in other local authorities?
There have been some small amounts of funding that have helped on the periphery, but nothing specifically for looked-after children. Over a year ago, a Welsh Government task force assessed our strategy around the reduction in looked-after children, and we have to report on a quarterly basis as to how we are progressing. So it is being observed very closely from a Welsh Government perspective. Our numbers plateaued this year, which we hope will continue. Small amounts of grant money that have come through have been helpful in bolstering intervention and prevention provision, to prevent escalation further up into more costly services. We hope to be able, through the evidence gathered from that, to secure other monies.
Are the 3 remaining pupils at Mounton House still based there, and is that under the PRU? What is the plan for them?
The 3 pupils referred to are the Monmouthshire pupils who were in Mounton House when it closed. Two have now moved into independent provision, one has moved over to PRS. The cost for all 3 has been built in and will be included in the tracker mentioned earlier as we move forward.
Is the PRS based in Mounton House? Are there other pupils for PRS based there?
Mounton House remains vacant. There would be a business case to back that provision if we did decide to move in that way, but it wouldn’t be one pupil, it would be the PRS service. We are looking at that option but there are cost implications to work through.
There is a concern about the collection of council tax following the economic effects of Covid, and the demographic changes. Has that been properly evaluated and factored into the calculations?
The tax yield is predicated on us determining a council tax base for the council. One of the drivers behind that is a forecast and assessment of the number of chargeable dwellings and new properties being built. The second key consideration is the council tax collection rate. We have in fact retained an underlying assumption of a 99% collection rate because our data shows strength and a positive rebound on collection. If we compare to other authorities in Wales, overall we have a much stronger recovery position. We are comfortable in holding it at 99%. The challenges our communities are facing are at the heart of the work done by Richard Jones (Policy and Governance) and his team, looking at the overall Wellbeing and Future Generations Equality Impact assessment – council tax is a key feature of that. It also looks at the impact of the array of budget proposals and where that ends up on those with lower incomes. Council Tax reduction schemes and discounts available to families are important. It is a very difficult balance for the council to strike, given its finances. Cabinet is proposing a 4.9% increase but safeguards and mitigations are in place around the discounts on offer.
Regarding the list of potential risks, are we confident evaluating the investments that we aren’t affecting our ability to borrow in the future?
Yes, the slide on risks and considerations wasn’t exhaustive. One bullet point talks about the pressures that we aren’t currently aware of – this is the strategic risk register, highlighting where we have risks that could materialise. The budget is predicated on a set of assumptions. If, for example, an officer were to ask for extra money in a budget proposal for extra pressures but wasn’t able to provide evidence that those pressures were forthcoming, it wouldn’t work its way in. The reasonable assumption that has been introduced is based on the looked-after children pressure that we have to accommodate, and the fact that it is stabilised. We look at each case in isolation and comfort ourselves on the underlying assumptions. We don’t want to base things on risks that are more probable than likely, because if they are probable then prudence would dictate that they be incorporated in some way in the budget.
Looking at the existing risks, and our potential inability to borrow, is there potential risk on funding across the board?
We are governed by the Prudential Code, which determines that our borrowing is affordable, sustainable and prudent. Indicators set thresholds within which we work. We have sufficient headroom in our borrowing capabilities. Ultimately, the ability to determine whether our borrowing is sustainable, prudent and affordable will be couched within our ability to fund it within the revenue budget i.e. the borrowing costs in terms of interest and repayment, which is called MRP. We don’t have any concerns in that regard at this point. For further information, the treasury strategy is going to Audit Committee and then Council on 11th March, and will draw those conclusions.
Questions were asked about Monlife and sustainability, issues of grants for looked-after children, and matters relating to Council tax collection, as well as broader questions deemed to be outside the scope of this committee. For information: there will be a virtual consultation over the next 4 weeks. The website’s budget page will contain an overview, a link to the core budget consultation presentation, budget papers, a blog from Cabinet Member Phil Murphy, and a feedback form. Answers to general questions related to the budget can be found in the Cabinet papers.