Agenda item

Interview with Executive Members for Resources

To consider a report by the Director for Digital, Sustainability and Resources, copy attached as item 7


Before the Committee was a report by the Director for Digital, Sustainability and Resources, a copy of which had been circulated to all Members, a copy of which is attached to the signed copy of these minutes as item 7. The report before Members set out background information on the Portfolios of the Adur and Worthing Executive Members for Resources.


The Executive Members for Resources for Adur and Worthing were present to answer questions.


A Member asked the following question: As the Executive Member for Resources, what do you view as the most significant challenges, both now and in the coming months? The Worthing Executive Member told the Committee that setting a balanced budget was the primary task along with tackling financial uncertainties. For example falling car park income had come about as a result of changing behaviours. Members were also told that it was difficult to make assumptions and predictions as it was unknown if there would be any further periods of lockdown.


A Member asked the following question: Property/ asset management: with food/community hubs and groups like Esteem all openly needing storage or working space, why are the Council selling Adur owned assets eg Old School House, Mill Lane, Cemetery House, instead of putting them in the hands of the community? Members were told that as part of the budget strategy, the Council had agreed to dispose of surplus assets to realise capital receipts which can then be used to support the Capital Programme financing requirements. Wherever possible assets were used to support community groups, however some assets were too expensive to maintain and it was not viable for them to be of continued community use.


A Member asked the following question: Paragraph 6.3 in the appendix to item 8 states ‘our financial performance has been helped by some impressive redeployment of staff to priority areas and high quality in house digital work’. Can you quantify this increased financial performance for these interventions and explain how they saved/made money? Members were told that throughout the pandemic staff were redeployed to areas of need. The Government provided grants to pay for the administration of these programmes of work, however as this was effectively administered using existing staff and digital utilities, the grants supported the overall financial position at a difficult time. Responding to a supplementary question the Executive Member told the committee that they were not aware of any data compared to other authorities but they would get back to the Committee.


A Member asked the following question: Has the Council conducted an audit of all the grants awarded to groups and organisations during the pandemic? If not, when will they do it? Members were told that the business grants were the subject of an extensive assurance programme required by the Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy which the internal audit team had been leading on. In addition the Councils had been providing regular financial information and reconciliation information to BEIS. This was an ongoing process. In addition the Councils, from April 2020, had to provide weekly updates on the grant streams, including the number of grants allocated across the different grant streams. The Adur Grants were audited as part of the ongoing schedule of internal audit. This was last conducted in Dec 2020, a draft report had been prepared and comments are currently being sought by officers. The Self Isolation Grants were scheduled to be audited in November 2021. However, it was likely that this date would be postponed, due to this scheme being extended by the government to 31st March 2022. An insights report would be developed alongside the audit to guide future work and will be shared with Public Health England.


A Member asked the following question: Officers have faced extraordinary pressures and challenges over the past 18 months. What support have staff been able to access via Occupational health? The Committee was told that Managers could refer staff to Occupational Health to request advice on a member of staff’s health and any support and reasonable adjustments that could be provided to support them in the workplace. Staff could also access the Council’s Employee Assistance Programme (EAP). The Employee Assistance Programme was a confidential and independent service providing free professional advice, counselling and information services to all employees - 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. All staff had been offered a Wellbeing Day as a gesture of appreciation for the support provided to the communities of Adur and Worthing throughout the Covid pandemic. Staff were being encouraged to use the extra day’s leave to take some time out to focus on their own wellbeing.


A Member asked the following question: Paragraph 7.10 in the appendix to item 8 states that the councils have sought to secure public and private investment from a number of sources during the 6 months from January to June 2021. For instance working with Coast to Capital Local Enterprise Partnership. Can you quantify the amount of public and private investment we have secured, how it compares to previous six months blocks in the last few years and how it compares to local authorities nationally? Members were told that the majority of funding received in the last 12 months had been in response to the Covid-19 pandemic, which had combined grant distribution (e.g. covid business grants) and grants to support vital services, to serve communities. This had been based on a pro rata basis when comparing against other Local Authorities.  Additional support was received to help support local leisure services (National Leisure Recovery Fund) whereby the Councils received £335K to help support leisure services. In the same period, the Councils had bid for funds where appropriate and where eligible to do so, including Levelling Up bids for Adur and Worthing (both approximately £10m) and the UK Community Renewal Fund (£250K). The Councils had also bid to a series of funding opportunities through government teams such as Homes England - one of those came to fruition this week with Adur being awarded £400k as part of the Land Release Fund and MHCLG in the form of Rough Sleeping Initiative. The funding landscape had changed over the last couple of years, however the Councils had secured significant Local Growth Fund monies, via Coast to Capital LEP, from 2017 onwards which had secured the purchase of Union Place, enabled the decontamination works at Decoy Farm, the delivery of Focus House in Adur and also the vital flood works at Western Harbour Arm, amongst others. The Councils continued to examine and bid to appropriate funding sources that would support ambitions in ‘Platforms for our Places’. As part of the Government's Build Back Better programme, significant funding had been made available to public sector bodies to improve the energy efficiency of the public estate. In Spring, Adur and Worthing were successful in securing £43,000 of feasibility funding through the Low Carbon Skills Fund and £1.6m of capital grant from the Public Sector Decarbonisation Scheme - one of only 4 in Sussex to do so. An update on the programme, which would reduce the councils' energy costs and carbon emissions was provided to Joint Strategic Committee on 7 October. In addition, Worthing Borough Council had received over £250,000 from the Heat Network Development Unit of BEIS to develop one of the UK's lowest-carbon district heating schemes, utilising waste heat from the town's main sewer to heat public sector buildings in the town centre. The Councils had recently learnt that the council has been awarded £5m of capital funding through the BEIS' Heat Networks Investment Project. This would leverage in over £6m of private sector funding to deliver the heat network and it was believed that Worthing Borough Council was the first lower-tier authority in England to be awarded funding through the main HNIP scheme.


A Member asked the following question: How has the pandemic impacted on the learning and development of staff? On the whole, the pandemic hadn’t impacted on the learning and development of staff. At the start of the pandemic, learning & development offer shifted, with added emphasis being put on helping staff learning to develop their own resilience. The Councils had easily shifted mandatory learning (such as asbestos awareness training) online and continued leadership development - including quarterly gathering of the leadership community - online through Google Meet, Zoom or Microsoft Teams. For courses that required larger spaces for in-person training the Council had begun to use larger spaces available, such as the QEII room in Shoreham and the Council Chamber in Worthing. It was noted that many other externally delivered technical courses for professions such as planning and accounting had continued with an online delivery despite lockdown easing .This will provide benefits for the council, including removing travel costs/time, often lower course cost (due to larger cohorts of learners) and recordings for future reference.


A Member asked how the Councils Strategic Property Investment Programme was performing and was told that the Councils had recorded a 100% collection rate with a NET income of 5-6%. This had been a result of the Councils’ robust policies.





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