Agenda and minutes

Venue: The Innovations Centre, Croxton Road, Thetford

Contact: Committee Services, Breckland Council  Tel: 01362 656870

Items
No. Item

22.

Minutes pdf icon PDF 76 KB

To confirm the minutes of the meeting held on 21 May 2009.

Minutes:

The minutes of the meeting held on 21 May 2009 were confirmed as a correct record and signed by the Chairman.

 

Matter Arising - Item 20/09 – Items for Next Meeting

 

It was pointed out that the Update on East Cambridgeshire’s application for full ARP membership was now being discussed at the Chief Executive Officer’s Group.

 

It was agreed that this item be no longer considered by this Partnership.

 

23.

Apologies

To receive apologies for absence.

Minutes:

Apologies for absence were received from Mr D Burnip, Mr A Colyer and Mr G Wilson.

 

24.

Urgent Business

To note whether the Chairman proposes to accept any items of urgent business pursuant to Section 100(B)(4)(b) of the Local Government Act 1972.

Minutes:

(a)       Uttlesford District Council

 

The Strategic Manager updated Members on the discussions that had taken place with regard to Uttlesford District Council joining the Anglia Revenues Partnership (ARP) as a fourth partner.  During the initial negotiations, it had become apparent that if Uttlesford did join the ARP, then that would make a significant saving of £100,000 per year in the first instance for the two partner authorities.  This would equate to £60,000 for Breckland and £40,000 for Forest Heath.

 

It had been hoped that the savings would be as high as £160,000 per year but this could not be achieved to the residual costs which the service had to fund.  These included the cost of HR, ICT and Finance.  If Uttlesford did join the partnership, then their staff would be transferred across rather than the ARP having to TUPE them.

 

Members were informed that the ARP did have the capacity and senior management expertise to expand the partnership, even with the imminent loss of two key officers.  It was pointed out that although Uttlesford had agreed to enter into negotiations with ARP, they were also exploring the option of establishing a partnership with authorities in their immediate locality.  The timescale for Uttlesford joining ARP was April 2010, albeit they had been hopeful of joining in January but that is unachievable.

 

RESOLVED that officers be authorised to continue with negotiations with Uttlesford District Council about them joining the Partnership, with a view to bringing a report back to the next meeting.

 

25.

Declaration of Interest

Members are asked at this stage to declare any interests they may have in any of the following items on the agenda.  The Members’ Code of Conduct requires that declarations include the nature of the interest and whether it is a personal and/or prejudicial interest.

Minutes:

None were given at the meeting.

 

26.

Exclusion of Press and Public

To consider passing the following resolution:

 

“That under Section 100(A)(4) of the Local Government Act 1972 the press and public be excluded from the meeting for the following item of business on the grounds that it involves the disclosure of exempt information as defined in Paragraph 4 of Part 1 of Schedule 12A to the Act:

 

Agenda Item                          Paragraph No. of

                                                Schedule 12A

6                                                                                      4

Minutes:

RESOLVED that under Section 100(A)(4) of the Local Government Act 1972, the press and public be excluded from the meeting for the following items of business on the grounds that they involve the disclosure of exempt information as defined in paragraph 4 of Schedule 12A to the Act.

 

27.

Pay Policy

Report of the Operational Board.

Minutes:

The Head of Human Resources and Corporate Support presented the report which recommended a revised pay scheme for the Anglia Revenues Partnership (ARP).

 

At the last meeting, the three Heads of Human Resources within the ARP had been tasked with reviewing the Breckland Pay Scheme and recommending a new pay scheme for adoption by the ARP, subject to consultation with the ARP management team, HR Group, UNISON and staff.  The suggested new scheme needed to reflect the particular needs and circumstances of the ARP.

 

Members were advised of the discussions that had taken place since that meeting to address this requirement.  The issue is complex as the Partnership is not under the direction of one single employer but is an amalgamation of staff from different Partners hosted by the Partnership.  These all have different terms and conditions with regard to salary and performance management.

 

To date, salaries had been managed under a “Blended Scheme” which had drawn together salaries to ensure equality of pay for equal value work but had not addressed other aspects of staff conditions.

 

The Head of Human Resources and Corporate Support then took Members through the four options contained within the report for establishing a revised pay scheme, and explained the financial, operational and legal implications of each of the options.

 

During discussion of the report, Members requested that a Business Case be constructed before proceeding to approving a new pay scheme, with a view to that document being considered at a future meeting of this Partnership.  Provided that this was satisfactory, then the principle of establishing a new pay scheme adapted from the Breckland model, but tailored to take account of the needs of the ARP, was accepted.

 

The issue of staff appeals was highlighted and it was confirmed that this had been taken into account as part of the Risk Management implications.  In addition, the Strategic Manager reminded Members that the staff from East Cambridgeshire had joined through TUPE and that this would need to be factored into the equation.

 

Having thanked the Head of Human Resources and Corporate Support for producing an excellent report, it was

 

RESOLVED that

 

(1)    the ARP could adopt a performance related pay scheme modelled on the Breckland scheme but adapted to meet the particular needs and circumstances of the Partnership.

 

(2)    a Business Case is established for the above change, to include a tailored Performance Related Pay scheme for the ARP and formal consultation, and brought back to the Joint Committee for further consideration.

 

(The meeting here resumed in open session)

 

28.

Authority for Writing-off Debt pdf icon PDF 62 KB

Report of the Operational Board.

Minutes:

The Head of Finance for Forest Heath District Council presented the report which sought authority to write off debt in line with the current financial level at Forest Heath District Council.

 

She informed Members that Forest Heath District Council had agreed at their Council meeting on 24 February 2009 to set the level at which the Section 151 officer (the Head of Finance) could write off debt at a level of £2,500 in any one case.

 

This was now contrary to the policy of the ARP which allowed the Section 151 officer at Forest Heath to write off debts over £500 for live accounts of business and citizen debts and closed accounts of citizen debts.  For closed accounts of business debts, the officer could write off debts over £2,000.

 

The proposal had been discussed with the managers of the ARP and they were in agreement with the new limit.

 

Having being assured that sufficient controls were in place to ensure that debts were not written-off unnecessarily, Members

 

RESOLVED that the delegation arrangement to the Section 151 Officer (including nominated deputies) at Forest Heath District Council be amended to permit the write off of both citizen and business debts on both live and closed accounts at a level of £2,500 in any one case.

 

29.

Annual Governance Report pdf icon PDF 240 KB

Report of the Operational Board.

Additional documents:

Minutes:

The Management Accountant presented the Annual Governance Report for the Anglia Revenues and Benefits Joint Committee for 2007/08.

 

With regard to the financial statements, management had agreed to make a number of adjustments following recommendations from the Audit Commission.  These adjustments had resulted in an increase in net expenditure of £112,161 and a corresponding increase in the contributions made by Breckland Council.  It was pointed out that these changes had been as a result of presentational issues with the financial statements rather than an error with the accounting information.

 

After discussion, it was

 

RESOLVED

 

(1)   to adjust the financial statements as set out in the recommendations in the report.

 

(2)   to approve the representation letter on behalf of the Joint Committee to enable the Audit Commission to issue their opinion, value for money conclusion and certificate.

 

(3)   to agree the proposed action plan, as set out in the Annual Governance Report.

 

30.

Performance Report

Report of the Operational Board.

3007a

Operational Performance pdf icon PDF 116 KB

Additional documents:

Minutes:

The Performance Manager presented the report which commented on the performance of the ARP as at 30 June 2009.

 

The majority of items were on target, with the exception of the collection of council tax (Council Tax 1, Breckland and Forest Heath) and time taken to process new council tax and housing benefit claims (NI 181, Breckland and Forest Heath).  The latter issue had been as a result of a massive increase in claims as a result of the economic recession.

 

The Operations Manager pointed out that additional staffing had been recruited utilising funding from the Department for Works and Pensions to address the increase in new council tax and benefits claims.  This had reduced the processing time down to nine days by June 2009.

 

It was pointed out that there had been an 18% increase in the number of summons issued compared to last year.  The number of reminders and final demand notices issued by ARP had also increased as some people found it difficult to make payments due to the recession.

 

On a more positive note, Members were advised that ARP was beginning to target people who had the means to pay their council tax but declined for whatever reason, or who had larger and long standing debts.  With these cases, ARP was seeking charging orders through the courts.  These would be publicised as a deterrent.  Other authorities had undertaken a similar exercise in the past and achieved a 70% payback rate.  Officers agreed to identify ten cases per authority and bring a paper back to the next meeting of this Committee for consideration.

 

Whilst Members endorsed this approach, they stated that there was a need for the Communications Team in each authority to get the same message into their local press when this scheme was brought into operation.

 

The report was then noted.

 

 

3007b

Financial Performance pdf icon PDF 8 KB

Minutes:

The report outlined the budget position as at 31 May 2009.  It was pointed out that the ARP would receive an increase in income from the premises as a result of office space being let in the building to the team carrying out Choice Based Lettings for Breckland Council.  The remainder of the costs and income were close to the forecast for 2009/10.

 

The report was noted.

 

31.

Further Additional Funding for Benefits Administration pdf icon PDF 65 KB

Report of the Operational Board.

Additional documents:

Minutes:

The Operations Manager presented the report which was a request to claim and use additional Department for Works and Pensions (DWP) funding to provide temporary Housing Benefits staff.

 

As the recession had significantly increased the number of housing benefit and council tax claims, the DWP would provide extra funding for the next two years to ensure that local authorities could respond to the extra Housing Benefits workload.  As a result of the pre-budget report, the DWP had been provided with an additional £30m administration subsidy, in addition to the £45m already distributed.

 

The report highlighted the amount and how the funding would be provided for each of the partner authorities, which totalled nearly £100,000.  The Operations Manager explained that the additional funding would be used flexibly, frontloaded at the start of the year to address the significant increase in new claims.


Accordingly, it was

 

RESOLVED to approve the additional available funding to be claimed and used for the temporary employment of Housing Benefit Staff.

 

32.

NNDR Deferral of Rates Report pdf icon PDF 67 KB

Report of the Operational Board.

Additional documents:

Minutes:

The Performance Manager presented the report and explained that in March 2009, the Government had stated its intention to bring in a deferral of rates scheme in respect of 2009/10 at the end of July 2009.  The Government had provided a small grant, paid to each local authority, in order to implement the changes.  This was to cover software, staffing, publicity and stationery costs.  A further grant would be payable at the time of live implementation.

 

The report gave details of the legislative changes that had been implemented on 6 July and how Breckland had been required to implement them to ensure that Business Ratepayers were issued with a new bill by September 2009.  It also contained a Briefing Note to all partner authorities which the Joint Committee was asked to approve.

 

RESOLVED to approve the payments necessary from the partner authorities to Breckland Council and agree the Briefing Note for distribution to the partner authorities.

 

33.

Council Tax Funding Report pdf icon PDF 68 KB

Report of the Operational Board.

Additional documents:

Minutes:

Members gave consideration to the report from the Performance Manager on the progress being made with the Council Tax Efficiency Information and Business Rates Deferral Letters Funding project.

 

In October 2008, the Government (DCLG) changed the way in which the efficiency information was to be displayed to all Council Tax payers with effect from the 2009/10 charge.  In March 2009, the Government also stated its intention to bring in a Business Rates deferral scheme for all businesses.  Furthermore, they had provided a small grant, paid to each local authority, in order to implement the changes.  This was to cover software, staffing, publicity and stationery costs.

 

The implementation of the project had gone smoothly and the APR was now fully live on this new initiative.  As such, the project had now been signed off.  At present, Breckland Council had paid for the implementation costs for all three authorities in order to split this charge, based on the number of Council Tax properties at 31 December 2008, when the efficiency statements for 2009/10 were finalised.  It was suggested that any balances remaining from the DCLG funding be retained by the partner authorities to allocate to their corporate priorities.

 

RESOLVED to note the contents of the report and approve the payments necessary from the partner authorities to Breckland Council.

 

34.

Council Tax NFI Report pdf icon PDF 71 KB

Report of the Operational Board.

Additional documents:

Minutes:

Members gave consideration to a report which updated them on the Council Tax National Fraud Initiative (NFI).

 

The NFI data match was a comparison of data held by Council Tax and Electoral Registration databases.  All discrepancies have been reported to the authorities by the NFI where individuals are fraudulently claiming single person discounts or where rising 18s are resident but not shown on the council tax register.

 

A total of 2,878 cases have been reported across the three authorities.  All these cases would need to be reviewed and, where appropriate, the single person discount removed.  This is a very time consuming process and there is a deadline of September for completing this exercise.  It was proposed to appoint an additional Council Tax Officer, via an agency, from the surplus from the Council Tax and NNDR Deferral funding for this process.

 

It was pointed out that other authorities who have completed this exercise have had an increase in the Council Tax revenue.  Whilst this benefits district councils, the respective County Council receives substantially more money.

 

Ipswich Borough Council has used an external third party to undertake this exercise.  Albeit this was a significant extra cost, the process had revealed more discrepancies than the NFI method and Suffolk County Council had met 90% of the cost.

 

During discussion of the report, it was pointed out that the company who did the exercise for Ipswich Borough Council had competed it on a “no win, no fee” basis.  Suffolk County Council would be interested in financially supporting any other district council within their area utilising the same company.

 

The officers from the ARP expressed concern that these were two different issues.  The NFI was a statutory requirement whereas as the company used by Ipswich was optional.  However, the more successful we are at identifying discrepancies, the more work required by the team to investigate them and make any changes.

 

RESOLVED to

 

(1)     note the report.

 

(2)     approve the funding the temporary post.

 

(3)     request the Chief Financial Officers from each of the partner agencies to approach the County Council in their area for funding.

 

(4)     further investigate the cost/benefits of the firm used by Ipswich Borough Council with a view to bringing back a report to the next meeting.

 

35.

Items for Next Meeting

To note any items for inclusion on the agenda for the next meeting.

Minutes:

There were no additional items raised at the meeting.

 

36.

Next Meeting

To note the date of the next meeting on 8 October 2009.

Minutes:

Arrangements for the next meeting on 8 October 2009 were noted.