Additional Budget Provision To Fund The Delivery Of The Local Development Framework (Agenda Item 8)
Report of the Deputy Chief Executive.
In the absence of Councillor A. Steward, the Deputy Chief Executive presented this report.
He confirmed that the production of the Council’s Local Development Framework (which was one of the Council’s main priorities) was progressing positively. The Public Enquiry into the soundness of the Core Strategy and development control policies had gone well, and the Inspector had been impressed with the work done thus far. The Inspector and his team were optimistic that the report would be positive.
The Deputy Chief Executive confirmed that Capita were at an advanced stage in terms of the Thetford Area Action Plan and the Council’s site-specific policies. Good work was also in hand on the Area Action Plan for Attleborough.
He praised the work of the officers concerned, saying that they could not have worked any harder. He stressed that the request for additional funds was in no way a reflection upon them, or their output. Indeed, the Inspector had indicated that in some areas the project had made more progress than would have been expected at this stage.
Instead, the request for further money was being put to the Council in order to retain momentum on the project. Drawing Members’ attention to paragraph 4 of the report, the Deputy Chief Executive explained four factors which had particularly stretched planning services’ current resources to their limits:
1) The negotiation and roll-out of the Council’s contract with Capita had absorbed a considerable amount of officers’ time. It would also continue to impact upon resource levels whilst the new arrangements settled-down.
2) The uncertainty created by the LGR and outsourcing had contributed to some key personnel leaving.
3) A number of complex technical issues relating to the European Habitats Regulations and protected birds had been unexpectedly time-consuming.
4) The Inspector and his team had required the Council to bring forward, or commission, work that had either not been envisaged or which had been assumed could be undertaken later in the process. (He cited studies on energy, water and stone curlews as examples here.)
Thus it could be seen that what had initially been envisaged as a smooth business profile had now been altered. The new funds requested would have had to have been spent at some point during the exercise. He apologised if, in a recent statement to press, he had not made himself clear and took the opportunity to reiterate once more that no “additional” money was being requested. He drew Members’ attention to Table 1 at paragraph 6 of the report, which gave the budget breakdown for support of the planning service in 2009-2010, together with a detailed analysis of the requirement for a further budgetary allocation.
Finally, he highlighted the point made in paragraph 9 of the report i.e. that the additional funds requested would not be used to make any increased payments to Capita.
On the subject of the Capita contract, which had come into force on 29 June 2009, their first month’s bill, covering consultancy and planning services work, had been “significantly smaller” than the salary payments which the Council would have had to pay over the same period. He also said that Capita were well advanced with work on the Ocella system. Thus far, therefore, in terms of revenue and capital, Capita were delivering.
In response to a question and concerns about how there could be a dramatic difference in terms of Breckland’s payroll to staff and that outlaid by Capita, he explained that staff who had TUPEd across to Capita now came under the latter’s terms and conditions. Capita had also made efficiency savings which were off-set against in-house costs. To some extent, Capita were actually subsidising the Council at the moment since they were already generating business from other local authorities, thus already helping to make savings to Breckland Council Tax payers. Capita were therefore delivering a top class planning service at a lower cost, as well as meeting service delivery targets. As far as he was aware, the staff who had TUPEd across to Capita and were now having the opportunity to work with other local authorities, were enjoying the new opportunities and experiences.
RESOLVED that the Council approve the use of funding totalling £116,030 for work required to deliver the Breckland LDF in 2009-2010.