Venue: Level 5 Meeting Room, Breckland House, St Nicholas Street, Thetford IP24 1BT
Contact: Committee Services, Breckland Council Tel: 01362 656870
Appointment of Chairman and Vice-Chairman (Agenda Item 1)
To appoint a Chairman and Vice-Chairman for the ensuing year.
The terms of reference of the Joint Committee stipulate that:
Previous appointments have been as follows:
For the benefit of the new Members the Head of ARP explained the proceedings. He also advised that according to the Joint Committee Agreement the Treasurer should be appointed annually.
After being duly proposed and seconded and with no other nominations being made it was RESOLVED that Councillor Ambrose-Smith be appointed Chairman for the ensuing year.
After being duly proposed and seconded and with no other nominations being made it was RESOLVED that Councillor Seaton be appointed Vice-Chairman for the ensuing year.
In the absence of the Chairman the Vice-Chairman took the Chair.
Councillor Seaton in the Chair.
To confirm the minutes of the meeting held on 19 March 2015.
The Head of ARP updated Members on the actions arising from the Minutes.
He confirmed that due to statutory requirements no charge was passed on to the other preceptors for the collection of Council Tax but there was a charge for the collection of Business Rates. However, the other preceptors could be asked to contribute by providing funding for Single Person Discount checks for example.
The Minutes of the meeting held on 19 March 2015 were confirmed as a correct record and signed by the Chairman.
Apologies (Agenda Item 3)
To receive apologies for absence.
Apologies for absence were received from Councillors Allen, Ambrose-Smith and Wassell.
Councillor Carter was present as Substitute for Councillor Wassell and Councillor Huffer was present as Substitute for Councillor Ambrose-Smith.
Urgent Business (Agenda Item 4)
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.
The Chairman agreed to take the appointment of Treasurer to the Joint Committee as an item of Urgent Business.
Since the Partnership had started the Chief Financial Officer of Breckland Council had assumed that role, but according to the ARP Agreement the Treasurer should be appointed for the year at each annual meeting.
It was RESOLVED that the Chief Financial Officer of Breckland Council be re-appointed as Treasurer for the ensuing year.
It was further RESOLVED that a vote of thanks to the Treasurer for all his work for the Joint Committee be recorded.
Declarations (Agenda Item 5)
No declarations were made.
Fraud (Agenda Item 6)
To receive a verbal update.
The Strategic Manager (Benefits) explained the background of the new Single Fraud Investigation Service (SFIS) for the benefit of new Members. The change would affect all Partners except Waveney and Suffolk Coastal Councils (as their staff transferred in May). On 1 September all existing fraud staff in scope would transfer to the DWP under TUPE like arrangements. The details were still under discussion.
At the previous Joint Committee meeting it had been proposed that the ARP would retain a fraud team to investigate non-Benefit fraud, ie Local Council Tax Support abuse, single person discount fraud, etc. Officers had been tasked with contacting the County Councils to see if they would be willing to contribute funding as main benefactors of that service and the results had been mixed:
· Cambridgeshire - reluctant to fund
· Suffolk - still in discussions
· Norfolk – meeting to be held the next day
In the meantime, approval had been given by three of the Partner Councils and was awaited from the other two.
The selection process was being discussed with staff and the HR department. In the interim fraud work was ongoing, mainly focussed on completing outstanding investigations, so the performance figures for completed investigations would be high.
There were no questions from Members.
Report ofMark Finch, ARP Treasurer and Paul Corney, Head of ARP.
The Executive Director Place (BDC) presented the report which sought approval of the accounts by the Joint Committee before the end of June.
It was the last year that the Joint Committee would be required to produce the accounts although they would still receive the information to ensure that the Partnership continued to comply with Governance arrangements.
It was noted at Appendix A that the Partnership had achieved all targets and savings. At the March meeting it had been agreed to retain the £110,000 year end surplus. Additional Grant income included money from the FERIS (the Fraud and Error Reduction Incentive Scheme).
The report included the Annual Governance Statement and the Internal Audit Report which had awarded the Partnership a Good Assurance opinion which was the highest possible standard.
Councillor Every offered congratulations on the report and asked how the control weaknesses (at point 2.5) would be addressed.
It was clarified that apart from the FERIS grant money which was £454,000 there was £200,000 of new burden grants which had been retained and carried forward some of which would be used for the new website subject to Members’ approval. Funding had also been received for Real Time Information from the Government.
1) the accounting statement for the year ended 31 March 2015 be approved;
2) the annual governance statement be approved;
3) the 2014-15 out-turn position be noted; and
4) the internal audit report and review of governance arrangements be noted.
The outgoing Chairman, Councillor Jolly signed the accounts.
Reports of the Operational Board:
The Head of ARP presented the report and noted that there was one Breckland indicator which was not green due to a large refund for Charitable Relief. Otherwise all targets had been met.
He drew attention to the customer survey results which showed that only 22.44% of the people using on-line services found it easy, but that 72% of people would prefer to use electronic methods for communication.
Councillor Every sought clarification re benchmarking as Members were keen to benchmark against other Authorities. She asked if the targets were challenging enough as the indicators were all green and whether performance was comparable across the different areas.
The Executive Director Place (BDC) said that she had met with the IRRV Chief Executive who told her that the IRRV were looking to provide a benchmarking service for shared services. She would get them to contact the Head of ARP to discuss the requirements.
The report was noted.
Report of Stuart Philpot - Strategic Manager (Support).
The Strategic Manager (Support Services) ARP presented the report which sought approval to redesign and update the ARP website.
West Suffolk had recently launched their icon-based website which provided direct access for users to the correct payment engine. It was recommended that the new ARP website should be based on that model. The new website would also be geared for use on mobile devices and tablets and have a consistent and easy to read style. The refurbishment of the website would mean that the current on-going costs for updates would cease.
Councillor Every noted that there were no operational costs in the report and asked what they were likely to be. She also asked if Officers were expecting the new website to replace the face to face approach as vulnerable people would still need that facility.
The Strategic Manager (Support Services) ARP acknowledged that there would also be a need for face to face contact but said that the aim was for the majority of people to use on-line services.
Councillor Jolly thought it was crucial to provide a fast-track access to the ARP website from each individual Council’s website as that was where people would generally start their on-line experience.
The Head of ARP agreed and said that approach would be recommended. It would also be important to measure the economies that would be realised. He asked Members to approve an additional recommendation to approve the overall cost of the website refurbishment.
1) the engagement of an external design agency, at a cost in the order of £4,800 to design the style and layout of the new Anglia Revenues Partnership website with an ARP intranet and Bailiff website be approved;
2) the full re-write of all existing content should be conducted by an external, well-qualified resource at a cost of £8,000 in order to provide a consistent, modern and easy-to-read interface with the public and an intranet for staff information;
3) Commonspot, in use by West Suffolk, be adopted as the content management system for the new Anglia Revenues website; and
4) the £40,300 overall cost of the refurbishment be approved.
Report of the Head of ARP.
The Head of ARP presented the report which would be considered by the Joint Committee every six months. Additional risks had been added in response to a request from Councillor Ambrose-Smith and from the Operational Improvement Board (OIB).
Councillor Every pointed out that on page 89 cells C2 and C3 should be amber not green.
Councillor Jolly was concerned that there was a risk that the implementation of Universal Credit would cause a large reduction in the amount of work done by the Partnership. She suggested that Members should look strategically at the way the Partnership operated and what other things it might be able to do in the future.
The Head of ARP acknowledged that the Partnership would no longer be responsible for Housing Benefit for working age claimants but did not think there would be such a large reduction in work as Universal Credit did not include Local Council Tax Reduction Scheme (LCTRS) (previously Council Tax Benefit) and so for all authorities there would be a very small reduction in the number of claimants. He explained that in almost all cases where housing benefit was claimed there was also a LCTRS element to the claim. Furthermore Universal Credit would not include pensioners who represented more than 50% of most Councils caseloads.
He thought that it was the reduction in funding that needed to be prepared for. There was uncertainty about what the impact of Universal Credit would be and over what period and it was therefore difficult to determine defined strategies. However, the OIB were preparing scenarios to meet different potential outcomes.
The Director SEBC & FHDC said that the OIB were carrying out soft marketing of Councils within one and a half hours driving time; mapping out their workload. The possible impact on them was enormous. At the right time Members would be asked to have discussions with them about the ARP doing work for them such as Council Tax and Business Rates collection.
The Head of ARP pointed out that the ARP had new initiatives such as the bailiff service and the fraud work.
The Corporate Director (Fenland) said that it was expected that there would be about 20% less money initially.
The Executive Director Place (BDC) thought that different Partners would be affected differently by the financial impact and whereas some could weather it for a time others might find a 20% loss catastrophic and might need to change their ways of operating. It would be important to consider all opportunities and the APR could be a shared vehicle for whatever Members wanted it to be.
Councillor Jolly suggested that there should be a Standing Item on the agenda to receive an update on the options being considered by the OIB. The Chairman agreed that would be a good idea.
The report was noted.
Report of Jo Andrews – Strategic Manager (Revenues).
The Head of ARP presented the report which updated Members on the new Enforcement Agency.
The Manager and four staff had commenced work and would be receiving training over the coming weeks. All aspects of the new system were working well. The first cases would be handled in mid-end July and all Members would be sent confirmation of that before any letters were sent out.
Councillor Jolly wanted assurance that the service would not be looked upon as a money-making tool and that customers that could not pay would be treated carefully.
The Head of ARP assured her that control would be exercised. The first priority was to ensure that the team were well trained. Vulnerabilities and causes of non-payment would be identified and handled carefully.
The Corporate Director (Fenland) pointed out that having the Enforcement Agency would allow the Partnership to offer the service to other Councils and create income.
The report was noted.
Report of Julie Kennealy, Executive Director Place (BDC).
The Executive Director Place (BDC) presented the report and explained the background to the Trading Company which had been set up by the two founding Partners, Breckland and Forest Heath and they were currently the only shareholders.
Councillor Every was not prepared to agree to the proposal without more information and the opportunity to discuss it further.
Councillor Every did not feel that the proposal reflected that explanation and requested an amendment to the recommendation.
Councillor Mildmay-White did not have a problem with the existing recommendation. The proposals had been discussed before. Members would not be agreeing to do business they would just be setting up a trading vehicle. She was also happy for Officers to represent each Council at shareholder meetings.
Councillor Jolly echoed those sentiments, as long as the articles reflected that the Company was wholly owned by the Partnership she would be comfortable with that and with Officers doing the day to day work.
Councillor Kerry agreed.
Councillor Mildmay-White noted that the finance for the Company would be in the form of a loan from the retained profits and therefore approval was not required from each Council.
Councillor Edwards agreed that the Partnership needed to be in the position to do business when the opportunity arose. He would also be content for his Director to represent Forest Heath at the shareholder meetings.
The Chairman thought that the proposal would provide a framework for opportunities in the future.
Councillor Every wanted to take the information back to East Cambs Council for consideration. She suggested a deferral, but other Members did not support that.
Councillor Mildmay-White proposed an amendment to the recommendations to replace ‘all Councils’ with ‘six Councils’. Councillor Waters seconded that proposal and it was agreed.
(1) RECOMMEND to Breckland and Forest Heath Councils that amendments be made to the company constitution and shareholder agreement to allow the expansion of the ARP Trading Company Limited to include all full partner councils of the ARP Joint Committee with the exception of East Cambridgeshire;
(2) RECOMMEND to all partner Councils that East Cambridgeshire be admitted as a partner of the Company under the same conditions as the six Councils* if a request to do so is received before the next Joint Committee; ... view the full minutes text for item 26.
Welfare Reform (Agenda Item 13)
To receive a verbal update.
The Strategic Manager (Benefits) ARP informed Members that the Partnership was live with single, working age claimants for Universal Credit, except for East Cambs and Fenland which would go live later in the year.
The numbers presenting were very low and there had been no significant impact on workflow.
The Government had made a manifesto pledge to reduce benefits and cap them at £23,000 per year. More would be known after the July budget. Work was being undertaken to assess how many customers would be affected.
In the 2014/15 year the benefit cap and spare room subsidy had affected between 19 and 45 customers. The amount of their reduction had varied from £50 to £215 per week.
Customers affected by the reduction in single room subsidy were being offered help if they had medical needs either to stay in their current accommodation or with finding alternative accommodation. The Partnership had a grant from the Government to help with that. A holistic approach was adopted, working with customers to review their finances, help them budget better or renegotiate their rent. That was all part of the ‘transition to work’ scheme to help make them ready for work.
About 45% of the Discretionary Housing Grants (DHG) had been spent for 2014/15. There was a substantial reduction in DHG and so care was being taken over how it was spent. There would be more challenges ahead. If the Partnership overspent its budget from the DWP it would impact on the General Fund. The OIB was looking at budgets.
The Head of ARP advised that with Universal Credit although the Housing element had moved to the DWP the Partnership still managed hardship payments.
No funding had been provided by the DWP for software but a reduction in charges had been negotiated with the provider.
Forthcoming Issues (Agenda Item 14)
To note any items.
Councillor Clark suggested that it was time to ask the Officers to do more work on the proposal to move to one Member one vote for each of the Partner authorities.
Councillor Mildmay-White agreed and suggested that there should be one Member and two Substitutes.
The Chairman asked the OIB to examine the history and explore the possibility of moving to one Member one vote with two Substitutes.
Next Meeting (Agenda Item 15)
To note the arrangements for the next meeting to be held on 17 September 2015 at Breckland House, St Nicholas Street, Thetford.
It was noted that neither of the Fenland Members would be able to attend the next meeting. It was suggested that the meeting could be held in the morning instead.
Subject to confirmation of availability the next meeting would therefore be held at 10.00am on Thursday 17 September 2015 in the Level 5 Meeting Room, Breckland House, Thetford.