Venue: Committee Room, Municipal Buildings, West Street, Boston, PE21 8QR
Contact: Janette Collier, Senior Democratic Services Officer Tel. no: 01205 314227 email: firstname.lastname@example.org
To sign and confirm the minutes of the last meeting, held on 5th September 2019.
The minutes of the previous meeting, held on 5th September 2019 were agreed and signed by the Chairman with the addition of Councillor Alan Bell’s apologies for absence.
To receive apologies for absence and notification of substitutes (if any).
There were apologies for absence from Councillors Richard Austin, George Cornah, Anton Dani, Deborah Evans, Neill Hastie and Frank Pickett. Councillor Judith Welbourn was in attendance as a substitute in place of Councillor Austin.
DECLARATION OF INTERESTS
To receive declarations of interests in respect of any item on the agenda.
To answer any written questions received from members of the public no later than 5 p.m. two clear working days prior to the meeting – for this meeting the deadline is 5 p.m. on Friday 11th October 2019.
(A report presented by Gemma Creasey, Council Tax and Benefits Manager)
Portfolio Holder: Councillor Aaron Spencer
The Revenues and Benefits Officer presented a report, which informed Members on the introduction and the operation of the Council Tax Support (CTS) scheme to date, and provided an update on the process now being undertaken and the options being put forward for consultation, prior to the formal approval of the 2020/21 scheme by Council in December 2019.
Since its introduction in 2013, the Council’s local scheme had used a number of principles:
· Protecting the most vulnerable – pension-age and war pensioners
· A means-testing scheme based on the Council Tax Benefit rules as far as possible
· The scheme to be reviewed annually
· Protection of war pensioners from reductions in support
· Maximum entitlement to be capped at 75% of Council Tax liability
The review of the scheme for 2019/20 had identified that the projected costs were contained within the budgeted resources. A similar scheme to previous years, with up ratings in line with the Government for specific deductions, was approved for the current year.
When approving the 2018/19 CTS scheme, it was proposed that a fundamental review of the scheme would not be undertaken for at least two years due the delays in the roll out process of Universal Credit. This should allow sufficient evidence to determine the ongoing impacts. The Universal Credit rollout was not expected to be completed until 2023.
On this basis, it was proposed that the 2020/21 CTS scheme be consulted on as follows:
Option 1 – Continuation of the current scheme, as it is, with a ‘no change’ approach, with uprating the amounts used in the calculation of Council Tax Support for working age claimants in line with Department for Work and Pensions Uprating for working age social security benefits and non-dependant deductions.
This option would maintain a consistent approach to Boston’s CTS scheme since its introduction in 2013/14. It continued to recognise the additional needs of the vulnerable through the approach to its calculation.
Option 2 – Continuation of 2019/20 scheme, but not apply any upratings.
This option would make the scheme out of line with nationally calculated figures.
With either option, any further reduction in the grant funding or increase in CTS awards would need to be found from other budget areas or service cuts. Any consultation process undertaken should include this as an option with views on how or what services should be affected.
There had been 37 responses to the public consultation, of which 71% agreed with the scheme and 62% considered that it was fair and supported vulnerable people. There had been no adverse comments from the major preceptors.
In response to questions, it was explained that working age claimants entitled to CTS still had to pay 25% of their council tax. War pensioners were means-tested, but if they were entitled to CTS then they would receive the full award, i.e. it would not be capped at 75%.
A non-Committee Member, invited to address the Committee by the Chairman, spoke in opposition to the scheme per se, on the grounds ... view the full minutes text for item 18.
(A report presented by Andy Fisher, Head of Regulatory Services)
The Head of Regulatory Services presented a report regarding the new Statutory Guidance on Overview and Scrutiny in Local and Combined Authorities.
In May 2019, the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) published the new statutory guidance on Overview and Scrutiny in Local and Combined Authorities having taken into account the findings and recommendations of the House of Commons CLG Committee report on the effectiveness of local authority Overview and Scrutiny Committees, which was published in December 2017.
The guidance, attached as Appendix 1, sought to ensure local authorities were aware of the purpose of overview and scrutiny, what effective scrutiny looked like, how to conduct it effectively and the benefits it could bring.
Recognising that authorities themselves were best placed to know which scrutiny arrangements were most appropriate for their own individual circumstances, the Ministerial forward urged all councils to cast a critical eye over their existing arrangements to ensure that the principles of effective scrutiny were embedded in practice.
Members were asked to consider the statutory guidance, reflect on the approach to scrutiny in Boston, and, if required, recommend changes to Cabinet and Full Council, to ensure that overview and scrutiny in Boston was conducted in accordance with the published guidance.
The report would be considered by the Environment and Performance Committee and their comments would also be forwarded to Full Council.
The Head of Regulatory Services added that the feedback from the Council’s recent Peer Review had deemed that the Council’s Scrutiny function was largely effective.
A summary on how Boston’s Scrutiny arrangements compared to good practice recommended in the guidance was attached at Appendix 2 for consideration. In particular, attention was drawn to four areas highlighted where officers recommended changes to current Scrutiny arrangements.
Members considered Appendix 2 and the main points of discussion were as follows.
Item 3 – The findings of independent whistleblowing investigations might be of interest to scrutiny committees as they consider their wider implications
It was suggested that the findings of independent whistleblowing investigations should come before scrutiny and the Committee could consider the Council’s Whistleblowing Policy.
Item 4 – Ensuring early and regular engagement between the executive and scrutiny
There was disappointment at the lack of attendance by Cabinet Members at Scrutiny Committee meetings, though it was noted that this was addressed in paragraph 6.1 and 6.2 in the proposed draft protocol attached at Appendix 3.
Item 5 – Managing disagreement
The recommendation was to consider producing an Executive/Overview and Scrutiny Relations Protocol to clearly define the roles of the Executive and Scrutiny and reduce the risk of conflict between the two, which was mentioned as good practice within the statutory guidance. A draft protocol was attached at Appendix 3 for consideration.
Members were satisfied with the draft protocol, but it was suggested that it be renamed the Executive/Scrutiny Protocol.
Item 8 – Communicating scrutiny’s role and purpose to the wider authority
It was suggested that not all new Members had fully taken on board the induction training ... view the full minutes text for item 19.
(For Members to note/discuss the Committee’s current work programme)
Members discussed the work programme and agreed various changes.
In addition, it was suggested that there be a Scrutiny Review for both committees to look at best practice, comparison with other authorities, in particular the number of scrutiny committees they had.
A non-Committee Member suggested that the Committee might wish to look at the matter of local businesses exempt from payment of business rates, i.e. agricultural businesses, and also establishing the number of people resident in the borough.
The Head of Regulatory Services advised Members that he was now the Census Liaison Manager for the 2021 census. The Office of National Statistics had just launched a local authority engagement process; a Member Briefing would be arranged on this matter though it was some months away yet. Members would be asked to become community champions to encourage people to participate in the census.
Members agreed to add Public Consultation to the work programme, a motion that had emerged during Local Democracy Week. This would involve how the Council consulted people, the processes involved etc. It was not considered necessary to publish derogatory comments and with so few replies, statistically, their value had to be queried.
A non-Committee Member suggested that the Committee consider asking people from across the borough to form a People’s Panel. The Head of Regulatory Services advised Members to await the outcome of the Peer Review, as there would be a recommendation on this matter which might clarify whether this should be a task and finish review or an inquiry session. It was that then agreed that there should be an item on the agenda for 2nd April 2020 and this could be reviewed in the light of the feedback from the Peer Review.
1. That the Committee’s meeting, scheduled for 19th December, be brought forward to 11th December in order to assist with reporting deadlines.
2. That the update report on the Parish Council Project be removed from the Work Programme and reports be submitted to the meeting on 11th December as follows:
· Council Tax Arrears
· Recording of Meetings
· Keeping People Safe – Policy and Procedure
· Homelessness Case Studies
3. That a report on Public Consultation be submitted to the Committee’s meeting on 2nd April 2020.