To provide an overview of the Council’s financial outturn for the year 2020/21 and the allocation of the associated General Fund Variance for the year along with the latest in-year financial performance position for 2021/22.
This Committee’s enquiry into this subject will be supported by the Deputy Leader, Portfolio Holder for Corporate Finance and Governance.
The Committee was provided an overview of the Council’s financial outturn for the year 2020/21 and the allocation of the associated General Fund Variance for the year along with the latest in-year financial performance position for 2021/22.
The Members heard that on 30 July 2021 the Portfolio for Corporate Finance and Governance considered the Financial Outturn 2020/21 and:
(a) notes the financial outturn position for 2020/21 as set out in this report and appendices;
(b) approves the financing of General Fund capital expenditure for 2020/21 as detailed in Appendix D;
(c) approves the movement in uncommitted and earmarked General Fund reserves for 2020/21 set out in Appendix E;
(d) approves the qualifying carry forwards totalling £23.322m (£14.352m Revenue and £8.970m Capital) as set out in Appendix K;
(e) agrees that all other carry forwards totalling £0.536m requested by services be transferred to the relevant earmarked reserve pending consideration by Cabinet at its September 2021 meeting;
(f) in respect of the Housing Revenue Account (HRA), approves the movement on HRA balances for 2020/21 including any commitments set out within Appendices H and/or I along with recharges to the HRA from the General fund of £2.813m for the year and the financing of the HRA capital expenditure set out in Appendix I;
(g) that, subject to the above, notes the various COVID 19 grant funding amounts set out in Appendix K (ii to iii) and approves the use of the funding as set out in the same appendix and in the main body of this report;
(h) that, subject to the above, recommends to Cabinet that the overall General Fund Outturn Variance for the year of £1.539m be used to support the essential works at the Weeley Crematorium;
(i) recommends to Cabinet that £2.060m be allocated to support the recent bid to the Government’s ‘Levelling Up Fund’, funded by the use of amounts identified within the 2021/22 budget as set out in this report; and
(j) authorises the Council’s Section 151 Officer, in consultation with the Corporate Finance and Governance Portfolio Holder, to adjust the outturn position for 2020/21 along with any corresponding adjustment to earmarked reserves as a direct result of any recommendations made by the Council’s External Auditor during the course of their audit activities relating to the Council’s 2020/21 accounts”.
The Members also had an update provided directly at the meeting of the Committee that, at its 17 September 2021 meeting, Cabinet had (in respect of the Outturn Position for 2020/21):
(a) Agreed that the total of £0.536m requested by services can be retained by them via the associated carry forward requests as set out in Appendix A; and
(b) after considering the recommendations of the Portfolio Holder for Corporate Finance and Governance, agreed:
(i)that subject to the approval of an associated Project Initiation Document / Business case, it is approved in principle that the necessary remedial works be carried out at the Weeley crematorium funded by using the overall General Fund Outturn Variance for the year of £1.539m.
(ii) that subject to b(i) above, the approval of the Project Initiation Document / Business Case associated with the proposed remedial works at the Weeley Crematorium be delegated to the Portfolio Holders for Environment and Public Spaces and Corporate Finance and Governance; and
(iii) that £2.060m be allocated to support the recent bid to the Government’s ‘Levelling Up Fund’, funded by the use of amounts identified within the 2021/22 budget as set out later on in this report”;
The Cabinet Report referred to above also included a timely update on the general financial performance of the Council in 2021/22. The timing of that report therefore allowed the Committee to review that most up to date position as well as the outturn for the year.
It was reported to Members that, although the Committee had considered a list of one-off funded projects at previous meetings, given the outturn for 2020/21 had only recently been finalised, the most up to date position was in effect the amounts requested to be carried forward into 2021/22 that were included within the report.
Updates were provided against that list, which were in-line with corporate priorities, as part of the quarterly financial performance reports that would be presented to members over the reminder of the year. However, work remained on-going to deliver against the associated projects supported by the additional capacity that would be funded from the £0.200m set aside for that purpose earlier in the year.
Following a review by Directors / Assistant Directors, the additional capacity identified as being required primarily centred around:
• Maximising External Funding Opportunities / Bid Writing
• General Project Management
In terms of procurement, as set out in the report to Cabinet, it was proposed to work in partnership with Essex County Council, which would allow the Council to not only access additional capacity but also specialist procurement advice / knowledge.
The Committee’s attention was drawn to the Local Government Association’s Peer Challenge Report of the Council in 2018 and the Annual External Audit Letters to the Council from 2018, 2019 and 2020 in which the levels of underspends each year had been identified as issues for the Council to address. The impact on deliverability of planned projects and the related issues of utilising/releasing committed reserves had been identified in the External Audit Letter 2020.
The Portfolio Holder for Corporate Finance and Governance confirmed his willingness to meet with the Chairman of this Committee to address the two issues referred to above from the External Auditor’s Letter 2020 in relation to the list of one-off funded projects.
In response to questions from Members of the Committee, the Assistant Director for Finance and IT agreed to provide them with the decision and application to the UK Government for a scheme to be funded from the Government’s Levelling Up Fund. The application had been submitted in conjunction with Essex County Council.
After an in depth discussion it was RESOLVED to note the report and that
progress against the projects to be funded by one off sums/reserves/provisions be the subject of an enquiry at the March 2022 meeting of the Committee and. that this review should include details of the original decision to allocate the funds and an assessment as to whether the scheme is on target to be delivered.
The Chairman thanked the Portfolio Holder and the relevant Officers for their contributions to the Committee’s enquiry.