Agenda item

Update from Chris Hall

To receive an update from the executive director of community services.


Chris Hall, Executive Director of community services gave an update and answered questions that were pre-submitted to him prior to the meting by the group. A summarised version of the questions and answers that were discussed below:


With how long the unitary taking to get everything in place and all the stories in the news what is being done to reassure staff and residence about the future of jobs and homes?

Answer: There is continuous dialogue with employees through their line management structure, internal communications such as Dragons Pen, the Communities Q&A sessions, and CEO briefing and Q&A. We have been clear to employees that this is a financial emergency and unprecedented in it scale and we are working to offer up an affordable budget for Members to decide upon in February.


The HRA is not required to make savings in the context of the creation of the unitary council, there are however financial pressures caused by inflation and the rent cap. Whenever inflation exceeds the rent cap the service effectively has less money to spend on its housing stock.


Service structures have been designed and are going through the process of validation with HR and Finance. With the financial emergency now in place we are having to further review if our desired structures are affordable within the current budget gap. Again, differences for HRA and GF.


Is there a plan in place with regards to how the service will move forward?

Answer: Yes, the HRA business plan continue to guide all activity and financing within the account, this is the 30-year plan that is reviewed annually. There is a need consider the future landlord model for Somerset Council. This will take time and require consultation. Estimates for this are in the region of 2 years. Savings from a single landlord model would help support the HRA business case in future years.





When are people going to know who is doing what job going forward because at present there seems to be some confusion?


Answer: All employees remain on their current terms and conditions and job descriptions, there may be places where we have asked people to undertake different or additional takes to meet gaps in the service, but this will be resolved once the service structures are consulted on and recruited to. We anticipate the changes to be minimal.


What is the new structure going to look like and when can we see this?


Answer: Once it is ready for consultation, we will share it with you. For it to be ready we must have sign off from HR regarding any roles or individual that are impacted by the proposals and from Finance to demonstrate that the structure is affordable. There are delays in this as those are shared functions of the council and priority is being given to resolving the financial crisis. No significant changes can happen unless there is consultation.


Delay is frustrating but financial survival of the council is the main priority.


With the current financial crisis with the council, what does this mean for my tenancy and how will it be affected?


Answer: The HRA does not have the same financial issues as the council’s general fund at this stage. Therefore, any impacts within housing are limited to shared HRA and GF services and roles. That said if the council has no choice but to submit a s114 notice this has the potential to impact on grants received into the HRA. We feel a strong case can be made to retain these grants, but this is a matter beyond our control.


How are you going to try and save money?


Answer: The council has been operating in emergency environment for some months now, this focuses resources on the problem. We have been reviewing and reducing our in-year expenditure and recruitment needs. All expenditure over £100 and all vacancies now must go to a spend control board for authorisation. We have reviewed the capital programme both in year and for future years, reviewed the income opportunities and our fees and charges levels for 24/25. We are reviewing service savings options and service reductions. We are reviewing our structures to establish what further reductions could be made, we are considering a voluntary redundancy scheme. We have reviewed the EMR’s, and we are taking advice on the minimum level of general reserves we can hold. We are in conversation with government about the type of support they can offer. We are monitoring the action of other councils who have submitted a s114 notice to see what we can learn. We have brought in external support to review Adults and Childrens services and see what reductions may be deliverable.


We are recording our progress and reporting it via the Strategic Management Group to the Member MTFP board.


How many jobs could be lost?


 Answer: It is difficult to put a number on this, but it is likely to be significant across General Fund services.


During and after Transformation, there was no Tenant Engagement, how can you re-assure us that this will not happen again during unitary?


Answer: Transformation was a long time ago. We are committed to maintaining tenant engagement throughout any changes.


How is writing to the local, town and district councils going to help save money?


Answer: We are seeking for City, Town, and Parish councils to fund some of the services that might otherwise be cut. This might be through a payment to SC, or an asset or service transfer / devolution. Therefore, less costs to SC. City, Town and Parish councils do not have the same limit on their proportion of the council tax and so can increase their fees to cover the devolved costs.


If the cost of services is going to go up, like council tax and rent, how will this affect the community all round for all of us?


 Answer: For general fund services we are seeking to increase income to the maximum permissible levels, the max levels that the market can sustain, and the maximum permissible by government. 


The services we are used to receiving are underfunded and if we want them to continue or reduce at a slower rate than taxation will have to change.


Council Housing rents are capped by government, any increase that is below inflation is a real terms financial cut.


RESOLVED. The report was noted.