Agenda and draft minutes

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Contact: Sean O'Neill  01225 395090

Items
No. Item

24.

EMERGENCY EVACUATION PROCEDURE

The Chair will draw attention to the emergency evacuation procedure as set out under Note 7.

Minutes:

The Democratic Services Officer advised the meeting of the procedure.

25.

ELECTION OF VICE-CHAIR

To elect a Vice-Chair (if required) for this meeting.

Minutes:

RESOLVED that a Vice-Chair was not required on this occasion.

26.

APOLOGIES FOR ABSENCE AND SUBSTITUTIONS

Minutes:

Apologies were received from Councillor Barry Macrae, for whom Councillor Sally Davis substituted.

27.

DECLARATIONS OF INTEREST

At this point in the meeting declarations of interest are received from Members in any of the agenda items under consideration at the meeting. Members are asked to indicate:

(a) The agenda item number in which they have an interest to declare.

(b) The nature of their interest.

(c) Whether their interest is a disclosable pecuniary interest or an other interest,  (as defined in Part 2, A and B of the Code of Conduct and Rules for Registration of Interests)

Any Member who needs to clarify any matters relating to the declaration of interests is recommended to seek advice from the Council’s Monitoring Officeror a member of his staff before the meeting to expedite dealing with the item during the meeting.

Minutes:

There were none.

28.

TO ANNOUNCE ANY URGENT BUSINESS AGREED BY THE CHAIR

The Chair will announce any items of urgent business.

Minutes:

There was none.

29.

ITEMS FROM THE PUBLIC - TO RECEIVE DEPUTATIONS, STATEMENTS, PETITIONS OR QUESTIONS

Minutes:

There were none.

30.

ITEMS FROM COUNCILLORS AND CO-OPTED AND ADDED MEMBERS

To deal with any petitions, statements or questions from Councillors and, where appropriate, co-opted and added Members.

Minutes:

There were none.

31.

MINUTES: 4TH DECEMBER 2018 pdf icon PDF 95 KB

Minutes:

These were approved as a correct record and signed by the Chair.

32.

DEBT MANAGEMENT POLICY - PRESENTATION

Minutes:

The Director of Revenue and Benefits Transformation made a presentation to the Committee. A copy of his PowerPoint slides is attached as an appendix to these minutes.

 

This presentation was made in accordance with the resolution of the Council in November 2018:

 

“To agree in principle that, as the Council is currently reviewing its total Debt Management Policy, that officers should provide their conclusions to the Corporate Audit Committee in February to which the Resources Policy Development & Scrutiny Panel members should be invited, which in turn should consider the Council’s proposed approach to debt collection before any final decision is made.”

 

Members of the Resources PDS had been notified about today’s presentation.

 

Members noted that the draft policy would be presented to the Committee for approval in the near future.

 

The Director of Revenue and Benefits Transformation responded to comments and questions from Members.

 

·  Does the Council have any strategy or practice to identify vulnerable customers?

I do not think that anyone has a really adequate definition of vulnerability. The facts can be complex. However, it becomes fairly obvious if a customer has a carer, for example.

 

·  Does the Council have powers to refer customers to the Citizens Advice Bureau or another agency?

We could only do so with the customer’s consent. Usually the first conversation by a customer having difficulty in paying would be with a Council Tax Officer or Customer Services. All our staff are trained to be able to handle these conversations and have knowledge of help to which customers can be referred. If a customer contacts Council Connect, they are referred to a Council Tax Officer if their query is about Council Tax. The forthcoming restructure will provide additional Welfare Officer support. If a customer agrees a payment arrangement no further action would be taken for as long as they comply with that arrangement. It is proposed that after restructuring the cases of customers who fail to comply with agreed plans will be managed by the Welfare Support Team. If a customer goes on Universal Credit, we automatically defer their first instalment payment of Council Tax by one month.

 

·  Is it not the case that if the Council has no contract with the bailiffs/enforcement agents, then there is no basis in law for exchanging personal data with them?

The Council does have a signed agreement with the enforcement agents and a statutory basis to share information.

·  Does this agreement contain all the required provisions relating to the exchange of personal data?

Yes, it is something we have checked with reviewers, who have assured us that we are operating within the rules.

 

·  Are businesses treated in the same way as individual customers?

In essence, yes. Many small businesses qualify for business rate relief, and we would encourage them to check their entitlement. We have started to speed up enforcement where we think some kind of rates avoidance activity is being practised.

 

The Service Director – One West asked Members whether they would like a further  ...  view the full minutes text for item 32.

Approach to Debt Collection - Audit Committee Feb 19 pdf icon PDF 176 KB

33.

EXTERNAL AUDIT UPDATE pdf icon PDF 60 KB

Additional documents:

Minutes:

Mr Barber presented the report.

 

He drew Members’ attention to the Grant Certification Letter in Appendix 1, which reported that for 2017/18 Housing Benefit errors had been detected which were consistent with errors found in previous years, and that errors had been detected in one new area, Working Tax Credit Disregard. The extrapolated financial impact of errors was relatively significant to the total subsidy receivable.

 

Members expressed concern about the continuing high level of errors.

 

A Member asked whether actual figures could be used rather than extrapolation. How confident could we be about the extrapolation? Mr Barber replied that the extrapolation methodology was uniform across all councils and had not changed for many years.

 

A Member suggested that every Housing Benefit error should be categorized and a review conducted of how the probability of a recurrence of that type of error could be reduced, whether by individual training or software changes or something else. The Interim Director – Finance responded that the Housing Benefit team did not just sit back and wait for the auditors to detect errors; if errors were found by the Team then sample testing was carried out to try to ascertain the extent of the errors. The auditors sometimes detected additional errors. The Member asked how, apart from the time of detection, the errors detected by the Housing Benefit Team differed from those detected by the auditors. The Interim Director – Finance replied that the difference lay in the choice of samples tested. Mr Barber said that a review of a sample could sometimes disclose additional errors as did the retrospective rounding of a sample based on the prescribed criteria. The Member suggested that reliance on the training of individual staff did not appear to be tackling the root of problems. At present there were significant clawbacks of benefit subsidy by DWP, and it seemed that an entirely different approach was needed. He thought that what was required was not corrective action but preventative measures. The Interim Director – Finance said that there was to be a dedicated  team within the Council working on the issues and changes to ways of working were being implemented.

 

A Member suggested that a report on the findings of internal error testing should be presented to the Committee mid-way through the next financial year. Members agreed that it would be helpful if the percentage and type of errors detected were reported to the Committee. A Member suggested that any such report should contain a description of the error testing process. A Member suggested that a report should be made to the Committee after restructuring, to reveal whether or not restructuring had been a success.

 

The Chair asked about the proportion of errors caused by wrong information provided by applicants and those called by the Council. The Interim Director – Finance explained that excess payments made because of wrong information given by applicants could be recovered from them, and so did not affect the amount repayable to DWP, whereas overpayments made  ...  view the full minutes text for item 33.

34.

TREASURY MANAGEMENT AND INVESTMENT STRATEGY pdf icon PDF 112 KB

Additional documents:

Minutes:

The Interim Director – Finance presented the report.

 

In response to a question from a Member the Interim Director – Finance confirmed that Arlingclose were now suggesting that one of the two 0.25% increases in interest rates they had forecast for 2019 would be deferred until 2020.

 

RESOLVED to note:

 

1.  the actions proposed within the Treasury Management Strategy Statement (Appendix 1) to February Council and the Investment Strategy as detailed in Appendix 2 to February Council;

 

2.  the Treasury Management Indicators detailed in Appendix 1.

35.

RISK MANAGEMENT STRATEGY pdf icon PDF 64 KB

Additional documents:

Minutes:

The Service Director – One West presented the report.

 

He said that the revised Risk Management Strategy was a refresh of the existing risk management framework with a focus on the next 5-year horizon and subject to annual review. The previous strategy had a much more process-based approach. The new Strategy recognises that taking more risk is part of modern service delivery in tough times. Services are expected to understand what their significant risks are and it shouldn’t become a bureaucratic process..

 

He said that the Risk Management Toolkit (Appendix 2) would be available to officers online. It was intended to be easily navigable, brief and intelligible. It draws on the best practice of other local authorities.

 

Members welcomed the toolkit and the aim of making risk management part of corporate culture not just a process.

 

RESOLVED to endorse the Draft Risk Management Strategy.