Review of the Future Council Budget Options Scrutiny Process
- Meeting of Policy and Performance - Coordinating Committee, Monday, 23rd February 2015 6.00 p.m. (Item 46.)
The Chair introduced a report that documented the pre-decision scrutiny process undertaken to review the Chief Executive’s budget options arising from the Future Council process during September/October 2014. Members were requested to review the approach taken and consider any learning points for scrutinising future budget proposals.
Early in 2014, the Council had developed the Future Council programme as the vehicle for driving forward this work. The programme had been designed to deliver the remodelling process to streamline the back office function as well as developing new proposals to achieve the forecast budget shortfall as set out in the Medium Term Financial Strategy.
The Committee noted that the Cabinet at its meeting 10 April 2014 had resolved:
‘That this report and the engagement process for the Future Council Programme be referred as a priority for inclusion in the Work Programmes of each of the Policy and Performance Committees commencing in July 2014.’
The Committee was reminded that during the first cycle of Policy and Performance Committee meetings in 2014, a series of ‘Position Papers’ had been presented that had set out the principles for change and a series of outline themes for identifying savings. This had provided Members with the opportunity to comment on the framework and rationale for the emerging proposals.
It was reported that prior to the detailed proposals being published, the Chair of the Committee had convened a meeting of all Policy and Performance Committee Chairs, Deputy Chairs and Spokespersons with the aim of developing a consistent approach to scrutinising the budget options. This meeting had been held on 3 September 2014 and consideration had been given to a piece of work undertaken in the autumn of 2013 by the Policy and Performance Committee - Regeneration and Environment who had reviewed the previous years’ budget options. This had been well received and had led to a number of recommendations including a scrutiny review into the Council’s Car Parking Strategy, completed during 2014.
At the meeting referred to above Members had acknowledged the success of the approach adopted which had followed the standard task and finish format over a series of meetings with a final report being presented to the Committee. Consequently, it had been agreed that the format should be adopted for the Future Council budget options.
A briefing note had then been developed to this effect and presented to the second cycle of Policy and Performance Committee meetings. It had set out the following:
· A task and finish approach is adopted with the three Policy and Performance Committees setting up a scrutiny panel to review the options that fall under their remit.
· Each committee to determine the number of Members on its panel and the number of sessions required.
· The panel should have an initial scoping meeting once the budget options are published to agree which options they wish to scrutinise and who they want to speak to i.e. Council Officers / external advisors.
· The panel should determine the preferred days/times for the Q and A sessions i.e. full evidence day, or a number of workshop sessions.
· Cabinet leads should be invited to observe sessions.
· In line with all task and finish scrutiny work, notes will be taken and a report with recommendations will be taken back to full committee for discussion and approval.
Scoping meetings had then been convened and a series of detailed question and answer sessions scheduled with relevant Officers. A number of these sessions had been accompanied by site visits to locations that would be impacted by the proposals. At the end of these sessions, a report had been prepared for each of the Policy and Performance Committees detailing the findings for each of the budget options scrutinised, with recommendations where they considered it appropriate.
The reports of the scrutiny review process had been considered during the third cycle of Committee meetings coinciding with the report on the outcome of the public and stakeholder consultation process. Both sources of information had been considered by the Committees as part of their final deliberations. The three reports and the subsequent minutes were then referred to the Cabinet for consideration at its meeting on 9 December 2014.
The Chair invited the Chair of each of the Policy and Performance Committees to report on the work that had been carried out by their Committees, the approaches taken, the topics scrutinised and the resulting outcomes, which they duly did.
It was noted that on the whole, through this process, Members had developed a good understanding of the topics scrutinised. The process adopted had been valuable, educational and informative. Each Chair was pleased with the quality of the work produced and that their comments and recommendations had been taken on board by the Cabinet and the electorate was aware of this. However, it was also noted that a lot of the work undertaken had been time intensive and there had been difficulties in getting Members involved because of other conflicting commitments.
The Committee was aware that more pre decision scrutiny could be carried out. It was its intention to take this into consideration when the Scrutiny Work Programme was drawn up for the 2015/16 Municipal Year.
That the reports on the Future Council Budget Options Scrutiny Process be noted.