The Head of Strategic Finance and Property introduced the report and highlighted the main points to Members. He said that he believed the overspend was a good result for the Council in view of the challenging circumstances around this budget. Regarding the write off of aged debt, Officers would forego delegation of authority for this year end exercise to allow the Executive enhanced oversight of this process.
Councillor Ward-Booth asked about the underspend caused by vacant roles and whether any recruitment would therefore negatively affect the Council’s finances.
The Head of Strategic Finance and Property said that all vacancies were referred to Leadership Team and restructuring considered, ensuring that all recruitment was strictly necessary.
The Chairman asked whether the £54,000 reduction in income from Millstream relating to loan interests due to timing of property purchases could have been foreseen and avoided. He also asked whether Planning and Building Control was an area of concern given the large forecast overspend and the effect of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Head of Strategic Finance and Property said that estate agents were closed during the initial COVID-19 lockdown, which meant that property purchases were bunched together in the first three months of 2021. Interest payments were therefore bunched rather than evenly spread as would usually be the case. This was unavoidable and could not have been foreseen. Members were advised that there was an impending restructure of Planning and Building control to address existing issues. Around £110,000 of the overspend was made up of legal costs relating to a planning appeal in Little Hadham.
Councillor Fernando asked whether there was any further update on the debt figures.
The Head of Strategic Finance and Property said that they were still the most up to date figures. He also confirmed that the internal audit would examine the write offs after the fact but would not be involved in deciding what would be written off.
The Chairman asked for more detail on the increased contract costs relating to Operations.
The Head of Strategic Finance and Property said that despite many facilities not being used, there were still contractual costs for the Council to meet, such as payments for Civil Enforcement Officers for parking. The increase in residual waste and loss of recycling credits from Herts County Council (HCC) had affected the Council, and it seemed likely HCC would not renew the recycling credits scheme. The Council was considering other ‘circular economy’ solutions to deal with the build-up of low value recyclable materials. Members were also advised that increased contract costs related in part to costs of refuse staff being replaced by agency workers when they were required to self-isolate.
The Chairman asked about the smoothing of leisure contract costs.
The Head of Strategic Finance and Property said that the Council were behind schedule in the capital schemes relating to the new leisure centres which the contractor had based their tender upon, but once they were open, the contractor would pay the Council, rather than vice versa. He also advised Members that he was comfortable with the level of the Council’s reserves.
RESOLVED – that the report be noted.