Meeting documents

Scrutiny & Overview Committee
Tuesday, 13th December, 2016

Scrutiny & Overview Committee Minutes

Tuesday 13th December 2016
the Council Chamber, the Town Hall, Katharine Street, Croydon CR0 1NX

Attendance Details


Councillor K Bee, Councillor C Bonner, Councillor J Buttinger, Councillor S Fitzsimons, Councillor S Hall, Councillor T Newman, Councillor J Prince, Councillor J Thompson

Also present:
Councillors Tony Newman and Simon Hall

Item Item/Resolution

The minutes were agreed.


There were none.


There was none.


There were none.


Councillor Tony Newman, Leader of the council, and Jo Negrini, Chief Executive Officer, were in attendance for this teim.


The Leader of the council gave a presentation on a wide range of current and forthcoming initiatives. He also outlined a number of risks, including the following:
- the protracted industrial dispute between Southern railways and its train drivers, which could have a severe impact on the borough's economy and future prospects
- the impact of Brexit on the future of the borough's economy
- the growing population and its needs
- the significant fall in government funding for local councils
- the forthcoming Westfield Hammerson development

The Leader highlighted a range of opportunities the council needed to embrace, including the fact that Croydon was a promising investment location, provided public transport services worked efficiently.

Committee members questioned the Leader regarding the possible disruption to the borough of forthcoming developments. He stated that he welcomed these developments but expressed concerns regarding the long-running industrial dispute with Southern railways. He commented that businesses deciding where to relocate might choose not to go to Croydon in view of its reliance on train services.

Questioned on the most serious risks to the borough, the Leader singled out the implementation of "Brexit" and the resulting insecurity felt by businesses, the impact of Southern railways on jobs in Croydon and the fast growing demand for adult social care services.

In answer to a question on schools, the Leader praised the partnership work between council officers and schools to secure places for growing numbers of pupils and to bring about consistent improvement in educational outcomes.


Questioned about the scope for Gatwick Airport expansion, the Leader stated that he felt Gatwick airport had put forward more practical solutions to address growing demand than Heathrow Airport, and that they were likely to be implemented more promptly than the designs put forward for Heathrow airport.


Members questioned the Leader on the council's management of its contracts and efforts made to bring down their costs. He highlighted the Special Education Needs transport contract, some of which has been brought back in-house. As a result, he stated that pupils were being transported in safer vehicles, staff were being paid the London living wage, and the cost of the contract has been reduced. He also expressed the hope that in-house staff could develop improved information technology services at a lower cost than current contracts. Members heard that the Cabinet member for Finance and Treasury was reviewing all current contracts in his efforts to bring down council costs. Officers' skills at managing contracts were on an upward trajectory and were being developed to include assessments of the social capital such contracts could offer. He emphasised that the administration's policy was not to outsource services wherever possible.


Asked whether he felt that the council had addressed the needs of all areas of the borough including southern wards, the Leader stated that his presentation to this committee should have included works just started to renovate the multi-storey car park in Purley and efforts to secure the medium term future of the swimming pool in that district centre. He added to these initiatives the work carried out by council officers to help secure the Purley Business Improvement District (BID).


The Leader highlighted the fly-tipping prosecutions and the partnership work with 250 street champion volunteers from the community as well as with residents' association as evidence of the administration's commitment to keeping the streets clean.


The Leader highlighted the importance of the Growth Zone for the economy of Croydon and his hopes to attract businesses that would bring well paid jobs to local residents. He stressed that the Westfield development was not a council initiative but the project of an Australian private firm, which has its own implementation timetable. However, the council was working closely with all relevant partners to help implement this development as speedily as possible. The Leader explained that the plans had changed somewhat to include more housing provision than in the original plans. He suggested that representatives of Westfield might be invited to a future Scrutiny meeting so that members could obtain a concrete timeline for building works and assurances that implementation was progressing apace.


The Leader was asked about the council's approach to the responses to the recent Local Plan consultation. He confirmed that thousands of responses had been received and stated that Cllr Alison Butler among others had had numerous communications with residents regarding their views. He added that plans had changed as a result of listening to local views but stressed the need to build new homes to relieve the current housing shortage.

The leadership of the council was praised for its exemplary reaction to the tram disaster of 9 November and the support it provided in its aftermath. The Leader himself paid tribute to all those who had participated in efforts to provide support to the victims of the accident and their families.

The Leader was then asked what action he could take to raise school standards to such a level that most parents in Croydon would place their children in a school in the borough instead of sending them to establishments outside the borough. He stated that the ambition for Croydon was to make every school excellent but admitted there was some way to go despite recent improvements. He also felt that more partnership work with businesses was needed to provide pupils with skills for their future careers and that efforts needed to be made to overturn the borough's old reputation for poor schooling.


In answer to a question on the Brick by Brick initiative, the Leader emphasised that this was an ambitious council initiative being implemented with high quality architects to provide housing on council land, with 50% of homes at affordable rents for local people.


Members discussed the current cost of living crisis due mainly to the rise in housing and transport costs, and the disappearance of many highly paid posts in the borough after the move out of the borough of large firms such as Nestle They asked what measures the council was taking to bring such jobs back and to improve affordability in the borough. The Leader highlighted the introduction of the landlord licensing scheme as a tool for preventing extreme rent rises. He pointed to globalisation as a factor driving down salaries which was hard to circumvent. However, he highlighted the council's job brokerage service and the work of Councillors Watson and Audsley to involve businesses with the council's Good Employer Charter, which aims to encourage fair pay and conditions in the borough. He felt that the Mayor's commitment to improving the housing stock in the capital should also help reduce the upward pressure on rents.


The Leader was questioned on expenditure on adult social care, particularly for elderly residents. He reiterated his commitment to resourcing this satisfactorily wherever such residents might be located. He informed members that the borough had 140 care homes providing services to this elderly population.


The Leader was thanked for his presentation and detailed answers to members' questions.


The following were in attendance for this item:
- Councillor Tony Newman, Leader of the council
- Councillor Simon Hall, Cabinet Member for Finance and Treasury
- Richard Simpson, Executive Director of Resources and s151 Officer
- Lisa Taylor, Assistant Director of Finance and Deputy S151 Officer


Councillor Simon Hall gave a presentation on the council's budget. He spoke of increasing reductions in grants between 2011-2012 and 2019-2020, key savings achieved in 2015-2016 and in 2016-2017, the council's financial strategy 2017-2020 and risks facing the borough.


The Cabinet Member highlighted the pressures on housing as many people were priced out of central London housing. In addition, he explained that Croydon was the borough with the greatest discrepancy between the Local Housing Allowance for people on low incomes and actual rents, a situation which is only likely to grow as this allowance has been frozen for the next three years.


Members asked the Cabinet Member what "managing demand" entailed. He explained that this essentially consisted of finding and implementing ways of preventing various problems from emerging in the first place, using approaches such as education, enforcement, etc. He quoted the examples of using education, enforcement and publicity to encourage people to recycle more and fly-tip less, and providing early interventions and support to families who might otherwise end up requiring acute services, which cost a great deal more.


Members asked to receive data on what the demand pressures would be if no measures were taken to manage these, in order to demonstrate how much of a saving the measures were forecast to achieve. They appreciated that such figures could only be an estimate. The Cabinet Member stated that he would be happy to provide figures for the "do nothing" options when next year's budget options were refined. He added that the paper discussed at the 12 December meeting of the Cabinet showed that the estimated costs for adult social care would rise from £41m per year to £76 per year if no steps were taken to make services more cost-effective. However, he sounded a note of caution regarding estimates of cost avoidance through prevention, as these were notoriously hard to calculate with any precision.


Members questioned the Cabinet Member regarding the demand for temporary accommodation. He acknowledged that it represented a significant financial risk and informed committee members that leases on various blocks of flats had been taken to endeavour to provide such accommodation at a lower cost than bed and breakfast. He highlighted the "home finder scheme" through which households could find homes outside the borough, and the work of the Gateway service, which had succeeded in bringing about a reduction in homelessness applications through its support to households at risk of homelessness.


In answer to a question on leisure centres, the Cabinet Member explained that the planned decrease in expenditure set out in the finance report was due to the fact that the subsidy would end in the forthcoming reprocuring process. In addition, the council was planning to finance leisure centres in a more efficient way. He added that the new swimming pool and leisure centre in New Addington would not necessitate costly maintenance expenditure over the next few years.


The Cabinet Member was questioned regarding future reductions in staffing. Members expressed concerns over the sustainability of council services if such reductions were implemented. He explained that the current total number of staff (900) would go down by 58.1 as new ways of working, self-service and automation would reduce the need for the current staffing levels. However, he remarked that these reductions could not take place in the short term in view of the many changes currently taking place in council services and procedures.


Members discussed spending on children in need. The Cabinet Member explained that the budget has risen significantly in part because of the significant rise in need in the borough, and in part to deal with the backlog of cases and measures taken to respond to the recommendations of the joint targeted area inspection which had taken place this year.


In answer to a question on Growth Zone funding, members were advised that the council would not obtain this funding until Westfield had confirmed that they were going to proceed. The council's Chief Executive Officer explained that there was no aggregation between growth zone funding and the council's general fund and that these two were completely separate funds with separate functions. The Growth Zone loan was due to be paid back with business rates from the Westfield development and the Stanhope Shroeders Ruskin Square development.


Members requested more detail on the 88 budget options listed in Appendix 2 of the budget report so that these could be scrutinised more systematically. The Cabinet Member responded that officers could share the key criteria used for determining whether a proposal should be red, amber or green.

The Cabinet Member gave assurances that trade unions would be fully consulted on the proposed cut of 58.1 council posts when concrete proposals had been drawn up. Budget options will also be taken to Corporate Staff Partnership Panel (CSPP) so that they have advance sight of the principles underlying the proposed cuts. The Cabinet Member stressed that the council was seeking to avoid compulsory redundancies wherever possible. This was to be achieved by deleting vacant posts and making major reductions in the use of agency staff, as was done in the restructure of the Contact Centre. This had involved a reduction of 100 full-time posts without bringing about a single compulsory redundancy. The Cabinet Member undertook to provide staffing numbers over the last three years to members of the committee after the meeting.

It was pointed out that attempts to reduce reliance on agency staff had not been successful in the past. The Cabinet Member responded by explaining that the adoption of prevention and early intervention models, e.g. sign-posting, welfare benefits advice, etc. had contributed to a change in the staff mix and a reduced workload for social workers. Members concurred that such a model seemed more deliverable than a plain recruitment and retention drive.

Members noted that the number of children in need cases had risen from 720 to 1140 in a six month period (paragraph 5.3, graph 3). The Cabinet Member explained that the rise in the number of children in need was partly due to an increase in demand and to the threshold for reporting issues being set lower than before, although most of the rise was due to dealing with a backlog of cases. It is anticipated that this number should come down as they are processed and some can be closed down.


The council's Chief Executive Officer explained that five separate reviews were being undertaken across children's and adults' services to look at the weaknesses identified under the Joint Targetted Area Inspection with a view to producing an improvement plan across children's and adults' services in 2017, looking at all the stages in dealing with cases, from the initial report to their closure. She added that money had previously been spent on having triage work carried out by qualified social workers and that the "Transforming Adult Social Care" (TRASC) programme aimed to entrust the assessment work to the council's Gateway services and to allocate work to social workers that made full use of their qualifications and level of experience.


In answer to a question on the Dedicated Schools Grant (DSG) formula, the Cabinet Member for Finance and Treasury explained that a forthcoming rebalancing of the formula would adversely affect urban areas. However, Croydon schools are likely to be less affected than inner London schools as they face a 6% decrease, in contrast with a 15% fall for inner London schools. In addition, the High Needs part of the DSG funding services for pupils with special needs and disabilities will be a set amount, whereas this had previously been set by schools through top-slicing the DSG in negotiations with the Schools Forum. As this flexibility disappears, the extra spend may fall to the General Fund in future.


Questioned on contract management, the Cabinet Member explained that a review of major contracts was in progress, with some external support to ensure robust outcomes. These may include the termination of some service lines with these services being done in a different way at a reduced cost if performance is poor under current arrangements. Penalties are also being imposed for poor performance.


The Cabinet Member was questioned on transport provision for the Mayor of Croydon. He replied that the type of vehicle was being reviewed: the future model provided for mayoral transport might be electric or hybrid, to contribute to improved air quality. Members asked whether Croydon would be lobbying for all vehicles to run on cleaner fuels in view of the London Mayor's emphasis on air quality. The Leader answered in the affirmative and expressed the view that the council must lead by example. He stressed that the council must always look at environmental considerations when reprocuring services. In addition, efforts will be made to provide bus services in diesel-free vehicles and the council will continue to lobby for extensions to current tram lines in the borough and beyond.


Members were reminded that air quality was to be examined at a forthcoming Scrutiny meeting, at which they would examine the reprocurement of Special Educational Needs transport as well as waste disposal vehicles, many of which currently run on diesel.


The Cabinet Member for Finance and Treasury and officers were thanked for his presentation and fulsome responses to members' questions.


Members of the Committee drew the following conclusions:
-  Budgets for the "People Department" are the ones which give the most concern to the committee  in terms of demand and cost of service provision
- The pressures on adult social care and health services and their budgets needed to be robustly scrutinised in the following year


Members noted that officers had requested that the recommendations should be implemented, which did not mean that Brick by Brick had agreed to do so.



Brick by Brick should be asked to make a formal statement confirming that they had accepted the recommendations and would implement them in future.

A76/16 WORK PROGRAMME 2016-17

Members agreed the work programme for the committee and additional items for Scrutiny sub-committees.



1 - Social care be scrutinised in depth in the new year, and that consideration be given to undertaking a full scale review on this service and its funding

2- The 31 January 2017 meeting of the Streets and Environment Sub-Committee should focus on air quality, to carry out pre-decision scrutiny in a timely fashion, and all other scheduled items should be moved one meeting along


The meeting ended at 9.15 pm