Venue: Committee Room
Contact: Will Stevenson
Apologies for Absence
No apologies for absence were received.
Declarations of Interests
No declarations of interest were received.
The minutes of the previous meeting, held on 19 December 2023, were taken as read and approved as a correct record.
To receive updates of the work of the County Council’s Health and Care Overview & Scrutiny Committee, feedback issues via our representative on that Committee (Cllr L. Leung) and consider any health-related matters devolved to us by that Committee. The work programme is attached to aid Members.
The Vice Chair gave a detailed update to the committee on the recent meetings of the of the County Councils Health and Care Overview & Scrutiny Committee. She noted the increased demand for social prescribers and plans for dealing with that requirement. Ensuring patients were referred to the correct practitioners to reduce the pressures on GPs was also discussed. The vice-chair promised to share upcoming papers on work to tackle the health impact of vaping.
Members praised the works of Social Prescribers, though the importance of funding and community resources were highlighted as key to facilitating their work. Members said they looked forward to the promise of more localised data that was made at the County Council’s committee which would help health scrutiny in Lichfield District.
Members wondered how best the information provided by SCC could be actively applied to improve health matters in Lichfield District. Members noted that public transport should be raised as a key factor in ensuring members of the public can access health services around the district and beyond.
The Chair referred to the previous suggestion of a standing panel of LDC members to be set up to examine health matters locally which the localised data will be very useful. The Vice Chair could the feedback some of the deliberations into the County Council Health and Care Overview and Scrutiny Committee.
The Chair of the Lichfield City Masterplan Task Group updated the committee on the discussions of the last meeting on January 18th, 2024. He explained the task group had a robust debate regarding the housing mix on the site. He noted some of the information discussed was confidential and wished to share any such information with task group members at future meetings.
Lizzie Barton (Assistant Director Resident and Business Services) and James Johnson (Regulation & Enforcement Manager) presented the report to the committee.
Members asked what assurances Cabinet and Leadership Team could give O&S that their views are seriously considered and taken on board. They recommended that O&S questions could be recorded in Cabinet reports in future.
· Members asked if action taken against empty properties was a recent thing or had been ongoing for a while now.
Officers confirmed that the council has used a variety of different powers in the past and is now wishing to explore what further action can be done with these powers.
· Members asked what resource there would be for Empty Homes plans.
It was agreed that resourcing would be crucial and addressed in the plans going forward.
Members requested more clarification in the report on negotiations with potentially vulnerable owners who may not have local relatives.
· Members asked about Empty Dwelling Management Orders (EDMOs) and management costs.
It was confirmed that when bringing properties up to an appropriate standard to rent, these costs are then later recovered through the rent.
Members suggested that the development team at Lichfield West Midlands Trading Service (LWMTS), could provide support on EDMOs and Compulsory Purchase Orders (CPOs).
· Members asked what the cost effectiveness of this policy would be.
Officers confirmed that this needs to be part of discussions moving forward and would be included in the report brought to cabinet for approval.
· Members noted the council used to have a steering group for properties.
It was confirmed that reviving a landlord forum was being looked at, though that did not currently include the remit to examine empty properties.
· Members asked how effective council tax rises on empty properties were in practice.
It was confirmed that the premium charged is effective, and the majority of people tend to act after being charged. Though this was of course not the case for all properties.
· Members asked what the common reasons people left houses empty are.
Some people have emotional connections to properties they are unable to manage, or lack the time to develop them in the way they had envisioned.
· Members asked how much time must pass before council tax premiums are put on an empty home.
· Members asked what mechanisms are in place to protect families who are trying to sell properties but struggling to do so.
Officers stated that they would always encourage anyone struggling with council tax payments to contact the council, and the authority will work with them to do what can be done.
Lizzie Barton confirmed the aim to get this policy approved by mid-2024 and encouraged members to continue to submit their thoughts on the policy going forward. It was confirmed that the powers had not changed, but that this policy was about better managing the pressures on this area. Officers confirmed that any draft would be brought back to O&S before being taken to Cabinet.
Members suggested the possibility of working ... view the full minutes text for item 59.
Item Includes ‘Funding for Infrastructure in Burntwood and rural areas’
The report was presented by Cllr Alex Farrell (Cabinet Member for Housing & Local Plan). He confirmed that work on a new Local Plan had started and that the authority was looking at how to effectively allocate CIL money which the council receives from development.
The report proposes a new governance process including the creation of an infrastructure list annually and the formation of a cross-party panel to look at how to best distribute the money. Members suggested the membership of any panel should be extended to a minimum of 5 councillors.
· Members highlighted the open bidding process as a key part of making sure money was distributed effectively.
The Cabinet member believed allocations should be distributed to projects identified on the infrastructure list. He noted that the money is intended to be directed to strategic infrastructure, and many bids did not previously meet this requirement. He confirmed that the infrastructure list would be a live list, regularly updated as things change.
· How often will O&S consider these issues, or will these decisions now only go through the new panel?
The Member Panel will feed back to O&S on a periodic basis similar to how a task group would. The proposal is that the SIG officer group meets 3 times a year; it could feed back to the Panel after every meeting and also meet the Panel after a CIL bidding round has ended and bids have been scored.
Members questioned whether the problems that occurred last year had been fully addressed by this report. They highlighted that previously a lot of officer time was required, certain bids were not approved despite support from O&S, and a significant amount of CIL money was allocated to the district council last year. The Cabinet member agreed that funding should be spread out more. He agreed that the authority was keen to engage more with infrastructure providers such as the NHS on where they needed further infrastructure support.
· Members highlighted that with officers collaboratively working together, this raises the risk that applications for CIL money could be merged to get applications to meet the required criteria. Members suggested limiting the size of internal bids as a solution.
The Cabinet member raised concerns about limiting the size of bids, but suggested the possibility of a warning being triggered if bids hit a certain limit.
Members raised concerns about the ownership of the infrastructure list, suggesting a review should be a standing item on the SIG agenda and that parish councils needed to be involved with suggestions into this process.
The Cabinet member agreed that the district should do more to help inform parish councils plan how to effectively utilise any funding they receive and highlight opportunities that may be on the horizon.
RESOLVED: The committee reviewed and commented on the proposed changes to the governance of planning obligations.
· They recommended the cross-party Member Panel that will consider and provide a steer on SIG recommendations prior to consideration by Cabinet be comprised of ... view the full minutes text for item 60.
Item includes ‘Financial Planning’
The report was presented by Cllr Rob Strachan (Cabinet Member for Finance and Commissioning) to the committee, reminding them that the final decision on this would be taken by Full Council. He believed that the majority of proposals discussed with political groups were either reflected within the report or could be accommodated because broad thematic budget allocations had been included around cost of living, in year growth/contingency and Enabling Regeneration Investment.
It was noted that the announcement from central government of additional funding on 24 January 2024, occurred after publication of the Medium-Term Financial Strategy Report included in the Overview and Scrutiny Committee agenda. The Council has received an additional c£100k of funding in 2024/25 from the increase in the funding guarantee. Anthony Thomas (Assistant Director Finance & Commissioning) has at this stage recommended in the Cabinet version of the Medium-Term Financial Strategy Report an increase to the in-year growth/contingency budget by a further £100k. In response to member suggestions, the cabinet member agreed that he was willing to consider allocating the money to the community and voluntary sector if deemed appropriate.
The cabinet member explained that as neither of the settlements lasted more than one year, this naturally added uncertainty to the authority’s ability to conduct financial planning. He believed the council tax proposals before committee are reasonable and proportionate. He confirmed that only items that are ready and costed go into the capital programme, whilst returns for projects are held at relatively pessimistic levels to ensure that there is no budgetary shortfall due to the use of over-optimistic figures.
· Members asked about a 5% increase in fuel prices assumed and whether this would still be correct given recent conflict in the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden.
Anthony Thomas confirmed he had included provision for additional inflationary increases within the report.
· Members asked for assurances on budget savings requested of the council.
The Cabinet member stated that the savings on budgets over the last 18 months was £1.7 million, with further savings aimed for, and reviewed every 6 weeks. It was true that councils across the country are once again having to try and deliver more with less and Lichfield was fortunate that it had successfully managed to achieve this so far.
· Members asked whether council tax support would be locked in for the next two years.
The Cabinet member confirmed this and confirmed an awareness campaign to get those that are struggling to come forward for support.
Members highlighted that local government had been asked to make further efficiencies for many years now and that further cuts could ultimately cost more money in the long term by placing further strain on services and leading to inefficiencies.
Members suggested looking at the alternative option of a council tax increase at 2.99% rather than a rise of £5.
· Members asked when the business plan for the cinema would be provided to O&S.
Anthony Thomas confirmed that a commitment to involve O&S had been part of the proposals approved ... view the full minutes text for item 61.
The committee reviewed the work programme and asked if it would be possible to invite members of the Youth Council to O&S to provide feedback on how the forum is operating or have a further report on its operation in future. A member asked if the Task and Finish Group on the Civic Function was taking place soon and the Chair said that was in hand. He also hoped the training session for Scrutiny to be held on the 13th of February would also help with the review of the Overview and Scrutiny Function later in the Municipal year.