Agenda and minutes

Housing, Finance and Corporate Services Policy and Scrutiny Committee - Monday 13th June, 2016 7.00 pm

Venue: Rooms 5, 6 & 7 - 17th Floor, Westminster City Hall, 64 Victoria Street, London, SW1E 6 QP. View directions

Contact: Reuben Segal; Senior Committee and Governance Officer  Tel: 020 7641 3160; email:

No. Item



The Head of Legal and Democratic Services to report any changes to the membership.


1.1       It was noted that Councillors Robert Rigby and Murad Gassanly had replaced Councillors Gotz Mohindra and Adam Hug.


1.2       RESOLVED: That Councillor Richard Holloway be elected as chairman until the arrival of Councillor Connell (Items 1-3 & 7).


Declarations of Interest

To receive declarations by Members and Officers of the existence and nature of any personal or prejudicial interests in matters on this agenda.


2.1       The known standing declarations as tabled at the meeting were as follows:


            Councillor Holloway declared that he is a board member of CityWest Homes.



Minutes pdf icon PDF 171 KB

To sign the minutes of the previous meeting as a correct record of proceedings.


3.1       RESOLVED: That the minutes of the meeting held on 13 April 2016 be signed by the Chairman as a correct record of proceedings.


Work Programme pdf icon PDF 366 KB

Report of the Director of Policy, Performance and Communications

Additional documents:


4.1     RESOLVED:


1.     Agreed an annual work programme for 2016/17.


2.     Noted the responses to actions from the previous meeting.


4.2     ACTION: Provide a briefing note updating the committee on government policy changes to the Private Rented Sector once published.  (Action for: Andrew Barry-Purssell)


Update from Cabinet Members (To Follow) pdf icon PDF 338 KB

An update from the Cabinet Members on key areas within their portfolios are attached.

The Cabinet Member for Finance and Corporate Services will be in attendance to answer questions from the Committee.


Additional documents:


5.1     The Committee received written updates from the Cabinet Member for Finance and Corporate Services and the Cabinet Member for Housing, Regeneration, Business & Economic Development on the key aspects of their portfolios. 


5.2     The Cabinet Member for Finance & Corporate Services responded to questions on the following matters:


          The Council’s Annual Accounts

5.2.1 The Committee asked whether the Council intended to submit the 2016-17 accounts to its external auditors even earlier than it had over the last two years.  Concern was raised whether this could have implications for the accuracy of the accounts of arm’s length organisations which may not be as able to meet such a challenge.  Steven Mair, City Treasurer, informed members that this year’s accounts were submitted on 9 April.  The finance team intended to build on this achievement and submit the 2016-17 accounts on the 6th April 2017.  He advised that the auditors had not identified any errors in last year’s accounts and had commented on their quality.  He clarified that the pace of preparation of accounts was to help drive quality improvements, to free up resource earlier to address in year issues etc and thus was part of the transformation of financial management.  He explained that the finance team would work with other bodies to meet the target and that risk and communication plans had been developed to facilitate this.


          Local Government Financial Settlement

5.2.2  The Cabinet Member was asked about the benefits and disbenefits of entering into a three-year local government finance settlement and whether any other local authorities were opting to take a different approach.  The Cabinet Member explained that in order to take advantage of the three-year settlement offer the Council will need to prepare a forward-looking efficiency plan.  This will need to be submitted in the autumn.  No guidance had been provided on what such a plan should consist of.  He advised that while the settlement would provide some financial certainty it would not provide total certainty as the authority also relies on funding from other forms of income.  The City Treasurer advised that he was not aware of any local authority that was not taking up the offer.


          General Fund Reserves

5.2.3  The Cabinet Member was asked about the Council’s policy approach to the level of general reserves.  He advised that the Council wished to build up its reserves to between £40m and £50m after having to draw heavily on them following a fall in revenue after the recession in 2008/9.  This would enable the Council to earmark funds for individual departments if required.


          Budget Monitoring

5.2.4             Members asked how the new budget monitoring tool would help to address some of the issues in the Managed Services Programme.  The City Treasurer explained that the tool would enable budget managers to upload accruals and forecasts into Agresso which then directly feed into monitoring packs to provide more reliable financial forecasts.  He advised that training would be delivered by finance managers to budget managers.  He acknowledged that some Westminster schools and other  ...  view the full minutes text for item 5.


Employment and Business Support Operational Plan pdf icon PDF 212 KB

Report of the Director of Economy and Infrastructure

Additional documents:


6.1     The Committee received a report that provided an analysis of long-term unemployment in Westminster and the lessons learned from other programmes.


6.2     The report set out options for the City Council’s future role in reducing long term unemployment. The Committee’s views will help inform the business case for a new Westminster Employment Service which is a City for All Year 2 commitment.


6.3     The committee heard from witnesses Ellen Prue, Manager of Employment and Learning Services, Cardinal Hume Centre and Robert Spread Programme Director of Employment Services at Maximus who had been invited to the meeting to assist the committee with its deliberations.


6.4     Robert Spread addressed the committee. He started by providing some background information about Maximus and the work that it was delivering to reduce unemployment in Westminster.  He explained that Maximus was an American company that delivered employment services solutions to governments.  In the UK it delivered three work programmes one of which focusing on West London included Westminster.  Maximus provided jobseekers with a range of services to help them find and retain meaningful employment.  This ranged from pre-employment training such as help with CVs and interview preparation as well as in work support services.  Maximus delivered 40% of the services itself and subcontracted the other 60%.


6.5     In respect of performance for the West London programme, Mr Spread advised that 30% of jobseekers on the programme had been assisted back into work in all payment groups.  The performance figure dipped by 3-4% in Westminster which was affected by the particular challenges of those long-term unemployed in receipt of Employment Support Allowance, many of whom had health related issues.  The cohort that was performing best was young people in receipt of jobseekers allowance.  He outlined some of the barriers to employment for people on the programme.  These included the cost of housing and homelessness, skills gaps, drug and alcohol addiction, English not being a first language and significant competition from people living in outer London and beyond.


6.6     With regard to the four strategic options for a new Westminster Employment Service Mr Spread favoured a multi-agency integrator approach where the powers and influence of the authority can join up local services in  co-located sites around the individual.  He stated that given the high cost of property in London and for efficiency cohabitation, where feasible, made sense.  He considered that given the health issues affecting around 50% of those in long-term unemployment integration with health services was important. He stated that a multi-agency integrator option required effective co-ordination between services so that the long term unemployed person is properly triaged.  He commented that in some contracts not all services had shared in the rewards of success and he considered that there needed to be joint accountability for meeting targets as well as an equal distribution fof any rewards. He also stressed the importance of engaging employers and encouraging them to visit co- located services to provide training such as holding mock interviews. Employers would also benefit  ...  view the full minutes text for item 6.


Rationalisation of the Operational Property Portfolio pdf icon PDF 408 KB

Report of the Director of Property, Investments and Estates



7.1     The Committee received a report that provided a background of and an update to the Council’s operational property rationalisation strategy and the intended outcomes.


7.2     The committee noted that the paper was an update to the corporate property strategy paper submitted to the committee at its meeting on 18 November 2015 and provided a summary of progress since that meeting.


7.3     The Committee considered the report and asked questions on a range of issues including i) the process for appointing a contractor to work with the operational property team to deliver the strategy, ii) how CityWest Homes’ requirements would be incorporated in the strategy, iii) the areas of the portfolio not included in the scope of the strategy and why, iv) the likelihood of services losing required operational space and the possible effect this would have on service quality and v) how officers envisaged hubs and clusters would work.


7.4     Alan Rhind, Head of Operational Property, explained that BNP Paribas Real Estate was appointed to assist the operational property team to deliver the strategy following a competitive tendering process.  He advised that they were due to be paid £25,000 for Stage 1 (stakeholder engagement) and £40,000 for Stage 2 (developing the strategy and identifying savings).  He further advised that the results of data from Stage 1 could be made available to members prior to a final decision on the strategy.


7.5     With regard to CityWest Homes, Mr Rhind explained that the Council’s housing ALMO was carrying out an on-going review of surplus accommodation in its portfolio and that this will be shared and form an important part of the overarching operational property strategy.  In response to a supplementary question he explained that the while the Council did work with other public sector bodies the disposal of surplus NHS properties and the benefits to the Council of purchasing these fell outside the scope of the strategy.


7.6     Mr Rhind explained that there were parts of the operational property portfolio such as parks and cemeteries that were not included within the scope of the rationalisation strategy.  Whilst opportunities existed in these areas the aim was to examine aspects of the portfolio where it was easiest to combine operational efficiencies and generate income from assets identified as surplus.  He clarified that it is not the intention to sell surplus assets, but to use them to generate income, unless better income generating opportunities are available from use of the capital raised from disposal.


7.7     Hub Strategies, workplace management, service, co- locations and alternative delivery models had yet to be developed as the Council was still engaging with stakeholders regarding their future property requirements.  He clarified that the strategy was being designed to make better use of the Council’s assets.  It was for service areas to determine their operational and property needs from within their budget.




7.8     The committee noted that a more in-depth paper will be submitted to a future meeting of the Committee as the project progresses and details emerge.


7.9     RESOLVED  ...  view the full minutes text for item 7.


Treasury Outturn for 2015/16 pdf icon PDF 419 KB

Report of the City Treasurer


8.1     In accordance with the council's treasury management practices, the Committee received a report that set out the Council's Annual Treasury Outturn for 2015-16.


8.2     The Committee asked about the weighted average interest rate of return on cash investments over the year.  Members also queried in respect of borrowing why interest rates for Public Works Loans Board (PWLB) loans had increased which was making them uncompetitive.  George Bruce, Tri-Borough Director of Treasury and Pensions, advised in the case of the latter that PWLB was taking advantage of an opportunity that existed to improve returns on loans.  The weighted average interest rate of return on cash investments over the year was 0.60%.  The committee was informed that officers were exploring a range of options to improve investment returns whilst reflecting the annual investment strategy’s priorities.


8.3     RESOLVED: That the report be noted.


8.4     ACTION: Provide the committee with details of how the Council’s Treasury Outturn compares with that of comparable local authorities. (Action for: George Bruce, Tri-Borough Director of Treasury and Pensions)


The committee noted that this would be the last meeting to be attended by Anne Pollock, Scrutiny Officer, who was moving to a new role within the Council.  The committee thanked her for her work.