Q - Given the stated pressures on the Housing Revenue Account (paragraph 2.16), is Harrow Council the right organisation to expand the number of properties under its control? How robust is the budget when the first quarter was so at variance with planned expenditure? Would savings from an expansion of the Housing Needs Team be more beneficial in the short term than longer term initiatives such as the purchase of new homes or buy to let?
A – The budget situation remains robust, all budgets experience change and it is inevitable that assumptions must be made. The budget pressures being experienced had not arisen due to difficulty in meeting the £17m savings. Smart Lettings had been set up by Harrow Council to manage the PRS stock and this took a two to three year view. The budget outturn line of £2m forecast for homelessness in the previous year had informed the budget. This sum had increased before reducing to £500,000 in the first two quarters. The inclusion of additional staff would result in savings. A wide range of actions on homelessness were taking place which would generate future savings.
Q – What were the pressures of the compulsory upgrade of IT systems (para 2.17), keeping pace with legislative changes, and ensuring compliance by IT officers?
A - There was a rolling programme for IT programmes: Directorate indexation on contracts was contained in the inflation provision. It was agreed that a member would receive the project initiation document and business case for the Northgate IT upgrade.
Q – What is the reason for the rise in demand for Children’s Services?
A – New pupils and the age range has been extended to 25 for SEN.
Q – The forecast capital spend at quarter 2 was 66% of the total capital programme. What was the target spend?
A – There was no set benchmark, the need to undertake work on capital profiling was accepted. Slippage was not ideal but it was more important to spend properly and in accordance with decisions.
Q – Was there a maximum investment that the Council was prepared to make available to an in-house commercial venture prior to its feasibility being established?
A – Business cases were regularly reviewed and commercial ventures were required to be income creative. The Director of Finance undertook to speak to the Corporate Director Resources and Commercial regarding the maximum investment question. Loans for such investments were held against reserves so could be seen to be accountable. The Chair stated that the resources scrutiny leads would take forward any questions on behalf of the Sub-committee on the commercial companies, would keep them informed and feedback to the scrutiny leadership.
Q – How often were budget updates reported to Cabinet?
A – Formal quarterly reports were submitted to Cabinet with ongoing monitoring such as weekly meetings between the Director of Finance and the Portfolio Holder for Finance and Commercialisation who was constantly made aware of variances and the interventions to correct
Q – How regularly was information on the brown bins monitored?
A – Whilst there was regular monitoring for commercial undertakings, other budget queries were dealt with as they arose. The intention was to produce templates for individual areas to feed into budget monitoring reports. The general ledger provided information on income received.
Q – It was almost the end of quarter 3, could Members receive more timely, up to date information, for example a draft or monitoring form, including changes since the previous quarter? This would prevent discussion on out of date information and could result in a different response.
A – This was a valid observation and the Director of Finance would work with Directorates although it would be a challenge to ensure all information was ‘live’ at the time of report circulation.
RESOLVED : That the report be noted.