(Questions may be submitted to be answered by the Scrutiny Committee, or Council officers who are attending the meeting as witnesses, on any item that is within the scope of the Committee. Please see the procedure for the submission of questions at the end of this agenda)
Question from D Ingham:
As a former officer and member of the public I continue to affirm the importance of transparency within the Council. I note the following Reports and contents within to Full Council on 02-11-22 (Devolution Deal), 15-02-23 (Reserves Position and Revenue Budget 23/24), 22-03-23 (Devolution Deal and Refreshed Service Plans). I also note the report to Audit Committee on 21-03-23 (Performance and Budget Monitoring)
I note the lack of specific reference to any monies/provisions being required to support the EMCCA proposals in these reports (e.g. Financial and HR), along with those arrangements apparently in place to actually identify and report on costs/budget demands such as these – e.g. Service Plans ref CP16.
Given the situation and having a regard for officers asking the Cabinet Member to approve under half a million pounds of funding on 18-04-23 why was this need not identified and highlighted before by officers, when did the scoping of these costs actually begin to take place and who was involved and aware?
This is especially important to clearly understand given within the consultation feedback respondents were concerned about EMCCA proposal costs and this was reported as such to Full Council.
The Devolution Deal will deliver a huge range of financial and non-financial benefits to the region – not least the £38m p.a. investment pot, long-term funding for transport and an Adult Education Budget as well as in-year funds for housing and net zero. The report to Full Council of 22 March 2023 sets out the fact that there is an ‘ongoing need for enabling activities from the Constituent Councils to continue pending Government approval’. The report of 18 April 2023 makes an allocation from our Feasibility Reserve based on cost-estimates made by officers, with the funds being drawn down as required following further decisions by the Managing Director in consultation with the Section 151 officer. As the report states, we are anticipating significant capacity funding from Government to pay for activity to pave the way for the EMCCA, but this funding is not yet in place.
As early as 7 April 2022, the Managing Director reported to Cabinet on work taking place to pursue the Devolution Deal, with the report stating ‘In order to progress the securing of a County Deal for Derbyshire and Derby by Autumn/November 2022 a programme team will be required. Funding to meet the costs of the programme team will be met from the Council’s Feasibility Reserve’
All costs incurred to date have been properly approved and accounted for within the financial regulations of the County Council and will continue to be so.
Supplementary Question :
On 07-12-22 there was an online Devolution Engagement event.
The second public question concerned costs as it was stated that council tax wouldn’t increase to cover admin/governance costs. There was no mention however of an initial 2 million still being needed.
On 15 -02-23 there was the Revenue Budget Report.
Appendix 5 identified service pressures following extensive senior cross-departmental review/challenge. This included, Leadership Development £300,000, Vision Derbyshire £87,000, Flare Database £46,000, Food Safety Enforcement - of just £19867.
Devolution was mentioned on page 44 but only in terms of opportunities - no financial risks/costs.
In Budget Consultation results - page 7 Focus Group participants felt the need for more transparency/better explanation of decisions to residents/communities.
However, the Feasibility Reserve Fund has taken money off the grid.
I’m not suggesting that if these Devolution costs had been highlighted the consultation responses would have differed in number/content – but clearly nobody can now know.
The Devolution report on 02-11-22 Appendix 1 page 8 referenced returning back to Full Council on costs, “if necessary”. Clearly it was decided unnecessary despite costs not having been highlighted anywhere for the public.
What do officers now consider should have been done differently for transparency sake?
I don’t believe that anything should have been done differently.
As stated in my initial response, on 7 April 2022, the Managing Director reported to Cabinet on work taking place to pursue the Devolution Deal, with the report stating ‘In order to progress the securing of a County Deal for Derbyshire and Derby by Autumn/November 2022 a programme team will be required. Funding to meet the costs of the programme team will be met from the Council’s Feasibility Reserve’
If agreed, the Devolution Deal will deliver a huge range of financial and non-financial benefits to the region that will far outstrip any expenditure made.