Venue: Molton Room - Brynsworthy
Contact: Corporate and Community Services 01271 388253
Note: Audio not available due to technical problems.
Apologies for absence were received from Councillors Campbell, Hunt, Luggar and Roome.
RESOLVED, that the minutes of the meeting held on 14th November 2019 (circulated previously) be approved as a correct record and signed by the Chair.
Items brought forward which in the opinion of the Chair should be considered by the meeting as a matter of urgency.
The Chair advised that he had been requested to raise a proposal to change the times of future meetings and added that the request would be discussed as the last item on the agenda.
Declarations of Interest.
(Please telephone the Corporate and Community Services team to prepare a form for your signature before the meeting. Interests must be re-declared when the item is called, and Councillors must leave the room if necessary).
There were no declarations of interest announced.
(a) Minute Extract of the Strategy and Resources Committee held on 2nd December 2019 (attached).
The Committee considered a report to the Strategy and Resources Committee on 2nd December 2019 by the Head of Resources regarding the Council Tax Reduction Scheme 2020/21.
The Head of Resources introduced the Assistant Benefits Manager and the Senior Benefits Officer to the Committee, advising the reason for their attendance was to answer any technical questions that the Committee had.
He outlined the proposals of the new scheme and highlighted the following:
· The original Council Tax Benefit scheme was replaced in 2013 by a new localised Council Tax Reduction Scheme.
· Each year the scheme was reviewed and the Devon Steering Group (of Benefits Officers) worked together to review the schemes; over recent years there had been some minor changes to bring the scheme in line with changes made by Central Government in Housing Benefit and Universal Credit (UC).
· The ‘current’ scheme had been reviewed and Devon Authorities had aimed to move to a “new discount based income-banded scheme” that was fairer, simpler and reduce admin costs.
· This reduced administration burden would enable the team to focus resource onto overall Council tax debt recovery and improve the overall collection rates.
· Previously Council Tax Reduction (CTR) was assessed and awarded in line with Housing Benefit (HB) – the advantages of this alignment had been lost since the roll out of Universal Credit (UC) in July 2018
· Universal Credit was highly reactive to change and the Council could typically receive monthly notifications from the Department of Works and Pensions (DWP) of a change in income. Whilst this was often very small sums as the CTR scheme was fully means tested, even a small change could result in reassessment, which required an amended Council Tax bill to be produced and rescheduling instalment plans, restarting the debt recovery process all over again.
· Households were often issued with many bills together with a frequent change of instalments/direct debits, which was extremely confusing for them and difficult to budget or understand exactly what was due to be paid. These continual set-backs for customers who were already on a low income meant that they were often required to pay a lump sum at the end of the year due to the constant changes.
· For these reasons and to minimise the number of changes to CTR assessment; Councils across the Country were starting to move towards a discount based income-banded scheme, which was simpler and cheaper to administer.
· South Hams and West Devon introduced an income-banded scheme for the current year April 2019 and the Devon Benefits Officer Group had recommended that the other Local Authorities follow suit for 2020/21.
· Introducing the income banded scheme resulted in over 80% of claimants benefiting financially.
· The Council had consulted on the proposals in September and October 2019 via press releases, the website, social media together with direct mailshots within council tax bills, benefit notifications and advertising within the Council offices.
· Before the localised Council Tax Reduction Scheme the old Council Tax Benefit Scheme cost the public ... view the full minutes text for item 30.
Climate Emergency - Design of Citizens' Assembly.
Chief Executive to Report.
The Committee received an update from the Chief Executive regarding the Climate Emergency – design of Citizens’ Assembly.
The Chief Executive drew the Committee’s attention to the additional papers that had been circulated via email following the publication of the agenda, they were:
· Revising Devon County Council’s Energy and Carbon Strategy.
· Developing a Net Zero Citizens’ Assembly for Devon.
He explained that there was an opportunity for Members to comment on the proposals that were being made by the University of Exeter. In response to the Climate Emergency, which had been declared by Devon County Council. District Councils were working on an appropriate response plan, which was focussed on operations and community interaction. The next stage would be to hold Citizens’ Assembly’s and to achieve that a Devon Net-Zero Task Force led by Professor Patrick Devine-Wright and a panel of experts had been established.
He added that it was recommended that the assembly met in different locations that were representative of different areas in the county (for example Barnstaple, Plymouth, Exeter and Tavistock). The report also recommended that the assembly met on four separate days at weekends over a seven-week period. The Devon Net-Zero Task Force, as an independent body, should decide how many witnesses to call, following the guidance outlined in the papers. The witnesses should be as diverse as possible and include researchers, academics, representatives from various organisations and local residents. A panel of 100 citizens had been recommended with an assumption of a 5% drop off rate during the course of the meetings. Members of the panel should be provided with £100.00 a day to cover the cost of travel and childcare.
In response to a number of questions, the Chief Executive provided answers in relation to the following:
· The Citizens’ Assembly meetings would not be held in public. However, they would be live streamed online.
· The report listed potential expert witnesses and made reference to the lower age limit, which was 16 years old to ensure a broad scale of age range.
· Was championing Barnstaple as a potential venue for one of the hearings and the benefits that it would bring to the town. The Council expressed its disappointment when the thematic hearing was withdrawn.
· There would be no Parish or District Member representation on the Assembly. However, the Parish Councils would have an opportunity to express their views on the call for evidence.
· As Chief Executive of North Devon Council he was a member of the Devon Climate Emergency Response Group. The Customer Services Manager was also a member of the Tactical Group and working hard to secure North Devon as a venue.
He added that he was happy to feed back any concerns from the Committee to the Devon Net-Zero Task Force.
The Committee thanked the Chief Executive for his update.
To consider the Policy Development work programme/forward plan 2019/20
The Committee considered the work programme/forward plan for 2019/20 (circulated previously).
The Chief Executive advised that the Service Plans would be considered at the meeting on 9th January 2020. All Heads of Service had been invited to attend the Committee. However, the Committee was particularly interested in the following services:
· Environmental health and Housing.
· Economic Development.
· Waste and Recycling.
He added that the purpose of the meeting was to seek assurance from the Committee in relation to the content of the Service Plans and their contribution towards achieving the Corporate Objectives.
In response to a question in relation to the Car Parks service, the Chief Executive advised that the service fell under the remit of the Waste and Recycling Service. The Head of Resources advised that the Car Parks service had its own individual service plan, which would provide an overview of the service. The Car Parks Manager was looking at a whole range of improvements to the service, which would be detailed within the service plan.
The Chief Executive added that he would invite the Car Parks Manager to attend the meeting.
The Head of Resources advised that there was a couple typographical errors within the work programme and requested that they be amended for the next meeting.
He also requested that the following item was added for to the work programme for the meeting in February 2020:
· 10 Year Capital Strategy 2020/30.
RESOLVED, that the work programme be noted.
Times of Future Meetings
The Chairman addressed the Committee regarding the times of the scheduled meetings and stated that there was a requirement to be flexible to ensure that working Members were not prevented from sitting on the Committee.
The Committee discussed holding the meetings at alternative times. The Chief Executive added that whilst it might be more appropriate for working Members to attend meetings outside of office hours, there would be an additional cost to the Council in officer time in terms of TOIL or overtime.
RESOLVED, that an email be circulated to the current members of the Committee to seek their views in relation to alternative times for the remaining meetings of the current financial year.