The Panel considered a report by the Chair which highlighted the Boards findings, conclusions and recommendations, following its examination of the Elected Mayors strategic priorities and the Councils future direction of travel.
The Chair thanked the Scrutiny Support Officer for his assistance in pulling the report together.
ORDERED that the following recommendations and conclusions be fed into the special meeting of the Executive, which is to consider the budget for 2015/2016.
a) The points that were raised and discussed during the Overview and Scrutiny Boards investigation illustrate that the issues highlighted by the Mayor in his strategic priorities impact on a town-wide basis and not only on Middlesbrough Council.
b) Partners present at the 9 January 2015 Overview and Scrutiny Board meeting were supportive of the strategic priorities, although it was felt that some issues could be added. That meeting illustrated that there is a will from partner organisations to improve partnership working - for example by pooling resources - to address the particular problems faced by Middlesbrough. In addition, most partners indicated that they would welcome more scrutiny of a similar format.
c) Accepting the Government-funded short term Council Tax Freeze Grant for 2015-16 would adversely impact on Middlesbrough Councils long-term budget position. An inflationary increase in Council tax would ensure that income is maximised and future budget reductions are not as severe as the position that would arise by accepting the Freeze Grant.
d) The Mayors strategic priorities, and how these will be addressed, are directly related to the Councils budget and future spending priorities. Overview and Scrutiny Board considers that the strategic priorities need to be widened to include support for young people with mental health problems; addressing the skills agenda; and increasing support for people who are financially vulnerable. There may be an opportunity for the Council and its partners to improve the provision of advice to service users/customers in respect of welfare rights/benefits issues through front line staff.
e) The Overview and Scrutiny Boards investigation has also raised a number of issues that, although not budget-related at this stage, are matters that Overview and Scrutiny Board consider should be highlighted and considered further, either as part of the scrutiny process or by the Councils Corporate Management Team.
Recommendations relating to strategic priorities/budget
a) That the Executive notes the Overview and Scrutiny Boards support for the strategic priorities for Middlesbrough.
b) That the strategic priorities should also make reference to the following:
People who are financially vulnerable and (under the section on children) the need to increase support for young people with mental health problems; and
Addressing the skills agenda to meet the needs of both employers and young people.
c) That Middlesbrough Council refuses the Governments Council Tax Freeze Grant due to its short-term nature and the resulting adverse long-term impact on Council budgets, future service provision for the people of Middlesbrough and future Council Tax levels.
NOTE: Councillor C Hobson, who was not present at the previous meeting when this matter had originally been considered, requested that it be noted she did not support recommendation c) above.
Recommendations relating to future policy development
a) That the Executive notes that the following issues, raised during the discussions with Council partners, are recommended for future policy development, including appropriate action by the Councils Corporate Management Team:
i. That mechanisms are put in place to improve partnership working across Middlesbrough. Consideration should be given to how the Councils partner organisations can be better involved in sharing expertise and resources for the mutual benefit of all organisations. In particular, following discussions at the Overview and Scrutiny Board meeting of 9 January 2015, Council Officers should liaise further with Erimus Housing in this regard.
ii. That steps are taken by all partner organisations, such as provision of further training, to improve advice from frontline staff on welfare rights/benefits so that service users can be better supported on these issues, or signposted to appropriate support.
NOTE: Councillor C Hobson, who was not present at the previous meeting when this matter had originally been considered, requested that it be noted she did not support recommendations at a) i) and ii), above.
Recommendations relating to action by the Overview and Scrutiny Board
That the Executive notes the following actions agreed by Overview and Scrutiny Board:
That, where appropriate, future scrutiny investigations include greater involvement by partner organisations.
That the following issues, raised during the discussions with Council partners, are to be considered as possible future scrutiny topics:
i. The impact of budget cuts on Neighbourhood Policing.
ii. Changes in housing demand in the private rented sector, including the impact on registered social landlords in attracting tenants and reducing voids. (To be undertaken in the current Municipal year, if possible.)
iii. What attracts people to Middlesbrough?
iv. To what extent is Middlesbrough a thriving town?
v. The Skills Agenda - are education providers providing the qualifications and training to match the requirements of future employers and young people?
vi. South Tees Clinical Commissioning Group property portfolio - the impact on the town of building closures and service relocation.
vii. Demand for residential care for the elderly in Middlesbrough.