Knowsley Council’s Cabinet met on Wednesday, 23 November.
All the papers are available to view on the council’s website. Here’s our quick guide to what was discussed and agreed…
Liverpool City Region Combined Authority Order
An update on the Liverpool City Region Combined Authority Order was presented at Cabinet. This Order is necessary to implement the Devolution Agreement, which states that the Liverpool City Region must have a directly elected Mayor in May 2017.
A draft Mayoral Liverpool City Region Combined Authority Order was received from the Government late on Friday, 11 November 2016. Given the technical detail contained within the Order, there are still a small number of elements which are being worked through with the Government, and other supporting provisions (for example the Mayoral Elections Order) are still to be circulated.
All of the constituent authorities and the Combined Authority itself need to approve the Order before it is laid before Parliament by mid-December.
Liverpool City Region Tenancy Strategy 2016-2019
Councillors heard that across the City Region, there are currently more than 100 registered providers managing more than 150,000 properties.
Many of these providers operate across local authority boundaries, so councilors agreed a proposal to adopt a joint Tenancy Strategy, which will apply across the region and give registered housing providers consistent guidance to help them prepare their tenancy policies.
The Localism Act 2011 gave new flexibilities and powers to registered providers of social housing, including the option to use fixed-term tenancies. The Act also places a duty on local authorities to publish a Tenancy Strategy to set out how they would like registered providers to make use of these flexibilities.
The proposed Liverpool City Region Tenancy Strategy builds on the existing local authorities’ strategies by favouring lifetime tenancies, whilst recognising that there are circumstances where the new tenure flexibility provides an opportunity for registered providers to make the best use of their housing stock.
After being endorsed at Cabinet, the Strategy will have to be formally approved at Council.
Empty Homes Strategy 2016 – 2021
Cabinet considered and agreed the council’s Empty Homes Strategy 2016-2021, which aims to reduce the overall number of empty properties, with a particular emphasis on tackling longer term vacant properties.
Empty homes are a national and local priority – they equate to a wasted housing resource at a time when housing demand is outstripping supply. The council is committed to tackling empty homes, and through the delivery of the strategy, it will help to ensure that Knowsley has a housing offer which meets the needs of existing residents and helps to attract economically active people to the borough.
2016/17 Revenue Budget Monitoring – mid-year update
Councillors were presented with an update on how the council’s finances are looking at this half-way point in the financial year.
Cabinet heard that 96% of the planned savings for the current year are expected to be achieved fully in this or the next financial year, representing savings of more than £10m.
The report noted that, given the scale of Government funding cuts which the council has had to manage in recent years, it is inevitably becoming harder to identify and deliver savings. Therefore, the high percentage of savings achieved successfully this year shows the overall robustness of the council’s approach. As well as detailing some of the savings which have been achieved, the report also listed those planned savings which will now not be made, or which will be delayed, outlining reasons for each.
Councillors heard that the council’s expected overall budget deficit this year is just under £1.4m, and the details of where this deficit existed, and how it would be addressed, was documented in the detailed report. It was also noted that this figure was much reduced from the original forecast of a potential £2.5m deficit.
The council’s financial position will continue to be monitored closely, with a further update to be taken to Cabinet in February.
2015/16 Investment programme
Councillors heard details of a plan to invest up to £80m over the next three years in projects which will help secure the borough’s future sustainability and improve some of the most important services to residents. Of this, just over £17m will come from the council, with the other funding identified from other partners and sources of finance, such as grants.
This is part of the council’s proactive approach, using one-off resources to secure long-term financial savings. Options for investment have all been based around the council’s four Corporate Plan priorities: Growth; Sustainable Children’s Services; Improved Adult Social Care and Budget Sustainability.
Councillors considered a proposed programme of investment across the different priorities. They include investments in the Shakespeare North Theatre in Prescot and new infrastructure at the South Whiston and Cronton Growth Point, which would stimulate development, in turn generating future business rates and council tax revenue for the council. In Kirkby, further investment in the town centre is proposed, to support St Modwen’s wider redevelopment plans.
Financial strategy update and 3-year-budget setting process
Councillors were asked to look ahead at the medium-term financial strategy forecasts for the financial years 2017/18 through to 2019/20.
At an earlier meeting of the Cabinet, it was agreed that Knowsley would request that Government agrees a four-year-settlement figure for the council, in order to give a degree of financial certainty for the coming years. Of course, the council recognises that there are still a number of national factors which could affect its financial position even if the four-year settlement is agreed, such as the UK’s exit from the EU and potential changes in Government policy direction.
The report outlined the most up to date budget forecasts for the coming financial years, including contingency budgets to address potential pressures from services which are likely to experience high demand, especially adult social care and children’s services. Due to Government funding cuts, the Council is forecasting a budget gap over the next 3 years of £17m. The Council is currently having to identify savings options to meet this gap.
Corporate Plan monitoring update
A progress report was given on how well the council is progressing with the priorities established in its Corporate Plan for 2015-19.
The plan, which was launched in September last year, and updated this March, sets out the most important things which the council wants to achieve in order to make Knowsley ‘the borough of choice’. This includes strategic priorities and practical actions which the council will take in order to achieve them.
At Cabinet, councillors heard more details about the progress being made in all the priority areas. These were documented in some detail in the report.
It was agreed that a further update should be brought to the Cabinet in June 2017 in order to continually assess and ensure that the council’s work is focused in the right areas.
Want more detail on any of these items?
The full agenda and reports packs can be found on the council’s website.