Agenda item

Budget Scrutiny

The scrutiny committees are asked to consider the budget proposals on behalf of the residents of Dorset, and to provide constructive challenge to decision-makers before a final decision is made.


Members considered a report from the Executive Director for Corporate Development which provided a summary of progress to date on the development of the budget strategy and medium-term financial plan (MTFP).  The report also provided further updates on funding for this year and for 2022/23, although details of the local government finance settlement  was still awaited.


The Chairman stated that the focus for the meeting would be on budget proposals for the Adult and Housing and Children's Services Directorates.  Budget proposals concerning the Place and Corporate Resources Directorate would be considered at the Place and Resources Scrutiny Committee meeting which would follow this meeting. 


The Executive Director for Corporate Development set the scene for budget setting and outlined the process. The Efficiency and Transformation programme was highlighted to address the budget gap of £4.5m. Expecting additional government funding of £4.5m.


Attention was drawn to final line in the report regarding the settlement and if it was significantly different from that anticipated, then it may be necessary for the budget proposals to be adjusted.  If the net expenditure proposals needed to be reduced by more than £500k the Scrutiny Committees may wish to reconvene during the week commencing 3 January 2022, to consider the revision to the proposals.


General budget questions

Question/Issue raised


In respect of assumptions, there is an inflationary number of 2%, why has this been decreased as it is higher at a national level.


Inflation in the care sector is a bit higher and so have allocated more than the 2% but in the waste sector it is not so high. Some contracts are commissioned on an annual basis and negotiated accordingly. Inflation is the amount we are prepared to pay.

Why 2.5% increases on fees and charges?


A catch all average at this point.

Why is there a 0.5% growth on business rates, will our take be less?


In respect of business rates relief, the Government will compensate Local Authorities.

Is there an increase in the employers’ contribution?


Yes there will be an increase, suppliers to us will need to pass this on but as a Local Authority employer there would be a net nil impact.

Concern around certainty on the savings, not convinced some of the savings would be realised. e.g. children’s services in respect of the recent tragic child death in Solihull.


Management of risk explained, and the volatility and financial position was laid out for members. Officers hadn’t adjusted the budget proposals as yet in light of recent news.  There was still time for adjustments to be made before full council.

The Executive Director for People, Children highlighted the best way to manage was to always have a grip on the need of our communities.

Surplus collection money, was that material?


£3m had been factored into one of the appendices in the report.

Revenues and Benefits - the cost of services given the changes likely to happen?


Expecting a large part year effect.

Economic growth, do need as a council to talk about growth in economic generation.



Inflation and efficiencies

Efficiency target applied to inflation. General efficiency drive within the Council highlighted Officers were trying to be more commercially minded in their approach.

What inflation rate was put in last year for the assumptions?


General inflation was 1.5% of 2021/22 budget but was held centrally and every request was reviewed. Good contract management and positive supplier relationships highlighted.

No detail of what was in the £125m, members are scrutinising just 9% of the budget.  Why no zero based budgeting?


The final budget paper due to go to Cabinet in January 2022 would contain a lot more detail. Within the Corporate Directorate there was zero based budgeting. Place services had now moved to another staged process.

Adults was given the higher level of spend and has been more of a higher based review.

Concern about impact on people’s mental health, do we have to buy in specific services to ensure they were there.


The majority of mental health services are the responsibility of NHS.  Public Health worked closely with them and the Director highlighted a range of mental health training and development. Funding streams were coming down nationally for this area. Public Health budgets tended to take on a lot of prevention work, the majority of services were commissioned by Clinical Commissioning Group.

Disappointed by a multi-year spending review and that there is still only a single year settlement. Are there any noises being made to central government to try and address this?


The Deputy Leader advised that he along with the Leader and Chief Executive met every month with local MPs and had also been lobbying them for fairer grants.

The Government were more inclined to continue with single year settlements in the light of the pandemic.


Adult Social Care (presentation attached as an annexure to these minutes.

Question/Issue raised


There are a large number of jobs to fill, how will this happen?

From a South West perspective we are in the most difficult position in terms of workforce, lowest quartile of staffing due to rurality and older population. There is a joint piece of work across the NHS and local authorities to address this and look how to stimulate and encourage the workforce. Good training and support made as attractive as possible to support younger people to remain in the county was vital. Work was ongoing to see how to promote and value care more effectively.

In respect of the figure at Appendix 1 regarding general inflation how does that relate to inflation figures.

Officers had modelled a 2% average inflation for the organisation, in addition £3.6m had been transferred into the adults budget recognising the high risk and high inflation pressures within it.

Some savings not achieved, why was this?  Were these in MTFP?

Officers were working hard to try and achieve transformation plans, but the impact of Covid has deflected some of the work.  Some resource has had to be moved around.  Some would be rolling forward into next year and further build on those savings that had not come to fruition yet.

At a recent Dorset County Hospital Governors meeting there were discussions around the difficulty of discharging patients. It was felt that more support was needed rather than less in this regard.

Officers highlighted the difficulty of discharging people or getting people into acute care settings. There was a profound lack of care available and officers were working with providers to maximise the support from care providers. It was important to ensure the right people were funded in the right way.

Reference made that the Dorset Integrated Care System (ICS) might get pushed back to October, would this affect our budget?

The budget in front of members was driven by the system that was in place at the present time and that would continue, everyone was committed. Delays would not change the pace being worked at and what was being presented today.

The Portfolio Holder for Adult Social Care added that he had been part of the recruitment process for the Chief Executive for the new ICS who was due to start in April 2022.  He was not aware of the rumour about any delays but undertook to follow this up.

In respect of helping providers with local recruitment, how would this be done and was there any cost to Dorset Council.

Officers were using grants and potential monies that came through to use in a pro-active way to support providers with a framework for career development.


Housing and Community Safety (Presentation attached as an annexure to these minutes)

Question/Issue raised


In the 5 year plan is there any room for council housing as used to happen?

Would prefer an approach where the council developed its own housing, could be an income stream.

The current approach is to be a strong enabling authority. There are a number of registered providers in the county, they have the expertise and finance to deliver more affordable housing. However, we do have some, albeit very few.  The approach is to work with the housing associations to do more.

It was not about replacing Registered Providers (RPs) but clearly the system of RPs was not covering everyone.  Maybe the council should look at supplementing RPs with small niche areas that could provide housing that they don’t provide for.

It was more about identifying the need and how we dealt with that.


Public Health (Presentation attached as an annexure to these minutes)

Question/Issue raised


In respect of the physical health for people, should we spending more on the leisure centres that we run around the county and improve facilities there.

This is not something widely supported by the evidence.  The Public Health budget is there to look at the overall benefit for the population.  A better use of resource was to spend on behaviour change and how best to provide access to green space and encourage people to build daily activity into their lives.

Do you provide ante natal services?

That is provided by the midwifery service.  Health officers do work closely with them but it is not a responsibility provided by this service.


Children’s Services (Presentation attached as an annexure to these minutes)

Question/Issue raised


Question submitted in advance of the meeting from Cllr Roe in respect of parents and carers of people who have a disability.

Written response attached as an annexure with these minutes

Care placements- where are they in the budget?

Care packages and residential care budget line

It was felt that the layout of Appendix 2 to the report could be improved.

In respect of the numbers of children in care with 8 new entrants expected a month, why is the number of 425 predicted.

The Harbour, what are the consequences if this doesn’t open at the time stated.

Where safe to do so families are the best place for children.  Work is carried out on an evidence basis. The estimate is 8 new entrants – the evidence is based on our averages and predicating the model on just slightly lower than the number going out each month.

The Harbour is due to finish Spring 2022, officers were constantly looking at other options to find alternative places for our children. 




Members of the People & Health Scrutiny Committee:

(i)            reviewed the updated assumptions and cost pressures set out in the Executive Director’s report and the validation work that had been carried out on them to calculate the budget gap

(ii)          reviewed the latest financial estimates of transformation, tactical savings and other measures taken to close the budget gap

(iii)         considered the headlines from the recent spending review and the impact this will/could have on Dorset Council

(iv)         reviewed and test/challenge any assumption or proposed course of action as part of the scrutiny role before the budget strategy goes forward to Cabinet

(v)          considered the council tax assumptions, including proposals to levy the additional 1% social care precept in 2022/23

(vi)         understood the gaps that remained at this stage (the settlement information was not yet available) and the risks this still represented for the financial strategy

(vii)        submitted to the Cabinet any post-scrutiny thoughts about any matter set out in the proposed budget strategy that would assist in setting a balanced budget for the Council in 2022/23.


The Chairman of the Place and Resources Scrutiny Committee advised members that as this meeting had significantly overrun they would not now be able to go ahead with the Place and Resources Scrutiny Committee which had been scheduled to follow this meeting.  The meeting would now be rescheduled to an alternative date.

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