Venue: Phoenix Chambers, Phoenix House, Tiverton
Contact: Sarah Lees Democratic Services Officer
Link: audio recording
To receive any apologies for absence.
Apologies were received from Cllr L Kennedy.
The Vice Chairman, Cllr L Knight, chaired the meeting in the Chairman’s absence.
Public Question Time
To receive any questions from members of the public and replies thereto.
The following questions were asked by members of the public:
Construction activities on St Georges Court started in August 2018. The public were told that due to additional groundwork requirements the build time would be 2 years. That was five and a half years ago.
The project is still not fully complete and with no visible sign of any of the 39 properties being occupied in the short term.
Can a date be provided as to when it is expected that the first residents will move in and the tax payers of MDDC will start to see any benefit from this disastrous development?
It is currently envisaged that the first housing tenants will be occupying St George’s Court by the end of March 2024.
It is noted that currently two (2) of the properties at Haddon Heights Bampton have been sold that two (2) are currently shown as Sold Subject to Contract and five (5) remain available for sale.
These five (5) properties are shown with a market value of over £3 million.
When is it planned for this Council to take full ownership of any unsold properties, will this be before the 31st March 2024?
We are currently working to get the remaining units transferred by the 31/3/24
How will this purchase be funded, will it be from reserves or loans?
Previous reports have indicated that this transfer will be funded from reserves.
At the last Cabinet Meeting a request was made and supported, that information should be provided in advance of the meeting and in written form. This opposed to a verbal report being given referencing power point slides etc.
The reason for this request being it gave Cabinet Members more time to absorb what was being presented and then ask appropriate and meaningful questions.
The same also applies of course to members of the public and which would be fully in support of this new administrations stated intent of greater public engagement.
Of this Committees Agenda only one of the items has advanced information provided. This importantly not being the 3 Rivers Soft Closure key actions and dates etc.
Will the Audit Committee Chair take a similar position to Cabinet this by requesting written information including data in advance even at short notice if absolutely required.
It was felt that a verbal update would suffice as regular updates on the soft closure progress is being made to the Cabinet. Many of the tasks, contained in the closure programme, are by their very nature commercially confidential, so could only be included in a part 2 report. The Committee is assured by officers that sufficient progress is being made against a well-considered closure programme. This ensures both cost and risk exposure is minimised – a key part of the role of this Committee.
My questions are prompted by item 7 on the agenda 3 Rivers soft closure timetable – verbal update.
Declaration of Interests under the Code of Conduct
To record any interests on agenda matters.
No interests were declared under this item.
To consider whether to approve the minutes as a correct record of the meeting held on 5th December 2023.
The minutes of the meeting held on 5 December 2023 were confirmed as a true and accurate record and SIGNED by the Chairman.
To receive any announcements that the Chairman may wish to make.
The Chairman had no announcements to make.
Housing Options Internal Audit DAP report - risks in relation to Homelessness (00:13:00)
To discuss in greater detail the risks facing the Council in relation to increased Homelessness which had been identified as part of the Housing Options Internal Audit. Gaining a better understanding of the issues involved, by the Committee with responsibility for ‘risk’, was requested at the last meeting.
The Operations Manager for Public Health and Housing Options had been invited to the meeting to assist the Committee with their understanding of the risks to the Council in relation to Homelessness. This had been requested as a result of the Committee having received the Internal Audit of the Housing Options Internal Audit at the last meeting.
The following information was brought to the Committee’s attention:
· CR12 on the risk register covered the general housing crisis relating to housing supply, affordability and the knock on effect this had on homelessness approaches.
· Particular risks relating to Housing Options
o Increase in homelessness approaches to the housing options team and insufficient staff resources to deal with these within statutory requirements
o Increased numbers of households entering temporary accommodation and having to stay longer due to lack of affordable accommodation to move on to
o Increased cost to the Council for temporary accommodation due to longer stays and greater demand
o Lack of available accommodation that was affordable and suitable for the household type (such as families with children and care leavers) resulting in use of inappropriate placements
Mitigations/Actions currently in place
· Proposed re-structure had been put forward to ensure sufficient resources were in place to deal with homelessness demand, provided prevention measures, supported households out of temporary accommodation and to sustain tenancies in the private sector, managed the use of own stock temporary accommodation and assisted non-UK nationals under the various refugee schemes.
· Review of homelessness policy over the course of 24/25 to take account current demand and prevention measures
· Greater focus on prevention opportunities through the introduction of a housing initiatives plan
· Housing initiatives plan to be presented to Homes PDG early 24/25 for agreement. The plan aimed to increase access to private rented accommodation, incentivise landlords to work with the Council and encourage the use of empty homes as affordable accommodation.
· Engagement with landlords continued to ensure the quality of accommodation available and to prevent tenants being evicted. Landlords were encouraged to work with the Council before eviction became necessary to resolve any issues.
· Purchase of properties to be used as temporary accommodation instead of using hotel rooms. One existing house in multiple occupation (HMO) had been running successfully for three years providing 6 en-suite rooms. Purchased two additional HMOs in 2022/23 which were being renovated to provide further accommodation. One was in partial use and once complete would provide 8 rooms, the other was almost fully complete and would provide 6 en-suite rooms.
· Under the local Authority Housing Fund further single household properties had been purchased and by 31st March 2024 there would be 10 additional properties available. This included one four-bed property for use by Afghan refugees and 9 two/three bed homes for use to help support the homes for Ukraine scheme. Longer term these homes would be available for general temporary accommodation. These properties helped to reduce the impact of refugees on the general homelessness approaches and spend on hotel accommodation.
· Drafting of ... view the full minutes text for item 57.
3Rivers soft closure timetable - verbal update (00:39:00)
To receive a verbal update from the Deputy Chief Executive (S151) setting out key actions and dates in the soft closure plan to evidence how the Council is managing this process and mitigating risk, where possible.
The Committee had requested at the last meeting that it receive information regarding the timetable in relation to the soft closure of 3Rivers.
The Deputy Chief Executive (S151) provided the Committee with a verbal update which included the following information:
After the decision taken to soft close 3Rivers, officers and the company’s board immediately agreed a structured close down programme. This programme was used at a weekly officer progress meeting which assigned tasks and tracked actions points.
The summary headings could be relayed in open discussion, however, many of the sub headings were commercially sensitive and would need to be discussed in Part II if that was the Committee’s wish.
The key generic actions being undertaken were:
· St Georges Court
· Haddon Heights, Bampton
· Knowle Lane in Cullompton
· Park Road in Tiverton
· Banksia House in Tiverton
· The managed properties that 3Rivers look after on behalf of MDDC
· The remaining 5 car parking spaces in Halberton
· The working capital loan
· The position on company overheads
· Insolvency advice
· Associated redundancies
· Interest charges
· Completion of statutory accounts
· Company closure
These were the 14 key headings which had numerous bullet points and action points that sat beneath them but they were all commercially sensitive and they had people information in them as well. So that was what the officer working group was currently working to at each weekly meeting.
In addition officers were also providing progress updates on sales, transfers, write offs and other key issues regularly to Cabinet. The next update would be in the February Cabinet Monitoring Report. All actions included within that programme were currently on schedule with a plan and financial estimates previously provided were still materially accurate.
As far as an over view of material actions, the purchase of St Georges Court by the Housing Revenue Account was progressing well and was likely to exchange in the coming few weeks. There were two sales at the Haddon Heights development site and two properties had firm offers on them and legal work was progressing well to transfer all of the other company assets and liabilities.
A brief discussion followed with regard to the Committee’s wish to have a Part II discussion at the next meeting to better understand the detail regarding the 3Rivers soft closure plan. This was AGREED on the understanding that Members treated all information received during that discussion as confidential.
To receive a report from the Deputy Chief Executive (S151) making recommendations for amendments to the Financial Regulations of the Authority, reflecting the forthcoming introduction of Internal Accounting Reporting Standard 16 (IFRS16) and update the Authority’s approval limits.
The Committee had before it a report * from the Deputy Chief Executive making recommendations for amendments to the Financial Regulations of the Authority, reflecting the forthcoming introduction of International Accounting Reporting Standard 16 (IFRS16) and updating the Authority’s approval limits.
The contents of the report were outlined with particular reference to the following:
· There had been a need to make some minor amendments to reflecting the forthcoming introduction of International Accounting Reporting Standard 16 (IFRS) and update the Authority’s approval limits.
· A review would be needed of all contracts and payments.
· The new process would need to be embedded and accounting actions undertaken correctly and in accordance with these new international regulations.
Tracked changes were highlighted at the following sections:
· Some tweaks to the glossary
· Extra column in Appendix A
· Wording which was no longer relevant was proposed to be removed.
Consideration was given to the following:
· New arrangements regarding contracts which although unavoidable, the Committee was felt was unnecessarily over burdensome.
· Old process still being referred to in the Financial Regulations because post Brexit guidance had still not been received.
· Changes to the Financial Regulations would seem more meaningful when the draft accounts were received by the Committee in May.
Reason for the decision
Failure to comply with legislation could lead to non-compliance and potentially prosecution and claims for damages. Failing to review thresholds and procedures could lead to inefficient practices damaging value for money assessments.
Note: * Report previously circulated.
External Audit update report (01:07:00)
To receive a verbal update report from Grant Thornton.
The following verbal update was provided by Grant Thornton regarding their responsibilities as the Council’s external auditors:
· The previously advised position regarding the audit had not changed since the last meeting. However, all the work had been completed, there had just not been enough time to pull together a report for this meeting due to a very tight timescale.
· Their audit would now go through a ‘moderation’ exercise to ensure it was not unduly harsh or over generous.
· The Value For Money report would come to the next meeting of the Committee
Identification of items for the next meeting (01:10:00)
Members are asked to note that the following items are already identified in the work programme for the next meeting:
· Four Year Strategic Audit Plan and Work Programme
· Internal Audit Charter and Strategy
· Risk Management Strategy
· DAP Internal Audit Progress Report
· Performance Report
· Risk Report
· External Audit Update Report
· Chairman’s Annual Report for 2023/2024
Note: This item is limited to 10 minutes. There should be no discussion on the items raised.
The Committee had before it, and NOTED, the items identified in the work programme for the next meeting. It was also requested that the following come to the next meeting of the Committee:
· Part II item on 3Rivers soft closure timetable
· Grant Thornton’s report on Value For Money
· Statement of Accounts for 2022/2023
· Annual Governance Statement for 2022/2023