Report of the Director of the Built Environment.
The Committee considered a report of the Director of the Built Environment presenting a proposed approach to identifying savings and additional income opportunities in service provision to meet the department’s initial savings requirement.
Officers explained that this report examined the departmental budget in more detail.
A Member commented that everyone appreciated that a series of difficult decisions would need to be made over the next few months and that these were amongst them. He went on to specifically question toilets and the APCs and asked whether, if these were closed, the City would be prohibited from ever reopening these should patterns in the City change again and potential use therefore increase. The Chair stated that this sat within the terms of reference of the Port Health and Environmental Services Committee (PHES) and asked that the relevant Officers therefore respond to this query offline. The Member added that he had raised the matter here as he believed that the APCs had been provided under Section 106. Officers reported that the PHES Committee had agreed to mothball public conveniences for the time being and that further investigation would be carried out on the implications of this in terms of the question raised. Officers undertook to respond to the Member with further details on this in due course.
Another Member commented that they appreciated that making savings of the order required was difficult and it was clear from this and the previous report at Item 7 that significant efforts had been made to balance the budget. However, she expressed concern that, often, when there was a degree of pressure and urgency around the need to identify savings, it was easier to make opportunistic savings and to not look at the fundamental ways that business was being conducted or a service provided. She added that she was also aware that if any changes were to be made in terms of staffing structures there were implications that needed to be worked through appropriately making it unlikely that full effects could be achieved in 2021-22. She concluded by seeking some reassurance that this was not simply a list of quick wins but based on fundamental, recurring savings that Officers felt confident they could secure with minimum impact on staffing and services. Officers responded by highlighting that there would be further savings required and that what had been done in the first instance was to consider those savings that need to be made to fit the budgetary envelope for 2021-22. The report made reference to the Target Operating Model savings that would also need to be considered where some of the elements referred to by the Member would be examined more closely by the Executive Director of the Department of the Built Environment and brought back to this Committee.
Another Member recognised that these were very difficult decisions to make particularly for a department that was at the heart of the City Corporation. She added that she was very disappointed to see budgetary reductions for things such as pothole repairs which were incredibly dangerous. She commented that there was much development going on in the City with larger and larger vehicles accessing sites and making deliveries and questioned why developers were not therefore asked to contribute to the cost of road repairs and general maintenance. She also commented on the proposed cuts to street sweeping and questioned how this was likely to impact on the attractiveness of the City for visitors and residents but also for attracting events and filming. The Member mentioned funds available from off-street parking reserves and funds generated from Bank Junction and questioned why this was not being put back into ensuring that the City was well maintained with clean, pleasant streets. The Chamberlain commented that off-street parking reserve did fund highway maintenance as well as a number of Capital schemes via a transfer into DBE budgets. Officers from the Department confirmed that somewhere in the region of £2million was transferred and that this had been underpinning highways maintenance work for quite some time. Officers appreciated that what was being proposed was essentially a change in standards but stated that it was something that they were hoping to approach with the contractor Rineys to ensure that they were still managing risk around the highway as required to meet statutory obligations. Consideration would also need to be given to the wider context of what was affordable, sustainable and what the City’s ambitions were in terms of what it wants to look and feel like. Officers stated that it was expected that they would have to look at alternative means of funding going forward and clarified that developments did contribute towards funding works around their sites through what was the Section 106 process and now CIL. The Holborn Circus scheme and Aldgate schemes were cited as specific examples where developer contributions had funded a lot of regeneration. The City would also need to work alongside all of its partners, including TfL, given that their funding had also supported things like the City’s resurfacing programme and that it was a challenging funding environment for all at present.
A Member commented that she endorsed the savings from the Lord Mayor’s Show and noted that the report stated that the event organiser was Lord Mayor’s Show Ltd and she therefore questioned whether City Fund budgets should be supporting it in this way. In light of this, she questioned whether there was any way in which this funding could be recouped from City Cash for previous years and used to protect maintenance services. Officers reported that this was certainly something that they would like to discuss with the organisers, the Chamberlain and the Policy and Resources Committee and highlighted that some savings had been generated in the current year with the show not having taken place at all. This money had been set aside for things like maintaining the route to a certain standard for the carriage.
A Member expressed concern at the table on page 601 of the agenda pack and the reduction in standards of how both pavements and potholes were dealt with. He added that he was concerned that this could be counter productive and could result in trip hazards and claims against the City causing insurance premiums to rise. He questioned why off-street parking reserves which appeared to stay relatively steady could not be used to fund work here. Officers reported that they were aware that it would be a challenge to balance public risk and highlighted that there were a very small number of claims registered with the City and that the way this was manged was not just around what was determined to be a trip but also the process behind this and the adequate inspection of highways. This dictated whether the City’s insurance premiums changed and the insurance provision was based on the City adhering to a process that was reasonable, professionally run and maintained. At present it was recognised by the City’s peers across London and by its insurers that the organisation was out of step with everyone else and that, by taking these steps, they were unlikely to be in a position where they were adversely affected because they were inconsistent with practice elsewhere. This was not, however, to say that Officers would lose their care and attention with how the City’s streets were maintained and Members were assured that Officers would work as hard as possible to ensure that the funds available to them could be used as efficiently and effectively as possible to provide the service.
Another Member spoke to remind Members that, on City’s Fund, there was a statutory duty under a five year purview to balance the books and that the ongoing pandemic had added further to what had already been quite a difficult situation. He thanked Officers for all of their efforts in trying to manage services within the financial envelope available this year. He went on to caution Members against trying to utilise anything in City’s Cash to support anything in City’s Fund as this could be perceived by central government as a suggestion that the City Corporation did not require their funding in order to fulfil its statutory services. He added that City’s Fund needed to support itself going forward.
A Member spoke again to question why off-street parking reserves were not being drawn upon to the extent required and to maintain the City’s streets/pavements and ensure that they were safe. She added that she also had concerns around toilet closures. The Chamberlain confirmed that the funds could be used for a host of different purposes with the main priority being around the provision of off-street parking. A report further detailing the use of the funds would be submitted to the next meeting of this Committee.
RESOLVED – That Members:
i) Approve the overall approach to identifying savings and additional income opportunities at this time as they relate to the Highways, Parking & Traffic Management functions, including:
· Those items identified as Amber and Green at paragraph 52 of the report
· Those items identified as Red at paragraph 82 of the report, subject to the subsequent approval of the Policy & Resources Committee in relation to DBE’s local risk funding for the Lord Mayor’s Show.