Agenda and draft minutes

Scrutiny Committee - Monday, 5 February 2024 6.30 pm

Venue: Abbey House, Abbey Close, Abingdon OX14 3JE

Contact: Candida Basilio, Democratic Services Officer 

Note: budget setting meeting 

No. Item


Apologies for absence

To record apologies for absence and the attendance of substitute members. 


Apologies were received from Councillor Cox. Councillor Povolotsky joined the committee online and was able to join the discussion, but could not vote.


Urgent business and chair's announcements

To receive notification of any matters which the chair determines should be considered as urgent business and the special circumstances which have made the matters urgent, and to receive any announcements from the chair. 


Chair ran through housekeeping matters and reminded members on meeting etiquette.

As set out in the Constitution, chair of scrutiny had been consulted with on fees and charges for the 2024/25 budget for the Planning, Housing and Environment, The Beacon and Development and Corporate Landlord services. Comments were provided back to officers and chair thanked the officers involved. Chair wanted to make it aware that as per the Constitution, they had been consulted on this.


Declaration of interests

To receive declarations of disclosable pecuniary interests, other registrable interests and non-registrable interests or any conflicts of interest in respect of items on the agenda for this meeting. 





Minutes of the last meeting pdf icon PDF 217 KB

To adopt and sign as a correct record the Scrutiny Committee minutes of the meetings held on 2 November 2023 and 5 December 2023.

Additional documents:



The minutes of 2 November 2023 and 5 December 2023 were agreed as correct records, and the chair shall sign them as such.




Public participation

To receive any questions or statements from members of the public that have registered to speak. 


Mr. John Salmons addressed the committee online. He spoke to the budget setting paper and questioned the capital growth bid budget figure related to a grounds maintenance hub. Mr Salmons was concerned about the potential siting of such a facility – explaining that he considered it was more suited to an existing industrial park, and not a residential area. He urged scrutiny to question the proposals when they emerge. Chair asked the speaker to send his full question to democratic services and a written response will be provided.


Work schedule and dates for all Vale and Joint scrutiny meetings pdf icon PDF 165 KB

To review the attached scrutiny work schedule. Please note, although the dates are confirmed, the items under consideration are subject to being withdrawn, added to or rearranged without further notice.



Committee reviewed the work programme, and chair encouraged members to bring forward their ideas.


Chair updated the committee on developing an approach to monitor outcomes of Scrutiny recommendations made to Cabinet. There should be an update by the next committee meeting.


A member asked about the speaker’s suggestion regarding scrutinising plans for a future grounds maintenance depot. It was asked what was deemed appropriate and at what stage.


Action: Chair responded that she would speak with Cllr Gascoigne and officers, to look at possible ways forward for scrutiny involvement. It was raised that this may be a Joint Scrutiny consideration.


Another suggestion was for scrutiny of community centres and other facilities. Chair would consult with officers.


It was explained that consideration of whether items needed to go to Joint Scrutiny or individual council scrutiny committees was discussed with the Scrutiny Lead Officer, Democratic Services and reporting officers and was agreed with the Scrutiny chairs. Chair reminded ward members that they were welcome to speak at any meeting where items affected their wards.


A member asked that the committee consider the effectiveness of scrutiny. Chair reminded committee that the conducted scrutiny review would provide some guidance around March 2024, to help bring further discussions on effectiveness.


Revenue budget 2024/25 and capital programme 2024/25 to 2028/29 pdf icon PDF 394 KB

For Scrutiny Committee to consider the report of the Head of Finance on Budget Setting 2024/25, and make any recommendations to Cabinet (papers to follow).


Additional documents:


Cabinet member for Finance and Property introduced the item, and thanked officers involved for their support, particularly with resource challenges that were encountered and the added pressure of an external audit that needed completing. Cabinet member requested that anything of commercial sensitivity, such as future contract negotiations, would be suited for confidential discussion. Head of Finance was present to answer questions. Members asked questions, some of which were clarifications answered within the meeting. Chair added that the committee were to consider the budget setting process and that particular line item queries could be considered at full council. The below summarises the main points raised:


·       A member asked for clarification on the base budget number. It was confirmed that line 17, the base budget, was a net figure. We can add explanation of gross amounts that lead to the net amounts in future reports. Action: Gross amounts to be added in future reports as discussed.

·       Regarding the Medium-Term Financial Plan (MTFP) and assumptions used: a member felt that forecasting income and expenditure was difficult, however it was likely true that it was easier to forecast expenditure over income. Can revenue incomes be seen as over conservative? Cabinet member explained that a less conservative and a more conservative option had been provided, but it was difficult to know what would happen due to uncontrollable variables such as central government leadership changes, rate of planning applications and interest rates as examples. There were four major contract renewals coming up in the next two years, and it was very difficult to know what the market was likely to be at those times when contract renewal was due. We decided that costs should be estimated as being the same as present, realising that this might go up or down. Member asked can we have sensitivity analysis? Cabinet member added that there were so many sensitivities that it may not be feasible to commit to modelling all variables. Head of Finance added that he may be able to take this point away and add other variables in future. Action: officers to consider modelling other variables in future budget setting reporting.

·       D2 appendix: capital programme – a member asked about council contribution to building properties. Cabinet member explained that this  figure was for buildings which were 50% funded by government for the Homes for Ukraine Scheme. We had so far purchased 19 properties under this scheme.

·       Appendix A3 – regarding staff salaries, a member questioned the change in the figure. Cabinet member explained that the increase was inflation, related to the staff pay settlement. The spending profile was cumulative rather than one-off increases each year. Referring to 24/25 and 25/26.

·       Regarding the base budget challenge exercise that was conducted with service areas, the chair asked for details on that and what the outcomes were? Cabinet members explained the chosen areas included the waste contract renewal, areas which were the biggest and which we had most control over. Each cost code was detailed. Proposed essential growth items  ...  view the full minutes text for item Sc36


Corporate Plan 2024-2028 - to agree an approach to the new corporate plan pdf icon PDF 329 KB

For Scrutiny Committee to consider and provide comments on the report of the Head of Policy and Programmes, on the Corporate Plan 2024 - 2028 approach. (Report to follow)

Additional documents:


The Corporate Plan approach item was introduced by Cabinet member for Corporate Services, Policy and Programmes, and supported by the Head of Policy and Programmes.


Three main themes were presented with three supporting principles. Emphasis on putting residents needs first, and being cautious and maintaining financial stability and ensuring services are best-fit for resident’s needs. The Cabinet member confirmed there would be further engagement in developing the plan, with a list of projects to take forward as the development progresses. Below summarises the comments raised by scrutiny committee:


         Paragraph 12 major themes. A member raised that there was less mention of fiscal responsibility and transparency. The member questioned the change. Cabinet member explained that transparency and fiscal responsibility was more engrained now and underpinned all three themes. In response to a committee member asking about lessons learned and having adequate measures of success in place, Cabinet member said he would want to see clear measurable items and a member of the committee suggested asking the public what they wanted to be measured. Members considered that transparency with fiscal responsibility should be more explicit in the Corporate Plan.

         Homes that people need – a member felt that it did not cover what these homes and place-shaping look like? Cabinet member responded that the Corporate Plan themes does not refer in detail to the Joint Local Plan, and this was still out for consultation. This would be reviewed at the right time. Will be using Citizen Space and Story Maps to engage many sectors of the community.

         Theme two on Climate – a member suggested that climate wording was harder to relate to at a local level – ‘nature recovery’ felt more relatable to residents and where they live. Would like to see more resilience at a local level, with local initiatives, such as the Climate Action Fund. Felt that we could try to draw more out in consultation about these aspirations.

         A point was raised about consulting out of working hours for those in work. Cabinet member added that digital access helps and had proven to increase response rate. Work will continue to assess the best ways to consult.

         A member considered that three themes were better to digest and other members showed agreement. Felt the new section explained how we do things covered transparency but could be more obvious. Another member considered that fiscal responsibility and openness and transparency should be embedded so approved of a three-themed plan.

         Aspirational projects were confirmed to be examples at this stage.

         A member felt that the Corporate Plan was a good way to explain the ‘personality’ of the council – can we give examples of the impact the corporate plan had, so that residents can relate to it?

         Noted that the name ‘corporate plan’ is referenced throughout council records and documents, although members briefly discussed whether to change this and the impacts of this. Cabinet member suggested subtitles for the plan, to help make it  ...  view the full minutes text for item Sc37


Future direction of The Beacon, Wantage pdf icon PDF 114 KB

Scrutiny Committee will be reviewing and providing feedback on the draft Cabinet report considering the Future Direction of The Beacon, Wantage. (Cabinet report and appendices are attached).

Additional documents:


The chair agreed a two-minute break for attendees, ahead of beginning discussion of the following item.


Cabinet member for Community Health and Wellbeing opened the item and described a brief history of the centre over recent years, including Covid closure and redeployed staff, leading to reviews of operational changes and use, resulting in the report today. The report sets out future options and an action plan for Cabinet approval.

The centre provided contribution to community health and wellbeing, but also there was financial responsibility to consider. The team had created an action plan to maximise income opportunities and reduce any further funding required.

There were several measures to improve performance, some had already begun to ensure the in-house model operated as best as possible. The Beacon team would be giving updates to the officer team, Cabinet members and key stakeholders to monitor progress.

Supporting the Cabinet member was the Head of Development and Corporate Landlord (Head of Service), and The Arts Centre Manager and the Deputy Chief Executive for Place were online.


Members raised the following comments and questions:

·       A member questioned whether there were alternative ownership strategies? It was felt the report mentioned different ownership options but gave reasons not to do that. Cabinet member felt that although in Wantage, the centre did service other surrounding areas, and this was confirmed by other member’s experience and expressed that it was a well-loved resource. She stressed the importance of getting the in-house model in better shape to see what can happen next. She explained that some of the information was outdated post-pandemic, but she was optimistic that the action plan would progress improvements.

·       Fundraising was raised as being important. It was explained by Cabinet member that £22k was budgeted mainly for a fundraising officer.

·       A member asked about engaging with the community, a vibrant community existed that may be willing to help turn around the facility or are doing similar activities. Head of Service explained that consultation with local groups was included in the action plan. The Arts Centre Director explained that many consultation activities had been conducted already and would continue. There were other teams that would be involved – community engagement team and enablement teams.

·       A member considered that it was expensive to keep going, a cost to residents, especially those that don’t use it or know of it. Felt that fundraising should have been done much sooner. Cabinet member responded that we needed to use the action plan to help bring the in-house service where it needed to be in the meantime, and decisions needed to be made on what was adequate funding.

·       A member asked whether previous transfers to Town Council ownership had worked well and could there be something to learn from. From committee members who had some knowledge, it was suggested that it was mixed. A member suggested a private operator would be an option and that he felt the building needed some refurbishment.

·       Was it the case that the action plan was the  ...  view the full minutes text for item Sc38


Exclusion of the public

To consider whether to exclude members of the press and public from the meeting for the following item of business under Part 1 of Schedule 12A Section 100A(4) of the Local Government Act 1972 and as amended by the Local Government (Access to Information) (Variation) Order 2006 on the grounds that:

(i)         it involves the likely disclosure of exempt information as defined in paragraphs 1-7 Part 1 of Schedule 12A of the Act, and

(ii)        the public interest in maintaining the exemption outweighs the public interest in disclosing the information. 



In this agenda item, Scrutiny Committee can consider confidential appendices from the report: Future direction of The Beacon, Wantage, if they require this.



Not required.