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Declarations of Pecuniary Interest
Under Cabinet Rule 1.5.2, where any Cabinet Member has a Disclosable Pecuniary Interest (as defined in the Members’ Code of Conduct (para. 4)) in any matter to be considered at a meeting of the Council, a committee, sub-committee or joint committee, they must withdraw from the meeting room during the whole of the consideration of that matter and must not participate in any vote on that matter unless a dispensation has been obtained from the Monitoring Officer.
RESOLVED That the minutes of the previous meeting held on 15 June 2020 be approved as a correct record of the proceedings.
The Leader of the Council, Councillor Jack Hopkins, reflected on the impact of Covid-19 and outlined key issues that needed to be addressed as a result. It was recognised that the challenges were significant and that solutions required genuine engagement and partnership working across the borough.
Councillor Hopkins explained that vulnerable people, especially those from a Black and/or Minority Ethnic background, had been disproportionately hit by the virus and stated that poorly paid public sector and health and care workers had also been affected.
It was recognised that challenges relating to equality, education, employment, health and well-being and the climate emergency had existed before Covid-19. However, it was highlighted that the pandemic had not only exacerbated these matters but had introduced new impacts and effects. The Leader of the Council emphasised that such matters could only be addressed by engaging in renewed collaborative working with residents, voluntary sector organisations, the business community and other partners.
During the discussion Cllr Pete Elliott, a visiting member, highlighted a number of issues which focused on:
- The importance of digital connectivity and reducing the digital divide;
- Estate regeneration and the impact of both the pandemic and climate emergency on housing more generally, including Lambeth’s housing strategy;
- Council decision making during the pandemic, including the need for appropriate scrutiny and audit, concerns about the response to the Covid-19 related hardship faced by Greenwich Leisure Limited and support for the creation of low traffic neighbourhoods;
- The use of redeployment and the furlough scheme and the importance of capital expenditure for parks.
In response the Leader of the Council invited Members of the Cabinet to comment on the initial recovery plans, set out in the report presented. A wide range of challenges and opportunities were considered including matters relating to:
- The Council’s Local Area Outbreak, Prevention and Control Plan;
- Addressing health inequalities;
- Supporting children and young people who had faced reduced access to educational opportunities and support;
- The need to build a dynamic, strong and equitable local economy with opportunities for local people to thrive, irrespective of their starting point;
- The importance of maintaining various environmental gains from the lockdown period to deliver climate change ambitions;
- Strengthening communities through a new commitment to community groups and volunteering.
It was noted that these issues were complex and inextricably linked and that solutions required genuine engagement and partnership to support an ambitious recovery plan for the borough. The Leader of the Council also highlighted that the Council’s ability to support local residents and businesses would be put at risk if central government was unable to keep promises to fund local authorities for work that had already been done to tackle Covid-19.
RESOLVED That the update on Covid-19 impacts and activities (New Beginnings: Building Lambeth’s Recovery) be noted.
The Cabinet Member for Finance and Performance explained that since the coronavirus lockdown council income from sales, fees and charges had fallen while spending had increased, including on supporting care homes, providing personal protective equipment, supporting local businesses, making transport changes to aid social distancing and delivering food packages to vulnerable people. It was noted that this had led to a significant budget shortfall.
It was highlighted that, at the beginning of the pandemic, central government had stated councils would be fully recompensed. However, it was noted that reimbursements, to date, had covered less than half of the deficit. As a result, with the country facing recession and uncertainly, it was estimated that Lambeth could face a £27m budget shortfall – potentially raising as high as £50m. Despite this, Councillor Kay explained prudent financial management over recent years had meant that this could be covered by reserves. As a result, a Section 114 notice would not need to be issued.
The following points were noted:
- Local government had already been faced with a lack of financial clarity prior to the pandemic, due to uncertainty over the fair funding review, business rates and adult social care funding, leading to a series of one-year settlements. These issues, along with Brexit, were still firmly on the horizon.
- The Council had tried to do what was necessary during Covid-19 and would continue to work on a recovery which worked for everyone, including investing in jobs, affordable workspace, cultural facilities, digital infrastructure and tackling the climate emergency. However, the unprecedented financial gap would result in significant financial pressures on the delivery of council services if no further government funding was forthcoming.
It was highlighted that the Financial Planning and Medium Term Strategy Report 2020/21 to 2024/25 had been considered by Overview and Scrutiny on 16 July 2020. The Leader of the Council thanked the Committee for their contribution and invited Councillor Liz Atkins, Chair of the Overview and Scrutiny Committee, to summarise the Committee’s observations and recommendations which had been set out via a supplementary agenda paper.
Councillor Jonathan Bartley, Co-Leader of the Opposition, raised concerns which focused on identified pressures of £21.3m over the Medium Term Financial Strategy (MTFS) period, set out in section 2.20 of the report, and stated these costs should be investigated as they were not related to Covid-19. Councillor Bartley also highlighted, in relation to irrecoverable loss of income, that the Council was expected to receive compensation with further details awaited from the Government.
In response to these questions the Director of Finance and Property, clarified that section 2.20 of the Financial Planning and Medium Term Strategy Report related to unavoidable growth, and highlighted:
- Some of those costs related to Covid-19, others were identified as part of the closure of the 2019/20 accounts. Temporary accommodation was a particular issue, which was expected to continue especially as Covid-19 ... view the full minutes text for item 4.