To receive questions from Members of the Council to the relevant Portfolio Holders for this Scrutiny Committee. The Portfolio Holders reporting to this Scrutiny Committee are:-
Councillor Bialyk - Leader
Councillor Sutton - Portfolio Holder for Net Zero Exeter 2030
Councillor Foale - Portfolio Holder for Transformation and Environment
Councillor Morse - Portfolio Holder for City Development
Councillor Wood - Portfolio Holder for Leisure & Physical Activity
Advance questions from Members relating to the Portfolio Holders above should be notified to the Corporate Manager Democratic and Civic Support.
In accordance with Standing Order 20, the following questions were submitted by Councillor Jobson in relation to the Board of Exeter City Futures Community Interest Company (ECFCIC). The Chief Executive & Growth Director Karime Hassan answered the questions as a representative of the Board of Exeter City Futures and the responses are included in italics below -
The Board of Exeter City Futures CIC
1. Has there been a Board Meeting of Exeter City Futures (either in person or remote) between 24 November 2020 and 2 January 2022? If so, when and why have the Minutes not been published?
Two meetings have been held on 13 December 2021 and 3 March 2022. For the most part of the period of the Covid pandemic they did not have Board meetings.
The minutes were published and on the Exeter City Futures web site and the site map would be made easier to navigate. Members of the Exeter City Futures team could also supply any necessary copies on request.
2. If not has there been a Board Meeting of Exeter City Futures since 2 January 2022? If so, when was it held and when will the Minutes be published?
There had been a Board meeting and the minutes for the Board meeting were published.
3. Has a new Director been appointed to represent Devon County Council (DCC)?
It was anticipated that Dave Black, the Head of Transport at Devon County Council who had attended the Board meeting on 13 December 2021 would have become the new Director of ECF to replace Jamie Hulland. Companies House had not been informed about the change yet but the records would be updated as soon as possible. He understood that Mr Black was not now taking up that place but he was optimistic that a replacement Board member would be appointed soon. He added that Lisa Roberts, the Vice Chancellor of Exeter University had joined the Board as a Director and that was a boost and indication of support from one of the city’s main institutions to help deliver the Net Zero agenda. The University, had brought forward their target date for their strategy for Net Zero 2035 to 2030 to coincide with that of the city.
A Member updated Members and stated that it was a matter of public record that Mr Black was due to retire from the County Council shortly.
4. If so, when were they appointed and has the paperwork gone to Companies House?
Once the appointment was made to the Board, the information would be sent to Companies House to update their records.
5. If not, is DCC planning on making a new appointment?
The appointment would be made as soon as possible following discussions.
Councillor Jobson agreed that it was important that members of the public could access such information such as the Board minutes easily and she welcomed the responses.
Finances (All Information in the Questions is in the Public Domain)
1. Exeter City Futures Community Interest Company (CFCIC) was allocated a start-up budget from Exeter City Council (ECC) at the Executive Meeting in February 2016. Did ECFCIC receive this sum? If so when, as no figures appear in the published accounts for the period to December 2017 or was this sum only received in the year to end December 2018 there being a figure for prepayments and accrued income of £49,108.
ECFCIC did not receive this sum directly, the £50,000 budget was set aside towards Council expenditure incurred to help facilitate the start-up and promotion of the Exeter City Futures programme. In 2016/17 £23,160 was incurred and this was disclosed in the Council’s published accounts on page 74. The balance was carried forward and spent in 2017/18.
2. In 2019 Exeter City Futures Community Interest Company (ECFCIC) bid for and was awarded a grant of £200,000 from Central Government. Was that sum directly received into the ECFCCIC bank account or via some other body? How was it distributed? There is no reference to such sum in either the 2019 accounts or the accounts published in December 2021? If received on what has it been spent?
Devon County Council managed the overall One Public Estate Programme and awarded the Funds via ECC. ECFCIC provided quarterly grant claims (backed by invoices), ECC paid the ECFCIC the invoice and then reclaimed from DCC. It was important for Members to note that the Government tend to require that there is a Section 151 Officer to take responsibility for grant funding and therefore do not allocate the funds directly.
The £200,000 was received from the One Public Estate and in order to prepare the master plan for the St David’s Station site which was one of the strategic sites in the Liveable Exeter vision. The governance structure had been set up and included Exeter University, Exeter College, Devon County Council, Network Rail, and Exeter City Council. It should be noted that Network Rail were obliged in respect of the franchise with Great Western Railway (GWR) to deliver a number of parking spaces currently allocated in the front of the Station, which offered a challenge to deliver viability on this project. Work on the masterplan paused until such issues were resolved, which has meant that funding of £147,000 remained outstanding.
3. In 2020 ECFCIC bid for £840,000 from Central Government. It is understood that £350,000 was awarded. Was that sum directly received into ECFCCIC bank account or via some other body? How was it distributed? There is no reference to such sum in either the 2019 accounts or the accounts published in December 2021? If received, on what has it been spent?
The full £840,000 was awarded over two years. The accountable body was Exeter City Council and the Council received £380,000 on 1 March 2021 and £470,000 on 15 February 2022. The funds were being paid over to ECFCIC in arrears on the production of an invoice. This was the Exeter City Fund, which Scrutiny will be looking at shortly. This was a significant sum which would be used to model the cost of delivering the entire Liveable Exeter programme in order to get to the Net Zero agenda. The One Public Estate were with the Exeter Development Fund testing an initiative that might be nationally replicated, and although a final decision had yet to be made on the Fund being used in Exeter, there was the opportunity for modelling of the viability of this development to help achieve these big ambitions, and help the City Council access that funding.
Councillor Jobson asked a supplementary question and whether there was scope within the Executive or Scrutiny to get regular reports on how the modelling will be done and preferably before any big decisions are made.
The Chief Executive & Growth Director welcomed the opportunity for Members to scrutinise through a structured programme of scrutiny meetings to understand the Exeter Development Fund model, and consider how to deliver the kind of development that they all would like to aspire to. No decisions would be taken other than through the Council’s formal Committee processes. They would also be asking all the other partners including Exeter University, Devon County Council, Exeter College and the Royal Devon & Exeter Hospital to engage with the Exeter City Futures team.
4. A grant of £250,000 was to be received from the Heritage Lottery Fund? Was that sum received? There is no reference to such sum in the accounts published in December 2021? If received - on what has it or is it being spent?
The Chief Executive & Growth Director stated that £250,000 was awarded to Exeter City Futures from the National Lottery Community fund to help with the mission to deliver on Net Zero. The fund was broken down into four packages with a financial statement included as part of the submission. The funding would go directly into a separate account belonging to Exeter City Futures for work that had been identified, and would be paid in six months tranches based on the initial budget. Currently, the account was slightly underspent due to the impact of Covid, and the National Lottery Fund had given a further six months in recognition of activities that may have paused.
Councillor Jobson asked a supplementary question on whether the ECFCIC accounts are audited. She recalled seeing an auditor’s signature on the Company’s House published web site and so she asked whether the report would be available or if it would not be in the public domain.
The Chief Executive & Growth Director would make enquiries and report back to Members.
Question to the Leader
1. Would the Leader please confirm that Exeter City Futures CIC, which has either statutory power or policy-making authority, can do no more than make recommendations directly to Exeter City Council as to how Net Zero 30 can be achieved? Can the Leader confirm that all such recommendations will be fully debated by the membership of Exeter City Council?
The Chief Executive & Growth Director at the invitation of the Leader offered the following response -
Exeter City Futures was a Community Interest Company and could not take decisions that bind Exeter City Council. All decisions impacting on those areas of the Council would be taken to the Executive and Council. It was noted that the Council had no powers to enforce decisions upon partner organisations as they have their own decision making process. Other Councils may follow consideration of the Exeter Development Fund model to bring together institutions to create a single vision and rethink of the way to plan and take decisions collectively about how to align to deliver the Net Zero agenda to develop clean energy. He would be happy to make a presentation to a future Committee outlining the work of Exeter City Futures are doing with the secured funding of £1.2m to deliver the city’s Net Zero agenda.
The Chair thanked the Chief Executive & Growth Director for the responses.
Councillor Hannaford asked a question of the Leader raising his concern of the announcement of the closure of Clarendon House by the Department Work and Pensions, (DWP) which included the city’s Job Centre. He had hoped to present this matter as an emergency resolution, but would address the matter by way of a question to the Leader.
Councillor Hannaford read out a statement in the following terms:-
· concern about the shock announcement by the Department of Work and Pensions to close Exeter’s Clarendon House that includes Job Centre Plus.
· that these proposals do not include any relocation measures for the staff and essential services.
· this move was particularly outrageous during an international economic crisis, that will see people in Exeter coping with spiralling living costs, state benefits in effect cut as they are not inflation linked, and our city ready and willing to take in refugees who will also need additional employment support.
· it was essential that people in Exeter and the surrounding area have access to customer facing transactions to receive professional help, support and advice during times of unemployment, distress and disability, and educational, training and skills advice to secure employment.
· to register concern that nationally all 12,000 Universal Credit Advisors have to now reapply for their own jobs once their temporary contracts run out, which could lead to additional financial hardship for vulnerable people during the cost of living crisis during the transition period.
He asked for the Leader of the Council to seek an urgent meeting with all relevant parties, including the regional Department of Work Pensions representatives, staff and unions, Devon County Council, and local Members of Parliament. He asked that this meeting should consider amongst other matters, the decision to close this employment hub, the possible transition period, potential future alternative sites, and Job Centre Plus provision for the Exeter travel to work area.
The Leader responded and in referring to the statement prepared by Councillor Hannaford confirmed he would make arrangements to convene a meeting with all of the relevant parties as requested. He would also send a letter based on the statement and add his own concerns because the service offered a place for individuals to obtain information and resolve any benefits enquiries and would deny access to some of those services. He thanked Councillor Hannaford for raising this matter.
Councillor Hannaford asked a supplementary question if the Leader thought the closure could lead to extra pressure on our services. He acknowledged that Exeter Works Hub had been a great success, but the Council should not shoulder the burden alone and the full suite of professionals should be asked for their support.
The Leader responded and stated that the Council would continue to do more than is expected, with ever decreased resources.