View some of our latest briefings and responses.

Torbay children's services

Torbay Council were able to achieve a £9.92 million underspend at the end of the 2021 financial year. The lion’s share of this was realised by a firmer grip and control in children’s services resulting in a £5.7 million budget saving for the 2021 financial year. This reduced spend is mainly due to the significant reduction in the number of residential placements, which cost £4,500 a week on average. Residential placements peaked at 44 in September 2019. By March 2021 this has now reduced to 20 children in such placements. The council argues that reducing its reliance on these externally commissioned placements would be key to its budgetary strategy going forward.

Earlier this year Torbay children’s services have been found by Ofsted as a “good” service in all key indicators when it had been a failing service for a number of years. This year Torbay Council continues its firm grip on the finances with a manageable £2 million predicted overspend in the first quarter whereas Conservative controlled Devon CC is currently predicting a £40 million overspend, mostly driven by adults and children social care pressures.

Pay award update

There is no likelihood of this year’s pay round being finalised until at least mid-Feb. This is due to the unions’ timetables for strike ballots:

UNISON – is conducting a formal national strike ballot from 1 Dec to 14 Jan. The results will be collated on an aggregated* basis.

GMB – is currently conducting a national consultative ballot (closes Mon 13 Dec) in order to determine whether there is support for strike action. If there is such support, GMB’s subsequent formal national strike ballot will be collated on a disaggregated** basis.

Unite – will be conducting a formal national strike ballot from 14 Jan to 17 Feb. The results will be collated on a disaggregated* basis.

Find out more on Industrial action ballots.

The law requires that there is a ballot of employees in accordance with strict legal requirements before industrial action is called for or endorsed. Only where such a ballot produces a majority in favour of industrial action and at least 50 per cent of those eligible to vote have voted will the action be lawful. The ballot will only be effective for and mandate industrial action that takes place within six months, beginning with the date of the ballot (which is the date the ballot closes).

*This means that to take action, at least 50 per cent of the national membership is required to vote.

**This means that action could be taken at each council / school where a turn-out of at least 50 per cent is secured (if members vote in favour strike action).

LGA Virtual Council meetings (06 December 2021)

Key messages

  • Between March 2020 and May 2021, councils conducted all their council business virtually due to the pandemic. However, since May 2021, councils have been obliged to return to in-person council meetings for all statutory and decision-making meetings.
  • Councils have noted various benefits of offering virtual and hybrid meetings options, including virtual meeting options being more resilient than in-person only meetings and reducing the reliance on delegating decision-making to officers in times of crisis. In addition, the flexibility of virtual meeting options is more inclusive, accessible and transparent for local councillors and residents and helps to increase councillor and resident engagement with local democracy.
  • The inability of councillors to attend council meetings virtually during the current pandemic is causing significant logistical and democratic challenges for councils running statutory and decision-making meetings.
  • Attending council meetings presents very real risks for people who are clinically extremely vulnerable to COVID-19 and carers of vulnerable people. Consequently, some councillors have to decide between representing their residents in council meetings and protecting themselves and their loved ones.
  • The combination of vulnerabilities, self-isolation, caring commitment, children being sent home from school, and sometimes excessive travel requirements can make it difficult for a range of councillors to attend council meetings consistently.
  • There are broader concerns about the impact of conducting council business exclusively in person in the longer term. For example, the requirement to attend council meetings in person can be a significant barrier for disabled councillors. This can mean they cannot attend as many meetings as their peers, missing relevant discussions and being deprived of the opportunity to vote on decisions that are important to their residents.
  • For prospective councillors, knowing that there will be the option to join meetings virtually can make the difference between them pursuing elected office or not. Local parties already find it challenging to encourage people to stand for election, and this is particularly the case for young people, parents and disabled people.
  • If councillors were allowed to join council meetings virtually, we anticipate that in-person council meetings would remain the preferred option for most council meetings for most people, and councils will continue to deliver local democracy in line with legislation. However, councils have noted the benefits of modern technologies to provide more inclusive options for councillors and residents and resilient decision-making processes even in times of emergency.
  • We therefore urge the Government to respond to the Consultation on remote council meetings that closed on 17 June 2021 and legislate to allow councillors the flexibility to attend council meetings virtually.