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Agenda and minutes

Venue: Remote Meeting - This meeting is being held remotely via Microsoft Teams. View directions

Contact: Lucy Gladders  03000 269 712

Media

Items
No. Item

1.

Apologies for Absence

Minutes:

Apologies for absence were received from Councillor A Batey (Durham County Council and Councillors D Burnett, K Dodds and J Lee (Gateshead Council).

2.

Substitute Members

Minutes:

There were no substitutes.

3.

Minutes of the Meeting held on 17 June 2020 pdf icon PDF 232 KB

Minutes:

The minutes of the meeting held on 17 June 2020 were confirmed as a correct record and signed by the Chairman.

4.

Declarations of Interest, if any

Minutes:

There were no declarations of interest.

5.

Performance and Operational Report pdf icon PDF 342 KB

Report of the Bereavement Services Manager and Registrar.

Additional documents:

Minutes:

The Joint Committee considered a report of the Bereavement Services Manager and Registrar which provided an update relating to performance and other operational matters (for copy see file of Minutes).

 

In relation to performance, the Bereavement Services Manager reported that there were 1,150 cremations undertaken during the period 1 January 2020 to 31 August 2020, compared to 911 in the comparable period last year. This had been mainly as result of increased numbers of cremations undertaken during April, May and June related to COVID-19.

 

The sale of memorial plaques had also increased with a further 7 plaques (£2,739) being sold in comparison to the same period the previous year.

 

With regards to staffing, it was reported that recruitment to the Full Time Technical Assistant post had initially been delayed due to COVID-19 however, interviews had subsequently taken place on 23 July 2020 and the successful apprentice commenced work on 3 August 2020.

 

Further details were reported with regard to operational issues which had occurred as result of COVID-19 guidelines and the immense pressure impact this had upon the team. Staff had been drawn in from other council services to help cope with demand and whilst this had been invaluable, it had placed pressure on existing staff who had to train new team members whilst also carrying out their roles. During the peak of the first wave staff had worked on a shift system to meet demand. The Bereavement Services Manager and Registrar asked that his personal thanks to staff at the Crematorium be recorded.

 

He went on to further outline other measures which had to be introduced at the crematorium to ensure safe distances were maintained during services and additional safety measures which had been implemented to ensure the safety of both staff and visitors.

 

In relation to a suggestion raised at a previous meeting regarding directional signage to the crematorium, the Bereavement Services Manager and Registrar advised that following enquiries with the Highways team, he had been advised that current signage was in alignment with the council’s signing policy and other crematoriums in the area. He added that advice received, further stated that the signage provided was adequate and provided clear instruction from the main roads and visitors from outside the area tended to rely upon satellite navigation. Any visitors travelling from the Flinthill area would be assumed to be local.

 

Moving on, details were reported in relation to the recycling of metals scheme. It was noted that following a second round of nominations being made available, a cheque for £10,000 was given to Willowburn Hospice on 20 July.

 

The Bereavement Services Manager then provided the Joint Committee with details and options regarding proposals to increase the cremation fee, which was frozen at the beginning of the financial year due to COVID-19. The decision taken at the time to freeze fees was in line with action taken by other councils, however as cremation numbers were falling back to normal levels and given that many other councils had now reverted  ...  view the full minutes text for item 5.

6.

External Audit Annual Review of the Return for the year ended 31 March 2020 pdf icon PDF 130 KB

Additional documents:

Minutes:

The Committee considered a joint report of the Corporate Director Neighbourhoods and Climate Change and Corporate Director of Resources and Treasurer to the Joint Committee which presented the External Auditors (Mazars LLP) Annual Review and of the Joint Committees Return for the year ended 31 March 2020 (for copy see file of Minutes).

 

The Head of Finance and Transactional Services advised that the audit had now been completed and it had not highlighted any material weaknesses around the Joint Committees system of internal control and accounting statements and no exceptions to the Return had been reported. The External Auditor had therefore issued an unqualified opinion.

 

Resolved: That the Joint Committee approve the Joint Committees Annual Return for the year ended 31 March 2020 including the External Report 2019/20 Certificate (attached at Appendix 2).

7.

Risk Register Update 2020/21 - 1 pdf icon PDF 367 KB

Joint Report of the Corporate Director of Neighbourhoods and Climate Change and the Corporate Director of Resources / Treasurer to the Joint Committee.

Minutes:

The Joint Committee considered a joint report of the Corporate Director Neighbourhoods and Climate Change and Corporate Director of Resources and Treasurer to the Joint Committee which provided details of the outcome of the half-yearly risk review in September 2020 (for copy see file of Minutes).

 

Resolved: That the content of the report and updated position be noted.

8.

Financial Monitoring Report - Position at 31/08/20, with Projected Outturn at 31/03/21 pdf icon PDF 273 KB

Joint Report of the Corporate Director of Neighbourhoods and Climate Change and the Corporate Director of Resources / Treasurer to the Joint Committee.

Minutes:

The Joint Committee considered a joint report of the Corporate Director Neighbourhoods and Climate Change and Corporate Director of Resources and Treasurer to the Joint Committee which provided details of the provisional outturn position for 2020/21 and the projected level of reserves and balances at 31 March 2021 (for copy see file of Minutes).

 

The Head of Finance and Transactional Services provided a summary of the significant variances highlighted within the report noting that the pandemic had impacted upon the budget and the facility due to some charges temporarily being suspended.

 

Resolved: That the content of the report be noted.

9.

Internal Audit Charter pdf icon PDF 158 KB

Report of the Interim Chief Internal Auditor and Corporate Fraud Manager.

Additional documents:

Minutes:

The Joint Committee considered a report of the Interim Chief Internal Auditor and Corporate Fraud Manager which sought agreement to the revised Internal Audit Charter to be applied to reviews undertaken as part of the Internal Audit plan for 2020/21 (for copy see file of Minutes).

 

Resolved: That the Joint Committee approve the Internal Audit Charter as attached at Appendix 2 to the report.

10.

Annual Review of the System of Internal Audit pdf icon PDF 324 KB

Joint Report of the Corporate Director of Neighbourhoods and Climate Change and the Corporate Director of Resources / Treasurer to the Joint Committee.

Minutes:

The Joint Committee considered a joint report of the Corporate Director of Neighbourhoods and Climate Change and Corporate Director of Resources and Treasurer to the Joint Committee which provided for information details of the review of the effectiveness of the Durham County Council Internal Audit Service, which was carried out by Durham County Councils Audit Committee in June 2020 (for copy see file of Minutes).

 

Resolved: That the Joint Committee note the information provided that demonstrates the efficiency and effectiveness of the Durham County Council Internal Audit Service.

11.

Budget Strategy Report pdf icon PDF 213 KB

Joint Report of the Corporate Director of Neighbourhoods and Climate Change and the Corporate Director of Resources / Treasurer to the Joint Committee.

 

Minutes:

The Joint Committee considered a joint report of the Corporate Director of Neighbourhoods and Climate Change and Corporate Director of Resources and Treasurer to the Joint Committee which provided details of issues to be considered by the Joint Committee as part of the medium-term financial planning for the Mountsett Crematorium. The report further set out proposals to finance the planned replacement of the existing cremators (for copy see file of Minutes) and sought views on those issues in advance of the 2021/22 budget setting process.

 

The Head of Finance and Transactional Services provided an overview capital investments made to date and those which were planned for the coming years in line with the Service Asset Management Plan. He further detailed costs associated with the planned cremator replacement works and proposals for this to be financed from a contribution of earmarked reserves and prudential borrowing, via a 10-year annuity loan from Durham County Council.

 

In addition, he reported that Fees and charges, which were harmonised with Central Durham Crematorium, were currently set at £720 and a proposed increase of £20 to £740 would still mean that they were the lowest in comparison with neighbouring facilities and below the national average of £823.

 

Further details were report in respect of surplus distribution levels to partners authorities and proposals for these to remain at the current level for the coming years.

 

In conclusion the Head of Finance and Transactional Services advised that subject to the agreement of the fee increase next year the reserves balances of the Joint Committee were projected to be sufficient to meet the liabilities and commitments of the Joint Committee for the coming years.

 

Councillor Temple asked whether there was any scope for negotiation with Durham County Council regarding both the interest rate (to fall in line with the Public Loans Board equivalent) and penalties applied for early repayment. The Head of Finance and Transactional Services advised that the interest rate quoted in the report was for the purposes of medium-term financial planning however noted that the current base rate was at a historic low, despite PLB borrowing rates being artificially higher than they were 18 months prior. With regard to the issue of premature repayment, he advised that he would put forward the query to the Corporate Director of Resources for due consideration.

 

Councillor Bradford added that he agreed that it would be important to pay back the loan as soon as practicable to allow the Joint Committee to gather reserves.

 

Resolved: That the Joint Committee

(i)             Consider and note the contents of the report

(ii)           Approve the proposed increase in fees and charges, as identified in the report

(iii)          Approve the proposed loan from Durham County Council, as identified in the report; and

(iv)         Agree to review the budget strategy in two years’ time in preparation for the 2023/24 budget setting year.

 

12.

Any resolution relating to the exclusion of the public during the discussion of items containing exempt information

Minutes:

That under Section 100(A)(4) of the Local Government Act 1972, the public be excluded from the meeting for the following items of business on the grounds that they involve the likely disclosure of exempt information as defined in paragraphs 3 and Part 5 of Part 1 of Schedule 12A of the Act.

13.

Minutes of the Meeting held on 17 June 2020

Minutes:

The Part B minutes of the meeting held on 17 June 2020 were confirmed as a correct record and signed by the Chair (for copy see file of Minutes).

14.

Mountsett Cremator Replacement

Joint Report of the Corporate Director of Neighbourhoods and Climate Change and the Corporate Director of Resources / Treasurer to the Joint Committee.

 

Minutes:

The Joint Committee considered a joint report of the Corporate Director of Neighbourhood and Climate Change and Corporate Director Resources and Treasurer to the Joint Committee which provided the joint committee with an update with regards to the existing equipment and the cremator replacement (for copy see file of Minutes).

 

Resolved: That the recommendations contained within the report be agreed.

 

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