The Director of Finance and IT
presented the report and explained that this was a brief update on
the council’s investment strategy, but could not be too
detailed as many investments were commercially sensitive. He went
on to say that investments had always taken place within the
council and was a daily process for officers. He described that the
council had built in delegations to be able to invest, and the
investment strategy went to Full Council once per year to
re-evaluate the strategy. The Director then drew Member’s
attention to Section 5 of the report which outlined the Council
Spend Review that had taken place in October 2017 and the fact that
the council continued to save money and increase income through
investing. He stated that the finance department consider a range
of investments, and how some may be simple, for example through
credit or reference checks, but that other investments could be
more detailed. He added that as the council had a balanced budget
for the next four years, services could be enhanced or new services
could be procured, and gave the example of new police officers now
working in Thurrock. He summarised and stated that the current
investments were short or medium term, but this had bought the
council time to consider their approach to investments, and were
now considering 10-40 year deals which were at due diligence stage,
as well as other property investments.
The Chair began discussions by stating there was lots of unanimity across the council in support of investments, which reduced the need for spending cuts. He questioned how many of the current investments were time limited, for example 5 year deals at £10 million, what would happen once they ended, and if new longer term investments would cover this timeline. The Director of Finance and IT stated that he felt confident new investments could cover the timeline, and directed Members attention to 6.3 of the report and used the example of the Swindon Solar Farm, which although was only a 5 year deal, would be standing for 25 years and as such the contract was renewable. He added that the finance team were looking at existing investments and if there was a possibility for their renewal.
The Chair then questioned the types of investments the council were making, and if these were a balanced portfolio which supported the council’s core purpose. The Director of Finance and IT once again drew Members attention to the example of the Swindon Solar Farm and how this combated fuel poverty and created partnerships which opened other opportunities. The Chair asked a follow up question regarding how the council were mitigating risks when investing, to which the Director of Finance and IT answered that all investments were asset backed. He pointed out 4.3 in the report and stated that the council often sought advice from UK and global experts that considered due diligence on the council’s behalf. He stated that they looked at the entire investment for example, its security, longevity and performance. He added that the finance team also monitor investments, which optimized outputs and considered the effect of changing interest rates. The Chair asked if the finance team was the right size and shape, or if specialists should be bought in-house. The Director of Finance and IT answered that no in-house specialism was needed as he felt outside bodies did the work well. He added that when Thurrock Regeneration Limited (TRL) began to develop, further support would be given to the team.
Councillor Duffin then questioned, that although he understood the deals were confidential, if the council were aspirational and asked how much the investments were worth. The Director of Finance and IT replied that although investments were currently not aspirational, the Treasury Report coming to December Cabinet would set out the levels of investment. He added that the Medium Term Financial Strategy Report would show targets and returns, and the Treasury Management Report would be coming to the Corporate O&S Committee in January. Councillor Duffin then asked if anything had been holding investments back, for example politics or time, as he felt the council needed to move forward with investing. The Director of Finance and IT answered that politics was not holding investments back, but that they take time as the council could not rush into them, and it could prove difficult to find new ones and develop existing ones. Councillor Duffin then drew attention to 3.4 of the report, and asked if the figure of 1000 homes could be up-scaled. The Corporate Director Place replied that shareholder meetings between TRL and the council were happening regularly, and stated 1 development was already on-site, 4 were in the planning stages, and 20 were in the pipeline, which totalled 2000 homes depending on feasibility. He added that following a review of the council’s assets, there was scope beyond 1000 homes in 5 years.
1. The Committee considered the report and commented on the contents.