To consider the current position with regard to Transport for the North’s (TfN) funding position for 2022/23, and the consequential impacts on business planning, budgeting, and the organisation more broadly, including the approach that TfN will adopt in the development of a fundable budget.
Lead: Iain Craven/Paul Kelly
4.1 Members received the paper of the Financial Controller. Before he highlighted the key points in the report to Members the Chief Executive provided an overview. Members were reminded that TfN is required to set a budget by the end of March and that this report and subsequent discussion provides an interim step towards doing this prior to the Board meeting at the end of March.
He asked Members to focus on the recommendations in the report specifically, the objectives set out in the paper (including the annex) that will be used as part of the business planning process. He explained that the ‘Golden Thread’ around the outcomes and objectives remain relevant and drew the Board’s attention to the Framework set out in the annex that will guide the future operating model.
Members were then provided with an update on developments following the last meeting. The Chief Executive explained that following the letter from the Interim Chair to the Secretary of State there had been 2 meetings with the Chair, himself and the Secretary of State. He then outlined the steps taken following the receipt of the funding letter on 14 February, he stated that staff were briefed the following day as well as a letter being sent to Members. Unison have also been kept informed of developments.
He highlighted that the funding settlement has had a negative impact on staff morale, impacting on the ability to deliver the work programme as well as health and wellbeing. He stressed the importance of moving forward quickly in order to provide certainty to staff as well as helping with the retention of key officers.
He explained that TfN will be a smaller organisation going forward and advised the Board that in order to protect staff, vacancies have been being managed since the summer. He also outlined the process for the reduction in the workforce explaining that staff can apply for voluntary redundancy, however there is also the likelihood that compulsory redundancy will be required, though he will try to keep this to a minimum. He further explained that he will look to retain as many staff as possible and strike a balance between this and services that the organisation will commission.
Members were informed that a draft letter to the Secretary of State has been circulated for members’ consideration: this being in response to the Funding Letter.
4.2 The Financial Controller explained that whilst the core funding allocation for 2022/23 is not dissimilar to the 2021/22 allocation he explained that mitigations used in the current financial year in preparing the budget were no longer available.
He further explained that due to time constraints an interim budget will be tabled at the March Board and a full budget will be ready during the first quarter.
On the issue of cost control he requested that the Board approves cost control measures that will see the Chief Executive and the S151 Officer to review new commitments in order to ensure they align with the business plan for next year.
4.3 Members were supportive of TfN and their staff and were keen to look at how the organisation could refocus in order to continue to represent the views of the people of the North.
4.4 Mayor Driscoll suggested that some SMART goals be set once the budget has been set to help improve staff morale. By setting these targets he hoped that both Officers and Members can see where progress is being made. He emphasized the fact that TfN is the voice of the united North.
4.5 Members discussed the use of more reserves to mitigate against reduction in staff.
The Financial Controller explained that the expected reduction in the workforce will have a financial cost which will need to be covered by reserves. He further explained that using £500k per annum from reserves for the next three years would take TfN close to the minimum reserve level it should hold. He noted that as the organisation shrinks then this smaller reserve level would be appropriate.
4.6 Cllr Gittins enquired about the timelines with regards to potential staffing cuts, she also asked if other ways of generating income had been explored.
4.7 Cllr Hale and Mayor Burnham expressed concerns about similar possible future cuts to the TfN budget in future years.
In response the Chief Executive explained that he is looking to demonstrate TfN’s added value and to develop a proposition to take to the Secretary of State in the autumn which will set out how TfN can build on its role as a regional centre of excellence. He explained that the business planning process would help identify such opportunities for consideration by the Board.
The Chair agreed with Mayor Burnham and explained that he wants to work with the constituent authorities in order get certainty for the next three years.
4.8 The Chief Executive explained that the key is to get TfN on to a sustainable footing as an organisation within the funding envelope. He also brought to Members attention the draft letter that was circulated to Members for comment prior to the meeting. He requested that should Members have any comments that these be submitted by the end of the week.
1) That the funding position for 2022/23 and the impact that that will have on TfN’s ability to undertake its intended programme of activity be noted.
2) That the Board approves the objectives set out in paragraphs 4.3 – 4.8 of the report as the basis for business planning.
3) That the Board notes the process by which TfN will proceed to a business plan and budget for 2022/23, in particular the intention to adopt an Interim Budget on 30 March.
4) That the Board approve the cost control measures proposed to safeguard TfN reserves until such time as the objectives for 2022/23, and the Interim Budget are approved.