Finances and homelessness among top risks Arun District Council faces

Arun District Council has seen an update to the risks it faces.

Friday, 19th November 2021, 10:26 am
Littlehampton Civic centre. Pic Steve Robards SR2103252 SUS-210326-165356001

The council’s finances, homelessness, cybersecurity, building compliance, climate change, and the coronavirus have all been highlighted as risks of ‘greatest concern’.

This follows a recent update of its Strategic Risk Register (SRR) which was compiled in partnership with insurance providers.

It outlines the risks facing the council, ranks them according to severity, and outlines how they are being managed.

ADC’s audit and governance committee noted the update on Tuesday (November 16) – the risk register was last reviewed in July 2020.

‘Red risks’

Committee member Terence Chapman (Con, East Preston) said the SRR is a ‘very important document’ which members should ‘continually look at’.

He also welcomed the inclusion of climate change at such a high risk level.

All of the above risks are ‘red risks’: this means they are of ‘greatest concern’ to the council.

However, it was found that none of the risks identified had increased since last year, with most remaining at the same level.

Coronavirus downgraded but remains a significant risk

The risk posed by the coronavirus has been downgraded.

Risks include staff being unavailable and not being able to provide key council services.

Council officers outlined the reasons for the downgrade, saying: “At July 2020, obviously, it was very, very uncertain and was included at an urgent level, at the highest red level.

“As we’re aware now – circa 18 months on after the start of the crisis in the UK – the situation has improved; with most restrictions currently removed and far more is now known.

“In light of this the [governance and risk] group felt it was appropriate to reduce the risks slightly.

“However, it still remains a significant risk and is still rated a red risk, as the situation remains under review nationally.”

Financial uncertainty

Council finances are identified as the top risk, joint with homelessness.

A report by officers puts this down to uncertainty surrounding business rates and future government funding and grants.

In addition to this, the effects of Brexit and the coronavirus on the economy are also seen as a risk.

This could result in budget deficits and struggling to maintain minimum reserve levels.

Future borrowing could take place, according to officers, with ‘significant external funding required to progress regeneration proposals’.

To counter the risks, it is recommended that the council seeks out extra local funding with additional savings also possible in the coming years.

Homelessness

Homelessness is one of the highest scoring ‘red risks’ for the council.

A report to the audit and governance committee reads: “The council may not be able to provide sufficient affordable housing and/or temporary accommodation, at a time when the community in general is under great pressure from the welfare reforms.”

A possible reduction in available housing could take place due to factors such as the Right to Buy scheme and properties being used to house students, says the council.

This could also be made worse by increasing demand on housing services due to immigration, benefit changes, and lifting of the evictions ban, according to officers.

To manage this, the housing department is being ‘restructured’ with a new strategy in place.

Cyber attacks an ‘increased threat’

Cyber security was the next red risk identified due to the ‘increased threat of cyber attacks’.

According to the report, ‘other councils have been hit by significant ransomware attacks’ and ‘poor working practices by staff and partners’ could lead to a breach.

If this were to happen at ADC, ‘key systems’ could go down, affecting services and costing millions of pounds to recover.

“A major incident could result in no access to any type of technology for weeks and access to back office systems likely to be longer,” added the report.

But it is believed that appropriate steps have been taken to manage the risk, including an ongoing move to the ‘cloud’ for some council services.

Building compliance

The committee heard that there could be risks to the council, its staff and residents where ‘key compliance checks have not been satisfactorily completed’ for social housing and corporate buildings.

Due to the risks identified, a ‘different senior management team’ is now responsible for building compliance and an external consultant was appointed to review the situation.

Climate Change 

ADC is one of many councils to declare a ‘climate emergency’ and it aims to make its activities carbon neutral by 2030.

This is all the more important as climate change is one of the ‘red risks’ it faces.

Consequences could include: increased local flooding, failure to reduce emissions, increasing pollution, and health issues.

According to the council this is being addressed by working with environmental partners and meeting government standards, such as new targets for housing.

A carbon reduction strategy was also agreed last month.