Shrewsbury Colleges Group
Group Minutes of Finance & Business Operations Committee
Date 3rd November 20
Time 5.30 pm
Minutes Membership In attendance by electronic device and contributing towards the meeting quorum, in accordance with Instrument 12. (Members may count towards the quorum if they are able to be present by electronic or digital communication (including attendance by video conferencing or telephone conferencing).
G. Channon, R. Heath, G. Mills (co-opted Committee member), D. Pulford (co-opted Committee member), J. Staniforth (Principal/CEO), P. Tucker and R. Wilson.
In Attendance In attendance by electronic device
Member of the Senior Leadership Team:
P. Partridge, Finance Director (FD)

Clerk to the Board, T. Cottee
Apologies G. Channon.

45/20. Election of Chair

Resolved: That Richard Heath be appointed Chair of the Committee.

Richard Heath in the Chair.

46/20. Appointment of Vice-Chair

Resolved: That the appointment of a Vice-Chair be deferred.

47/20. Declarations of Interest

R. Heath declared a standing interest as an employee of Harper Adams University.

48/20. Minutes of Meeting Held 30 July 2020 (Appendix – Agenda Item 3)

Resolved: That the Minutes of the meeting held on 30 July 2020, be approved as a true and correct record.

49/20. Matters Arising

Further to F&BO Min No. 34/20 (Matters Arising), the Committee received a verbal update on how the College was supporting apprentices taken on by the College’s partner, SBC. Due to the nature of work experience offered, the partner organisation had been affected by the Covid pandemic and had laid off apprentices as a result. Whilst a number had been withdrawn, the majority would be returning once the programme re-started.

Further to F&BO Min. No. 37/20 (Management Accounts - 1 August to 31 May 2020), as the F&BO Committee meeting scheduled for October 2020, had not taken place, to provide assurance and oversight, all governors had received the relevant College Management Accounts at the Board meeting held on 12 October 2020 (Board Min. Mo 74/20 refers).

The Finance Director, at that meeting, had explained that those management accounts had been based on R12 ILR returns to the Education & Skills Funding Agency (ESFA) with assumptions regarding remaining achievement to be claimed for 2019 - 2020. At the year end, the College had until mid-October 2020, to submit final ILR claims in respect of achievement funding for students who completed their courses prior to 31 July 2020. These achievements were claimed only once final quality assurance activities had been completed and the relevant qualifications confirmed with awarding bodies.

The key variances from the June 2020 forecast primarily reflected lower than anticipated pay and the removal of contingency in the forecast for apprenticeship withdrawal initially anticipated due to COVID. These had resulted in the forecast EBITDA position improving from £1,291k to £1,359k.

The Finance Director took the opportunity to provide a verbal update to the Committee on the emerging financial themes for 2020 - 21, as follows –

    • With respect to income lines, the College had budgeted for £15.7m of 16 – 19 core funding. However, due to the on-going financial impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on the sector, the Government had consequently announced a programme of 16 – 19 catch up funding which had resulted in the College receiving an additional allocation of £255k, which would be spent in accordance with funding conditions to support students. The ESFA had also agreed, unexpectedly, to continue with additional specific funding of £176K, despite the College receiving a Grade 4. The College had also received a further £85k grant from the Greater London Authority (GLA) to purchase additional computers to support the delivery of the GMB programme within the London area. This was a positive recognition of the College’s ability and contribution to this provision in the area. In total, the College had received an additional £509k of income.
    • The College had also enrolled more High Needs students and students with EHCPs for 2020 – 21, than even the significantly increased original 2020 – 21 budget.
    • The tuition fee income line had also increased as a result of an increase in the take up of advanced learner loans. However, there was a risk that the continuing pandemic could undermine the confidence of students taking up learner loans going forward.
    • Whilst the overall income line had been boosted, delivery of the agreed Budget was dependent on delivering the planned AEB provision in full. Enrolments had been impacted by COVID, both locally and across the GMB provision.
    • The FD took the opportunity to update the Committee on new food outlet and catering arrangements for students across the sites designed to minimise the risk of close social contact. These outlets were being used and enjoyed by students across the College and as a result, the FD was looking to implement this revised operating model permanently, as it had improved student behavior and College revenue.
    • With respect to costs, the College expected higher than budgeted costs for IT and premises management, due to the additional spending incurred to support students and implement the measures required to make all campuses COVID secure before full re-opening in September 2020. Estates expenditure during the lockdown had been broadly as forecast, with significant reductions in heating and lighting costs in particular. However, with the need for ventilation of rooms as a key control measure, the heating costs for all campuses now appeared likely to be significantly increased compared to normal levels in 2020-21. This had not been specifically allowed for in the budget when set in May 2020.
    • The Committee requested going forward a report be presented to every meeting on the additional costs incurred by the College with respect to Covid-19.

The Principal/CEO explained the background to the increase in the number of 16 – 19 full-time students enrolled for 2020 – 2021. The recent Ofsted outcome had not affected recruitment. This was, in part, due to the highly effective external support on communications. The Principal/CEO also referred to the appointment of Director of Admissions and Marketing and the positive impact of the use of social media to drive recruitment.

Resolved: The October Management Accounts Report be provided at the December 2020 Committee meeting.

50/20. Estates Update

The Committee reviewed the report (previously circulated), which had been considered by the Board at its meeting on 14 October 2020.

Following the COVID pandemic, the College had assessed the COVID risks and measures required to make all campuses COVID secure; these had been reviewed and approved by the Board. These were put in place initially for the wider opening on 15 June 2020 and subsequently updated with further measures in place where needed for the full re-opening of all campuses. These were being kept under review and where appropriate enhancements made to improve measures further.

Enrolment activities prior to the start of Term had also been redesigned to ensure social distancing by spreading these across a number of buildings at the London Road Campus, managing attendance by scheduled slots and use of visors and face coverings by staff when or if required.

The Finance Director took the opportunity to praise the Estates Teams who had returned from furlough to work throughout the summer to implement the measures required to make all campuses COVID secure before full re-opening in September 2020

Following the recent Ofsted inspection and the consequential need to reassure students and staff a permanent security presence on the London Road and Welsh Bridge campuses during core operating hours was added.

An independent security review had also been commissioned to verify whether planned improvements for the London Road and Welsh Bridge campuses were proportionate and appropriate to these settings.

The security review had confirmed the College’s site security goals of improving access control on building entrances at the London Road Campus and proposed further possible improvements to limit car and pedestrian access to the Campus from the London Road side.

The Committee sought an update on the campus access modifications and revised campus security arrangements at the London Road Campus. The Finance Director explained that two additional security guards were now on site, with one able to provide additional capacity to support caretaking staff during holiday periods and there had been a positive impact on student behaviour as a result.

Costs have been obtained for the delivery of the door access project which had been being split into three phases or elements:

    • Door access control.
    • Vehicle barrier access:
    • Additional fencing to improve and limit public access to the playing fields from the pavilion end of the London Road Campus.

These were being progressed as quickly as possible given impact and priority of the current COVID situation.

The Committee expressed concern that the English Bridge Campus plumbing renewal and London Road Campus Main Block windows CIF Bids had been unsuccessful and sought assurance on the College’s contingency plans for the heating system at the English Bridge Campus. The issue had been added to the College risk register as a catastrophic heating/pipework failure would materially affect operations at the Campus. The Finance Director explained that the College was seeking to mitigate the risk of system failure by phasing out some of the existing systems. The College had also engaged consultants to work up a bid for funds from the SALIX Decarbonisation Scheme for an air sourced heating system across all sites, which would also enable the College to replace the London Road Campus windows and would include the proposed solar panel project, also at London Road. The advantage of submitting a bid for Decarbonisation Scheme Funding was that, if successful, the College would receive grant funding at 100%, rather than 50% which would require additional borrowing. The Committee agreed that this bid would support the strategic intentions of the College to reduce its Carbon Footprint.

51/20. Health and Safety Annual Report (Appendices – Agenda Item 8)

The Committee reviewed the Termly and Annual Report on Health and Safety across the College (SCG) for August 2019 to July 2020 (previously circulated) which provided an update on Health and Safety across the College and included an Assurance Statement about the Board’s responsibilities for health and safety.

The Committee in reviewing the reports particularly noted the following -

    • All sites had undergone a Fire Risk Assessment with Action Points being prioritised considering first the urgency of legal requirements, recommendations and individual cost of remediation.
    • Due to the COVID pandemic resulting in campus closure, scheduled H&S audits were superseded by events and therefore had not been completed for this year. The H&S Officer would re-commence a programme of departmental audits with specific focus on health and safety high risk areas. The resulting report and action plan would be monitored and followed up by the H&S Officer.
    • There had been one RIDDOR reportable event during the reporting period. The responsible person notified the enforcing authority online within 10 days, in accordance with the reporting procedure.
    • There had been a slight reduction in the number of near misses being reported.

The Health & Safety Link Governor, having reviewed the reports, had submitted some additional questions to the Committee. The Link Governor had also had a series of remote meetings with the H&S Officer and had attended on-site H&S meetings, during the summer and this Term, to demonstrate continued governor engagement and oversight. The Committee acknowledged that, at present, the H&S Link Governor was a member of the Audit Committee and, as such, could not be a member of this Committee. However, it was AGREED that he attend future meetings in his capacity as the H&S Link Governor only when Health & safety reports were considered.

In response to the H&S Link Governor’s questions, the FD explained that –

    • Some low-risk maintenance tasks identified by H&S audits had been delayed and, as they would be disruptive, were planned to be carried out when the sites were closed to students.
    • The flooding of the cellars at the English Bridge Campus during the severe flooding in the town in February 2020, was the result of a redundant and concealed flood relief valve remaining open. This valve was not on the plans provided to the College when it took over the campus in 2013. The valve had now been located and arrangements made for it to be turned off, should it become necessary going forward.
    • The Committee recognised the hard work of the Estates Team and Commercial Manager in creating more social spaces for students.

The College Health and Safety Policy would be presented to the next meeting in December. The Annual Health & Safety Policy Statement would be signed by the Board Chair and Principal/CEO at the next Board meeting.

The Committee noted that the Annual and Termly Reports included a thorough timeline on the College’s health and safety actions taken with respect to the Covid-19 pandemic and would be presented to Board at its December meeting. The Principal/CEO explained that a weekly Covid update was also provided on the College’s website and that the H&S Officer now met weekly with union representatives. In response to the imminent second lockdown, several College staff had been identified as clinically extremely vulnerable and would work from home.

Resolved: That, having considered the report, the Committee RECOMMENDED TO BOARD that the Health & Safety Annual Report be approved.

52/20. Draft Committee Work Plan 2020 – 2021 (Appendix – Agenda Item 9)

The Committee reviewed the Draft Workplan for 2020 – 2021 (previously circulated), which continued the increased number of meetings introduced during 2019 – 20, to maintain focus on the financial stability of the College.

Resolved: That the Draft Workplan be agreed.

53/20. Terms of Reference of Committee – Review (Appendix – Agenda Item 10)

The Committee reviewed the current Terms of the Committee (previously circulated) and agreed that it was appropriate that, in line with sector practice, to amend the required Committee quorum to 40% of its membership (i.e. 3 governors).

Resolved: RECOMMENDED TO BOARD That the required Committee quorum be amended to 40% of its membership (i.e. 3 governors) and that the Committee’s Terms of Reference be amended accordingly.

54/20. Risk (Appendix – Agenda item 11)

As part of the discussions on the College’s Risk Register (previously circulated) agreed by Board (Board Min No. 19/20 refers), the Committee examined those risks within its remit to ensure that they have either been identified or adequately discussed at the meeting.

The Committee agreed, having reviewed the relevant risks that the main Register be amended by the inclusion of the following additional risks –

    • Business Continuity; and
    • Failure of Heating systems at the English Bridge Campus.

55/20. Date of Next Meeting – 01 December 2020 from 5.30 p.m. Meeting to be conducted remotely.

Concluded at 7.12 p.m.