Shrewsbury Colleges Group
Group Minutes of Finance & Business Operations Committee
Date 9th February 21
Time 5.15 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).
R. Heath, G. Mills (co-opted Committee member), D. Pulford (co-opted Committee member), J. Staniforth (Principal/CEO), P. Tucker and R. Wilson. 1 Vacancy
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 None.

01/21. Declarations of Interest

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

02/21. Minutes of Meeting Held 01 December 2020 (Appendix – Agenda Item 3)

Resolved: That the Minutes of the meeting held on 01 December 2020, be approved as a true and correct record.

03/21. Matters Arising

Minute Number 58/20 – Matters Arising

The Finance Director confirmed that the College had received two grants from the Greater London Authority (GLA) – £92k revenue grant for additional adult education and £30k for additional computers to support the delivery of the GMB programme within the London area.

04/21. Management Accounts - 31 January 2021 (Appendix – Agenda Item 5)

The Committee considered a report (previously circulated) with respect to the management accounts to 31 January 2021, which highlighted the key results, measures, and risks. All governors had been supplied with a copy of the Report.

The Committee reviewed the key changes to the forecast outturn –

  • The forecast outturn had been updated to take into account the ‘new’ National Lockdown which commenced on 5 January 2021 (i.e. Lockdown #3) and other developments and risks to delivery arising since the November 2020 Management Accocunts.
  • While higher recruitment had put some pressure on the 2020-21 year pay budget due to additional unplanned groups being run, this would result in higher than planned income in 2021-22.
  • The impact of Lockdown #3 with the move to remote teaching had affected the pace of the College’s delivery of catch-up activities. Although the full catch-up funding had been included in the forecast, the Committee acknowledged that there remained a risk that under-spending of catch-up funding might lead to clawbacks.
  • The Education & Skills Funding Agency (ESFA) had indicated that it would pay for in-year growth where colleges had grown by more than 100 students. If confirmed this would equate to in-year funding for an additional 169 students.
  • As a result of COVID, the ESFA had allocated additional adult grant funding of £64k and a further £19k for sector-based work academies. The College had also been allocated an additional £92k by the Greater London Authority (GLA). However, it was unlikely that the College would deliver in the specialist Sector Based Work academy area.
  • The Committee acknowledged that the forecast continued to take a prudent position as the College would be unable to deliver all its Adult Education Budget. This was based on significantly lower than prior year delivery at this stage and the ongoing impact of the slower enrolment and delivery which was further impacted by Lockdown #3. The Committee identified this as an on-going risk as the forecast outturn was that the College might be able to deliver c80% of its allocation. The assumption was that the ESFA and devolved authorities would overall extend a relaxation up to 10% tolerance for under-delivery and that therefore just under c.10% of funding would be clawed back; however, this was still an unknown.
  • Apprenticeship enrolments and income were running below the levels planned at the start of the year. As a result, the full year outturn had been reduced to reflect existing enrolments and the remaining known apprenticeships yet to start. However, Lockdown #3 had further impacted the ability to start new apprentices, in particular, those due to complete a Level 2 and progress to a level 3 course. Withdrawal from training by, or insolvency of, apprentice employers also remained a significant risk as the severity of and duration of the pandemic continued.
  • The forecast had been updated to reflect the expected impact of Lockdown #3, including the impact on the College and its facilities of the increasing numbers of high need students, in particular with the impact on space of the need for social distancing by Teaching Assistants within existing classrooms.
  • The Committee noted that the forecast included the College Collaboration Fund Grant due from Newcastle and Stafford Colleges Group as part of ongoing collaboration work. In response to a question from the Board Chair, the Finance Director explained that the impact of the Lockdown #3 on plans to spend these funds was real although alternative approaches were being explored with Newcastle and Stafford Colleges Group as was any potential for an extension to the grant expenditure deadline, although efforts continued to ensure that use of this collaboration funding was maximised by 31 March 2021.
  • Regarding Tuition and Exam fees, the impact of Lockdown #3 had prevented planned adult full cost courses from operating as normal, and in many cases, at all. As a result, the updated forecast had removed almost all income planned from the remainder of the year to reflect the likely withdrawal of some students from existing courses and a slow return to delivery of any future courses.
  • The Committee Chair acknowledged that HE income forecast continued to run slightly below budget due to withdrawals and transfers. Advance earner loans activity was forecast to remain ahead of budget, but the forecast had been reduced due to some withdrawals. The principal risk was the continuation of the pandemic and that further students withdrew from these courses.

In response to a question from the Board Chair, the Principal/CEO explained how the College would prioritise students’ access to practical elements of their coursework when the College reopened fully. Assuming students would return in the Summer Term, the College would prioritise access for students who would need to demonstrate completion of practical elements to progress to employment or apprenticeships. It was likely that additional practical sessions would be needed to ensure achievement this year, which would require additional expenditure with no additional income.

The Committee acknowledged that the key financial risks facing the College continued to be driven by the disruption of Coronavirus, and the current high level of uncertainty, particularly over the possibility of claw back by the ESFA.

Resolved: That, having considered the report, the Committee received the Management Accounts to 31 January 2021.

05/21. Health & Safety Report - Update (Appendix – Agenda Item 6)

The Committee considered (previously circulated) the quarterly report on Health and Safety across the Shrewsbury Colleges Group (SCG) for 01 October 2020 to 31 December 2020. The Health & Safety Link Governor had reviewed the report and submitted questions and comments.

The Link Governor had commended the College’s regular and thorough health & safety communications to staff and students. Regular Health & Safety Committee meetings were also being held through Teams across all sites and weekly keep in touch meetings held with the College’s unions’ health and safety representatives, allowing them to bring any issues/concerns to the attention of the College.

The Committee reviewed, in particular –

    • Covid-19 response. The Committee echoed the H&S Link Governor’s positive comments on the continuing work undertaken by the H&S Officer and Estates Team to support the College’s arrangements to protect staff and students on site and in implementing the College’s Testing and Track & Trace arrangements. The College was currently dealing with the challenges of testing those students and staff coming into College twice a week, particularly how to transport them home after a positive test and identifying close contacts in a timely manner; however, the College had been well supported by Shropshire Public Health, who had commended the College’s arrangements.
    • Fire Risk Assessments and action plans. In response to a question from the H&S Link Governor, the Finance Director assured that, once fully re-opened, fire drills would be operated across the College, in particular the English Bridge Campus.
    • Health and Safety Audit outcomes. Whilst, due to the ongoing Pandemic and the prioritisation of COVID related H&S activities, ongoing audits had been suspended, the H&S Link Governor had observed that these be reinstated as soon as operationally possible; this was supported by the Committee.
    • Accident and incidents – in response to comments from the Board Chair and H&S Link Governor, the Finance Director undertook to discuss with the H&S Officer, revisions to how illness incidents were reported as opposed to accidents. It was also confirmed that none of the reported accidents were Covid-related.
    • The Finance Director provided a verbal update on the installation of the new London Road Campus access door controls recently installed at the site. Phase 2 of further security measures for the Campus would be put in place during the summer, funding and contractor availability allowing.
    • Following an enquiry from a Committee member, the Finance Director was pleased to report that, although some staff and students had tested positive for Covid-19, there had been no hospitalisations and everyone infected had, thankfully, recovered. The Principal/CEO added that the College was supporting the wellbeing of a small number of staff identified as clinically vulnerable and awaiting operations that had been delayed because of the pandemic.

Resolved: That the Health & Safety Update be approved.

06/21. Estates Update (Confidential Appendix – Agenda Item 7)

The report (previously circulated) set out the estate’s activities undertaken from September to December 2020. The Committee acknowledged the increasing pressures on the existing estate arising from increased enrolments in September 2020 and applications for September 2021. In response to a question from the Board Chair, the Finance Director confirmed that there was an increasingly urgent need to determine the nature and extent to which existing teaching space was sufficient and the work required to reconfigure space in time for September 2021. This issue had been discussed at the recent Strategic Planning Day and it had been suggested that a working group of governors and officers be convened to take this project forward.

Regarding significant Estates projects ongoing and under consideration, the proposed solar array at London Road Campus had been put on hold pending an application for 100% funding from the BEIS grant announced in October 2020. In January 2021, the College was informed that, due to lack of funding, the project bid had been unsuccessful. The original plan to secure a Marches Area Renewable Energy Grant was being progressed.
Updates on activities regarding the feasibility of town centre campus redevelopment and potentially under-utilised assets are set out in a Confidential Minute.

Resolved: That the recommendations set out in a Confidential Minute be RECOMMENDED TO BOARD.

07/21. Risk (Agenda item 8)

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 identified that the COVID pandemic would have a significant impact on the wider economy and potentially upon funding in 2020-21. There was an inherent tension between increased pressure on capacity from increased enrolments in September 2021 and investing in estates projects and ensuring that the College had sufficient funds going forwards given this uncertainty.

08/21. Further Business – Automotive Workshop, London Road Campus

The Finance Director shared at the meeting, pictures of the completed Automotive Centre at the London Road Campus which had been handed over to the College on 09 February 2021. The Committee congratulated the Finance Director and Director of Employer Engagement on their delivery of the project despite the challenges presented by the pandemic and welcomed the opportunities the new facility presented in offering an enhanced learning experience for students.

The Committee agreed with the Principal/CEO’s suggestion that, when the College was fully re-opened and it was safe to do so, the Board hold its first meeting in the new workshop teaching space.

09/21. Date of Next Meeting – 30 March 2021 from 5.30 p.m. Meeting arrangements tbc.

The meeting concluded at 7.07 p.m.