Agenda and minutes

Corporate Overview and Scrutiny Committee - Tuesday, 9th March, 2021 7.00 pm

Venue: Committee Room 1, Civic Offices, New Road, Grays, Essex, RM17 6SL.

Contact: Lucy Tricker, Democratic Services Officer  Email:


No. Item


Minutes pdf icon PDF 244 KB

To approve as a correct record the minutes of the Corporate Overview and Scrutiny Committeemeeting held on 21 January 2021.

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Councillor Rice highlighted pages 14 and 15 of the agenda, and stated that he had asked a question regarding the draft capital programme and the Stanford-le-Hope Interchange project, and asked if he could receive an answer. The Corporate Director Finance, Governance and Property replied that this was an outstanding action, but a response would be provided.

The minutes of the Corporate Overview and Scrutiny Committee held on 21 January 2021 were approved as a true and correct record.


Items of Urgent Business

To receive additional items that the Chair is of the opinion should be considered as a matter of urgency, in accordance with Section 100B (4) (b) of the Local Government Act 1972.

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There were no items of urgent business.


Declaration of Interests

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There were no interests declared.


Memorandum of Understanding - Local Government Reorganisation pdf icon PDF 277 KB

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The Chair stated that Councillor Gledhill would be presenting the report in his role as Leader of the Council, and thanked him for his attendance at the meeting.

Councillor Gledhill introduced the item and stated that a discussion had taken place at the previous Cabinet meeting in February regarding the proposed Memorandum of Understanding with Basildon Council, which related to proposed local government reform. He stated that in between lockdowns in 2020 the government had proposed local government reform and devolution, which had been a long-term manifesto commitment, and had decided upon three trial local authorities in September 2020, which had required full Member consent. He explained that proposed local authority reorganisation now only required majority Member consent, and stated that any potential reorganisation would not take place for the next few years. Councillor Gledhill then described how Thurrock had become a unitary authority in 1998, and as a unitary authority had responsibility for all income and expenditure, including for adult social care. He stated that the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) would open the conversation between Thurrock and Basildon regarding any future reorganisation, and would explore the positives and negatives of any proposed merger. He stated that a merger between the two local authorities would double the resident population, which could increase business rate income, but would also increase expenses for adult social care, as currently Basildon was not responsible for this area of expenditure, and instead paid a precept to Essex County Council.

Councillor Gledhill commented that the MOU would look at all aspects of any proposed merger, including potential costs and impact on services for residents and businesses. He felt that there were currently a lot of unknowns regarding any potential merger, and more information was needed which would be sought through the signing of the MOU. He felt that a merger of the two local authorities could be a positive endeavour, but highlighted that both councils wanted as much information as possible. He explained that any proposed merger would not begin now, but felt that central government were pushing for local government reform, and Thurrock needed to be moving forwards.

The Chair thanked Councillor Gledhill for this presentation and report, and questioned the broader context for a merger. He asked whether the current local government operating processes would not be viable in future. Councillor Gledhill replied and stated that in 2020 central government had felt that unitary authorities should have a resident population of 300-500,000, and Thurrock would be able to reach this figure if a merger took place with Basildon Council. He highlighted that he could not speak for central government, but felt that there was currently no rush for local authority mergers or any central government commitment to scrap current local government organisation. The Chair asked if local government reorganisation would be a medium term goal for central government, and questioned what would happen if the Council did not act immediately. Councillor Gledhill responded and stated that Thurrock wanted to be on the front foot  ...  view the full minutes text for item 35.


Communications Update pdf icon PDF 138 KB

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The Director of Strategy, Communications and Customer Service introduced the report and stated that it provided an update to the Communications Strategy as well as the Local Government Association (LGA) health check and action plan implementation. She stated that the draft strategy would be coming to the Committee in June and welcomed Member comment and feedback which could be included in that report. She explained that the LGA had let independent peers look at the Council’s communications approach, including speaking to internal and external stakeholders, as well as helping Thurrock to learn from best practice.

The Director of Strategy, Communications and Customer Service highlighted some of the positives from the report, which included good crisis communications; good stakeholder relations during the COVID-19 pandemic; and a flexible team who were proactive, committed and responsive. She added that the health check had also shown that internal communications had improved since 2017 when the last LGA health check had been completed, and communications were now more campaign-led. She stated that the report also included some recommendations for improvement, such as commissioning a ‘who reads what’ survey to better understand how residents consumed their media and received their information, which would help develop the strategy and provide a deeper level of insight.

The Chair thanked the Director of Strategy, Communications and Customer Service for her hard work on the report, and felt it provided a good level of detailed feedback. He thanked the communications team for their hard work during the COVID pandemic, and felt pleased to see constructive feedback and the accompanying action plan. He stated that in previous years the Committee had invited local editors to their meeting, and welcomed the recommendation to improve the speed of responses and to introduce a more streamlined process. He emphasised how important it was for the communications team to build good relationships with local editors, which could be partly achieved through providing timely responses to their questions. He also felt it was good to see the team were trying new approaches and new ways of working, such as video briefings and the use of social media. The Director of Strategy, Communications and Customer Service stated that some other local authorities provided online briefings for local media, for example when there was a drastic change to a service, and explained that this allowed local media editors to do a question and answer session with service representatives, which could provide a more immediate response compared to a press release. She stated that as part of the health check, the LGA had spoken with local media editors to understand what was working well and what areas needed improvement, which was something that the communications team would continue to explore going forward. She added that the team were also considering new ways of using technology, for example technology which had been developed due to the pandemic. The Communications Strategic Lead added that the use of online briefings and video briefings would be considered as an option, and utilised by  ...  view the full minutes text for item 36.


Quarter 3 (April-December 2020) Corporate Performance Report 2020/21 pdf icon PDF 579 KB

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The Director of Strategy, Communications and Customer Service introduced the report and stated that it covered the period from April to December 2020, and that 66% of Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) were on target, and 50% were the same or better than in 2019/20. She highlighted that this report was similar to the Quarter 1 Corporate Performance report as they both covered periods of lockdown and increased restriction, compared to Quarter 2 when restrictions had been eased. She explained that this would continue into Quarter 4, which began in January 2021 and was again characterised by a period of national lockdown. She described how the report set out which KPIs had been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, and these had been provided with a ‘route to green’ where appropriate. She summarised and stated that this report was not necessarily a reflection on service performance, but was rather a reflection on national circumstances.

The Chair thanked the Director of Strategy, Communications and Customer Service for her work on the report, and stated that it was clear to see the impact that COVID-19 had had on some KPIs. He highlighted the KPI on page 57 regarding fixed penalty notices, and felt it was understandable that performance was lower this quarter due to the pandemic and continued leniency, but asked when normal enforcement would return. The Director of Strategy, Communications and Customer Service replied that this KPI was currently under review, since the Prime Minister’s roadmap announcement. She explained that all services were now considering how their KPIs aligned with the proposed roadmap, and feedback on this would be provided during the End of Year/ Quarter 4 Corporate Performance Report.

Councillor Ralph felt that this was a good report that clearly showed the impact COVID-19 had had on some services. He questioned the KPI on page 53 regarding the number of volunteer placements in the Council, and questioned how volunteers were classified, and if this included COVID specific volunteer roles. The Director of Strategy, Communications and Customer Service replied that she would look into this query and reply to the Committee in writing. She stated that staff from some services that had been closed, for example in libraries, had been redeployed to help with the Thurrock Coronavirus Community Action (TCCA), and some services had not been able to offer volunteer placements due to the pandemic.

RESOLVED: That the Committee:

1. Noted and commented upon the performance of the key corporate performance indicators, in particular those areas which are off target and the impact of COVID-19.

2. Identified any areas which required additional consideration.


Financial Update pdf icon PDF 948 KB

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The Corporate Director – Finance, Governance and Property introduced the report and stated that it was the final financial update for the 2020/21 financial year, and reflected previous reports. He explained that Corporate Overview and Scrutiny had the overall remit to look at the budget, but specific service issues would be scrutinised by the relevant overview and scrutiny committee. He then highlighted the table at section 4 of the report, which showed the impact of COVID-19 on various services, and explained that COVID-19 had cost the Council approximately £17million in increased expenses and reduced income. He stated that the Council had received £14.2million in government grants, and a further £2.1million towards the furlough scheme and income compensation scheme. He explained that some services had underspent this year, but some services had seen service pressures, such as Children’s social care which had seen an increased number of high need placements. The Corporate Director Finance, Governance and Property summarised and stated that the Council were currently predicting a breakeven position, but had had to use surpluses to achieve this, and had therefore removed any future surpluses.

The Chair stated that the Committee had regularly reviewed and debated the financial position of the Council, but felt pleased to see new information pertaining to detailed service level spend and their outturns, as it was good to see individual service pressures. He highlighted page 73 of the agenda regarding the Children’s social care overspend of £851,000, and the Children and Family Services overspend of £1.5million, and questioned whether these were driven by placement costs. He stated that although the Children’s Overview and Scrutiny Committee would look at this in detail, he questioned how this position was being managed, and sought assurance that the Council was providing a quality service whilst also getting best value for money. The Corporate Director of Finance, Governance and Property responded that the children’s services team was being challenged on their finances both internally and externally. He stated that the children’s finance team had been strengthened in terms of numbers and seniority to check and challenge the children’s services and procurement teams. He added that the service also held weekly placement meetings with the Corporate Director, who was very hands on with placements, and other senior officers to ensure these were monitored. He stated that there was also a regular independent review of placements, from other officers within the wider directorate. He explained that the communications team were also running regular campaigns to increase the number of Thurrock foster carers, which reduced the need for more expensive external foster care agencies.

The Chair highlighted point 6.5 of the report and questioned whether the recruitment freeze would lead to an increase in the need for expensive agency staff. The Corporate Director Finance, Governance and Property responded that 90% of all current posts which were being recruited came from the Adult Social Care and Children’s Social Care teams, as these were seen as essential posts. He explained that social workers were often from  ...  view the full minutes text for item 38.


Asset Disposals pdf icon PDF 250 KB

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The Corporate Director – Finance, Governance and Property introduced the report and stated that the Committee had raised a point regarding capital receipts and Member involvement in January 2021, and this report responded to those comments. He explained that in 2016 the Council had agreed the 3Rs policy, but since then the process had not moved quickly. He stated that because of the financial pressures from COVID-19, this process would now be commenced and assets would be brought forward in three categories which included; operational assets such as the Civic Offices and libraries; community assets such as community halls; and other assets which did not fall into either of these categories. He explained that these other assets were being reviewed now, followed by operational assets in the next few months, and finally community assets, which would be looked at separately. He commented that the team were currently looking at surplus land, and stated that ward members would be informed of any disposals that were being proposed in their area. He stated that the assets included in the report had largely been included as they were assets that current, in-situ tenants wished to purchase. He stated that the site at Dell Road had been included as it had previously been agreed for disposal, but the sale had fallen through, and was now being brought forward again to ensure full transparency. He mentioned that the Constitution had also been changed the remove officer delegation for any disposals, and explained that disposals under £200,000 had to be agreed by the Leader, and disposals over this figure had to be agreed by Cabinet. He summarised and stated that the proposed asset disposals would be brought forward in tranches, and any operational asset disposals would be included as part of the budget, which would be scrutinised by overview and scrutiny before being brought to Cabinet, to ensure full transparency.

The Chair welcomed the report and felt pleased to see that Members were being included in the process. He questioned whether residents would be able to have their say on any disposals, and asked if this would form part of the communications approach. He also questioned whether local amenities such as parks and open spaces would be protected from disposal. The Corporate Director Finance, Governance and Property replied that any asset proposed for disposal would need to go through the relevant consultation. He added that parks were usually protected from disposal without due process and thorough rationalisation, including looking at the state of repair of the park. He stated that the asset disposal team were currently only focussing on surplus assets, as some of these were not being used and costing the council money.

Councillor Ralph thanked the Director for bringing the report to scrutiny, and emphasised the need to get market price on any assets that were being disposed of. He then queried if there was a difference in classification between a park and an open space. The Corporate Director Finance, Governance and Property replied  ...  view the full minutes text for item 39.


Work Programme pdf icon PDF 271 KB

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The Chair asked for an item regarding future ways of working be included on the Work Programme in the next municipal year, including how to use remote working in the future and learning outcomes.

Councillor Duffin also requested regular updates regarding the Communications Strategy and action plan. The Director of Strategy, Communications and Customer Service replied that detailed report was coming to Committee in June, but regular verbal updates could be provided throughout the next municipal year.

The Corporate Director Finance, Governance and Property stated that the Committee would again consider any financial reports in January 2022, but stated that a report would also be brought before Committee in June 2021 to consider the future financial and budgetary approach. He stated that dependent on when Cabinet and Corporate O&S meetings fell in June, an extraordinary meeting may be necessary to consider this report.

The Chair stated that this would be his last Corporate Overview and Scrutiny Committee meeting, as he was not standing for election in May. He thanked all the Officers and Members for their hard work throughout the years, and particularly thanked the Senior Democratic Services Officer for her hard work, both with the usual Committee proceedings and also with the scrutiny review. Councillor Duffin thanked the Chair on behalf of the Committee for his hard work and dedication over the past four years, and felt they had been an excellent Chair and Vice-Chair team.