Agenda and minutes

Corporate Overview and Scrutiny Committee - Thursday, 7th January, 2016 7.00 pm

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

Contact: Stephanie Cox, Senior Democratic Services Officer  Email:

No. Item


Minutes pdf icon PDF 99 KB

To approve as a correct record the minutes of the Corporate Overview and Scrutiny Committeemeeting held on 19 November 2015.


An action list update is also attached for Members information, in response to matters raised at previous meetings.

Additional documents:


The Minutes of the Corporate Overview and Scrutiny Committee, held on 19 November 2015, were approved as a correct record, subject to amending Paragraph 10, agenda item 21 (Training and Development – Officers) to read that semi-independent care homes for those over 16 years were not statutorily bound to register with the local authority.


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.


There were no items of urgent business.


Declaration of Interests


Councillor Snell declared a non-pecuniary interest in respect of Agenda Item 6, ‘Fairness Commission Update’, as he is a member of the Fairness Commission Board.



Mid-Year Corporate Progress and Performance Report 2015/16 pdf icon PDF 91 KB

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The Strategy and Performance Officer introduced the report which set out the performance against the corporate scorecard with progress against the related deliverables as outlined in the Corporate Priority Activity Plan 2015/16. This was used to monitor the performance of key priorities of the Council and enables Members, Directors and other leaders to form an opinion as to the delivery of these priorities.


The Committee was informed that 82% of indicators were currently meeting their targets or close to them and 96% of deliverables are progressing in line with projected timelines or within tolerance. It was added that although many of the Children’s Services indicators were red, they had actually set very high standards which, in turn, had improved performance. For the future the service would continue to stretch targets to hopefully compete with some of the best performing services in the country. 


Councillor Snell questioned who determined the acceptable tolerance and asked for clarity as to how performance was measured against it.


The Committee were informed that Key Performance Indicators (KPI’s) were given a ‘Red’, ‘Amber’ or ‘Green’ status and that ‘Amber’ KPI’s were better than the previous year but did not hit the set target, however the measurement of key deliverables was more subjective and determined internally by service area.


The Chair of the Committee felt that if a KPI was above the target but stretching towards a target set to enhance further improvement it should be marked as green as it had hit the target and was above the national average. The Committee asked the Performance Officer to note the difference between a target and stretched target in future reports. The Chair of the Committee also felt that ‘Amber’ KPI’S on an upwards trend shouldn’t be discussed in detail, and that the Committee should concentrate on KPI’s in the ‘Red’.


The Committee examined the Red Key Performance Indicators and the following comments were made regarding each measure.


The Committee discussed the percentage of primary schools judged ‘good’ or better. The Director of Children’s Services informed the Committee that Ofsted did not make any visits in the current term and that reinspections were expected to take place in the next term. Members were enlightened that a complaint was made to Ofsted from the Director of Children’s Services due to previous Ofsted inspections being poor. Councillor Hebb requested that a gentle reminder was given to Ofsted to carry out these inspections in the next term.


The Director of Children’s Services explained that there was a small cohort of children eligible to take GCSE’s when looking at the Looked after Children KS4 Attainment – 5+A*-C (including English and Maths) – It was explained that a number of looked after children were unaccompanied asylum seekers at an early age of learning English and therefore not yet able to take GCSE's. The Committee were informed that Thurrock secondary schools senior teams had agreed to focus on ‘narrowing the gap ‘for disadvantaged groups, including those in the care of the local authority which  ...  view the full minutes text for item 27.


Fairness Commission Update pdf icon PDF 69 KB

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The Community Development and Equalities Manager and the Chair of the Thurrock Fairness Commission Board introduced the report explaining that in April 2014 Cabinet agreed to establish a Fairness Commission for Thurrock as recommended by the Corporate Overview and Scrutiny Committee Task and Finish Group. The Fairness in Thurrock Review made a number of recommendations to progress a Fairness Commission as the most relevant mechanism for progressing equalities in Thurrock. From its first meeting the Fairness Commission highlighted the need to understand more about local perceptions of fairness. The Commission undertook a ‘Summer of Listening’ from June – October 2015, capturing over 300 comments from events across the Borough, along with 200 responses to an on-line survey.


The Committee were informed that one resident representative left the Fairness Commission shortly after its first meeting. It was not possible to fill the post for a disability group representative, something the Commission had aimed to achieve. 


The Commission made a number of recommendations and would be formally requesting agencies working in Thurrock to respond. Thurrock Council endorsed the recommendations made by Thurrock’s Fairness Commission and the following initial response was likely to result in the following actions.

·                    Principles of Fairness - The Council will support by issuing press releases, publicising the principles and promoting the process to support residents who have reason to complain about something against the principles.

·                    Strengthening Communities - The Council will arrange a summit of partners to consider how best to design a campaign. This will include businesses and the potential for inward investment. It will also include Stronger Together a partnership supporting asset based community development of which the Council is a partner.

·                    Improved Communications - Thurrock Council will be developing a new Customer Service Strategy in 2016. The strategy will be informed by recommendation 1 and 3.

·                    Residents Survey - Thurrock Council agrees that a regular survey would support policy development and will be exploring the feasibility of this in the coming months.

·                    To provide feedback to those consulted – The Council will publish the report on the website.

·                    Review Thurrock’s Single Equality Scheme – The Council welcomes the observations provided by the Commission and will be reviewing the Single Equality Scheme accordingly.


Councillor Stewart queried whether the recommendations made by the Thurrock Fairness Commission board were seen as the Councils difficulties. The Community Development and Equalities Manager explained that the recommendations were formed on residents perception of the borough not just Council services, it was added that these perceptions were usually due to a lack of knowledge.


Councillor Liddiard agreed with the recommendations and proposed that if implemented the Council must ensure that different service areas emphasize fairness but avoid duplicating workloads.


Councillor Snell asked Chair of the Thurrock Fairness Commission Board to explain what fairness meant to the residents of Thurrock, It was explained to the committee that feedback from direct engagements was gathered together with survey results received during the course of the online consultation.  The key themes that emerged from the Summer  ...  view the full minutes text for item 28.


Review of Pre-Election Period Guidance pdf icon PDF 94 KB

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Deputy Head of Legal & Monitoring Officer introduced the report explaining to the Committee, that 'Purdah' was a political convention, which formally applied to government ministers and civil servants in central government during the period immediately before a general election, which was designed to prevent actions being taken by government or local authorities in the run up to an election being used (or perceived to be used) to influence the outcome of an election. It was added that during this time the Council (staff and councillors) should, unless circumstances dictate otherwise, refrain from taking decisions or making policy announcements which are significant and may be viewed as politically contentious.


The Committee were enlightened that the restriction on decision making was largely a political convention, which was confirmed in the Local Government Association’ 2015 guidance “Purdah: A short guide to publicity during the pre-election period” councils can, “continue to discharge normal council business (including determining planning applications, even if they are controversial).”


The Committee were requested to review the following advice and guidance in relation to press releases;

·                    that all press releases will be signed off by legal and the Chief Executive during a pre-election,

·                    that in the vast majority of such releases a lead officer should be used instead of a Member;

·                    that where a Member is used for civic announcements or where there is a genuine need for a Member level response - such as an emergency situation or an important event beyond the Authority’s control - in such special cases the Mayor can be used in line with the flexibility acknowledged in the code;


Councillor Stewart questioned what the consequences would be if the pre-election guidance was not adhered to in order to receive political gain, the Deputy Head of Legal & Monitoring Officer explained that this would potentially ground a challenge at the Election Court.


Councillor Snell queried if the ‘Committee’ could be referred to in press releases, The Committee were informed that press releases could and will continue during purdah but the main difference were that they will not quote or be in the name of councillors but rather will quote senior managers and be checked for controversiality.


The Chair of the Committee made the point that decisions about the cancellation of meetings should be made pragmatically, and that there had historically been an over excessive application of the purdah convention, giving examples where meetings where cancelled which had business not related to the ward where an election was taking place.


Councillor Snell questioned how press releases would be monitored; the Deputy Head of Legal & Monitoring Officer explained that an audit log of communications during purdah could be created.


The Corporate O & S Committee suggested that the Standards and Audit Committee acknowledge the following points.

·                     It was suggested that all media releases communicated by council during pre-election periods are to be collated and reviewed at the proceeding Standards and Audit Committee, after the said election, to ensure that there has been consistent application of the 2011 code of  ...  view the full minutes text for item 29.


Fees and Charges 2016/17


The Head of Corporate Finance informed the Committee that the report sought approval to revise fees and charges for Thurrock Council with effect from 1 April 2016. It was explained that the report provided a narrative for all discretionary charges for each directorate, it was added that there was a wider review of commercial opportunities across the Council in progress. Members were informed that any proposed price changes proposed as part of the wider review will be managed under the delegated authority of the Chief Executive and relevant Cabinet Member.


The Committee were informed that licencing fees had been increased to recover their costs to the Council. Councillor Stewart felt that the Committee could not consider the target set to recover cost without knowing the actual cost of licences to the Council. Councillor Stewart suggested that a RAG status would enable a better understanding of the percentage tolerances in relation to target reaching and the discretionary services that were recovering cost. The Head of Corporate Finance confirmed that the use of a RAG Status would be investigated to show how cost recoverable the fees were in the fees and charges report.




1.      That the committee considered the proposed charges as detailed in the appendix


2.      The Committee suggested that the Corporate Overview and Scrutiny Committee make data-based commentaries on each line, that the cost to the local authority for each item needed to be presented on a subsequent report, and all reports moving forward.



Work Programme pdf icon PDF 56 KB


The Committee examined the work programme for the meeting on the 2 February 2016, The Head of HR, OD & Customer Strategy explained that the update on the Council’s temporary, contract and agency staff performance ratings was unable to go to Committee in February due to being unable to collate the data required. The Committee agreed that this would be moved to the March Corporate Overview and Scrutiny Committee. The Chair of the Committee explained that the Committees work programme was circulated at the beginning of the municipal year; however it was added that there had regrettably been lots of changes to the work programme since then.




That the work programme be noted.