Agenda and minutes

Corporate Overview and Scrutiny Committee
Thursday, 31st January, 2019 7.00 pm

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

Contact: Lucy Tricker, Democratic Services Officer  Email: Direct.Democracy@thurrock.gov.uk

Items
No. Item

24.

Minutes pdf icon PDF 93 KB

To approve as a correct record the minutes of the Corporate Overview and Scrutiny Committeemeeting held on 20 November 2018.

Minutes:

The minutes of the Corporate Overview and Scrutiny Committee held on 20 November 2018 were approved as a correct record.

25.

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.

Minutes:

There were no items of urgent business.

26.

Declaration of Interests

Minutes:

There were no interests declared.

27.

The Overview and Scrutiny Functions and Motions Process pdf icon PDF 96 KB

Additional documents:

Minutes:

The Democratic Services Manager introduced the report and began by stating this had come to committee due to Councillor Spillman’s motion which was outlined on page 15 of the agenda. He clarified that Councillor Spillman had been made aware the report was coming to Corporate Overview and Scrutiny Committee. He outlined that the report was divided into two sections, with the first section relating to the overview and scrutiny function, and the second relating to the motions process. He commented that the report found Thurrock’s overview and scrutiny function conformed with national guidelines, and asked what Members would like to see from the overview and scrutiny function. The Democratic Services Manager then drew Members attention to point 2.4.4, 3.10 and 3.11 and asked Members to undertake a project outside of the Committee meetings regarding overview and scrutiny. He stated that he understood present limitations and felt this report could be the impetus to enhance overview and scrutiny. He moved on to discuss motions and felt that the report highlighted motions were working well and progressed once they had been agreed on at Council.

The Chair began by stating he welcomed the report, and the discussion around the role Members could play in the future regarding motions and overview and scrutiny. He added that consulting with other Members would be good, and from there overview and scrutiny could start making effective decisions and undertaking policy decisions. He felt that the overview and scrutiny process could improve and go further by allowing overview and scrutiny committees to have more decision-making power. He also felt that recommendations were part of the shortcomings in the process as often decisions made in overview and scrutiny committees were not relayed to Cabinet and Council, and felt that the executive branch should officially respond to recommendations made. The Chair then mentioned that he would like to see a more robust role for overview and scrutiny committees regarding the call-in function, as often decisions could not be called in as they had undergone a form of pre-scrutiny, even if changes had been made at the Cabinet meeting. He added that he understood overview and scrutiny was not part of the executive branch of government, but felt they could delay the implementation of proposals for further discussion and could involve a higher number of Councillors. He commented that as Chair he had lots of support from officers and reports were of high-quality and included feedback he had given. He finally stated that overview and scrutiny committees could be more active in requesting site visits, but that the capabilities they possessed was the most important aspect.

The Chair then opened the debate to other Members and Councillor Churchman began by drawing the Committee’s attention to point 2.4.4 and stating that he would appreciate specific overview and scrutiny training sessions throughout the year as knowledge was important to make decisions on committee and he did not want Members to feel they were falling behind if they missed some meetings. Councillor Duffin  ...  view the full minutes text for item 27.

28.

Customer Services Strategy Progress Update pdf icon PDF 87 KB

Minutes:

The Director of Strategy, Communications and Customer Services opened the report and described how the Customer Services Strategy had been approved by Cabinet in 2017, and how Corporate Overview and Scrutiny Committee had been asked to feed into the process and comment on the action plan before it was agreed. She commented that the committee regularly asked questions regarding online services and how residents were being supported to access these, and this report provided a focused item on this issue. She mentioned that this was an opportune time for the report due to the significant changes to the reception area of the Civic Offices and face-to-face areas. The Assistant Director Customer Services stated that there was a focus in the report on the changes in the face-to-face areas, and described how prior to these changes, customers were seen by advisers at individual desks. She commented that there were now 11 self-service tablets, new seated computers, and floor-walkers that could determine the appropriate service for a person and help vulnerable individuals see an individual specialist if they required. She continued by stating there was a new DDA area with rise and fall desks for disabled users and a private waiting area for those seeking housing and homelessness advice. She stated that since the changes there was a 50% decrease in the volume of customers visiting the Civic Offices this month and average wait times had decreased from 8 minutes to 1 minute in January 2019. She added that the decreased wait times meant that more time could be spent with vulnerable users who needed it. She summarised by stating that only one complaint had been received regarding the changes, and some services were now online only such as Council Tax exemption and bulky waste collection. Finally, she added that the customer services department were CCA accredited and had received no non-conformities in the independent review.

The Chair thanked officers for the detailed report and recognised the shift towards online, as computers were now a fact of life. He added that he had some concern in making sure good access to services was still available to all users, particularly those that were vulnerable or elderly as he did not want online to become a barrier. He questioned what the team were doing to help residents with online services, and what Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) were evaluating these services. The Assistant Director Customer Services replied that floor-walkers were there to assess customer’s vulnerability and support them with their needs. She commented that there had been a decrease in people visiting the Civic Offices for basic transactions, but there was still a good level of service to residents which had seen few complaints. The Chair clarified that although some services were online only, support was still available to those that needed it. The Assistant Director Customer Services confirmed this was the case and floor-walkers were always there to assist visitors, as they could help residents complete forms or answer questions. She stated there was  ...  view the full minutes text for item 28.

29.

Draft General Fund Budget and Medium Term Financial Strategy Update pdf icon PDF 345 KB

Minutes:

The Director of Finance and IT introduced the report and stated it had gone to Cabinet earlier in January 2019 and was coming back to the Corporate Overview and Scrutiny Committee for comment, before being reconsidered by Cabinet and going onto Full Council in February. He commented that the old approach had used top-down cuts which risked creating false savings, and felt that the new approach outlined in the report increased income through investment and taxes, saved money through the ‘Do More For Less’ Scheme, and decreased demand through early intervention. He felt this was a successful approach, although overspends were still occurring. He commented there were three main points outlined the report, these being:

1. All savings outlined in the report for next year had already been achieved or were a continuation of current savings.
2. Cabinet had recommended a freeze on council tax for the coming municipal year.
3. As outlined on page 49 of the report, the Council Spending Review (CSR) had introduced corporate wide savings targets, such as getting better contracts in the ICT digital sector, and decreasing the amount spent on people by reducing the number of agency workers sickness cover.

The Director of Finance and IT drew Members attention to the figures associated with the Children’s Services budget and stated that £1million had been invested for early intervention and promoting in-house foster carers, rather than foster carers through an independent agency which were more expensive. He added that the savings from this investment would take time to come through. He then drew Members attention to the table on Page 53 and stated that the first column was the budget for this municipal year, the second column was extra changes that had been made this year due to various variances, and the fourth column was re-balanced and showed growth, such as the extra £1.78million in environment and highways to be able to meet, for example, waste disposal pressures. He summarised by stating that there had been some changes to the figures since it has been to Cabinet due to winter pressures and employee costs funding being allocated, and the position had changed again since this version had been published.

The Chair stated that the suggested recommendations, proposed a council tax freeze and felt Members had to have 2 simultaneous ideas, as they wanted affordable council tax for residents, but also wanted to ensure the council could provide and deliver all services. He stated that over the course of the Medium Term Financial Strategy (MTFS) the council would lose £2.1 million per annum income revenue if there was a council tax freeze, which equated to almost £11million over the course of the MTFS and commented that this would cause a deficit in the 5th year. He asked if the lost council tax revenue could be replaced with commercial income, so the council could remain in surplus. The Director of Finance and IT stated that the approach would always be to maximise income streams, so more  ...  view the full minutes text for item 29.

30.

Capital Strategy 2019-20 pdf icon PDF 67 KB

Additional documents:

Minutes:

The Director of Finance and IT introduced the report and stated this report was the new format for the treasury management report which set out the parameters for borrowing and investments. He stated it set out the capital financing requirements for the Council’s capital programme, investments, and Thurrock Regeneration Ltd, and built up the notional indicator. He added that the figures would change based on proposals, but this was a statutory requirement.

The Chair began by thanking officers for the report and saying it was very clear. He drew the Committee’s attention to page 78, point 2.17 and discussed the abolition of the housing debt cap. He felt there was much cross-party anticipation to build more council houses and asked when investment would begin. The Director of Finance and IT replied that the Council was looking at proposals and these would be in terms of months rather than years, but stated that the HRA budget was extremely tight as rent had decreased for 4 years, although this would be increasing as of 2020/21. He continued by stating the Council were looking to borrow to build houses as the HRA did not have to repay certain loans, just the interest on those loans. He added that this meant that some other costs such as maintenance could be absorbed, although some could not as the only income was from rent. He mentioned that at officer level, a paper was being developed to consider this issue.

Councillor Duffin asked if there was scope in the budget to upscale projects run by Thurrock Regeneration Ltd which did not have to go through Council. The Director of Finance and IT replied that only the parameters for 2019/20 had been set, but there was enough scope for capacity. He added it was often time consuming to get a business case for schemes, and then design and plan them.

RESOLVED: That:

1. The Committee commented on the 2019/20 Capital Strategy for consideration by Cabinet at their meeting on 12 February 2019.


31.

Draft Capital Programme pdf icon PDF 74 KB

Additional documents:

Minutes:

The Director of Finance and IT introduced the report and stated there had been a change to approach in the past two years, such as the creation of the future and aspirational projects section. He outlined the changes as follows:

1. The addition of a £2million budget for projects that did not know their true cost or business case. The budget was for feasibility studies which would make the project more realistic and could then be presented to overview and scrutiny committees and Members.

2. The creation of ‘pots’ such as property, ICT and digital, and service review, which were of a more operational nature to assist with issues such as replacing sprinklers or boilers, which allowed the Council to be reactive. This also meant that individual projects did not have to be agreed, but officers had to persuade the relevant board to release the money.

3. Appendix 3 which described ‘new projects’ of a strategic nature, such as east-facing slips at Lakeside and the upgrade to Stonehouse Lane. Page 102 of the report described schemes which needed additional funds such as the upgrades to Stanford-le-Hope and Thameside Theatre Complex, which was to be confirmed.

The Chair commented that there were many projects listed which Members would welcome, such as east-facing slip roads at Lakeside. He stated that the Committee were there to discuss the broader governance process, rather than details of the projects, and asked how individual capital projects had been scrutinised. The Director of Finance and IT replied that the projects still went to the relevant Boards, which were cross-departmental for scrutiny by senior directors, and then went to the relevant overview and scrutiny committee numerous times before tender. He described how before they were tendered, they had to be presented to Cabinet, and once tendered would be reported back to Cabinet on a quarterly basis.

Councillor Hague then asked what role Corporate Overview and Scrutiny were being asked to play. The Director of Finance and IT replied that it was under Corporate’s constitutional remit to consider the capital budget and look at the budget as a whole, rather than individual projects. He commented that the committee were tasked with looking at deliverability and comment on the programme as whole, as well as the governance process. Councillor Hague commented that it would be good to see the report in the context of the council’s strategic plan and priorities. Councillor Fletcher agreed with this statement. The Chair asked if a report could come back to the committee to consider the process and make it more transparent, as well as detailing projects and programmes, before the next municipal year. The Director of Finance and IT replied that he would bring the programme back, including a piece of work on how to bring capital forward.

RESOLVED: That:

1. The Committee commented on the specific proposals set out within the report.

32.

Work Programme pdf icon PDF 49 KB

Minutes:

After a brief discussion it was decided that a progress report on the Overview and Scrutiny Function and Motions Progress would come to the March meeting, and would be ongoing in the next municipal year. It was also decided that a detailed report on the capital programme and a discussion on process would come to the March meeting. Councillor Duffin asked if a piece of work on commercialisation benchmarking and the council tax could come to committee, and it was decided a short piece would accompany the Work Programme at the March meeting, with more discussion in the new municipal year.