Agenda and draft minutes

Corporate Overview and Scrutiny Committee - Tuesday, 9th June, 2020 7.00 pm

Venue: Virtual: You can watch this meeting at https://www.youtube.com/user/thurrockcouncil either live whilst in progress or later as a recording

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

Items
No. Item

1.

Minutes pdf icon PDF 96 KB

To approve as a correct record the minutes of the Corporate Overview and Scrutiny Committeemeeting held on 14 January 2020, 23 January 2020, and 10 March 2020.

Additional documents:

Minutes:

The minutes of the Corporate Overview and Scrutiny Committee held on 14 January 2020, 23 January 2020, and 10 March 2020 were approved as a correct record.

2.

Items of Urgent Business pdf icon PDF 242 KB

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:

The Chair raised one item of urgent business regarding the procurement of a Local Full Fibre Network (LFFN) on behalf of the Association of South Essex Local Authorities (ASELA). The Director of HR, OD and Transformation introduced the report and stated that Thurrock was the lead Council involved in this project, and had successfully submitted a bid to the Department of Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) for a grant of £4.4million. She highlighted that this project came at no cost to the Council, as the entire project was being funded through the DCMS grant. The proposed procurement route represented the most effective route cost wise and for delivery. The LFFN supported council efficiencies by replacing some of the current Wide Area Network (WAN), and increasing capacity. The Director of HR, OD and Transformation added that this project supported the Council’s wider digital aspirations through improved Wi-Fi connectivity, and had been a cross-organisation collaboration.

The Chair thanked officers for the report and sought clarification that the £4.4million project cost would be entirely funded by central government. He also asked if the £4.4million would be spent entirely within Thurrock, or if it would be split between all local authorities within ASELA. The Director of HR, OD and Transformation confirmed that the entire project cost was government funded, and would be divided across ASELA. The Chair then asked what benefits an LFFN would provide for residents, the Council and its partners. The Director of HR, OD and Transformation responded that the LFFN would provide the infrastructure for better future connectivity. The Corporate Director Finance, Governance and Property added that out of the seven local authorities that formed ASELA, the government would be funding a total of 133 LFFN sites, of which 78 were in Thurrock. He mentioned that the LFFN would help to support the public sector, and stated that 22 sites would be within care homes, 23 sites in community buildings, and 2 sites in fire and rescue buildings. He stated that an LFFN could provide cheaper broadband, increased Wi-Fi speeds, and increased connectivity.

The Chair asked why the report had been brought urgently, and sought clarification of the governance process. The Corporate Director Finance, Governance and Property replied that originally the report had been two-fold, including both the LFFN and WAN. He stated that because of purdah, the WAN aspect of the report had been delegated via an ED2 form, but this had not included the LFFN. He stated that lessons had been learnt and provided his apologies for the lateness of the report.

Councillor Duffin thanked the team for their hard work on the project, and felt it was good to see Thurrock receiving grants from central government. He queried that although the national average for fibre broadband coverage was 10%, Thurrock only had 6% coverage, and asked what was being done to improve this connectivity. He added that due to the ongoing pandemic, more people were working from home and required good Wi-Fi speeds and connectivity. Councillor Ralph  ...  view the full minutes text for item 2.

3.

Declaration of Interests

Minutes:

Councillor Rice declared a non-pecuniary interest as his wife worked for CVS. 

4.

COVID-19: Financial and Budget Implications pdf icon PDF 271 KB

Minutes:

The Corporate Director of Finance, Governance and Property introduced the report and began by stating that COVID-19 had both direct and indirect financial implications for the Council. He commented that the direct affect was on the Council’s expenditure on COVID-19 related issues, and the indirect implications stemmed from loss of income, such as through fees and charges. He stated that Thurrock were working closely with central government, but COVID-19 would have financial implications that affected next year’s budget. He added that the report made numerous assumptions, but due to the pandemic, officers could not predict what was going to happen in the future. He stated that officers were currently working on a 4 month position, and were looking towards the gradual easing of lockdown and government restrictions.

The Corporate Director of Finance, Governance and Property went on to say that COVID-19 would have an approximate financial impact of £9.7million on the Council, although £9.2million of this should be funded by central government. He highlighted that the longer the pandemic continued, the bigger the financial impact would be. He clarified that £6million had been added to the resilience reserves, in addition to the general fund budget and the current financial position could be maintained in the short-term. He mentioned that the government had set-out £9.2million for Thurrock in financial assistance, although other money was being received from central government in support, such as through hardship grants, and money towards care home cleanliness. He added that government had also deferred payment of business rates, but these would have to be paid at some point in the future.
The Corporate Director of Finance, Governance and Property stated that Thurrock had received £12.3million from central government in grant support to small businesses and those in sectors such as leisure and hospitality, and the first tranche of those payments had been made last week. He added that central government had also given Thurrock £1.237millon for a second, discretionary scheme. He clarified that this year 2401 businesses would not be paying any business rates, and currently 1600 businesses had received grants.

The Corporate Director of Finance, Governance and Property stated that there were currently pressures in Adult Social Care as care homes had lost income due to people not moving in because of COVID-19 fears, and they had had to increase expenditure on areas such as PPE for staff. He added that Council expenditure had also increased to set up Thurrock Coronavirus Community Action (TCCA) to ensure that those residents who were shielding or vulnerable received the necessary support. He commented that the Council were now renting High House Production Park as a base for TCCA operations, and were helping to support nearly 10,000 residents in a number of ways, for example delivery of food parcels or emotional support. The Corporate Director of Finance, Governance and Property added that financial pressures had also arisen in Children’s Services and Environment, due to a fall in the number of placements and closure of household waste and recycling centres  ...  view the full minutes text for item 4.

5.

Impact of COVID-19 on the Current Agile Working Programme pdf icon PDF 336 KB

Minutes:

The Director of HR, OD and Transformation introduced the report and stated that the Council had seen lots of changes to working arrangements in a short space of time because of the pandemic. She highlighted that in December 2019 the agile working policy had been refreshed, but that because of COVID-19 the Council had to learn to adapt quickly to agile working for the majority of the workforce. The Director of HR, OD and Transformation thanked the IT team for their hard work in ensuring that all members of staff had access to the right equipment to work from home, including the fast-tracked rollout of Microsoft Teams. She clarified that although some services had to shut-down due to social distancing restrictions, the majority of services were being delivered successfully from home.

The Director of HR, OD and Transformation added that one of the main barriers to agile working pre-COVID19 had been the lack of home telephony solutions, but these had been successfully overcome within a week of lockdown being introduced. She added that the Council had also set up the TCCA, and given work mobile phones to those that needed them, as well as solving issues surrounding hunt groups. She stated that another barrier to agile working pre-COVID19 had been the amount of printing that had been done within the offices, but many services had been able to transfer successfully to digital working. She recognised that home working was not successful for all staff members, sometimes due to the lack of social interaction, particularly for those vulnerable people who were shielding. She stated that the Council had introduced new support packages for managers and staff to encourage social interaction virtually with team members, as well as a new e-learning agenda.

The Director of HR, OD and Transformation summarised and stated that agile working would continue to be the way of working once lockdown had ended, and her team were currently looking at ways to sustain the progress made. She added that as the country moved towards recovery, officers would be considering council buildings, as less space might be needed for staff, although a civic office would always be available for people who needed to work from the office.

The Chair welcomed the report and thanked officers for their hard work in keeping services running during this difficult time. He highlighted point 6.3 of the report and felt glad to see that agile working would become the new normality. He added that the transition to home working would also benefit the environment as people drove less and improved their carbon footprint. He queried what percentage of council staff would continue to be eligible for home working after lockdown had ended. The Director of HR, OD and Transformation replied that there were approximately 2,500 people that worked for the Council, of which one third were frontline workers, such as care staff or waste collectors, and were based in the community. She stated that two-thirds of Council staff were office based, but confirmed  ...  view the full minutes text for item 5.

6.

Work Programme pdf icon PDF 252 KB

Minutes:

The Committee requested the following items be added to the Work Programme:

1. A standing item updating the Committee on the Medium Term Financial Strategy and financial impacts of COVID-19, including the investment and commercialisation strategy.

2. A secondary report on community engagement, following from the report from the Strategic Lead Community Development and Equalities in the last municipal year.

3. An update on connectivity, Wi-Fi and internet for residents; how the Council were working to improve this across the borough; and how IT was being developed for Members.