Agenda and draft minutes

Corporate Overview and Scrutiny Committee - Tuesday, 7th September, 2021 7.00 pm

Venue: Council Chamber, Civic Offices, New Road, Grays, Essex, RM17 6SL.

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

Media

Items
No. Item

6.

Minutes pdf icon PDF 208 KB

To approve as a correct record the minutes of the Corporate Overview and Scrutiny Committeemeeting held on 8 June 2021.

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Minutes:

The Chair noted that at the previous meeting Councillor Kent had felt concerned about the timescales of the Work Programme, and felt that this had not been addressed. Councillor Kent added that there had only been one meeting of the Shadow Investment Board, and felt the Board had not been formally established as suggested in the minutes. Councillor Hebb replied that the Board had met twice, once in September 2020 and once in December 2020. He clarified that the first meeting had simply been an introductory session for Members and consultants.

The minutes of the Corporate Overview and Scrutiny Committee held on 8 June 2021 were approved as a correct record.

7.

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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Minutes:

There were no items of urgent business.

8.

Declaration of Interests

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Minutes:

There were no interests declared.

9.

Communications Strategy 2021-24 pdf icon PDF 293 KB

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Minutes:

The Strategic Lead Communications introduced the report and stated that it outlined how the Council’s communications would align over the next three years, and was designed to build on the work previously undertaken by the Communications Strategy 2017-20. She explained that the new strategy focussed on brand recognition that would enhance the Thurrock narrative, as well as providing a strategic approach that aligned with Thurrock’s corporate priorities. She summarised and stated that the strategy would also provide a more modern communications service, including increased use of direct digital communications tools.

Councillor Kent thanked officers for their report and questioned if the Local Government Association health check recommendations had been included in the strategy. He gave the example of an external workshop between Members and officers; a new sign-off process to reduce the number of people and timeframes involved; new media briefings rather than press releases; and a priority triage system for communication enquiries. He also queried if the communications team had introduced a new system to cut out errors in press releases, as recommended by the Local Government Association. He summarised and asked if a system for including local faces in video content had also been rolled out.

The Strategic Lead Communications responded and stated that a workshop between Members, senior managers and members of the communications team had occurred in line with the Local Government Association recommendation. She added that other elements of work with local media, such as sign-off processes for queries, were operational aspects of the communications team and were therefore not included in the strategy. She explained that the team were looking into media briefings, for example utilising a hybrid briefing system, potentially both in person and online,that would allow local media to directlyask questions on key topics. She added that the communications team had also introduced a system of double proofing work to ensure errors in press releases did not occur. She mentioned that the communications team were also including residents in video content more, and gave the example of a local GP who participated in a recent COVID video, and local business owners who were currently filming for future content.

The Chair thanked the team for their hard work and felt that lots of reporting was being undertaken, but asked for more evidence and feedback on outcomes from the strategy. Councillor Collins highlighted page 25 of the agenda and questioned what positive behaviour change in the population would look like. He also queried the use of TikTok to spread the Council’s messages. Councillor Collins then highlighted page 27 of the agenda and asked if the Council offices would be reopening, which would help boost the local economy in Grays. The Strategic Lead Communications replied that communications teams in a variety of sectors regularly used behavioural science to encourage good behaviour in local residents, for example by encouraging them to recycle or not drop cigarette butts. She stated that some Council’s used footsteps leading to the nearest bins to encourage residents to dispose of  ...  view the full minutes text for item 9.

10.

Fair Debt Summit - Supporting Vulnerable Residents pdf icon PDF 297 KB

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Minutes:

The Assistant Director Education and Skills introduced the report and stated that it outlined the work undertaken in September 2018 on the Fair Debt Summit, which had been cross-party and cross-directorate. She stated that the Summit had considered how best to support residents, young people and schools with financial literacy, and a pilot scheme had been developed by Thurrock Adult Community College. She added that the work had now been embedded into Thurrock’s Inspire programme, which worked with both young people not in education, employment or training and vulnerable adults. The Assistant Director Education and Skills mentioned that work on the project had been paused due to COVID and school closures, but was now being re-energised, and the team would be going back into schools to deliver the programme. She stated that the team would also be using the programme as a challenge for Thurrock’s Next Top Boss, and felt it was particularly important to help young people understand financial resilience post-COVID.

Councillor Carter questioned if the programme would be available to the most vulnerable young people in Thurrock, including those in foster care. The Assistant Director Education and Skills replied that the scheme would be run for all young people to take part in, which included those Looked After Children. She added that care leavers also had separate money management schemes that had been working well. She explained that all young people could find it easy to get into debt, and the programme would help these people understand the wider financial economy and the skills they would need to remain debt free. She highlighted the appendix to the report that showed they had received positive feedback from schools that had run the pilot scheme, and this feedback would be developed into a programme by Thurrock Adult Community College.

Councillor Muldowney questioned if the scheme was being targeted correctly. She stated that the pilot scheme had been run for year 9 and 10 students, who would not necessarily have experience with debt at that age. She felt that although the current scheme would be a good preventative measure, it would be beneficial to target the scheme at older people who were already in debt, and would therefore reduce child poverty rates in the borough. The Chair also queried if the scheme was targeted correctly, and felt it should be targeted at younger children to enable them to understand money at an earlier age. The Assistant Director Education and Skills explained that although the scheme did target young people, it also targeted vulnerable groups through Inspire, such as young people not in education, employment or training, some of whom were already in debt. She added that the scheme would also work with vulnerable families, and could be adapted to work for adults on a wider scale. She stated that the work in schools was preventative and would help to embed the key principles of debt management from a young age. She summarised and stated that she would consider all feedback from  ...  view the full minutes text for item 10.

11.

Quarter 1 (April-September) Corporate Performance Report 2021/22 and Corporate Performance Framework pdf icon PDF 564 KB

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Minutes:

The Strategy Manager introduced the report and stated that it covered the first quarter of the 2021-22 municipal year. She explained that each Key Performance Indicator was either red or green, and those that were currently red included detail commentary as well as a ‘route to green’. She stated that COVID restrictions had only been stepped down in July 2021, so this quarter had still been effected by COVID regulations, and this had been outlined in the report where relevant.

Councillor Kent highlighted point 3.8 on page 54 of the agenda and the Key Performance Indicator relating to the average full time wage in Thurrock. He queried whether this was the wage for Thurrock residents or for Thurrock jobs. He also highlighted the Key Performance Indicator relating to the business rate base, and questioned why this would fall by £6million. He also outlined the number of homes permitted through planning, which only equalled 195, and queried if this year’s target of 950 homes permitted through planning was achievable. He also drew the Committee’s attention to the Key Performance Indicator relating to families presenting at risk of homelessness. He stated that 1836 families had presented themselves to the Council as being at risk of homelessness, but only 211 had been accepted, which equated to 11.5% of those presenting. He sought clarification that the families not accepted as being at risk of homelessness had been helped in other ways, for example had been able to keep their homes.

The Strategy Manager explained that she would need to seek clarification on the more detailed Key Performance Indicator questions. She added that the number of homes permitted through planning last year was correct at 195. Councillor Hebb stated that the Key Performance Indicator relating to business rate base currently included some post-COVID assumptions, such as in the hospitality and retail sectors, as some markets had not yet been re-established. He explained that the most recent Cabinet report showed the funding gap had been closed by £2million, but the Council did not yet know how the end of the furlough scheme would impact upon residents and businesses. He stated that the Council would continue to monitor employment levels across the borough, and had already seen some positive improvement over the past three months. He summarised and stated that only £1million of council tax had not been collected, compared to £70million of council tax that had been collected post-COVID.

The Chair queried how Key Performance Indicators were measured, and asked if queries made over the phone and online were cross-referenced. The Director of Strategy, Engagement and Growth replied that all resident queries were logged as part of the Key Performance Indicator. She explained that if a Member or MP logged a query, this would be cross-referenced to ensure it had not already been reported by a resident. She stated that this would ensure queries were not double counted as part of the KPI. The Chair also questioned how online system maintenance occurred, as she had received  ...  view the full minutes text for item 11.

12.

Work Programme pdf icon PDF 255 KB

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Minutes:

The Chair stated that there were numerous reports scheduled for November’s meeting, and she would therefore look into an extraordinary meeting if required.

Members did not have any items to add to the Work Programme.