Agenda and draft minutes

Corporate Overview and Scrutiny Committee - Tuesday, 10th November, 2020 7.00 pm

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

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

Media

Items
No. Item

14.

Minutes pdf icon PDF 228 KB

To approve as a correct record the minutes of the Corporate Overview and Scrutiny Committeemeeting held on 8 September 2020.

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Minutes:

The minutes of the Corporate Overview and Scrutiny Committee held on 8 September 2020 were approved as a true and correct record.

15.

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.

16.

Declaration of Interests

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Minutes:

There were no items of urgent business.

17.

Community Forums pdf icon PDF 182 KB

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Minutes:

The Strategic Lead Community Development and Equalities set out the background to the report and described how community forums had evolved over the past twenty years. She introduced the three guests to the meeting, from the Thurrock Association of Forums (TAF).

The Chair of TAF introduced himself and states that he was the Chair of both Horndon Community Forum and TAF and felt that community forums provided a go-between for residents and the Council. He stated that community forums constantly examined themselves and how communication could be improved with both residents and the council, particularly during the difficult times of the pandemic. He stated that forums were currently not working as closely with the council due to COVID-19, but instead were working very closely with residents. He explained that TAF were currently trying to reactivate 2-3 deactivated forums, to get back to the original number of 20 forums across Thurrock. He added that there were also two non-active forums in Grays, both Grays Central and Grays Riverside, and two fragile forums which TAF were working to try to maintain during the pandemic.

The Vice-Chair of TAF introduced himself and stated that the role of forums had evolved since the early 2000s and were now quasi-parish councils, but with no legal status, as they helped collect resident’s views on issues and convey these to the council via Ward Councillors. He felt community forums had a good working relationship with their ward councillors, particularly his forum of Chadwell St Mary which worked closely with their three elected members. He thanked the Strategic Lead Community Development and Equalities and her team for their hard work and he felt they were very active and helpful, but added that he felt there was some reluctance amongst other council directorates to engage fully with forums. He stated that TAF and other community forums worked closely with other organisations such as CVS, and through their good work had provided the impetus for projects such as the Chadwell St Mary community hub, which had been very successful up until the advent of COVID. He added that as the role of forums had changed over the years, and TAF had been formed, they were now in a better position to make representations to the council and they could negotiate on issues that affected all forums, such as the LTC and Community Infrastructure Levy.

The Secretary of TAF stated that although community forums were experiencing difficult times due to COVID-19, they were still helping CVS support vulnerable people across the borough, and were using email and social media to stay in touch with their local communities. She thanked the hard work of the community development and equalities team, particularly the Strategic Lead and Lynn Gittins. She added that community forums had good working relationships with elected members and other organisations such as CVS, and also had access to good insurance through the Council. She summarised and stated that she felt that some directorates did not realise how to utilise community  ...  view the full minutes text for item 17.

18.

Collaborative Communities Framework: 2021-2025 pdf icon PDF 285 KB

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Minutes:

The Strategic Lead Community Development and Equalities introduced the report and stated that an earlier version had been shared with the Committee last year, and had been developed with the Council’s partners and the voluntary sector, and the work with the Thurrock Coronavirus Community Action had helped push the framework forward. She stated that residents were at the heart of this framework, which was divided into three sections: equality to ensure fair access and cohesion; empowerment to ensure the council were working with community forums to make sure they succeed; and engagement to ensure conversations with partners and residents are started early. She added that the framework was ambitious and a development plan was being drawn up to ensure a culture change within the council. She stated that she was keen on comments from the Committee in how to provide the necessary change, including on a ‘pact’ or ‘bond’ with partners and residents, but stated that as this framework covered four years, it would be long-term change programme.

The Chair thanked the Strategic Lead and stated that this was an important piece of work that would set services up well to be able to help residents. He asked what the proposed ‘pact’ would look like and what the outcome of this would be. The Strategic Lead Community Development and Equalities stated that some other Councils had established a manifesto with local organisations, and this framework was the beginning stages of organising this. She felt that the Council had worked well with partner and voluntary organisations during COVID and wanted this to be extended after the pandemic. She added that the ‘pact’ would be a reciprocal arrangement with potential rewards for volunteers, which would ensure a win-win situation for both the Council and partner or voluntary organisations.
The Chair queried what routes were available to contact the significant proportion of residents who did not get involved with community forums, and asked how these people could be engaged and those processes embedded within the council. The Strategic Lead Community Development and Equalities replied that there were numerous channels to engage with residents such as via email or social media, and the Community Development team worked closely with the Communications team on this. She felt there needed to be a formal process to enable this dialogue and link local networks together to be able to connect with each other. She explained that the Council worked closely with CVS on the ‘Stronger Together’ initiative that brought working between the Council and voluntary sector closer to be able to facilitate and develop ideas, as well as nurture policy discussions. She added that working closely with the voluntary sector was good as it invited comments and ideas, as well as allowed the Council to help businesses and individuals secure grant funding. She added that these ideas would be embedded through engagement with directorates and officers.

Councillor Ralph echoed the Chair’s comments and felt it was a vital report. He stated that the Council needed to engage  ...  view the full minutes text for item 18.

19.

Connectivity and Wi-Fi Improvements pdf icon PDF 236 KB

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Minutes:

The Chair explained that the agenda had changed slightly, and the Connectivity and Wi-Fi Improvement had been moved forward. The ASELA LFFN Programme Manager introduced the report and explained that it was in response to questions raised at the Committee meeting in June 2020 regarding digital infrastructure. He explained that Thurrock currently only had 8% fibre coverage across the borough, and the Council were committed to raising this to 100% before the government’s target of 2025. He stated that Thurrock’s LFFN (Local Full Fibre Network) was part of a wider entity organised by ASELA (Association South Essex Local Authorities), who had received a grant of £4.4million from the Department of Digital, Culture, Media and Sport. He explained that part of this grant had been given to Thurrock, which would provide 60km of fibre and 78 full fibre sites. He described that the project was currently being delivered and 31 sites across the borough would be completed by the end of November, with the rest being installed by the end of January 2021. He stated that ASELA had also received an additional £2.5million of funding to extend the programme, and the team were currently arranging which sites would receive this funding and the necessary fibre infrastructure.

The ASELA LFFN Programme Manager added that the team were working with the Superfast Essex Programme to ensure that the project received best value from public monies, and additional support was being sourced by ASELA from the Outside In Programme from central government, which aimed to get fibre connectivity to harder to reach places. He explained that although Thurrock did not have many hard to reach areas, there were some areas in ASELA which would benefit greatly from the scheme. He then explained that by working so closely with central government during this project, Thurrock and ASELA had gained visibility and were able to provide input into government decisions. He added that the LFFN team were also working with community forums regarding poor broadband speeds in some areas and were providing guidance and help in this area. The ASELA LFFN Programme Manager felt that it was good to see investment from central government and market engagement, but the programme also required investment from the private sector to encourage the inter-connectivity of LFFN. He stated that Openreach had recently announced investment in Grays and Purfleet which would begin in six months’ time and help approximately 26,000 residents’ access fibre networks. He explained that the business model surrounding public Wi-Fi was changing, as there was now a decreased need for this service, as the majority of people had smartphones with 4G access. He stated that there was an increased demand for high quality inside Wi-Fi as there was greater usage and greater demand. He explained that indoor Wi-Fi was provided by the organisations running the sites, and although the Council did have some public Wi-Fi sites, it was now increasingly important to have full fibre and 4G/5G coverage.
Councillor Ralph began questions and asked whether the reduced  ...  view the full minutes text for item 19.

20.

Overview and Scrutiny at Thurrock: A Review pdf icon PDF 133 KB

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Minutes:

The Senior Democratic Services Officer introduced the report and explained that it had been borne out of cross-party backbench wishes to review and examine the scrutiny function, which had culminated in a Full Council motion. She described how the team had begun the report by undertaking detailed quantitative and qualitative data, which had been presented before the Committee and highlighted some of the areas of improvement within scrutiny. She explained how the Committee had then agreed for three separate project streams, which were a Scrutiny Symposium, an Executive-Scrutiny Workshop, ad detailed analysis and research. The Senior Democratic Services Officer described in detail the research that had been undertaken, as well as the outcomes from the project and how these had helped to inform the recommendations. She outlined the recommendations and stated that any comments from the Committee would be sent to Cabinet along with the report in December, before implementation in the New Year.

Councillor Ralph thanked the team for their hard work, and asked about the process if ‘to note’ reports were emailed to the committee. The Senior Democratic Services Officer replied that report authors, Democratic Services and the Chair would work together to decide if a ‘to note’ report was suitable for email only, and this would be emailed to the committee. If the committee wished to make detailed comment, then they could choose for the report to be added to the agenda. Councillor Hague felt the report would be a good way to improve the scrutiny function, as he felt it was an important part of the political process. He felt that it was important to have a robust scrutiny function and therefore fully supported the recommendations.

RESOLVED: That:

The Committee:

1. Approved the recommendations as set out at Appendix 1, and agreed to send the report to Cabinet for appropriate approval. 

2. Approved the draft Executive-Scrutiny Protocol at attached at Appendix 1 of the review.

21.

Financial Update pdf icon PDF 270 KB

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Minutes:

The Corporate Director of Finance, Governance and Property introduced the report and stated that this was the third financial update that had been brought to the Committee in this municipal year and included the impact of COVID-19 on the Council. He outlined that section 3.2 and 3.3 of the report outlined additional government support being given to Thurrock Council, which included £3.48million for general funds and brought the total level of government support to £14.42million. He stated that the Council were currently going through the claim process in regards to lost income for fees and charges, but mentioned that approximately 71% of these losses would be covered. The Corporate Director of Finance, Governance and Property then outlined other government funding which included £100,000 towards COVID enforcement and compliance; £1.2million for residential care homes; additional support for schools transport; and £190,000 for the Thameside Theatre. He added that Thurrock were still waiting for their allocation from central government of cold weather funding. He stated that Thurrock had also received £523,000 for the COVID winter grant scheme, which would run between December and March, and would support those most in need with food, energy and water bills, and free school meals.

The Corporate Director of Finance, Governance and Property then outlined support for businesses which included four new business support schemes from the government, two of which were applicable to Thurrock. He commented that the first scheme covered those businesses which had been forced to close during this lockdown period, who would receive a grant of £1334, £2000 or £3000 depending on their business. He added that the second scheme was a discretionary scheme allocated at £20 per head of the population which would be used to support businesses who had been impacted by the second lockdown, but had not been forced to close. He mentioned that officers were still working through the details of these schemes as the government were still producing guidelines, but these schemes would go live to businesses next week.

The Corporate Director of Finance, Governance and Property then moved onto describing the financial situation for this financial year, and stated that before the start of the secondary lockdown, the Council had predicted an overspend of £2million for this financial year. He stated that this prediction used all £4million of the Council’s surplus, plus the first three tranches of the government grant. He added that the latest government announcement would cover the deficit, as he expected the current financial situation to deteriorate further. He stated that to help mitigate some of these problems there had been a review of the capital programme, and all non-essential vacant posts had been frozen. He commented that whilst there had been an increase in residents receiving Local Council Tax Scheme (LCTS) support, he felt that the full impact of COVID was not yet known, and would not be known until government support such as furlough was ended. He stated that a significant number of Thurrock businesses were being supported through business rate  ...  view the full minutes text for item 21.

22.

Mid-Year/Quarter 2 (April-September 2020) Corporate Performance Report 2020/21 pdf icon PDF 625 KB

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Minutes:

The Director of Strategy, Communications and Customer Service introduced the report and stated that 77% of key performance indicators (KPIs) had been on target for the period outlined the report, which included three KPIs that had been missed for the quarter one period. She added that COVID-19 continued to have an impact on some services, but the majority of services had adapted quickly and had been able to re-open. She commented that there may be an adverse direction of travel in quarter three, due to the current lockdown, but that a route to green was included for all KPIs which had missed target.

The Chair stated that there were currently thirty KPIs being monitored, and asked if this had decreased compared to last year due to COVID. The Director of Strategy, Communications and Customer Service replied that the team were currently unable to report on seven KPIs do the pandemic, but that the number of KPIs was reviewed and updated every year. The Chair then highlighted page 113 of the agenda and the KPI regarding tenant satisfaction, as he felt there was lots of work being undertaken to understand why the KPI had missed its target, rather than improvements. The Director of Strategy, Communications and Customer Service replied that the tenant satisfaction KPI did vary from quarter to quarter, but felt that tenants were more satisfied when they were received more information from the council and felt more engaged. She stated that the housing team were currently working to understand why this was, and that a number of detailed measures and questions were being put to tenants to expand the breadth of tenant consultation. She added that this KPI was monitored closely by the Housing Overview and Scrutiny Committee, but the service recognised the work it needed to do to engage with residents.

Councillor Duffin highlighted the KPI regarding the number of apprenticeships, but mentioned that he understood why the KPI had been missed due to the pandemic. The Director of Strategy, Communications and Customer Service replied that the quarter three report would include details and outcomes from the virtual apprenticeship event.

RESOLVED: That:

The Committee:

1. Notes 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 require additional consideration.

23.

Work Programme pdf icon PDF 269 KB

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Minutes:

The Corporate Director of Finance, Governance and Property stated that the Corporate Overview and Scrutiny Committee in January would need to be moved to a later date, to ensure comments from January’s Cabinet meeting could be discussed by the Committee. The Chair and Committee agreed to this strategy, and asked the Senior Democratic Services Officer to find a suitable alternative date.