Agenda item

Report of the Cabinet Member for Central Services and Communities


Councillor Huelin was delighted to present her wide and very varied portfolio holder report from April 2019 to March 2020 for central services and communities. Some of the areas that Councillor Huelin covered in her speech were:


  • The introduction of the Consultation Portal with over 3,000 users registered to ‘have their say’ online.
  • The Community Environmental Development Fund had gone from strength to strength with almost 40 projects being supported over the last four years.
  • Thurrock had a very diverse community and grateful to CVS for their support and facilitating conversations around racism and inequality.
  • The Collaborative Community Paper would be presented to overview and scrutiny shortly.
  • Opening of the new Aveley Hub – used and shared by the community with the the digital offer developed during lockdown, the service would continue to be modernised with membership to The Libraries Consortium and the implementation of a new Library Management System.
  • With 95% of household registered to “My Account” to report a variety of issues 24/7.
  • Communications had improved resident engagement through social media channels.
  • The Right First Time training had successfully been rolled out to all council employees to ensure residents had a right first time experience and where not, complaints were dealt with effectively.
  • Information Technology Team undertake the work to ensure that 2700 staff,160,000 residents and 49 members could communicate with each other, pay bills and report issues.
  • That £4 million Government grants would be managed to improve internet speeds across the borough with Full Fibre Network.
  • Updates being made to My Account to allow residents to report more on-line.
  • Thurrock Council had carried on through COVID-19 and had shown that the Council was ahead of the curve. With IT working to ensure staff could work remotely and theatre and enforcement officers organising and distributing emergency food parcels to shielding residents. Library staff helped to coordinate the COVID centre with Stronger Together and CVS and Councillor Huelin thanked everyone who helped.
  • Within days the Thurrock Community Coronavirus Action had been set up to help vulnerable residents with over 500 volunteers to help isolating residents.
  • The Arts and Cultural Team worked with local artists and CVS on local COVID projects to promote health and wellbeing.


Councillor Abbas thanked Councillor Huelin for the report and thanked all staff and volunteers for their help and support. Councillor Abbas asked what progress had been made in regards to a memorial in memory of the 39 lives lost at the terrible incident in West Thurrock last October. Councillor Huelin stated this was under discussion, that a collaborative consultation would be undertaken with the community and residents and would provide an update to Members.


Councillor Abbas questioned whether any funding had been allocated to digitise the museum records and articles of value. Councillor Huelin confirmed there was funding and all items were being digitalised but stated that this would be a very long slow process as there were items that were over 50 years old and had to be handled very carefully and trying to understand the ownership of some of items would take time.


Councillor Abbas asked how confident the portfolio holder was in securing funding from the Arts Council in the next bidding round. Councillor Huelin stated the collaborative community had come together to support this and that the last six months had helped the Council to evidence their case and felt that the Council was in the best place to get the funding this time.


Councillor Redsell thanked the portfolio holder for getting the libraries open for residents as they meant so much to people.


Councillor Gerrish asked the portfolio holder what objectives had been set this year to ensure that communities were properly supported to recover from the affects that COVID had on them. Councillor Huelin stated the work was being undertaken very closely with voluntary services such as CVS who had already started to under consultations and surveys on voluntary groups to gauge how they had been affected. Councillor Huelin and Councillor Halden would work together with the community and faith groups and analyse the feedback together as they were aware that mental health illness issues may be different to what they were before COVID and would need to be taken into consideration, understand them and use cultural and arts and the voluntary sector to help support those individuals.


Councillor J Kent referred to the communications digital by default and stated some residents may suffer from digital exclusion or digital isolation especially some of Thurrock’s elderly residents and asked what assessment had the portfolio holder undertaken of the number of people, including those elderly residents, who may be suffering from digital exclusion. Councillor Huelin stated the Council had always been accountable to include all residents with 95% of residents on-line and 10% of residents that needed to be looked after. Councillor Huelin stated that most residents had a telephone which they could use to phone the call centre, speak to a member of staff and seek the help they need. Libraries were also a good means of internet access for those residents what did not have this facility at home.


Councillor Byrne stated his support for this report.


Councillor Massey thanked the portfolio holder for the detailed report and stated that it was important and good to see that the Council’s IT technology had been upgraded and questioned following the success of Phase 1 of the implementation of Microsoft 365 platform whether there were any further phases to come. Councillor Huelin stated the IT department were continually looking how to upgrade technology for better experiences for all users. Members were reminded that this was a new way of working with new means of technology and staff were doing their best.


Councillor Allen thanked the portfolio holder for the report and thanked all those involved in the distribution of the emergency food boxes to residents and to ensure that all residents, including the elderly, where included in Council’s communications.


Councillor Worrall questioned where a copy of the statutory report of the Equality Act 2010 could be found as these reports had not been presented at Council meetings for any endorsement. Councillor Huelin stated that all equality, diversity and collaborative community papers had been delayed. That the consultation had been carried out with the papers ready to be presented to overview and scrutiny committee.


Councillor Holloway welcomed the on-line offer of thousands of books available to residents and asked for confirmation that no library would close and that if libraries were moved to hubs they would not be downsized with the quality and range of book taken into account. Councillor Huelin stated this Administration had stated that they would always strive to maintain library services but could not promise where they would be as times changed with possible changes to buildings and libraries being moved into hubs. Councillor Huelin stated this was a community led initiative and referred to the The Libraries Consortium where there would be over six million books available.


Councillor Huelin offered to answer any further questions outside of the meeting.


Councillor Huelin summed up by stating that during the year the corporate transformation programme had focused on digital transformation and agreed that this had stood the Council in good stead over the last six months. Taking all the work undertaken the services had ended the year with a record 74% of services achieving target.


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