Agenda and minutes

Business Support Overview and Scrutiny Committee - Thursday, 1 July 2021 6.30pm

Venue: St George's Centre, Pembroke Road, Chatham Maritime, Chatham ME4 4UH. View directions

Contact: Steve Platt, Democratic Services Officer 

Media

Items
No. Item

116.

Election of Chairman

To elect a Chairman for the 2021/22 municipal year.

Minutes:

Councillor Buckwell was elected as Chairman of the Committee for the 2021/22 municipal year.

117.

Election of Vice-Chairman

To elect a Vice-Chairman for the 2021/22 municipal year.

Minutes:

Councillor Tejan was elected as Vice-Chairman of the Committee for the 2021/22 municipal year.

118.

Apologies for absence

Minutes:

Apologies for absence were received from Councillors Etheridge, Khan, Murray, Andy Stamp, Wildey and Williams.

 

(During this period, the Conservative and Labour and Co-operative political groups had informally agreed, due the Coronavirus pandemic, to run meetings with reduced number of participants. This was to reduce risk, comply with Government guidance and enable more efficient meetings. Therefore, the apologies given reflected that informal agreement of reduced participants.)

119.

Record of meeting pdf icon PDF 97 KB

To approve the record of the meeting held on 30 March 2021.

Minutes:

The record of the meeting of the Committee held on 30 March 2021 was agreed and signed by the Chairman as correct.

120.

Urgent matters by reason of special circumstances

The Chairman will announce any late items which do not appear on the main agenda but which he/she has agreed should be considered by reason of special circumstances to be specified in the report.

Minutes:

There were none.

121.

Disclosable Pecuniary Interests or Other Significant Interests and Whipping pdf icon PDF 471 KB

Members are invited to disclose any Disclosable Pecuniary Interests or Other Significant Interests in accordance with the Member Code of Conduct.  Guidance on this is set out in agenda item 4.

 

Minutes:

Disclosable pecuniary interests (DPIs)

 

Councillor Opara declared a DPI in item 8, Attendance of the Portfolio Holder for Business Management, as her business had been in receipt of grants. She advised that, should there be a specific discussion on section 9 of the report, she would leave the meeting for the duration of the discussion.

 

Other significant interests (OSIs)

 

There were none.

 

Other interests

 

There were none.

122.

Attendance of the Leader of the Council pdf icon PDF 306 KB

This report sets out activities and progress on work areas within the Portfolio of the Leader of the Council, which all fall within the remit of this Committee. This information is provided in relation to the Leader of the Council being held to account.

Minutes:

Discussion:

 

Members considered a report which set out activities and progress on work areas within the Portfolio of the Leader of the Council, which all fell within the remit of this Committee, these being strategic leadership of the Council, communications and marketing, and finance.

 

The Leader responded to Members’ questions and comments as follows:

 

·       Covid recovery – In response to questions on the specific financial pressures facing unitary authorities and how to ensure that central Government recognised Medway’s need for support as part of the levelling up agenda, the Leader said that representations were being made through the Unitary Councils Network which had developed into an influential body. He added that, as chair of the Kent Leaders Group, he had made representations to ministers for levelling up to be on the basis of need, highlighting that Medway contained some of the most deprived wards. He expressed concern that, in the first round, central Government would focus more on geographical location, with preference being given to areas in the North and Midlands, but he would continue to lobby for adequate recognition of Medway’s need. The Leader agreed that the Finance Team had done a remarkable job in response to the pandemic, ensuring that grants were issued where they were needed. He added that some collection rates were way ahead of the national average.

 

·       Regeneration and Housing Infrastructure Fund (HIF) bid – Responding to a concern that Medway’s rail infrastructure would not be improved as part of the HIF, the Leader said that Southeastern railway had concluded that there would be no demand for such an improvement. Responding to concerns that conflict between the housing, transport and environmental policies would lead to a car-based development, the Leader said that people’s preference for cars could not be ignored and that Medway’s urban areas did not have the road space for meaningful dual use. He also made the points that cycle paths tended not to be used all year round by many people and that developers had to adhere to the Council’s parking standards. 

 

·       Communications and No Mow May – In response to a concern around the communication of this national initiative, the Leader expressed the view that the concept had been flawed as it led to a blanket approach which was not suitable, leading to poor sight lines at junctions for example. The initiative would not therefore be repeated in Medway next year in this form. In response to an observation that it encouraged hay meadows and therefore biodiversity, the Leader argued that, rather than simply allowing the grass to grow, more intervention was needed to create hay meadows and this would be explored.

 

·       Child Friendly City - The Leader explained that this would be a cross cutting corporate initiative putting children and young people at the centre of all the Council did. £1million from the additional resources grant had been allocated to support Medway’s businesses to offer apprenticeships to Medway’s young people, with particular focus on care leavers and those not in  ...  view the full minutes text for item 122.

123.

Attendance of the Portfolio Holder for Business Management pdf icon PDF 373 KB

This report sets out activities and progress on work areas within the Business Management Portfolio, which fall within the remit of this Committee. This information is provided in relation to the Portfolio Holder for Business Management being held to account.

Additional documents:

Minutes:

Discussion:        

 

Members received an overview of activities and progress made on work areas within the terms of reference of this Committee covered by Councillor Rupert Turpin, Portfolio Holder for Business Management, which were:

 

  • Customer Contact;
  • Democracy and Governance;
  • Audit and Counter Fraud;
  • Revenue and Benefits;
  • Income Generation (including new Joint Ventures);
  • Risk Management;
  • Business Management;
  • Commissioning, and;
  • Medway Norse

 

Councillor Turpin responded to Members’ questions and comments as follows:

 

·     Digital infrastructure/digital poverty – In response to questions on ensuring all residents had access to broadband and digital equipment to enable them to access services online, including children’s access to online learning, the Portfolio Holder said that although there was still a place for non-computer based learning, it offered the potential for a broader range of live-streamed lessons. He said that he favoured schools offering funding for digital technology that parents could not afford. Within the Council, the migration from the old IPFX system to a new telephone system was well underway and offered many opportunities for digital solutions for customer contact.

 

  • Electoral Services – In thanking the team for the successful operation of the Police and Crime Commissioner for Kent election on 6 May, it was questioned whether the small team had the capacity to undertake the numerous reviews highlighted in the report. The Portfolio Holder gave assurance that the precautions taken at polling stations to ensure the election was conducted safely would be repeated. He also encouraged the use of postal votes. The Portfolio Holder recognised the team’s hard work and said that he encouraged all managers to raise any capacity issues with him. He shared Members’ disappointment that, due to external factors, it had not been possible to do an analysis of the electoral registration canvass. Asked about the 2021 Census, the Portfolio Holder said that the response rate was estimated to be around 94%. The data would need to be processed to identify trends and inform future service provision.

 

  • Ongoing industrial relations issues within Norse – Asked how the situation could be improved, the Portfolio Holder said that a combination of factors had led to difficulties, including the inability to hold round table discussions during the pandemic. He considered that consultation through email had not enabled a proper dialogue to develop.

 

  • Volunteer support for Norse – The Portfolio Holder acknowledged the good work by Norse on the urban tree challenge and the role of volunteers who were undertaking the after care of the newly planted trees. In response to a question on rubbish collections organised by volunteers, often in areas which were not covered by Norse, the Portfolio Holder assured Members that the rubbish collection contract was closely monitored. He highlighted a current shortage of drivers, caused in part by staff needing to self-isolate. He also pointed out that there were some areas from which Norse could not collect, for example alleyways behind locked gates. Such areas were suitable for community litter picks in liaison with community wardens.

 

124.

Findings from the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman pdf icon PDF 240 KB

This report sets out the findings of a recent investigation undertaken by the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman that relates to both Housing and Children’s Services. The Cabinet considered the report at its meeting on 4 May 2021 and the Children and Young People Overview and Scrutiny Committee considered it at its meeting on 9 June 2021.

Additional documents:

Minutes:

Discussion:

 

Members considered a report which set out the findings of an investigation undertaken by the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman that related to both housing and children’s services. Officers confirmed that the Ombudsman had been satisfied with the Council’s response to its findings and had closed the complaint.

 

Members raised the following issues which were responded to:

 

·        Member involvement – It was confirmed that there had been no Member involvement in the issues which had led to the complaint being made.

 

·        How the Council dealt with hard to reach families with complex issues, particularly in relation to homelessness legislation – Officers advised that, in response to this case, Housing and Children’s Services had worked to ensure that there was early intervention to resolve issues before it was necessary to make determinations under the definition of intentionally homeless in the homelessness legislation.

 

·        Given that the child was known to Children’s Services, the absence of a ‘red flag’ to signpost the child through the service – Officers said that they had recognised the need for a joined-up approach by the two services from the outset, rather than a sequential approach. The use of Personal Housing Plans ensured that all services were brought together to address the needs of the whole family. In this instance, the family had not wanted to engage with Children’s Services on the terms offered and the Ombudsman had concluded that more could have been done by the Council.

 

·        As a unitary authority, there needed to be shared learningand improved communication between services to ensure there was not a similar case – Officers said that it was not possible to completely rule out the risk of there being a similar case as front-line staff were making difficult decisions every day. However, learning from this case had been shared across teams within the Council and also with other authorities through the Kent Housing Group. Central to the case was the intentionally homeless decision under the legislation and a different approach was now adopted with temporary accommodation being offered for a longer period of time whilst this decision was considered. Also, an extra layer of governance had been put in place to ensure that challenging cases were discussed, and a way forward agreed, by a joint panel involving colleagues from a range of services.

 

Decision:

 

The Committee noted the report and the Ombudsman’s report attached at Appendix A to the report.

125.

Petition pdf icon PDF 173 KB

This report advises the Committee of a petition received by the Council which falls within the remit of this Committee including a summary of the response sent to the petition organiser by officers.

Minutes:

Discussion:

 

The Committee noted a petition to plant more trees to reduce Medway’s cardon footprint, and as summary of the response sent to the petition organiser by officers. It was suggested that these be referred to the Climate Change Member Advisory Group for information.

 

It was proposed that the Committee receive an annual report on the use of the Council’s petitions scheme, at the end of each municipal year, to identify and trends.

 

Decision:

 

The Committee:

 

a)   noted the petition response and appropriate officer action in paragraph 3 of the agenda report; and

 

b)   agreed that the Committee would receive an annual report on the use of the Council’s petitions scheme, at the end of each municipal year.

126.

Work programme pdf icon PDF 187 KB

This item advises Members of the current work programme and allows the Committee to adjust it in the light of latest priorities, issues and circumstances. It gives Members the opportunity to shape and direct the Committee’s activities over the year. 

Additional documents:

Minutes:

Discussion:

 

Members received a report on the Committee’s work programme. It was suggested that, at the next agenda planning meeting, consideration be given to the addition of an item to the work programme, to review the Council’s corporate sponsorship policy, possibly at the November meeting.

 

A Member referred to reported developments in relation to a criminal investigation into Medway Commercial Group (MCG), noting that the Committee was due to receive a report on the outcome of an audit of MCG in due course.

 

Decision:

 

The Committee:

 

a)      agreed the proposed changes to the Committee’s work programme (Appendix 1) as set out in paragraphs 2 and 3 of the report;

 

b)   agreed to consider the addition of an item to the work programme, to review the Council’s corporate sponsorship policy; and

 

c)   noted the work programmes of the other overview and scrutiny committees (Appendix 2 of the report).