Agenda and minutes

Business Support Overview and Scrutiny Committee - Thursday, 13 July 2023 7.00pm

Venue: Meeting Room 9 - Level 3, Gun Wharf, Dock Road, Chatham ME4 4TR

Contact: Steve Dickens, Democratic Services Officer 

No. Item


Chairperson's Announcement


The Chairperson welcomed Members to first meeting of the Business Support and Overview and Scrutiny Committee of the 2023-27 term. He noted that he was the first Chairperson of an Overview and Scrutiny Committee to be a member of the opposition group for some considerable time and looked forward to working together with Members from all sides to meet the challenges facing Medway.


Apologies for absence


Apologies were received from Councillors Lawrence and Animashaun.


Record of meeting pdf icon PDF 339 KB

To approve the record of the meeting held on 30 March 2023 and the record of the Joint Meeting of Committees held on 24 May 2023.

Additional documents:


The record of the meeting held on 30 March 2023 and the record of the Joint Meeting of Committees held on 24 May 2023 were agreed and signed by the Chairman as correct.


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.


There were none.


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.


Disclosable pecuniary interests


Councillor Hackwell declared an interest in agenda item 6 (Revenue and Capital Budget Outturn and Annual Write Off Report 2022/23) because his wife is a tutor and assessor for Medway Adult Education.


Other significant interests (OSIs)


There were none.


Other interests


There were none.


Council Plan Performance Monitoring Report & Strategic Risk Summary Quarter 4 2022/23 pdf icon PDF 237 KB

Medway’s Council Plan 2022/23 sets out the Council’s three priorities. This report and appendices summarise how we performed in Q4 2022/23 on the delivery of the programmes and measures which fall under the remit of this committee which are:


·       Priority: Growth (Appendix 1)


Given the overarching responsibilities of this Committee to provide guidance and leadership on the development and coordination of the scrutiny function for all overview and scrutiny committees, this report also contains: 

·       a performance summary of all services (Appendix 2)

·       a summary of discussions at the Children and Young People, Regeneration, Culture and Environment, and Health and Adult Social Care Overview and Scrutiny Committees (Appendix 4).


This report also presents the Q4 2022/23 review of strategic risks (Appendix 3)

Additional documents:


The Chief Organisational Culture Officer introduced the report and highlighted performance had exceeded targets in five of the seven measures of success which fell within the remit of the Committee. Two areas where performance had not been met were Medway Adult Education retention rate, which stood at 85% against a target of 95% and number of Private Sector Properties improved as a result of Council intervention, which was at 235 with a target of 238.


The Chief Organisational Culture Officer reported there had been no change in risk scores. However, at Cabinet in June 2023, two new risks had been added, Medpay review and recruitment and retention and one risk removed, income reduction due to Covid19.


The Committee then raised a number of questions and comments, which included:


Medway Adult Education (MAE) - (page 30 of agenda pack refers)A Member asked if the Council measured success in getting learners on the fifty plus programme for maths and english back into work. The Chief Organisational Culture Officer explained that the measure of success was safeguarding jobs. Another Committee had recently requested a briefing note and when it was completed, she would also circulate it to this Committee. 


In response to a Member question what consideration had been given to Artificial Intelligence (AI) in the development of those courses and how could the MAE impact on growth in Medway be measured and the Council be reassured that it provided value for money, the Chief Organisational and Culture Officer explained the attainment measure was through safeguarding jobs and courses were adapted to improve attainment and retention. However, the Regeneration Culture and Environment Overview and Scrutiny may wish to consider in more detail including value for money and the impact of AI.


Priority Play Programme - (page 71 of the agenda pack refers) A Member commented that a very positive refurbishment of a play area had taken place in his ward. The £250,000 budgeted for the programme was the minimum required to ensure the playgrounds remained usable and he emphasised the importance of this work in tackling social deprivation.


In response to a Member question how much was budgeted for the Priority Play Programme in 2023/24, the Chief Finance Officer explained that in July 2020, Cabinet recommended that £250,000 should be added to each year’s capital programme, subject to the availability of Section 106 contributions and/or capital receipts, for play areas. However in setting the budget for 2023/24, the Council did not project any availability of capital receipts beyond those already committed. As such, as and when suitable Section 106 contributions became available, they would be added to the capital programme to deliver play area investment in 2023/24, via a future report to Cabinet and Council.


Friends Groups (page 70 of the agenda pack refers) A Member commented the friends of groups were equivalent to a number of full-time staff and requested the management plan could be provided to Members. The Chief Organisational and Culture Officer undertook to discuss this with relevant colleagues  ...  view the full minutes text for item 114.


Revenue and Capital Budget Outturn and Annual Write Off Report 2022/23 pdf icon PDF 660 KB

This report details the final revenue and capital outturn position for the financial year ended 31 March 2023.These figures will form part of the Council’s Statement of Accounts, which will be presented to the Audit Committee following the completion of the External Audit. The report also presents a summary of debts written off during the 2022/23 financial year in line with the constitutional requirement to submit a report to Cabinet on an annual basis setting out details of all debt written off.


The Chief Finance Officer introduced the report which provided the final revenue and capital position for the 2022-23 financial year. The final position represented an overspend against budget of just over £6million. The budget had included a planned spend of £5million of reserves, so a total of almost £11million in reserves had been used, leaving the Council’s general reserve balance at just over £10million. However, the Chief Finance Officer noted the outturn position was much improved compared to the position forecast in round three.


The Capital Programme outturn final position showed an overspend of just over £1million, however this would be funded primarily from further grant allocations. Irrecoverable debt written off in 2022-23 was £3.2million, which represented less than 1% of the total debt raised in the same period.


The Committee then raised a number of questions and comments, which included:


Psychology and Special Education Needs Service - In response to a question why the service had been overspent by £3.7million when much of the funding came from central government grants, the Chief Finance Officer explained that some areas such as home to school transport were not funded by the government through education grants, and there had been an increase in the volume and costs, such as fuel and this remained a feature going into the current year. The Council was trying to improve capacity to deliver more places for SEND children locally which would reduce transport costs.


A Member asked if it was only fuel and associated costs which caused the 30% overspend on school transport. The Chief Finance Officer noted the contract was renewed mid financial year, so the budget had been based on a projected increase however the contracts were let at a higher cost than anticipated.


Legal and Governance - In response to a question regarding overspend in the division, the Chief Finance Officer highlighted the majority of the pressure related to locums as staff retention was an issue and the cost of locums was significantly higher than permanent staff. There was a plan to improve retention through the Medpay review.


Reserves – In response to a question regarding Council reserves, the Chief Finance Officer explained the £10million was general reserves. In addition there were reserves which were unusable i.e. for accounting purposes, and other sums set aside for specific risks i.e. provisions for bad debt. Medway’s minimum working balance had been set at £5million up to 2018, when the now Chief Operating Officer increased it to £10million in 2019/20. As at the end of March 2022 the Council had held £16.5m above that minimum balance but had used that room to fund 2022/23. The reserve minimum balance was not mandated by government or external auditors but set by the Council.


A Member asked what position the Council would be in if it had an unforeseen cost similar to the recent experience of other Councils. The Chief Finance Officer stated that the Councils who had to date reported to government an inability to balance their budgets  ...  view the full minutes text for item 115.


Employee Survey 2022 pdf icon PDF 310 KB

This report presents the key findings of the Employee Engagement Survey 2022 and outline key actions going forward.

Additional documents:


The Chief Organisational Culture Officer gave a presentation to Members which outlined the results of the employee survey undertaken in September 2022. 58% of staff completed the survey, which was a rise from 48% in 2019.


It was highlighted that staff enjoyed working at the Council and felt supported to do their job and the Our Ways Of Working Policy had been positively received. However, 12% of staff who responded to the survey were considering leaving Medway Council in the next 12 months. Staff retention was an identified issue with 5% leaving on average per quarter and pay was one of the causes with 53% of staff unhappy with the reward and benefits package.


The Committee then raised a number of questions and comments, which included:


Review - A Member commented that they were disappointed with the results, and this had been exacerbated by the survey having taken place 10 months ago. It was also commented the survey results could well be out of date since it was undertaken in September 2022. A request was made that the Committee review progress prior to the next survey. The Chief Organisational Officer agreed and had shared the disappointment during the presentation with regards to some of the results, however, she gave assurances that whilst the results where 10 months ago the Council had responded and undertaken work already, and suggested she would provide an update on progress to a future meeting of the Committee prior to the next survey in July 2024.


Pay and Retention - A Member noted that 8% of those surveyed intended to leave the Council within the next year. Since the survey was undertaken 10 months ago, those staff may have left, in addition he believed if surveyed again the figure who intended to leave within a year would be higher.


A Member commented that Council leisure centres were currently running well below capacity and a discounted membership scheme could provide additional benefits for officers without incurring additional costs to the Council.


Mental Health - A Member commented he was concerned that 43% of employees rated their mental health as moderate, poor, or preferred not to answer. Whether managers were equipped to spot early signs of mental health problems in hybrid working practices and whether officers were able to access staff networks was queried.


The Chief Organisational Culture Officer explained that the Care First programme supported staff wellbeing and had a range of specific packages for staff. There were mental health champions and a public health programme which included the time to talk programme.


The Council had promoted a number of non work related events to encourage staff to come into the office and socialise. The canteen appeared to be much busier, so colleagues were attending more than they did.


Staff networks continued and each network had access to the Equality Board and a small budget.  Those networks were configured around protected characteristics but there appeared to be other groups which officers would want to access. The Council  ...  view the full minutes text for item 116.


Work programme pdf icon PDF 176 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:


The Democratic Services Officer highlighted that Full Council would consider amendments to the Committee’s terms of reference on 20 July. If agreed, items on the future work programme related to Housing and some other areas would be considered by the Regeneration Culture and Environment Overview and Scrutiny Committee.


The Head of Democratic Services noted that the GP Access Task Group had been completed in June 2023. The Committee had previously recommended three further topics for task groups, however, given these topics had been recommended in 2019, it was proposed each of the Overview and Scrutiny Committee were provided with an opportunity to consider new topics and a shortlist provided for this Committee to make a final decision.




a)    The Committee agreed the Committee’s provisional work programme at Appendix 1 to the report. 


b)    The Committee noted the work programmes of the other Overview and Scrutiny Committees at Appendix 2 to the report. 


c)     The Committee requested that each Overview and Scrutiny Committee recommends no more than two topics for future task groups, to be considered at a meeting of Overview and Scrutiny Committee Chairpersons, Vice chairperson and opposition spokesperson where a shortlist of 4 topics and their priority order will be recommended to this Committee for a final decision.