Agenda and draft minutes

Business Support Overview and Scrutiny Committee
Thursday, 24 October 2019 6.30pm

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

Contact: Michael Turner, Democratic Services Officer 

Items
No. Item

384.

Election of Chairman

Minutes:

In the absence of the Chairman and Vice-Chairman, Councillor Wildey was elected as Chairman for the meeting.

385.

Apologies for absence

Minutes:

Apologies for absence were received from Councillors Buckwell, Clarke, Etheridge, Andy Stamp and Tejan.

 

386.

Record of meeting pdf icon PDF 353 KB

To approve the record of the meeting held on 22 August 2019.

Minutes:

The record of the meeting held on 22 August 2019 was agreed and signed by the Chairman as correct.

387.

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. 

388.

Disclosable Pecuniary Interests or Other Significant Interests and Whipping pdf icon PDF 212 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

              

There were none.

 

Other significant interests (OSIs)

 

There were none.

 

Other interests

 

Councillor Johnson disclosed that he was employed by Citizens Advice Medway, which was referred to in agenda item nos 5 (Attendance of the Portfolio Holder for Business Management) and 6 (Council Plan Performance Monitoring Report and Risk Register Review Quarter 1 2019/20). He added he had taken advice from the Monitoring Officer that the interest would comprise a DPI only if it was closely aligned to the reports. Therefore he would remain in the meeting when these two items were considered but would leave the meeting if there was a discussion about Citizens Advice Medway.

 

 

389.

Attendance of the Portfolio Holder for Business Management pdf icon PDF 222 KB

This report provides and overview of activities and progress made 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 progress on the areas within the terms of

Reference of this Committee covered by Councillor Rupert Turpin, Portfolio

Holder for Business Management, i.e.

 

·         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:

 

·         Customer Contact – Members referred to feedback from constituents about difficulties getting through to Customer Contact or being held in a long queue and asked what plans were in place to improve matters. The Portfolio Holder acknowledged these concerns. There were a number of vacancies in the team but, in spite of that and the recruitment freeze, the service had been managed well. The number of calls to the Council had reduced significantly this year and approximately 30,000 calls had been eliminated per month. Staff were encouraged to make sure people they were in contact with had their direct number and other steps being considered were the use of apprentices, redeployment, increasing digital take up and further training. However, some calls were about complex issues and when staff who had specialised in certain areas left the Council this did present a problem.

 

A Member queried why there was no email address to contact the Council where someone was unable to get through to speak to Customer Contact and, if this was not possible, for this to be explained on the website. The Portfolio Holder considered a single email address was not feasible but acknowledged more could be done to make the Council’s website easier to navigate so online forms were easier to find.

 

Another Member queried whether enough support was in place to help vulnerable people. Whether there should be a designated telephone line for people who were socially isolated or with mental health needs was also mentioned. The point was made that anyone with a library fine was unable to receive digital support from library staff. Difficulties in applying for a Blue Badge were referred to, including applicants having to pay two months in advance but only receiving the badge 3 weeks before its start date. The Portfolio Holder undertook to discuss this issue about Blue Badges with the Portfolio Holder for Adults’ Services and the issue about library fines with the service.

 

·         Interpreting service – in response to whether the service had made a profit this year, Members were advised that a return of around £57,000 had been made.

 

·         Democracy and Governance – a Member asked if the Committee’s thanks could be passed onto the team for the way in which they had dealt with many complex issues during the year. AMember commented on a large number of complaints he had received about difficulties some people experienced when trying to vote in the European elections and asked if any lessons had been learned. The Portfolio Holder commented on the very tight timetable by which the European elections had to be organised,  ...  view the full minutes text for item 389.

390.

Draft Homelessness and Rough Sleeper Strategy 2019-2024 pdf icon PDF 233 KB

This report seeks Members’ views on a draft Homelessness and Rough Sleeper Strategy 2019-24, which responds to the Homelessness Reduction Act 2017, government guidance on homelessness and rough sleeping and current practice in Medway. It replaces the previous Homelessness Prevention Strategy 2017-19.

 

Additional documents:

Minutes:

Discussion:

 

Members considered a report regarding a draft Homelessness and Rough Sleeper Strategy 2019-24, which responded to the Homelessness Reduction Act 2017, Government guidance on homelessness and rough sleeping and current practice in Medway. It replaced the previous Homelessness Prevention Strategy 2017-19.

 

The following issues were discussed:

 

·         Reasons for homelessness – a Member commented that the reasons cited in the Strategy why someone became homeless or was at risk of becoming homeless were often linked to Government guidance and policies. The concern was expressed that, although the Strategy contained some useful measures, it could not itself address the fundamental problems in Medway, and what was needed was more lobbying of the Government. The Head of Housing advised that the Strategy contained a commitment to lobby the Government about the challenges the Council faced.

 

·         Sustainability of the Strategy – noting that Government funding for next year had not been confirmed, a Member questioned the sustainability of the strategy and whether it could be delivered. The Head of Housing advised that the Council had recently been made aware that Government funding for rough sleeping would be made available and he was confident the Council’s bid would be successful. The risk remained though that the bid would not be approved, which was why a flexible one year action plan had been suggested.

 

·         Temporary accommodation – a Member referred to a significant increase in the numbers of people in temporary accommodation in March 2019 compared to March 2018 and a lack of understanding about the needs of children in this group, what support they were receiving and what conditions they were living in. Another Member emphasised the need for the Council to place a higher priority on young people, particularly those who were vulnerable. The Head of Housing commented that, against a national increase of 5% in people in temporary accommodation, there had been no increase in Medway, although the numbers of children in temporary accommodation would inevitably fluctuate. In Medway families in temporary accommodation were not housed in shared accommodation or bed and breakfast. He would consider adding to the Strategy a section on mapping the needs of these children.

 

A Member welcomed the move away from the reliance on nightly paid accommodation and find more long leases.

 

·         Training for frontline staff - a Member queried whether there were sufficient resources to deliver training for people with mental health needs and also whether this was in fact something that should be tackled as a Council wide issue. The Head of Housing commented that staff were encouraged to approach this sensitively but it was a challenge to link people to the right levels of support. Funding for this training would be included in the bid for rough sleeping funding. Discussions were taking place with colleagues across the Council and partners about how best to provide the right support for people with mental health needs. 

 

·         Rough sleepers in winter – a Member asked what discussions had taken place with those organisations involved in the arrangements  ...  view the full minutes text for item 390.

391.

Council Plan Performance Monitoring Report and Risk Register Review Quarter 1 2019/20 pdf icon PDF 361 KB

This report summarises performance in Q1 2019/20 on the delivery of the programmes and measures which fall within the remit of this Committee. The report also presents the Q1 2019/20 review of the Strategic Risk Register

Additional documents:

Minutes:

Discussion:

 

Members considered a report which summarised performance in Q1 2019/20 on the delivery of the programmes and measures which fall within the remit of the Committee and also presented the Q1 2019/20 review of the Strategic Risk Register.

 

A Member proposed that a Task Group be set up to look at how the Council dealt with complaints and whether the complaints process was fit for purpose. The Committee was advised that a Voluntary Sector Task Group had recently started work and once it had concluded physical activity would be the topic of the next review. After a discussion it was agreed that the Committee would receive a report on the complaints process at a future meeting and, after considering that, decide whether to recommend complaints as a subject for a future Task Group.

 

A Member noted that performance in adult education had fallen and also referred to the fact there was no target set for digital take up although the report said performance had improved.

 

A Member argued that the lack of a risk relating to Brexit was a serous omission from the risk register.

 

Reference was made to the Housing Infrastructure Fund bid and the risk of this not being agreed by the Government given the Council had already committed £2m to the bid. The Chief Finance Officer shared the concern about the delay in a decision being made but assured Members that representations would continue to be made to the Government on this.

 

The Committee asked for a Briefing Note on the deep dive regarding the adult social care transformation risk.

 

Decision:

 

The Committee:

 

a)  noted the Q1 2019/20 performance of the measures of success used

to monitor progress against the Council’s priorities;

 

b)  noted the Q1 2019/20 review of the Strategic Risk Register;

 

c)  asked for a report on complaints handling at a future meeting, and;

 

d)  asked for a Briefing Note on the deep dive into adult social care.

392.

Risk Strategy Annual Review pdf icon PDF 137 KB

This report presents the annual review of the Risk Strategy. 

Additional documents:

Minutes:

Discussion:

 

Members considered a report regarding the annual review of the risk strategy.

 

A Member asked if partner organisations such as Gravesham Borough Council, Medway Norse and the Council’s wholly owned companies followed the same methodology on risk. The Head of Finance Strategy confirmed that Gravesham Borough Council’s risk strategy was very similar and would find out what approach was taken at Medway Norse and the companies.

 

A Member asked if organisations the Council commissioned services with were aware of the Council’s risk register and also made the point that risk should be an issue for everyone in the Council. The Head of Finance Strategy advised that discussion had taken place with management teams across the Council to review service specific plans. The new intranet site offered an opportunity to deliver e-learning on issues such as risk but there was more the Council could do to raise awareness of the importance of risk. Where the Council commissioned services the procurement process ensured that a risk management framework was in place.

 

Decision:

 

The Committee agreed to:

 

a)  endorse the amendments proposed to the Risk Management Strategy, and;

 

b) note that the Risk Management Strategy and Corporate Risk Register will be submitted to Cabinet on 19 November 2019 for approval.

 

393.

Work Programme pdf icon PDF 139 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 considered a report regarding the Committee’s current work

programme.

 

Decision:          

 

The Committee:

 

(a) agreed the proposed changes to the current work programme as set out in paragraph 3.2 of the report, and;

 

(b) noted the work programmes of the other overview and scrutiny committees.

 

394.

Medway Development Company Ltd Update pdf icon PDF 88 KB

This paper deals with the report submitted to Cabinet on 24 September 2019 regarding Medway Development Company Ltd.

 

Additional documents:

Minutes:

Discussion:

 

Members considered a report on Medway Development Company which had been submitted to Cabinet on 24 September 2019.

 

A Member asked if the Council’s 25% affordable housing target had been met at the first four projects in the business plan. The Chief Legal Officer advised that the target would be met or exceeded at these sites and 64 new affordable homes (shared ownership and affordable rent) would be delivered.

 

Some Members expressed concern at the proposal that MDC build units for the private rental market. This was a significant change to the original purpose of the company and the company itself was still relatively new. The role of private landlord was very different to that of developer and brought with it some risks. The Chief Legal Officer responded that the Council had taken advice on this proposal which confirmed there was a market for renting units and this would also provide a revenue income. A Member made the point   people on the waiting list for a council property may well perceive it was the Council, not MDC, which was letting properties and it would appear people were therefore bypassing the waiting list. The Council would need to manage this possible tension. The Chief Legal Officer acknowledged there were risks in the company acting as a landlord but these would be managed. The extent to which the Council would be mentioned in publicity about properties to let was still to be decided.

 

Regarding sites which did not pass the profitability threshold, the Chief Legal Officer advised it would be for Cabinet to decide how to proceed. The threshold was confidential but would be shared with Members outside the meeting.

 

A Member re-iterated concerns expressed previously about Cabinet members serving on the Boards of Council owned companies, which he did not consider to be best practice.

 

Referring to governance problems at another Council company and difficulties the Council had faced in accessing information from that body, a Member asked if any lessons had been learned and applied to MDC. The Chief Legal Officer commented that standards of governance at MDC were high and it was hoped the other companies would see this a model of best practice.

 

A Member referred to anti-social problems at one of the sites MDC was developing and the potential for this to damage the Council’s reputation. The Chief Legal Officer advised that the site was close to being secured and the housing development would hopefully help with the regeneration of the area.

 

A concern was expressed about the potential impact of a further 1% increase in the costs of borrowing from the Public Works Loan Board. The Chief Legal Officer replied that the risks of an increase in costs had been examined and a 1% increase could be mitigated in MDC’s business plan, as an allowance had been made for some fluctuations in costs.

 

Decision:      

 

The Committee agreed to note the report.