Venue: Meeting Room 9 - Level 3, Gun Wharf, Dock Road, Chatham ME4 4TR. View directions
Contact: Steve Platt, Democratic Services Officer
Apologies for absence
Apologies for absence had been received from Councillors Etheridge and Williams.
To approve the record of the meeting held on 24 November 2022.
The record of the meeting of the Committee held on 24 November 2022 was 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.
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
There were none.
Other significant interests (OSIs)
There were none.
Councillor Johnson declared an interest in item 5, the Medway Norse Strategic Update and Member’s Item, as he was an allotment holder.
Councillor Tejan declared an interest in item 7, Housing and Revenue Account Capital and Revenue Budgets 2023/24, as he was a Director of a service provider.
The covering report represents a mid-year review of the performance of the Joint Venture (JV)from theperspective ofthe Councilclient forthe 2021/22financial year.It is accompanied by an update on the Joint Venture’s achievements and financial performance prepared by the Partnership Director at Medway Norse.
This report was considered by Cabinet on 10 January 2023.
The report also sets out responses to issues raised by Councillor Osborne.
The Committee considered a report on the performance of the Joint Venture (JV) from the perspective of the Council client for the 2021/22 financial year. It was accompanied by an update on the Joint Venture’s achievements and financial performance prepared by the Partnership Director at Medway Norse.
The report also set out responses to issues raised by Councillor Osborne, who had requested a Members’ Item on Medway Norse. Councillor Osborne was in attendance to introduce the issues he had raised.
Following an introduction of the report from the Partnership Director, Councillor Osborne said that he considered this JV model had been largely successful, but raised the following questions to which the Partnership Director responded:
· Was there a signed contract between the Council and Medway Norse?:
There was a signed contract; the core contract had been set up in 2013 and an extension arrangement from 31 May 2023 was in place.
· Why did Cabinet Members sit on the Medway Norse Board, when the Auditors were not in favour of this arrangement? How did his compare with other areas of the Country in which Norse operated?:
From a Norse Group perspective, the way in which the partnership was set up was typical of all its JVs. Norse Group considered the Medway partnership arrangement to be one of the better ones as it facilitated a two-way exchange of information. The Partnership Director said that he was satisfied that the arrangement worked effectively.
· How successful had Medway Norse been in generating business with organisations other than the Council?:
Although commercial operations were strong and activity had been growing, this had been on hold due to the pandemic. It was the intention to continue to pursue this vision as the workforce stabilised. It was recognised that at present there was too much reliance on sub-contracting and the aim was to grow the workforce to provide services directly.
· Were minutes of Medway Norse Board meetings published in which, for example, changes in staffing numbers were recorded?:
Minutes of the Liaison Board were accessible by officers. The Board minutes were also available to Cabinet Members.
· Why were a number of free-standing bins missing and were any other services missing? Did this show that the contract was not being sufficiently monitored?:
Medway Council officers were currently undertaking audits of bin infrastructure and their report should be completed by the end of the current financial year. Medway Norse emptied all bins that were available and reported damaged bins. It also replaced bins when requested to do so. Currently the list of bins was the one in place when the contact transferred from Veolia to Norse at the end of 2019 and there remained some uncertainty. However, as a result of the current audit work, there would be a definitive register of bins with a QR code going forward.
· Could more information be provided on the reduction in staff numbers?:
Over the course of the 10-year contact, there had been efficiencies and restructuring at the supervisory level. At the ... view the full minutes text for item 573.
This report seeks to introduce a revised set of Contract Procedure Rules to replace those that currently form Chapter 4, Part 7 of Medway Council’s Constitution.
The Head of Category Management introduced the report which set out a proposed updated set of Contract Procedure Rules to replace those set out at Chapter 4, Part 7 of Medway Council’s Constitution. The revised suite simplified terminology used for better end user engagement, improved accountability across the various layers of the organisation and updated thresholds at which procurement board level governance would apply to procurement activity, which would only apply to projects valued equal to or greater than activities that would be subject to the Public Contracts Regulations 2015 for Goods/Services and the Light Touch Regime, or £500k for works projects.
Members then raised a number of questions and comments, which included:
· Information governance issues – reference was made to two cases where there had been issues with information governance and officers were looking into these incidents to identify any learning that could be made. It was suggested that an update on this work be provided to the next meeting of this Committee.
Recurring contract transactions
– in response to a question about how the
Council safeguard against tenderers who repeatedly fall just under
the threshold for contract value limit with multiple contracts, it
was confirmed that the Category Management team approve all new
suppliers onto the Finance Management system and periodically ask
for a report detailing if any officers have breached their original
Climate change –
reference was made to section 4.2 of the report, which did not
include climate change as a listed benefit from the rules. In
response officers confirmed that social value was referred to at
that part of the report, which included climate change as one of
the five elements that underpinned social value, however, undertook
to review the section to ensure a more explicit reference to
· Criminal Records Bureau checks (Disclosure Barring Services – DBS) – in relation to the DBS check reference within the Contract Procedure Rules at Appendix 1, a suggestion was made that all elected Members should be subject to DBS checks, particularly given their role as Corporate Parents. Officers explained that previous rule changes had removed the legal requirement for all Councillors to be automatically subjected to DBS checks but could investigate the legalities and practicalities of introducing DBS checks for all Members following the next local elections in May 2023.
noted the comments of the Audit Committee on the
draft revised Contract Procedure Rules set out in Appendix 2 to the
reviewed and provided comments on the draft revised
Contract Procedure Rules, and recommended their approval to Full
Council, after consideration by Cabinet;
c) recommended Cabinet to instruct officers to explore the benefits and requirements of Elected Members having a DBS check, given their role as Corporate Parents and that this be considered for all Members in the next municipal year.
This report presents the Housing Revenue Account (HRA) capital and revenue budgets for 2023/24 and provides details of proposed rent and service charge levels for 2023/24.
The report also contains the latest revised forecasts of the HRA Business Plan.
The comments of this Committee will be collated for onward despatch to the Cabinet on 7 February 2023 and Council on 23 February 2023.
The Committee considered a report presenting the Housing Revenue Account (HRA) capital and revenue budgets for 2023/24 which provided details of proposed rent and service charge levels for 2023/24. It also contained the latest revised forecasts of the HRA Business Plan.
In introducing the report, the Head of Strategic Housing referred to the proposed 7% increase in rent; the challenges around rent arrears and void turnaround times; and the intended uplift in the repairs and maintenance contract due to inflation.
Members raised a number of questions and comments which were responded to by the Head of Strategic Housing as follows:
· Implications of the 7% rent increase, particularly on the most vulnerable residents: The officer said that last year the authority had set a rent level below the cap based on the low CPR rate. This year’s increase of 7% was considered prudent in light of current challenges. This increase would impact on residents and housing officers liaised with colleagues in the Revenues and Benefits team to support residents in managing their finances. Consideration would be given to increasing that officer team to ensure the required level of resident support could be maintained. Opportunities to explore further partnerships with the voluntary and community sector would also be explored. The officer said that he would give further thought to the point raised that those on Universal Credit would be disproportionately impacted by the rent increase.
· Why had there been such a steep increase in rent arears?: The officer explained that the figure of £602,000 in the report was a combination of existing and former tenant arrears, i.e. bad debt. He agreed to provide a more detailed breakdown outside the meeting.
· Repairs and maintenance contract: The officer said that the structure of this contact with Mears was under consideration to make sure that service delivery can be safeguarded. Work on the re-tendering of the contract, which would expiry in September 2024, had already commenced. Feedback from residents showed that satisfaction levels with repairs remained good. In response to a question on the flexibility to use local SMEs for repairs and maintenance, the officer said that the proposed new structure of the contract did allow for a range of providers particularly where specialist work was required. Feedback had showed that residents were not in favour of such work being sub-contracted by the main contractor. A contractor engagement day had attracted some local businesses.
· What plans were in place to address the number of void properties?: The officer advised that, due to labour shortages, the focus for repairs and maintenance needed to be focused on occupied properties. However, it had been made clear to Mears that improvements in respect of repairs to void properties needed to be made so that they could be re-let.
· Major estate regeneration/joint ventures: Asked where these was planned, the officer said that options were being appraised but he was not in a position to discuss these in a public forum at this stage. Members were pleased to note that ... view the full minutes text for item 575.
This report sets out the Council’s draft capital and revenue budgets for 2023/24. In accordance with the Constitution, Cabinet is required to develop ‘initial budget proposals’ approximately three months before finalising the budget and setting council tax levels at the end of February 2023.
The Chief Finance Officer said that the previous report considered by the Committee on 25 November 2022 had been written prior to the Chancellor of Exchequer’s autumn statement.
Appendix 5 of the report outlined the discussions held at the other Overview and Scrutiny Committee’s on the draft budget.
Appendix 6 of the report was the Local finance settlement report to Cabinet. This was more favourable than had been anticipated and as a result the budget deficit would be smaller than expected.
Members raised a number of issues which were responded to by the Chief Finance Officer as follows:
· Uncertainty over the social care budget: Concerns were expressed about assumptions that had been made in the budget process. The officer responded that in the Chancellor’s autumn statement and the provisional settlement, the Government had not been clear about which element of the adult social care reforms were being deferred. The absence of the charging reform element implied that this was the deferred element. Although there was certainty about the flexibility to increase Council Tax by the 2% adult social care precept, it remained necessary to make some funding assumptions so there would continue to be an element of uncertainty and risk until the final settlement was published.
· High needs block/safety valve programme: Asked for an update, the officer said that there had been some clarity as the Minister had confirmed £17,000,000 of revenue funding and £8,000,000 SEND capital funding in principle. This was backed by a deficit recovery plan which would return the high needs block to a breakeven point by 2025/26. The statutory override which allowed the Council to have the reserve in a deficit position had been extended for another 3 years which would cover the deficit recovery period.
· Savings and efficiencies identified by Directorates: Asked how satisfied the Finance Team were, in building the budget, that these identified efficiencies were reasonable, two examples being the predicted increased capacity of Aut Even and the Old Vicarage, the officer said that the budget was a set of estimates based on projections of placement numbers and predicted costs which made it precarious to a degree. The calculations of the assumptions that underpinned the changes that had been put into the budget had been made through close working between the services and Finance Team and the logic had been tested by senior Members and officers and by Finance Managers. The identified savings were more proportionate in terms of risk and demand than in previous years.
· Update on Cornwallis School: The officer advised that further information would be within the round 3 capital budget monitoring report.The anticipated opening of the school was in 2024/25.
· Assumptions on Legal Services savings: Asked about the increase in the cost of the service, the officer said that this service was a pressure in the current year as it had been necessary to use locum staff to cover vacant posts in the permanent establishment, however the budget for Legal Services for 2023/24 remained unchanged from 2022/23 ... view the full minutes text for item 576.
The Council Strategy sets out the Council’s key priorities, the outcomes we expect to achieve and the programmes that we will deliver. The Council Plan is the delivery plan which sets out the measures that will be used to track performance against the Council’s key priorities.
Following consultation with directorates, this report proposes the Council Plan 2023/24.
Members are asked to consider these proposals and forward any comments to Cabinet on 7 February 2023, prior to consideration by Full Council on 23 February 2023, for implementation from April 2023.
The Chief Organisational Culture Officer introduced the report which presented the annual refresh of the Council Plan and proposed what measures and targets should be used to track performance against the Council’s key priorities for 2023/24.
She also explained that since the report had been published, the Department for Education had discontinued one of the measures which related to the percentage achievement gap at Early Years Foundation Stage Profile between the lowest attaining 20 % of children and the mean (code CASEIEYFS Gap). Data had not been available since 2018/19 due to the pandemic and officers therefore proposed that the measure be removed. Officers confirmed that data relating to the percentage of different groups of children achieving “a good level of development”, dependent on characteristics such as Identified SEN, Ethnicity, FSM, would continue and would be reports in the Council’s annual schools’ report.
Members then raised a number of questions and comments, which included:
· Excess weight in children (PH14 and PH15) – comment was made that despite officers’ focus on this target, it remained stubbornly red and that a wider strategic approach and investment into resourcing this area of work was vital to see improvements made.
· Children Social Care - reference was made to the suite of measures relating to children’s social care and that the issues regarding staff shortages put the improvement journey at real risk of progression. ILAC7 and ILAC7(N) were also referred to as being tricky measures but essential to the overall improvement journey. In response the officer explained that ILACS7 reduction was to provide an ambitious but more realistic target for 2023/24 by changing the target from 80% to 50% and the proposed removal of ILAC7(N) provided an opportunity for the organisation to focus on the one more meaningful target, as both were measuring the same thing but in a different way, which was causing confusion.
· Number of maintained primary schools that are good or better – it was being proposed that this measure be removed due to so many schools no longer being maintained by the Local Authority. Concern was raised about this change and it was considered that instead it should be a measure that covered all schools, including academies, reflecting the Council’s role in school improvement generally.
· Smoking at time of delivery (PH16) – it was suggested this target should be revisited to be more ambitious.
· Missing areas – comment was made that there should be measures on the following priorities which were important for Medway; Child Friendly Medway, climate change, digital enablement and health inequalities. Officers confirmed that the next look at the Council Plan, for 2024/25, would be a complete rewrite rather than a refresh, which would look at areas such as these and would include a fundamental new approach to performance monitoring which would move to a greater focus on output.
· Average journey time (NI 167) – it was considered this measure needed reviewing further as lived experience was that congestion was high in Medway and did not reflect ... view the full minutes text for item 577.
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.
The Committee considered a report setting out its current work programme and those of the other overview and scrutiny committees.
There was support for the idea proposed at the agenda planning meeting that the final work programme report of the municipal year should include a review of last four years, including the structure and content of the work programme, an update on Task Groups and any outstanding matters and actions, to serve as a handover document to the new Committee after the elections. It was suggested that the other overview and scrutiny committees be recommended to consider this idea.
Members noted that this would have been the last meeting of the Committee clerked by Stephen Platt, Democratic Services Officer and thanked him for his support to the Committee and wished him well in his retirement.
a) agreed the committee’s work programme at Appendix 1 to the report;
b) noted the work programmes of the other overview and scrutiny committees at Appendix 2 to the report; and
c) recommended to the other Overview and Scrutiny Committees that they consider including in their next work programme report a review of last four years, including the structure and content of the work programme, an update on Task Groups and any outstanding matters and actions, to serve as a handover document to the new Committee after the elections.