Agenda item

Medway Norse Update

This report outlines the partnership’s achievements and performance up to the end of the 2017/2018 in its fourth year of trading.





Members considered a report which outlined the partnership’s achievements and performance up to the end of the 2017/2018 in its fourth year of trading.


The following issues were discussed:


·         Spring grass cutting – the Partnership Director, Medway Norse acknowledged some deficiencies regarding the spring grass cutting season. Although the work had been done in accordance with the contract the grass had grown more quickly than usual. This had led to Medway Norse deciding to issue more publicity explaining the grass cutting cycles earlier in the season than usual. Following a query as to why this publicity could not be issued before 2019 so it could be more widely absorbed, the Partnership Director commented that he would look at that but his preference was for the information to be issued in a timely manner at the beginning of the new season. He added that grass cutting equipment was being replaced in advance of the 2019 season, which would increase productivity.


A Member referred to inconsistencies in grass cutting on the steep banks at Delce Road and stated that staff had explained this was either for health and safety reasons or because they did not have the right equipment. The Partnership Director replied that all staff had received extensive health and safety training and he was not aware of any issues with the wrong equipment being used to cut grass on the banks.


A Member questioned the suitability of the grass cutting equipment as it appeared to be unable to work in wet weather. The Partnership Director confirmed the wrong equipment had been used in the wet season but the newly purchased equipment would be more productive.


·         Tree assessments and maintenance – in response to a question about Medway Norse’s involvement in Tree Preservation Orders, the Partnership Director advised that they commented on applications for Tree Preservation Orders. Their approach was to seek to prune and maintain rather than cut down trees.  Money was also allocated in the contract each year for replanting trees. A Member referred to a large number of trees which had been cut down recently. The Partnership Director confirmed this had not been done by Medway Norse.


·         Waste services – a Member referred to problems caused by overflowing dog waste in duel use bins. The Partnership Director commented that the transfer of the waste collection and cleansing contract to Medway Norse offered opportunities to generate efficiencies and clear up some of the previous confusion.


·         Growth of the Joint Venture – a Member asked what the plans were for growth through external contracts and the balance between this and Council contracts. The Partnership Director stated that Medway Norse had been successful in securing school cleaning contracts and was looking for opportunities to win grounds maintenance contracts with other organisations. In response to a question whether Medway Norse employed proactive sales people to market the joint venture, the Partnership Director commented that the focus was on bidding for commercial contracts as this was more likely to generate repeat business. Managers however actively promoted the joint venture as part of their everyday role.


A Member asked if details could be provided in the next report of the proportion of Medway Norse business which was core Council service delivery, arguing most Members would expect this to now be a smaller proportion than it was. The main selling point of setting up the Joint Venture had been for it to win external contracts. It was queried whether there would be the same level of support now for the proposal to establish a joint venture given the Council only received half of the profits and alternative models now existed, for example a wholly owned council company such as Medway Commercial Group. The point was made that some Council services, such as community wardens, needed to remain with the Council.


·         Grounds Maintenance – a Member referred to the review of hours and working days of the grounds maintenance staff and asked how staff could be retained if their overall hours were reduced. The Partnership Director advised that he was not planning to reduce the overall hours or salary of staff. Discussions were taking place with the Trade Unions about revised working hours to ensure staff were used at times when required.


A Member referred to critical comments made by Cabinet Members about this service and a suggestion that if the service did not improve the contract would be withdrawn. He queried why services continued to be passed to Medway Norse in the light of ongoing performance issues.


A Member urged that the grounds maintenance at cemeteries be prioritised.


·         Future challenges – a Member asked if it was possible quantify the cost of the National Living Wage for the 2018-20 period as well as the Apprenticeship Levy. The Partnership Director advised that the majority of the workforce were paid at around the level of the National Living Wage. It would be a challenge to maintain differentials given the financial constraints facing Medway Norse.


·         Scrutiny of operational issues – Members agreed to discuss at the next agenda planning meeting the issue of where operational issues relating to Medway Norse should be scrutinised.


·         Section 19 Permit risk of change – in response to a query, the Partnership Director stated that should the S19 permit be withdrawn this would bring into question Medway Norse’s ability to provide SEN transport in a cost effective way.




The Committee agreed to:


a)        note the report;


b)        note the commitment to make publicly available information about the 2019 grass cutting season as soon as operationally possible;


c)         ask that future reports include details of the schedule of works for shrub replacement, weeding and mulching, and;


d)        discuss at the next agenda planning meeting the issue of where operational issues relating to Medway Norse should be scrutinised.

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