This report sets out activities and progress within the areas covered by the Portfolio Holder for Resources which fall within the remit of this Committee.
Members received an overview of progress on the areas within the terms of
Reference of this Committee covered by Councillor Adrian Gulvin, Portfolio
Holder for Resources, i.e:
· Transformation and Digital Services
· Council Plan
· Performance and Service Improvement
· Business and Administration Support Service
· Complaints Policy and Management
· Category Management//Procurement
· Travellers, and;
· Joint Ventures
Councillor Gulvin responded to Members’ questions and comments as follows:
· Travellers – a Member asked what progress there had been in developing a policy which was sympathetic to the needs of both travellers and residents and also for an update on finding suitable sites for travellers. Councillor Gulvin commented that, although this was more of a Local Plan issue which was not part of his Portfolio, plans to identify a site in Strood had not been successful and other sites were being looked at. However, this was a very difficult area as most people objected to a proposal to locate a site in their neighbourhood. Due to the lack of a permanent site, planning permission was sometimes granted for sites which were not ideal. The Council now responded to illegal incursions more robustly and quickly and there was better partnership working with the police and Medway Norse. A Member argued there was a need for a positive strategy towards travellers, including input from children’s services to encourage more travellers to sign up to a GP and enrol children in schools. Councillor Gulvin commented that consideration had been given to deploying social workers for this purpose but pressures of work had prevented this from happening.
· Medway Norse and Medway Commercial Group –a Member sought the views of the Portfolio Holder on how these alternative delivery models were progressing. Councillor Gulvin commented that the grass cutting service provided by Medway Norse had deteriorated but Medway Norse had responded well even though the greenspaces contract had not experienced any financial uplift and Medway Norse had absorbed pressures such as the National Living Wage. Councillor Gulvin added it was disappointing Medway Norse had not won more external contracts but they had been very good at supporting local communities in various ways. In conclusion, there was room for improvement but the partnership had generally worked well and was maturing and Medway Norse was delivering a good, professional service.
With regard to Medway Commercial Group (MCG), Councillor Gulvin considered there had been some governance issues with MCG and there could have been more openness with Cabinet and others. There were some planned changes to the governance of MCG. The move to a greater use of alternative delivery models by local authorities was a relatively recent one. Disagreeing with that point, a Member responded that was not the case as compulsory competitive tendering had been introduced many years ago. In addition, the Council had established MCG with public money and a significant amount of Member and officer time was spent on regulating their activies and establishing what was happening. It was argued that these alternative models tended to cost the Council as much as it saved and produced little in the way of innovation or efficiencies. Councillor Gulvin disagreed with this view and felt it was vital to look at alternative models of delivering services in order to achieve value for money and the Council did not have the capacity to directly provide all services.
· Child Care Court Proceedings – accepting this was a challenging issue, a Member queried how Medway compared with other upper tier authorities in terms of timescales for these proceedings. Councillor Gulvin commented he did not have any comparative information but the Court was now happy with the timescales. There was more stability in the Legal Services People Team and managers had made significant efforts to make improvements, including monthly monitoring of performance information. Another Member made the point that sometimes it was better to wait a few weeks to get the right result for a child and that there were very few cases of adopted children’s placements breaking down. The Chief Legal Officer advised that there was no benchmarking data available for child care court proceedings but an analysis of the duration of proceedings produced by officers and also data by court areas could be provided which showed the Council had performed better than the national average in the last two years.
· Men in Sheds Programme – A Member asked where this scheme was based and it was clarified that the only location in Medway was the Sunlight Centre.
· Direct Payments – some Members commented on the importance of making sure individuals were fully aware of what their direct payments were purchasing.
· Healthy Living Centres – a Member asked where these centres were based and whether one was planned for Strood.Councillor Gulvin replied that one was planned for Hoo and others were in the pipeline.
· Digital Transformation – a Member commended the achievements as a result of the digital transformation programme but asked the Portfolio Holder to look at an issue raised by a resident that it was difficult to identify a person’s correct ward councillor from the Council’s website. Another Member commented on difficulties in uploading photographs onto the website. The Portfolio Holder undertook to look into these issues.
· Chatham Regeneration Schemes – in response to a request for an update, the Portfolio Holder advised that the Waterfront and Whifffens Avenue developments were both exciting schemes although the design of the latter was now not quite the same quality following objections from English Heritage. The affordable housing element of the Whiffens Avenue development would be provided at White Road and the Waterfront development element would be at the Britton Farm site in Gillingham.
· Customer Contact Centre – in response to a request for an assurance there would be no compulsory redundancies in the team and that face to face contact would be available in the Community Hubs, the Portfolio Holder commented there were no plans for compulsory redundancies at the moment. Some members of the team had been redeployed and he hoped that the jobs that were left were more fulfilling. The Council was on track to achieve the £5m savings from the Transformation Programme. With regard to the Hubs, an assisted digital service would be provided for as long as possible.
The Committee thanked the Portfolio Holder for Resources for his attendance.