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.
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, which also took place alongside preparations for the local elections. He added the Government would not have met the costs of any preparatory work had the UK not participated in the election. EU citizens had been required to complete a form confirming whether they would be voting in their home country or in the UK. These would normally be sent out in January but on this occasion were sent out on 25 April and the deadline for return was 7 May. 23% had returned this form but it was not possible to know if those who did not return it had voted in their home country or not at all. In total 14 complaints had been received. The Portfolio Holder noted that the Electoral Commission had warned the Government that the registration process was not fit for purpose and in the circumstances he considered the team had done well in organising the election.
It was suggested that further attempts be made to encourage new Members to switch to paperless and ensure they had enough information and support to do so. The Portfolio Holder commented that Members were able to purchase a tablet or laptop through their basic allowance on an interest free basis.
· Audit and Counter Fraud – referring to the need to make urgent changes to the Audit Plan in response to events, a Member asked if the Portfolio Holder was content with the process around deciding what reviews had to slip. The Portfolio Holder commented the Audit Plan was very detailed and he did agree there was a need for flexibility in order to respond to urgent issues. A Member asked if the audit team would be diverting resources in order to respond to the recent Ofsted report on children’s social care. The Portfolio Holder confirmed that was the case and commented the focus of the team would largely be on record keeping and processes within children’s services.
· Income generation – in the context of cuts in local authority funding, a Member asked for an assurance that the core business of the Council was not affected when outsourcing or shared services arrangements were entered into. The Portfolio Holder commented that a good example of the flexibility the Council could show was the purchase of land for a new waste depot when it became apparent that the current site could not be used for the new contract.
· Medway Norse – a Member expressed concern at the failure to TUPE transfer a Trade Union Official to Medway Norse. The smooth transfer of the waste service to Medway Norse was recognised. The importance of the relationship between Community Wardens and Medway Norse was emphasised and a concern was expressed that the current restructuring may lead to a reduced community warden service. The service was seen by many as the public face of the Council and a reduced service could impact on the public’s view of the Council. Another Member referred to the unsettling effect on staff of rumours around the restructuring. The Portfolio Holder responded that he would look into the query regarding the transfer of the trade union official. He noted that the community warden service was currently being restructured but understood there would be no redundancies and Members’ concerns would be fed into the process.
· Online services – a Member referred to a 2 week delay in issuing parking permits which meant customers were having to pay for a £2 per day ticket in the meantime. In addition the online parking permit application service provided a limited opportunity to submit hard copies of evidence and it was also a problem for those people where their evidence was stored digitally. The Portfolio Holder undertook to raise the issue of the delay with the service and suggested the concern around submitting evidence online could be looked at by the Member User Group.
· Corporate debt – The Portfolio Holder agreed to look into a problem referred to by a Member where a charity had a business rate debt which was not their fault and whether the new corporate debt system could help resolve such an issue.
a) thanked Councillor Turpin for his attendance, and
b) recommended the following:
i) that a clear message be added on the Council’s website explaining why there is no general email address for the Council;
ii) that the Head of Democratic Services be asked to further encourage new Members to switch to paperless working, and;
iii) that the possibility of a dedicated telephone line for people who are socially isolated to contact the Council be investigated.