This report provides an overview of activities and progress made on work areas within the Resources Portfolio, which fall within the remit of this Committee. This information is provided in relation to the Portfolio Holder for Resources being held to account.
Members considered a report setting out activities and progress on work areas within the Resources Portfolio, which fell within the remit of this Committee.
The following issues were discussed:
Transformation and digital services:
· In view of residents’ different views on the extent to which services were accessible digitally, the Portfolio Holder was asked if the right balance was being achieved. He responded that the use of digital services was promoted and was increasing. However, it was recognised that there were residents who did not have access to digital services and whilst this continued, non-digital services would be available. Responding to a question on the benefit of face-to-face contact, for example at Community Hubs, the Portfolio Holder recognised the good service that the hubs provided. He had observed that during the lockdowns, some older people had learnt how to use digital services but emphasised that services should be readily available to all.
· On the suggestion of a directory of the different ways that Council services could be accessed, he said that it was important that residents were signposted to the right service, either on-line or by Community Hubs.
· Asked to expand on the digitisation of Planning microfiche files, the Portfolio Holder said that the Council’s planners regularly needed to refer to previous planning applications and the digitisation of microfiche and paper records would improve their accessibility.
· The Portfolio Holder responded to a question on the use of partner organisations’ CCTV records, referring to CCTV consortium meetings and his liaison with his counterpart at Gravesham Council. He said that his initial focus was on those cameras connected to Kyndi’s system and the host of others owned by the Council. The Portfolio Holder referred to the appointment of an officer who was the main point of contact for all CCTV.
· On the implications of the transfer of the sign shop services, the Portfolio Holder said that this was to realise the commercial potential of the service which had previously operated on a cost/break even basis.
· Concern was expressed that requests for signage were not being processed quickly enough. The Portfolio Holder agreed to make enquiries about the specific issues raised. He would also raise it at the next Medway Norse Liaison Board meeting.
· Asked if the Love Medway app would be reinstated, the Portfolio Holder agreed that this would be beneficial.
· With reference to the review of new legislation to enforce moving traffic offences, such as yellow box junctions, concern was expressed that drivers were sometimes caught in box junctions due to the inconsiderate driving of drivers in front of them. It was hoped that wider video evidence would be available to demonstrate this. The Portfolio Holder said that the details had yet to be finalised but agreed that it needed to be fair.
· Whilst welcoming the support for Ukrainian refugees within Medway, concern was expressed that there had not previously been the same level of support for refugees from other countries. The Portfolio Holder agreed that helping people in distress was a good thing. The Chairman stated that, as he sat as an asylum appeal judge, he had not taken part in this discussion.
Council Plan and service improvement:
· Asked to comment on the Council value, financial resilience, given the current economic climate, the Portfolio Holder said that cuts to the Local Authority grant had been out of proportion. He believed that local government remained the most cost-effective way of providing services, citing Track and Trace as a good example.
· Noting that tackling climate change was another of the Council’s values, the Portfolio Holder was asked if it was a good idea to install solar panels on the Gun Wharf building. He responded that he was in favour and had been disappointed that this had not been recommended by Planning Services. The Chairman noted that the three members of the Committee who also sat on the Planning Committee had not taken part in this discussion.
Customer and Business Support
· With reference to the number of applications for blue badges during 2021/22, which was in excess of 6,000, and the lack of additional disabled spaces to accommodate the increase, the Portfolio Holder advised that many of these would be renewals rather than additional badges and that an Occupational Health Assessor reviewed applications to ensure that they met the criteria. Asked if there could be one pro-forma for applying, rather than the current two, and whether reminder emails were sent out in good time, the Portfolio Holder advised that officers were looking at this. He paid tribute to the CABs team, saying that it worked extremely well without always getting the recognition it deserved.
· The Portfolio Holder was asked whether exit interviews were highlighting a trend that officers were leaving for higher salaries in locations that were only a short distance away. It was suggested that more meaningful pay negotiations should be conducted to find innovative solutions. The Portfolio Holder acknowledged the difficulties in recruitment and retention in certain areas, such as legal and social services, and that more flexibility in the Medpay scheme would be beneficial. Regular staff surveys were conducted to understand the views of the workforce. It was also confirmed that some services conducted stay interviews to help understand staff retention.
· On the need to ensure employees with hybrid working patterns had effective technology, the Portfolio Holder said that hybrid working was working well, and further improvements were being made, such as installing drop down areas.
· In response to a question on the Council’s Apprenticeship Academy target beyond 2022-23, the Portfolio Holder said that the scheme was continuing to help with the retention of staff by enabling them to gain further qualifications. For example, legal apprentices were gaining qualifications to become a para legal, and then a fully qualified lawyer.
· On the issue of term-time working, the view was expressed that Medway had acted poorly towards Teaching Assistants given that other authorities had agreed more generous pay settlements. The Portfolio Holder responded that those authorities might be in a position to be more generous and that, if Medway’s settlement had been higher, it would have had to come out of another part of the budget.
· It was suggested that a briefing be provided for Members on the outcome of staff surveys.
· Reassurance was sought that funding was in place for the timely replacement of IT equipment that had been given to staff to enable them to work remotely during the pandemic, particularly as hybrid working would continue. It was confirmed that there was a specific budget for this.
· With reference to the Council’s Judicial Review challenge of the Secretary of State’s decision to require Medway to accept referrals for unaccompanied asylum-seeking minors, a Member expressed the view that the Council should be doing more to take its fair share of these vulnerable young people.
· On recruitment and retention, concern was expressed about the use of expensive locum staff. The Portfolio Holder agreed that this was less efficient and assured the Committee that the AD Legal and Governance was focused on the service meeting its targets.
· The Portfolio Holder was asked if the staff shortages in Legal Services were related to the missed target for childcare court proceedings. He responded that most authorities missed this national target and some of the cases in Medway were very complicated, requiring translation services. He stressed that Legal Services were very good at improving the capabilities of staff through training.
· Reference was made to the commissioning of a Gypsy and Traveller Accommodation Assessment, referred to in the report, and clarification was sought on why this had not been referred to in the report to Cabinet on 5 July on the Housing Delivery Test Action Plan. The Portfolio Holder responded that he was not responsible for the Local Plan and that all documents would be put before the Planning Inspectorate at the appropriate time.
The Committee thanked the Portfolio Holder for his attendance and for his detailed responses.