This report sets out activities and progress 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 activities and progress made on work areas within the terms of reference of this Committee covered by Councillor Gary Hackwell, Portfolio Holder for Business Management, which were:
Councillor Hackwell responded to Members’ questions and comments as follows:
· Review of Gun Wharf to expand the level of customer focus and reduce the need to additional buildings – Councillor Hackwell advised that there was a review of all Council buildings and their use. One idea under consideration was the use of community centres and hubs to provide the ability for residents to meet with Council officers via MS Teams. This would avoid the need for customers to travel to Chatham to meet with Council officers whilst enhancing the customer experience.
· Telephony service – In response to the confusion some customers had experienced regarding the Council’s phone numbers, Councillor Hackwell explained that this had been addressed by offering the same options for customers, irrespective of whether they dialled 336000 or 333333.
Asked how robust the quality assurance system was regarding missed and dropped calls, Councillor Hackwell said that the new Mitel system provided much more data. Around 30,000 calls were received each month and the one area where demand significantly outstripped available resources was Revenue and Benefits. Following analysis of the data, which shows that many calls related to residents’ Council Tax account, work was in hand to provide a digital version of the account which residents could access online. This would be further developed to enable residents to make changes online, for example to their direct debit. The next initiative would be e-billing for Council Tax.
· Staff retention – Asked how high staff turnover was managed within the service, Councillor Hackwell said that many recruits saw Customer Contact as a good entry route into the Council, from where they could progress onto higher graded positions within the Council.
· The condition of the Gun Wharf building – Asked if there was a strategy for improving the environment within Gun Wharf, Councillor Hackwell said that property fell within Councillor Gulvin’s Portfolio but agreed that there were areas of the building that could be tidied up. However, this would require funding to be available for this purpose.
· Communication of proposed Ward boundary changes – Councillor Hackwell said that this information was already available online through Medway Mapping. He added that he would also investigate whether Ward boundary changes could be added to the web page where residents could find out who their local Councillors were.
· Robustness of Overview and Scrutiny Committees – With reference to the improvements that had been made in relation to the Children and Young Peoples Overview and Scrutiny Committee as part of the response to the inspection of Children’s Services in 2019, such as training, data workshops, and the provision of information outside of Committee meetings, Councillor Hackwell was asked if this model could be rolled out to the other Overview and Scrutiny Committees. He agreed that these improvements had been useful and that rolling them out should be explored.
· Suitability of St George’s Centre for future meetings – Councillor Hackwell agreed with the concerns expressed about the St George’s Centre as a venue for committee meetings, although it had been suitable during the Covid pandemic to enable social distancing to be achieved. He advised that the provision of a larger meeting room with dedicated equipment at Gun Wharf was under consideration. The Chairman added that this meeting would have been at Gun Wharf had Room 9 not been needed for another purpose. It was anticipated that future meetings would be at Gun Wharf. A Member suggested that meeting space within the former Debenhams building be explored.
· Parish Community Governance review – Further information was sought on the questionnaire that had been sent out to electors in Parished areas and other interested parties. The Chairman, who had chaired the cross-party working group, said that this public consultation on very minor changes had been required under the rules. The expected rise in population in certain Parished areas had been built into the review in terms of increased numbers of elected Parish Councillors.
· Elections and Member and Mayoralty Services – There was recognition and thanks of the work of these teams in difficult circumstances over the past year.
· Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities (DLUHC) consultation on remote meetings – Councillor Hackwell said that he would liaise with Democratic Services on the outcome of previous consultations where there was a strong consensus that the decision to hold in person or hybrid meetings should be made by the individual local authority.
· Election Act 2022 – Concerns were expressed about the practical changes required at short notice, under the Elections Act 2022, for the May 2023 elections, and the delay in the provision of guidance which would not be received until January 2023. Councillor Hackwell said that he shared these concerns but had not yet lobbied the Government. It was suggested that a letter be sent, possibly signed by the Portfolio Holder, the Committee Chair, Vice-Chair and Opposition Spokes, supporting the concerns of the Association of Election Administrators.
· Underspend of the exceptional hardship payments under the Council Tax Reduction Scheme – Asked why more exceptional hardship payments were not being made, Councillor Hackwell said if people met the criteria, it would be paid. He stressed the importance of promoting the scheme so that more eligible people applied and welcomed suggestions for how this could be achieved.
· Risk Management – Asked how easy it was for members of the public to access public facing risk management documents from the Council’s website, Councillor Hackwell said that although he had not tried, he had found the website to be user friendly and usually found what he was looking for.
The Committee agreed to thank Councillor Hackwell for his attendance and for his detailed responses.