Agenda item

Medway Norse Strategic Update and Member's Item

The covering report represents a mid-year review of the performance of the Joint Venture (JV)from theperspective ofthe Councilclient forthe 2021/22financial year.It is accompanied by an update on the Joint Venture’s achievements and financial performance prepared by the Partnership Director at Medway Norse.


This report was considered by Cabinet on 10 January 2023.


The report also sets out responses to issues raised by Councillor Osborne.




The Committee considered a report on the performance of the Joint Venture (JV) from the perspective of the Council client for the 2021/22 financial year. It was accompanied by an update on the Joint Venture’s achievements and financial performance prepared by the Partnership Director at Medway Norse.


The report also set out responses to issues raised by Councillor Osborne, who had requested a Members’ Item on Medway Norse. Councillor Osborne was in attendance to introduce the issues he had raised.


Following an introduction of the report from the Partnership Director, Councillor Osborne said that he considered this JV model had been largely successful, but raised the following questions to which the Partnership Director responded:


·       Was there a signed contract between the Council and Medway Norse?: 

There was a signed contract; the core contract had been set up in 2013 and an extension arrangement from 31 May 2023 was in place.


·       Why did Cabinet Members sit on the Medway Norse Board, when the Auditors were not in favour of this arrangement? How did his compare with other areas of the Country in which Norse operated?:

From a Norse Group perspective, the way in which the partnership was set up was typical of all its JVs. Norse Group considered the Medway partnership arrangement to be one of the better ones as it facilitated a two-way exchange of information. The Partnership Director said that he was satisfied that the arrangement worked effectively.


·       How successful had Medway Norse been in generating business with organisations other than the Council?:

Although commercial operations were strong and activity had been growing, this had been on hold due to the pandemic. It was the intention to continue to pursue this vision as the workforce stabilised. It was recognised that at present there was too much reliance on sub-contracting and the aim was to grow the workforce to provide services directly.


·       Were minutes of Medway Norse Board meetings published in which, for example, changes in staffing numbers were recorded?:

Minutes of the Liaison Board were accessible by officers. The Board minutes were also available to Cabinet Members. 


·       Why were a number of free-standing bins missing and were any other services missing? Did this show that the contract was not being sufficiently monitored?:

Medway Council officers were currently undertaking audits of bin infrastructure and their report should be completed by the end of the current financial year. Medway Norse emptied all bins that were available and reported damaged bins. It also replaced bins when requested to do so. Currently the list of bins was the one in place when the contact transferred from Veolia to Norse at the end of 2019 and there remained some uncertainty. However, as a result of the current audit work, there would be a definitive register of bins with a QR code going forward.


·       Could more information be provided on the reduction in staff numbers?:

Over the course of the 10-year contact, there had been efficiencies and restructuring at the supervisory level. At the service delivery level there had not been any reduction in staff levels, although there were vacancies that were covered by agency staff. It was noted that staff levels included schools and therefore there were fluctuations as schools contacts started or finished. Many schools which had ended their contract with Norse were in the process of returning.  


·       Committee members raised the following additional issues which the Partnership Director responded to:

Was the accurate number of bins known?:

Bin numbers had previously been recorded by Veolia and these had been provided to Medway Norse, but it was clear that this information had not been as comprehensive as it might have been.


·       Was there the capacity and commercial desire for Medway Norse to take on other waste contacts within Kent?:

Norse Group was very active and is seeking to expand into different areas but the challenge for expanding the waste operations was the size and scale of sites.


·       How was increased staff turnover being addressed?:

Attracting staff was a challenge due to the availability of higher rates of pay elsewhere although staff retention in grounds greenspace and waste teams was good as staff valued the job security. Norse had reacted quickly when the driver crisis happened and had agreed to pay market rates. The areas that did suffer high staff turnover were the part-time hours roles. For example, cleaning staff were attracted by other roles with increased pay without an increase in working hours. Also, increased pay rates locally for minibus drivers had created a challenge.


·       Was the sign shop operating effectively?:

There had been some confusion caused by a breakdown in communications at the time of the TUPE transfer of the service but these had been overcome and the sign shop was now functioning effectively.


·       Were there occasions where experts specialists had to be brought in for some services under the contract, for example in the Theatres?:

The Partnership Director undertook to provide a response outside the meeting.


·       What data was collected during contract monitoring and who was this reported to? Were revised KPIs suggested by Medway Norse or by the Council?:

The three main areas within the contract that were monitored, were green spaces, the waste contract, and facilities management. Each area had its own Council driven KPIs, and monthly meetings were held with lead officers to discuss these. In line with the two-way communications facilitated by partnership working, revised KPIs were suggested by both Medway Norse and the Council.


·       Further clarity was sought on the KPIs for facilities management:

These related to the format of reporting of response times and satisfaction levels. Medway Norse was working with the Council’s compliance team so that the Council’s building managers had the information they needed. For Gun Wharf, Medway Norse were responsible for the management of the building. 


·       How often were buildings conditions survey carried out? Could a situation similar to the collapsed ceiling at Splashes happen again?:

Baseline condition surveys of properties were carried out on behalf of the Council around 10 years ago and these were now being revisited. Issues would be rated Red, Amber or Green and any health and safety concerns would be addressed. Concern was expressed by Members about the level of funding available for the repair and maintenance of buildings.


·       How often were routine inspections of play equipment carried out as delays in repairs had been noted?:

A number of components were currently on long delivery times and better communication was needed to explain to residents why play equipment was not being repaired as quickly as it should be.


·       Does the capacity for bulky waste collections need to be increased to reduce the current wait times?:

Medway Norse was contractually obliged to carried out 55 such collections a day but did not take any income from this service. To deliver more, additional vehicles and crews would be needed.


·       What was the process for identifying contacts that Medway Norse might be interested in taking on?:

A central Norse team was responsible for this and tended to look for contacts of at least three years. Contracts were currently being won with schools within Medway.


·       Were the efforts to raise the profile of greenspaces within Medway a Medway Norse initiative or was it in conjunction with the Council?:

This was a joint effort and Norse was part funding a dedicated communications officer post.


·       Could Medway Norse have a role in maintaining a healthy tree stock, possibly under the Urban Tree Challenge Fund?:

Whenever a tree was planted by Norse, three years funding was included for watering. Funding was limited but Medway Norse would do all it could within available resources to maximise tree planting.


·       Further clarification was sought on Medway Norse profits and rebates to the Council:

The KPI table within the report related to Medway Norse’s operating budget so did include commercial activity. The terminology within the contract related to the 50% of profit generated by Medway Norse which was passed to Medway Council as a rebate. This had grown incrementally over the past six years. The Partnership Director said he would provide further clarity outside the meeting on the profit figure of £1.33 million for 2020/21 referred to in the report, compared to the accounts filed with Companies House.


·       Why was compost no longer provided to allotment holders:

As a waste carrier, Norse must comply with legislation and the licence under which Norse operated did not permit this.




The Committee:


1.    Noted the contents of this report and its Appendices.


2.    Noted the officer’s comments provided in response to the Member’s item.


3.    Requested that a copy of the existing contact between Medway Norse and Medway Council be circulated to all Members of the Council, in light of the suggestion that there may be changes to key performance indicators.


4.    Noted the insufficiency of the current building repair and maintenance funding model and the delayed building stock surveys and requested a further report on progress to bring the Council’s building stock up to standard.

Supporting documents: