Agenda item

Attendance of the Portfolio Holder for Business Management

This annual report provides an account of the role of the Portfolio Holder for Business Management. It details their ambitions for their areas of responsibility, how they have and will undertake political challenge and leadership and what their priorities and ambitions are for the year ahead.


The following issues were discussed:


Recruitment and retention – in response to a request for further information regarding the impact of the recent pay decision on recruitment and retention the Portfolio Holder stated that there had been recent positive recruitment in the legal department, with the numbers of locums falling from 70% of legal services to around half a dozen.


A Member commented that improved recruitment and retention was welcome, and noted the positive work undertaken by the Medpay project. A Member expressed concern that only 5% of temporary staff had so far been converted to permanent staff which included changes to legal services approved by Full Council.


The Chief Organisational Cultural Officer commented that there had been a positive improvement in recruitment and retention for those services in phase one of Medpay and this was part of the strategy to reduce reliance on temporary staff.


A Member expressed surprise that 673 new contracts had been issued, which equated to nearly a third of the total staff workforce. The Portfolio Holder stated that a number of new staff had been taken on then subsequently left the Council which accounted for some of the higher than expected figure, she undertook to provide further detailed information outside of the meeting.


Productivity – A Member asked whether a rise in productivity was expected in conjunction with the pay rise for staff. The Portfolio Holder informed the Committee that the pay rise was linked to the cost-of-living crisis and did not, in her view, represent a huge pay increase. Recruitment and retention was an issue of concern for the Council, and this would be exacerbated without the decision made at Council. In terms of recruiting new staff the Portfolio Holder stated that it would take time for new staff to reach peak productivity.


Performance Data – A Member commented that performance data for Customer Contact, Complaints and Blue Badges was described as good and requested further detail be provided regarding that data. The Portfolio Holder for Business Management undertook to provide that information to the Committee outside of the meeting.


Discretionary Housing Payments – further information was requested in relation to plans for the remaining monies not already allocated in relation to discretionary housing payments, the Portfolio Holder undertook to provide further information outside the meeting.


Household Support Fund – it was commented that the total payments to Medway residents from the Household Support Fund (paragraph 6.1.6 of the report refers) was unclear, the Portfolio Holder acknowledged there was a typo, and she would provide a corrected figure outside of the meeting.


Council Tax – it was noted that 8,000 review letters had been issued following a review of single persons discount resulting in 1,600 discounts being cancelled. A Member queried what progress had been made in relation to the other 6,400 letters sent to residents. The Portfolio Holder replied that she could not provide details at this stage. A Member informed the Committee that this issue had been considered elsewhere and in the other 6,400 other cases, the discounts were found to have been in order.


Liability Orders for Recovery of Council Tax – it was queried what was the impact of increasing the summons cost, the introduction of liability costs in relation to recovery of council tax and whether there were any costs to the Council associated with liability orders. The Portfolio Holder stated she did not have that information and would provide this outside of the meeting.


Education and Training – in response to a query whether adult education services were being accessed by Council staff, the Portfolio Holder explained that plans were in place to encourage more take up of adult education opportunities by staff, however, the Gun Wharf building being partially closed had made this more difficult. More widely, staff retention had improved, sickness levels remained high, though had reduced since last year. A new staff survey was planned for May 2024.


Customer and Business Support (CABS) – Further information was requested in relation to staff retention, call waiting times and causes of the significant fall in numbers of calls being received in the past year, the Portfolio Holder stated that call waiting times were reasonable and staff were dealing with the pressure, she undertook to provide a more detailed response outside of the meeting.


It was also requested that further information was provided as to the number of abandoned calls, calls relating to the work of different departments and performance of staff who are working from home, the Portfolio Holder agreed this information would also be provided.


Older Person’s and Disabled Bus Pass – A Member queried how many bus pass applications had been rejected, the Portfolio Holder undertook to provide that detailed information outside of the meeting.


Community Interpreting Service (CIS) – A Member asked if plans were in place for greater use of technology in translation services. The Portfolio Holder noted that some residents preferred to have the person to person translation service.


The Chief Information Officer informed the Committee that charges were made for translation and interpreting services. Translation services could be digitised however there were subtle cultural differences between translation and interpreting, which was often done face to face.


My Council Tax Online – it was commented that the take up of the Council Tax online portal and paperless billing was a positive development, a Member asked whether the scheme had reduced the number of calls to CABS from residents to find out their Council Tax balance which was previously 7% of all calls to the service. In addition, it was asked what could be done to incentivise further take up of the My Council Tax online scheme by residents. The Portfolio Holder stated she would provide that information outside of the meeting.


Recruitment – in response to a question whether there was any cost to the Council in taking the senior officer recruitment in-house, the Portfolio Holder undertook to confirm this in writing.


Disabled Badges – A Member noted the worked completed in relation to disabled badges and thanked the team for their hard work.


Procurement - A Member asked if the slow change in procurement was caused by a lack of recruitment and restricted budgets. The Chief Cultural Organisational Officer agreed that staffing levels were an issue when promoting change, however there was also a cultural issue in a reluctance to change the way work had been undertaken.


Complaints and Compliments – a Member commented that it was welcome the Council received a compliment for every three complaints and that performance in dealing with complaints exceeded targets, she asked for further information on how this performance had been achieved and whether the target be amended given the success.


The Chief Information Officer noted that the complaints team worked directly with services to ensure all areas of a complaint were dealt with in the first instance reducing responses and promoted the positive performance results. Targets were benchmarked against other authorities.




The Committee noted the report.

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