Agenda and minutes

Overview and Scrutiny Commission - Monday, 15th August, 2022 5.30 pm

Venue: Council Chamber - Civic Centre, St Luke's Avenue, Harrogate HG1 2AE. This meeting will be livestreamed here: https://bit.ly/HarrogateYouTube (Copy and paste the link in your browser).. View directions

Contact: Claire Wilson - Scrutiny Officer  Tel: 01423 500600 ext. 58323 Email:  claire.wilson@harrogate.gov.uk

Items
No. Item

19.

Apologies for absence and notification of substitutes:

Minutes:

Notification had been received that Councillor Matthew Webber was to act as a substitute for Councillor Pat Marsh, Councillor Paul Haslam was acting as a sub for Councillor John Ennis and Councillor Victoria Oldham was acting as a sub for Councillor Sue Lumby.

(5.31 pm)

20.

Declarations of interest:

Members to advise of any declarations of interest.

Minutes:

In respect of Minute 29/22 Councillor Chris Aldred declared an interest on the basis that he was a member of the Unison trade union. As this was not considered to be a disclosable pecuniary interest and no decisions were being taken Councillor Aldred remained in the meeting and took part in the discussion on the item.

 (5.31 pm)

21.

Minutes: pdf icon PDF 299 KB

Of the meeting of 4 July 2022.

Minutes:

The Minutes of the meeting of the Commission held on 4 July 2022 were approved as a correct record.

 

(Eight Members voted for the motion and there were two abstentions)

(5.31 pm)

22.

Exempt information:

To determine whether to exclude the press and public during the consideration of any exempt items – item 6 (part).

Minutes:

Appendices A-E of the item considered at Minute 24/22 were considered exempt by virtue of paragraph 3 of Schedule 12A to the Local Government Act 1972 as they contained information relating to the financial affairs of the Council and were considered commercially sensitive. Consideration of this item, however, took place in open session.

 (5.32 pm)

23.

Public arrangements- questions:

To consider any questions under Standing Order 27.

Minutes:

There were no public questions under Standing Order 27. The Chair explained that members of the public could contact Democratic Services via the Harrogate Borough Council website and submit a question to be answered at a future meeting of the Commission.

(5.33 pm)

24.

2022/23 July Financial & Service Plan Performance Update: pdf icon PDF 303 KB

The Head of Finance, the Service Finance Manager and the Improvement and Development Manager to submit a joint written report.

Additional documents:

Minutes:

The Chair welcomed the Head of Finance (HoF) to the meeting to present the July Financial and Service Plan Performance report to the Commission. This was the first quarterly update of the year and the overall financial forecast for the year-end position was an overspend of £701k. The forecast was based on actual figures to the end of May 2022.

 

The specific main variances that made up the forecast overspend were in Table 1 at paragraph 5.2 of the main report. The well-publicised increases in utility and fuel prices were the largest variance, the estimated extra cost in 2022/23 was £1million for gas and £750k for electricity. Overall the forecast overspend for utilities was £1,230k, offset by water (£20k less than budget) and £500k provision set aside from the 2021/22 corporate underspend. The outturn for 2021/22 included a significant underspend of around £2 million. Cabinet had agreed proposed uses for this, which included £500k for utility and fuel increases in 2022/23 and £647k for HCC redevelopment work. These were subject to ratification by Full Council in September 2022.

 

It was confirmed that Harrogate Convention Centre and swimming pools across the district would have the highest utility costs. The Director of Economy, Environment and Culture who was in attendance at the meeting confirmed that to ensure best value the Council had a contractual arrangement with a specialist buying organisation who sourced the best deal, this was contracted over several years and periodically reviewed. It was noted that the changes to the energy price cap did not directly affect businesses.

 

Variances were offset by recycling income which was forecast to be £400k more than budgeted? due to the commodities market performing well currently and salary savings of £318k. The HoF explained that there was an expectation that salary savings would continue to increase during the year, with high staff turnover also reported. It was likely that some of the forecast overspend could be recovered or would be met through use of the Budget Transition Fund or ultimately the working balance.

 

It was confirmed that the net budget was £21.8 million and the forecast overspend was equivalent to 3.2% of this. It was noted that the Council had outturned on budget during the Covid-19 pandemic.

 

It was confirmed that the Council Tax annex, which was included in the Treasury Management section of the report and was higher than budgeted, this was a local discount for annexes of a main property. The Council was able to make applications to claim funds back from central government, the Council Tax annex discount grant was £20k higher than budget.

 

Members referred to the volumes of people contacting the Housing Options team who were potentially facing homelessness. It was confirmed that the Council was able to process applications quickly but finding suitable accommodation was very difficult at this time. This was due to a lack of available properties in the private rented sector, which was a national issue, and resulted in increasing reliance on bed and  ...  view the full minutes text for item 24.

25.

Corporate Performance Report, Q1 2022/23: pdf icon PDF 668 KB

The Improvement and Development Manager to submit a written report.

Additional documents:

Minutes:

The Improvement and Development Manager (IDM) had submitted the Corporate Performance Update for the first quarter of 2022/23, including two appendices the Delivery Plan and Corporate Health Report which contained information on performance indicators. The IDM introduced the report in the context of cost of living increases, fuel and energy price rises. Council staff were also dealing with increased workloads due to Local Government Reorganisation.

 

Some key successes were Harrogate Convention Centre’s overall income was £100k above target at £4.8million and was making good progress on decarbonisation projects. Bracewell Homes Ltd. performance was considered good with new properties due to complete later in the year. Nursery modernisation was off target, as site options were considered. Homelessness services had seen a 60% increase in cases compared to previous years, this area was also considered at Minute 24/22.

 

Corporate health information showed low sickness levels. Telephone and online contact data and complaints were considered. Stage 1 complaints performance was better than the previous quarter, there were additional resources focussed on complaints with improved monitoring and insight. Response timescales were sometimes affected by areas outside of the council’s control.

 

It was agreed to provide more information on the approach taken to improving the time taken to license/re-licence houses of multiple occupation. Members raised concerns that delays could be putting people at risk.

 

It was noted that land charges searches were currently taking around 10 days to complete and the service had successfully reduced a backlog. It was noted that the Place Shaping and Economic Growth service had worked to multi-skill across the team, which was beneficial to deal with changes in demand in different areas.

 

The Director of Economy, Environment and Culture who was in attendance at the meeting confirmed that discussions were ongoing regarding a contract variation for the Ripon Renewal project and that these would be concluded as quickly as possible. The project involved work to develop a masterplan for Ripon that would prioritise key areas for future projects. Regarding a query relating to the impact that LGR would have on the timescales and the staff working on the project, it was confirmed that this should continue as per the current arrangements under LGR and the same staff would be involved.

 

It was noted that the website had more unique users, this was because more services were available online and the Council was continually increasing and improving online access to services.

 

It was noted that performance information for Brimhams Active Ltd. was not included and monitoring and challenge would be undertaken through the Board of Directors. The Chair referred to scrutiny of wholly council owned companies by the new North Yorkshire Council and that formal scrutiny arrangements could be considered.

 

The Commission thanked the IDM for the report and requested that staff across services were congratulated for their continued hard work and resilience.

(6.05 pm - 6.22 pm)

26.

Forward Plan of Key Decisions: pdf icon PDF 134 KB

To consider current Forward Plan items.

Minutes:

The Scrutiny Officer confirmed that since the agenda had been published two Key Decisions had been listed, they were acceptance of water and electricity contracts, with decisions not before the 9 September 2022. Two decisions listed were due to be made by Cabinet on 17 August 2022 they were Claro Road Demolition and Site Improvement Works and Harrogate Convention Centre Redevelopment Project.

(6.22 pm - 6.23 pm)

27.

Report back on Overview and Scrutiny Commission Review of Customer Services: pdf icon PDF 154 KB

The Revenues, Welfare and Customer Service Manager to submit a written report.

Minutes:

The Revenues, Welfare and Customer Service Manager (RWCSM) submitted a written report, this was the service response to an Overview and Scrutiny Commission review of customer services. The RWCSM confirmed that delivering excellent customer services was a key priority for the Council. At the time of the review there had been a period of rapid change in technology and the Council had worked to develop access to services online.

 

The table at 5.1 of the report provided an update on each of the eight recommendations. This included a review of acknowledgement emails, increasing functionality with regards to telephony. It was noted that 55% of people still chose to contact the Council by phone, a call-back service had been successfully trialled for housing repairs.

 

It was noted that implementation and development of some of the recommendations had been impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic with a shift in priorities and additional work for the service around administering grants. Future organisational change due to the creation of a new unitary authority was also a factor. Other points raised were:

 

·                     Performance information showed call waiting times were good

·                     Complaints information was monitored by a dedicated complaints officer which enabled valuable insights and learning from complaints

·                     Webforms were updated and customer feedback was a valuable tool

·                     Covid-19 had impacted on plans to deliver customer service training to Members

·                     Promotion and awareness of the Customer Charter had increased across the Council

·                     Member accounts had been investigated but costs were prohibitive, webforms included functionality to enable requests to be submitted on behalf of other people

 

Councillor Paul Haslam had chaired the task and finish group and overseen the production of the report. He noted that operational progress was good, especially within the context of Covid-19 and LGR. The importance of training for Members was noted, especially around encouraging residents to use the appropriate channels to contact the Council. At a strategic level the review findings could feed into the development of customer service policies and procedures at the new authority and the review findings had been shared with relevant working groups to enable this. The professionalism and commitment of staff working in customer services was noted, along with the reported improvements that benefitted people served by the Council. The Chair thanked the RWCSM for her work and for attending the meeting.

 

 (6.23 pm – 6.35 pm)

28.

Overview and Scrutiny Commission - UCI Review Executive Summary and Final Report Update: pdf icon PDF 131 KB

To allow for any updates:

 

·       Meeting of Cabinet on 20 July 2022

Additional documents:

Minutes:

The Chair provided an update to the Commission on the referral to Cabinet of the summary and full final reports of the Overview and Scrutiny review of the preparation, hosting and implications of the 2019 UCI Road World Championship. He had attended Cabinet on 20 July 2022 with Councillor Nick Brown who had chaired the task and finish group to present the report as agreed by the Commission at their meeting held on 4 July 2022. The Draft Minute from the meeting of Cabinet was included with documents and gave details of what the main considerations were at the meeting. Cabinet accepted the recommendations, which could be developed by Harrogate Borough Council or the new Council as appropriate.

(6.35 pm - 6.38 pm)

29.

Overview and Scrutiny Commission Draft Work Programme 2022/23: pdf icon PDF 338 KB

The Scrutiny Officer to submit a written report.

Minutes:

Councillor Paul Haslam requested guidance from Members in addressing issues associated with building work close to existing properties, where disruption and environmental concerns had been raised by local residents and the scale of projects could potentially mean disruption over a long period of time.

 

It was noted that a review by the Commission would likely not be the most appropriate or effective way forward. Members acknowledged and sympathised with residents’ concerns. Enforcement officers could investigate any issues and look to ensure building work was undertaken in a considerate way. Some Members had received a briefing in 2021 about enforcement, covering the approach and powers. It was noted that the process and structures could be challenging with long timescales.

 

The Kingsley ward was an example where concerns had been raised and Members noted the development area bordered a number of wards. It was suggested that the Councillors of these wards could have a joint approach, involving developers and delivery companies to understand and work towards any improvements.

 

Members considered enforcement mechanisms and their role to protect residents. The focus of any potential future work would be on helping residents and supporting the enforcement team to address any compliance matters. Councillor Matthew Webber highlighted the good work of the Community Safety Hub with similar conflict resolution matters involving multiple parties. Other points raised were:

 

·         Raising awareness could be beneficial either in local media or via Full Council

·         Future approach for the new council

·         Find out information via planning Public Access and updates on developments

·         Impacts associated with new significant infrastructure

·         Some delivery through limited companies associated with only one development

·         Some development areas were complex with multiple developers, permissions and contractors

 

It was agreed to provide information to Members based on the consideration at the meeting and the points raised.

 

It was confirmed that the next meeting of the Commission to be held on 5 September 2022 would include a presentation on Local Government Reorganisation which was the Commission’s agreed focus for the year. The Chair and Vice Chair had attended Management Board to discuss this work and senior officers had agreed to attend and provide information to Members. The emphasis would be to update on Harrogate Borough Council priorities and delivering major projects.

 

The Chair referred to paragraphs 3.5 and 3.6 of the report. The Commission had agreed to not pursue four outstanding work items in the 2022/23 year, this included a piece of work focussed on the Council’s use of agency workers. UNISON (the public service trade union) had requested the review and a scope had been developed and agreed. The secretary of the Harrogate Local Government Branch of UNISON had requested that the Commission was made aware of UNISON’s disappointment that the issue would not be reviewed and it was agreed that this update would be reported at the meeting.

 

(6.38 pm - 7.04 pm)