SWT Corporate Scrutiny Committee
Wednesday, 1st March, 2023 6.15 pm
Venue: The John Meikle Room - The Deane House. View directions
Webcast: View the webcast
To receive any apologies for absence.
Apologies were received from Cllrs Habib Farbahi, Simon Nicholls and Sarah Wakefield.
Amy Tregellas and Alison North attended via zoom.
To approve the minutes of the previous meeting of the Committee held on
The Minutes of the previous meeting of the Corporate Scrutiny Committee were approved as a true record.
Prop: Coles / Sec: Firmin (Unanimous)
Declarations of Interest
To receive and note any declarations of disclosable pecuniary or prejudicial or personal interests in respect of any matters included on the agenda for consideration at this meeting.
(The personal interests of Councillors and Clerks of Somerset County Council, Town or Parish Councils and other Local Authorities will automatically be recorded in the minutes.)
Members present at the meeting declared the following personal interests in their capacity as a Councillor or Clerk of a County, Town or Parish Council or any other Local Authority:-
The Chair to advise the Committee of any items on which members of the public have requested to speak and advise those members of the public present of the details of the Council’s public participation scheme.
For those members of the public who have submitted any questions or statements, please note, a three minute time limit applies to each speaker and you will be asked to speak before Councillors debate the issue.
We are now live webcasting most of our committee meetings and you are welcome to view and listen to the discussion. The link to each webcast will be available on the meeting webpage, but you can also access them on the Somerset West and Taunton webcasting website.
There were no items of public participation.
To receive an update on the Local Government Review (LGR) and Community Governance Review (CGR)
Executive Portfolio Holder Report for Local Government Reorganisation (LGR) – Councillor Sarah Wakefield.
To provide a verbal update on LGR progress. This has been requested as a standing item on the agenda by the Chair, Cllr Sue Buller.
Alison North delivered a final verbal update on the Local Government Reorganisation. The main points are as follows: -
· Tier 3 recruitment is due to start next week, with appointments to be made in the week commencing 23 March. This would mean that the top level of management would then be in place to take the workstreams through to vesting day.
· Several milestones had been reached since the last update with approval of the budget, the constitution and workstream readiness being robustly checked.
· One new phone number had now been implemented so there was a single point of contact into the Authority. This provided more resilience for the customer call-centre teams as they now had worked across the whole of Somerset.
· There was only one ICT migration left to implement which was Mendip. It was testament to the hard work and collaboration of the ICT teams that this had been a relatively smooth process. It was hoped that April 1st would be a bit of an anti-climax and the public wouldn’t notice any change in the delivery of their services.
· Staff were receiving regular weekly updates on managing the change, including how to obtain their new ID badge, payroll arrangements and where they would be working on Day1.
Councillors commented on the recent ICT changes which had presented some challenges with printing and accessing payslips. Cllr Federica Smith Roberts offered to assist with this outside of the meeting if required.
The Chair thanked Alison for her regular updates to the Committee and wished her well for the future.
The Committee noted the update.
To update the Scrutiny Committee on the progress of resolutions and recommendations from previous meetings of the Committee.
The Committee noted the updates to the Recommendation and Written Answer Tracker.
One additional comment was made that the £2 concessionary bus-fare scheme has been extended until June, rather than ending on 31 March as detailed in the tracker.
To review the final meetings of the Executive and Full Council via the Forward Plans.
The Committee noted the items that were going forward to the final Executive meeting on 15 March.
The Chair had been sighted on the Commercial in Confidence report which was the responsibility of Joe Wharton. This unfortunately had not been written in time to be scrutinised by the committee, but members who wished to comment could attend the Executive meeting. The item would be held in confidential session.
No other comments were forthcoming.
This report is the responsibility of Councillor Sue Buller – Chair of Corporate Scrutiny and has been drafted in collaboration with the Vice Chair, Councillor Nick Thwaites.
To approve the Annual report of the Corporate Scrutiny Committee 2022/23 for consideration by Full Council. Article 6 of the SWT Constitution states that "The Scrutiny Committees must report annually on their work".
The Chair presented her report to the Committee.
Cllr Loretta Whetlor extended her thanks to the Chair and Vice-Chair for their tenure leading the Committee and wished everyone well in the future.
The Chair thanked officers and councillors for the time they had given to the Committee in the past year.
The Committee unanimously approved the report.
This matter is the responsibility of Executive Councillor Member Benet Allen.
Report Author: Malcolm Riches, Business Intelligence and Performance Manager.
Cllr Benet Allen introduced the Corporate Performance Monitoring report to Corporate Scrutiny and invited the committee to comment.
Comments and questions included the following:-
· Concern about the red risk areas in particular the number of complaints, call waiting times and gas compliance.
o With regard to complaints – the targets were aspirational and very tight to achieve. Improvements were being made in the final quarter which should hopefully improve the figure overall.
o Call waiting times were currently reducing due to an increase in staff and more resilience in the system. The figures in Qtr3 were concerning and this was being addressed. There had been some issues with call abandonment due to the recent technical changes but this was being followed up and the waiting times were coming down.
o The gas compliance issue related to 1 property not having its annual check within the required time. This issue has now been addressed and the target has been achieved.
· It was questioned whether sickness and staff turnover (currently flagged as Amber) were higher than expected and the reasons for this?
o Staff sickness is difficult to monitor due to the ongoing Covid situation and working from home. Some members of staff on long-term sick will also falsely skew the figures. Staff sickness is currently higher than expected hence the Amber status. It was asked if comparative figures from other Somerset authorities could be provided to Cllrs so that they could assess whether this was a county wide issue. Malcolm Riches agreed to email the Committee with the statistics.
o Staff turnover was higher than the KPI, but this was expected in the current climate of uncertainty and reflected across the UK, especially in key roles were recruitment and retention were a challenge.
Corporate Scrutiny noted the report.
Access to Information - Exclusion of the Press and Public - Appendix F ONLY
During discussion of the following item (Agenda Item 11 – Appendix F only) it may be necessary to pass the following resolution to exclude the press and public having reflected on Article 13 13.02(e) (a presumption in favour of openness) of the Constitution. This decision may be required because consideration of this matter in public may disclose information falling within one of the descriptions of exempt information in Schedule 12A to the Local Government Act 1972. Corporate Scrutiny will need to decide whether, in all the circumstances of the case, the public interest in maintaining the exemption, outweighs the public interest in disclosing the information.
Recommend that under Section 100A(4) of the Local Government Act 1972 the public be excluded from the next item of business (Agenda Item 11 – Appendix F only) on the ground that it involves the likely disclosure of exempt information as defined in paragraph 3 respectively of Part 1 of Schedule 12A of the Act, namely information relating to the financial or business affairs of any particular person (including the authority holding that information).
The Committee moved to enter confidential session to discuss Appendix F of the report, and a planning issue raised by Cllr Gwil Wren.
Prop: Buller / Sec: Coles (Unanimous).
The Committee then re-opened the meeting to vote on the recommendations in Point 2 of the report.
This matter is the responsibility of Executive Councillor Benet Allen, Portfolio Holder for Communication and Corporate Resources.
Report Author: Kerry Prisco, Management Accounting and Reporting Lead.
Cllr Benet Allen introduced the Financial Monitoring Report for Qtr 3 and invited the Committee to comment: -
Paul Fitzgerald responded to a concern that had been raised by the Chair prior to the meeting, in respect of Appendix F and writing off bad debt. Somerset West and Taunton takes a robust approach and pursues every opportunity to recover non-payment of council tax/business rates. SWT only carries collectable debt on its books and toxic bad debt had to be written off the accounts especially if there was no chance of recovery and all avenues of investigation had been exhausted.
Cllr Wren expressed interest in 5.10 of the report and the potential cost of clearance of Muddy Acre. Chris Hall advised that this was a sensitive planning issue and could not be discussed in a public forum.
It was decided to move the Committee into confidential session to further explore Appendix F and have an update on the Qtr3 variance on Planning as defined in Table 2 of paragraph 5.10 of the report.
Corporate Scrutiny reopened the meeting to approve the recommendations to the report en bloc. These were accepted unanimously by the Committee.
Paul Fitzgerald thanked Corporate Scrutiny Committee and the Chair for their work with staff over the last year. This was responded to by the Chair, who wished all staff well for the future.