Overview and Scrutiny Committee Minutes

Tuesday, 19th January, 2016
Council Chamber, Council Offices, Gernon Road, Letchworth Garden City

Attendance Details

Councillor Cathryn Henry (Chairman), Councillor Steve Hemingway (Vice-Chairman), Councillor John Booth (substitute), Councillor Jean Green, Councillor Sandra Lunn, Councillor M.R.M. Muir, Councillor Janine Paterson, Councillor Frank Radcliffe, Councillor Mike Rice and Councillor Deborah Segalini.
In attendance:
Councillor Tony Hunter (Executive Member for Community Engagement and Rural Affairs), John Robinson (Strategic Director of Customer Services), Liz Green (Head of Policy and Community Services), Johanne Dufficy (Customer Services Manager), Brendan Sullivan (Scrutiny Officer) and Hilary Dineen (Committee and Member Services Officer).
Also Present:
Councillor Julian Cunningham and one member of the public.
Item Description/Decision
Apologies for absence were received from Councillors Clare Billing, Bill Davidson, Sal Jarvis, David Leal-Bennett, Paul Marment and Gerald Morris.

Having given due notice Councillor John Booth advised that he would be substituting for Councillor David Leal-Bennett.
Councillor Mike Rice advised that he had given his apologies for the meeting held on 8 December 2015, although this had not been recorded.

(1) That apologies for the meeting held on 8 December 2015 be recorded for Councillor Mike Rice;

(2) That the Minutes of the Meeting held on 8 December 2015 be approved as a true record of the proceedings and be signed by the Chairman.
No other business was submitted for consideration by the Committee.
(1) The Chairman reminded those present that, in line with Council policy, the meeting would be audio recorded;

(2) The Chairman welcomed Councillor Tony Hunter (Executive Member for Community Engagement and Rural Affairs) to the meeting;

(3) Members were reminded that any declarations of interest in respect of any business set out in the agenda, should be declared as either a Disclosable Pecuniary Interest or Declarable Interest and are required to notify the Chairman of the nature of any interest declared at the commencement of the relevant item on the agenda. Members declaring a Disclosable Pecuniary Interest must withdraw from the meeting for the duration of the item. Members declaring a Declarable Interest which requires they leave the room under Paragraph 7.4 of the Code of Conduct, can speak on the item, but must leave the room before the debate and vote.
There were no presentations from members of the public.
No urgent or general exception items were received.
Since the last meeting, no decisions had been called-in by the Overview and Scrutiny Committee.
Councillor Tony Hunter, Executive Member for Community Engagement and Rural Affairs, thanked the Chairman for the opportunity to address the Committee and gave a verbal presentation on the issues within his Portfolio.

He tabled the following documents:
• Main Portfolio Issues;
• Communities Team Briefing Note - December 2015;
• The Rural Community Halls Capital Funding Scheme;
• Community Safety Briefing Note - 19 January 2015.

Councillor Hunter advised that the Community Engagement and Rural Affairs Portfolio covered a broad scope of issues including subjects that crossed portfolios, such as health which was shared with the Executive Member for Housing and Environmental Health.

Twelve projects had been supported by this scheme with £101,000 of funding being released.

This scheme had enabled a further £38,000 to be spent in Parishes around the District.

NHDC currently spent £419,000 on grant awards, which was amazing for a relatively small District, although it was likely that, due to the current financial circumstances this amount would have to be reduced in coming years.

A review of the grants system was currently being undertaken and would be presented to this Committee once completed.

There were now only two leases that had not yet been finalised. These would probably be referred to Cabinet to consider options.

Funds were made available from the Police and Crime Commissioner which were used for intervention and other schemes to highlight areas that will best benefit the community.

This was an area little known about. It is an agreement across the County about how Councils would engage and enable serving and former service personnel in their local community by providing advice, opportunities for work, adapted housing etc.

The project to transform Hitchin Town Hall into the District Museum and a Community Facility was nearing completion with the internal fit out taking place. Issues with Hitchin Town Hall Ltd were ongoing, but things were changing almost daily and it was possible that a report regarding this would be presented to Council shortly.

North Hertfordshire will have a facility to be proud of.

The Head of Policy and Community Services advised that the Council was in a changing environment and therefore a number of the recommendations had been adopted before the Grant Review had been completed.

She had been reviewing the Grants Policy and as part of that was considering the recommendation of the Task and Finish Group, however, there had been changes and merging changes regarding Budget Policy which needed to be included in any review.

The recommendations in green on the briefing paper had, by necessity, been implemented

Recommendation 7 - District Wide Grants
An interim arrangement had been implemented in 2015/16 with proportional contributions from Area Committee budgets.

Recommendation 8 - Minor MOUs
These had now ceased as they were no longer equitable in terms of fairness of decision making regarding grant funding.

There had been a review by the Cabinet Office around transparency of decision making, from which recommendations/guidance were expected.

There had also been an audit undertaken regarding grant funding and the contents of that report had contributed towards changes already made, such as no longer having fast tracked grants.

She would bring a report to the Committee on this subject shortly.


NHDC had always been a high funder of grant awards, however, with the spending review and other constraints on budgets, the local community and voluntary sector will need to build greater sustainability as the amount of funding available reduced.

The amount of Officer time and the number of volunteers in the community would become a bigger factor, given the needs of an aging population and childcare needs.

The voluntary Sector will increasingly be required to work in different ways in order to take on services or facilities. It will be important to ensure that these groups have access to opportunities to develop

There was an increasing agenda to report concerns regarding community tensions and individuals at risk of becoming radicalised, but this must be balanced with the need to build and retain inclusive communities for different groups who live in the District.

NHDC had a duty to cooperate in the delivery of schemes that encouraged physical activity and in the general prevention of conditions such as diabetes, poor nutrition and obesity, however, it was unlikely that NHDC would be in a position to pick up areas lost with the reduction in public health funding.

The ultimate aim was to find a way to cut budgets, whilst maintaining services.

The Chairman acknowledged that there were a number of recommendations that had not yet been adopted, but stated that, if all recommendations were accepted then they were not challenging enough and therefore it was not necessarily bad that some recommendations were not accepted. She reminded Members that there was an item later in the agenda regarding tracking of recommendations and asked if the suggestions made by the Task and Finish Group had been helpful or provoked thought regarding other issues.

The Head of Policy and Community Services advised that a number of recommendations would not be able to be implemented as worded, but had provided a basis including:

Recommendation 1 - Priorities for Grants
The former Grants Policy contained approximately 78 pages of guidance which included a considerable range of things that could be funded. It was now proposed that any funding should be aligned with the Corporate Plan.

Recommendation 4 - Objectives achieved by Grant Funding
The number of grants varied from year to year ranging from 150 to 400 and it was clear that this had to be proportionate to the amount granted and the capacity of the organisation. This led to consideration about whether NHDC should look at the size of grants made rather than make many smaller grants for which outcomes can’t be measured or consider amalgamating several smaller schemes that delivered similar services and awarding larger grants that could be measured.

Members asked several questions as follows:

How was it intended to monitor that grants achieved the objective stated.

The Head of Policy and Community Services the audit of the grants would enable a more robust system that not only measures outcomes but checks spending of funds, it was planned that updates on individual grants would be provided quickly

A Member, who was also a County Councillor, advised that County Scrutiny considered a list of recommendations made by Task and Finish Groups together with comments of the relevant Cabinet Member. Three months later Officer, the Cabinet Member and the Chairman of the Task and Finish Group attend a meeting and give detailed information regarding how the recommendations were taken forward. This process continues until the Scrutiny Committee are satisfied with the outcomes.

The Executive Member for Community Engagement and Rural Affairs clarified that some County Task and Finish Group recommendations were not accepted, but in these cases the Cabinet Member was asked to give a reason for this.

Members queried which Community Centres had not yet agreed new leases. They noted that agreement of the leases had, in some cases, taken a very long time and asked if this time period could be reduced in future.

The Executive Member for Community Engagement and Rural Affairs advised that the Centres that had not yet agreed leases were Coombes Community Centre, Royston and Walsworth Community Centre, Hitchin.

In respect of lease negotiations, these could be completed quickly if we did not consider the Community Groups and just issued standard leases in line with Council Policy, however Officers had worked hard talking to those groups in order to achieve a lease that was suitable for all parties. There was, however, a limit to the time that could be spent on this. If the Community Centres don’t have a signed lease they would not be eligible for Section 106 or other grant funding.

A Member noted that the Police and Crime Commissioner had advised the there would be a freeze on the Police precept and asked what effect this would have on NHDC’s Community Safety function. It was also noted that the Police and Crime Commissioner had, in the past, been invited to attend this Committee, but refused the invitation and asked how this could be achieved.

The Executive Member for Community Engagement and Rural Affairs advised that the Police and Crime Commissioner had intimated that there might be an opportunity to reduce the amount of the Police precept. NHDC will receive funding for the current year but funding for the Community Safety Partnership was being reviewed. It was still a Government requirement that Councils have a Community Safety Partnership, but it was not yet known what plans were for the future.

In respect of inviting the Police and Crime Commissioner to address the Committee, he suggested that and invitation should be made to address a particular subject, rather than a general invitation.

A Member asked about funding from County Council for health and what this was likely to be spent on.

The Head of Policy and Community Services advised that County Public Health had provided £200,000 to be spent over two years on agreed projects. A schedule of projects was drawn up and agreed. In the course of implementing the first year’s projects, Public Health England announced an in-year budget cut for the County Council, which has resulted in the agreed funding being for 3 years rather than the original 2 years. This money funded projects such as the Kingfisher Club for people with dementia, nutrition sessions though Children’s Centres and campaigns like staff health advice. £63,000 from the first year’s funding was used to promote physical activity, which enabled NHDC to receive a further £250,000 from Sport England. Due to the cuts in County Council funding, it was unlikely that NHDC would receive any further funding and therefore some of the funding had been used as pump-priming.

A Member informed the Committee that, following Safeguarding training offered by the Licensing Department for taxi drivers, he was shocked at how vulnerable taxi drivers were for moving around young people who may be being exploited in areas such as the sex trade. He queried whether NHDC should be proactive by offering training and awareness to taxi drivers before issuing a licence.

The Head of Policy and Community Services advised that Safeguarding overlapped Portfolios. This was originally about the safeguarding of children, but more recently has included the safeguarding of vulnerable adults. Housing and Careline were the main points of contact for these, however the Prevent and Counter Terrorism agenda would also be delivered through the Safeguarding Officers

In respect of taxi drivers, the general approach was to train them on a cyclical basis regarding safeguarding and disability awareness. Awareness programmes were also run for young people.

The Chairman thanked Councillor Hunter for his presentation.
The Customer Services Manager presented the report of the Strategic Director of Customer Services entitled Comments, Compliments and Complaints (3Cs) Half Year Update - 1 April 2015 to 30 September 2015.

She informed Members that the number of 3Cs was, at 748, the lowest and performance, in terms of responding to complaints, was at the highest level for three years with 79 percent of complaints dealt with within ten working days.

The Customer Services Directorate, which included Waste Management, Parks and Opens Spaces, Leisure and Parking Services, received the most contact. The information gathered, particularly regarding Waste Management had been used to identify problems and then improve the service given. The text alert service was used to inform residents of any changes to schedules or services such as Bank Holiday arrangements and social media was used to provide service updates to Twitter and Facebook followers.

In respect of Leisure, visits to two of NHDC Leisure Centres had increased demonstrating that demand for these services continues to grow.

Customer satisfaction levels, as reported in the District Wide Survey, had increased to 85 percent (79 percent previously) and recycling figures were one of the highest in the country.

Quarterly reports regarding 3Cs were provided to the Senior Management Team, which had contributed to the improvement in performance.

Members asked whether complaints made directly to contractors were recorded to the relevant service and whether all complaints to contractors were recorded.

The Customer Service Manager advised that complaints received by NHDC were recorded on the Customer Service system. Some people chose to phone the contractor, however, if they chose to phone both NHDC and the contractor that complaint would be recorded twice.

The Strategic Director of Customer Services commented that there were a high number of complaints regarding Waste Management, mainly due to collections being made from 65,000 places. Consideration was being given to whether all complaints should be to NHDC rather than to contractors directly. NHDC met on a quarterly basis with contractor’s senior managers, NHDC contract managers and staff worked alongside contractors which enabled their complaints processes to be watched and managed and information was gathered through the District Wide Survey. NHDC was one of the few Councils in the country to have previously acheived a BSI accreditation regarding complaint handling.

Members asked for clarification regarding what constituted a comment.

The Customer Services Manager advised that comments included suggestions or neutral feedback.

Members asked how proactive the Council was in gathering information for example through customer comment cards or articles in our magazine as this would give a much better indicator of performance than waiting for members of the public to approach us and how this could be achieved for both Leisure Centres and Waste Management.

The Customer Services Manager advised that North Herts Leisure Centre had a lot of visible information about gathering feedback and were quite proactive in encouraging comment

The Strategic Director of Customer Services informed Members that he personally checked that each of the Leisure Centres displayed information regarding how to give feedback. The District Wide Survey included questions about whether they have ever complained and about the standard of service received. There was an economic driver to keep people happy with the service, if people aren’t happy they would not use the service again.

In respect of Waste Management, bespoke citizens panels were asked for feedback. Prior to the latest change to the waste services two representative panels of people attended workshops, facilitated by BMG, the marketing company employed by NHDC. Indicators that people were unhappy with this service would include high levels of contamination of recycling and fly tipping. NHDC was one of the highest performing recycling authorities in the country.

The Chairman suggested that consideration be given to a question being included in the District Wide Survey that highlights the cost of collecting waste and asks whether, if it was possible, they would spend this money and whether it would be with NHDC or someone else.

She suggested that the Committee may find it useful to consider the results of the District Wide Survey.

Members asked that information regarding text alerts, NHDC Twitter and Facebook accounts and the telephone number for non business contacts be circulated to Members of the Committee.


(1) That the continued good performance in managing 3Cs between 1 April 2015 and 30 September 2015 be noted;

(2) That the reduction in the number of 3Cs received, when compared with the same period of the past two years, be noted;

(3) That the two complaints received by the Local Government Ombudsman, both decided as “no fault found”, be noted;

(4) That the Strategic Director of Customer Services be requested to circulate information regarding the following to all Members and substitutes of this Committee:
(i) Text alerts;
(ii) Telephone number for non business contact;
(iii) NHDC Twitter account;
(iv) NHDC Facebook account;

(5) That, at the appropriate time, the Strategic Director of Customer Services be requested to present the results of the District Wide Survey to this Committee

REASON FOR DECISION: To enable the Overview and Scrutiny Committee to review the half year update regarding Comments, Compliments and Complaints (3Cs).
No questions had been submitted.
The Chairman referred Members to the tabled paper entitled Principals for Task and Finish Groups and explained that the aim was to formalise some of the discussions at previous meetings about Task and Finish Groups and update the existing protocol presented as Appendix A.

Paragraph 7.2 of the report gave some of the changes previously discussed and asked Members to make suggestions regarding updating of the existing protocol.

Members discussed whether it was appropriate that the Chairman of a Task and Finish Group should be the most appropriate person and it was suggested that the Group Leaders may be the appropriate people to decide on a Chairman, with the Chairman of the Overview and Scrutiny Committee having the final choice if more than one Member suggested.

They noted that the Chairman was sometimes limited in the amount they could contribute and considered whether the most knowledgeable Members should in fact be encouraged to be a member of the Group rather than the Chairman and that consideration should be given to the chairing skills instead.

The wording of bullet point three should be changed to read that the Task and Finish Group Members will drive the process from scope to recommendations.

The Scrutiny Officer advised that for the last two Task and Finish Groups the Committee had set an outline scope and the Chairman of the Task and Finish Group had finalised it as there had to be some flexibility.

Members discussed that it was important to have a range of political views represented and therefore not a good idea to have all Members from a single Party. It was also important to focus on possible outcomes and consider what should be optimised. The impact of the recommendations should be considered as well as how outcomes would be measured.

It was considered that Members of the Task and Finish Group should formulate the recommendations of the Group and that the Lead Officer should be available to give guidance on matters of factual information and legal requirements. The intentions and innovations of Task and Finish Groups should be fully reflected in the way that the recommendations were worded.

Consideration was given to the Member led Task and Finish Group recommendations being presented to Cabinet/Council, together with a separate Officer assessment of what could be achieved and what could not and why.

It was considered that there should be something in the Protocol about the time spent on a Task and Finish Group and the time taken to implement recommendations.

Members queried whether the recommendations of the Task and Finish Group should be presented to the Executive Member rather than Cabinet.

The Head of Policy and Community Services advised that the recommendations could indeed go to Executive Members, although some subjects cut across Portfolios and therefore would need to be presented to different Executive Members. In order to get recommendations adopted they would ultimately have to be considered by Cabinet. She would however investigate the most effective and necessary process for moving recommendations through to adoption.

The Chairman asked for volunteers to sit on a sub-group to prepare a proposed new Protocol for Task and Finish Groups that would be presented to this Committee on 22 March 2016.

Councillors Cathryn Henry, Mike Rice and Deborah Segalini agreed to serve on this sub-group.


(1) That the Chairman be requested to lead a small sub-group to prepare a proposed new Protocol for Task and Finish Groups and present this to the next meeting of this Committee, due to be held on 22 March 2016;

(2) That the Head of Policy and Community Services be requested to investigate and co-ordinate the most effective and necessary process to progress the recommendations of a Task and Finish Group through to adoption.

REASON FOR DECISION: To enable the Overview and Scrutiny Committee to revise the current Protocol for Task and Finish Groups.
RESOLVED: That the actions resulting from the resolutions of the Overview and Scrutiny Committee be noted.

REASON FOR DECISION: To enable the Overview and Scrutiny Committee to review and monitor the progress of resolutions made.
The Scrutiny Officer presented the report entitled Overview and Scrutiny Work Programme.

He informed the Committee that at the next meeting of this Committee, due to be held on 22 March 2016, Councillor Lynda Needham, Leader of the Council would make a presentation and Members may like to review the Scrutiny arrangements for 2016/16. Other items to be presented at the March meeting included the Grants Review and the Joint Waste Contract.
(1) That the Overview and Scrutiny Committee Work Programme be noted:

(2) That the following items be considered at the next meeting of this Committee due to be held on 22 March 2016:
(i) Review of Scrutiny Arrangements 2015/16;
(ii) Outline Business Case - Approval to enter into a Joint Waste Contract with East Herts District Council;
(iii) Review of NHDC Grants and Grant Policy.

REASON FOR DECISION: To enable the Overview and Scrutiny Committee to plan and carry out its workload efficiently and effectively.
Published on Tuesday, 23rd February, 2016