PRESENTATION BY THE EXECUTIVE MEMBER FOR COMMUNITY ENGAGEMENT AND RURAL AFFAIRS
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. RURAL HALLS COMMUNITY CAPITAL FUNDING SCHEME Twelve projects had been supported by this scheme with £101,000 of funding being released. PARISH CHALLENGE This scheme had enabled a further £38,000 to be spent in Parishes around the District. GRANT FUNDING 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. COMMUNITY CENTRES AND LEASES There were now only two leases that had not yet been finalised. These would probably be referred to Cabinet to consider options. COMMUNITY SAFETY PARTNERSHIP 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. COMMUNITY COVENANT 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. HITCHIN TOWN HALL 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. TASK AND FINISH GROUP ON GRANT FUNDING / GRANT REVIEW 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. THE MAIN CHALLENGES MANAGING EXPECTATIONS 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. CAPACITY 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. SKILLS 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 COUNTER TERRORISM / EXTREMISM 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. HEALTH 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 cant 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: GTANT FUNDING 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 TASK AND FINISH GROUPS 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. COMMUNITY CENTRE LEASES 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 dont have a signed lease they would not be eligible for Section 106 or other grant funding. COMMUNITY SAFETY 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 NHDCs 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. HEALTH 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 years 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 Childrens Centres and campaigns like staff health advice. £63,000 from the first years 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. SAFEGUARDING 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.
COMMENTS, COMPLIMENTS AND COMPLAINTS (3CS) HALF YEAR UPDATE - 01 APRIL 2015 TO 30 SEPTEMBER 2015
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 contractors 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 arent 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. RESOLVED: (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).