Overview and Scrutiny Committee Minutes

Tuesday, 22nd March, 2016
Council Chamber, Council Offices, Gernon Road, Letchworth Garden City

Attendance Details

Councillor Cathryn Henry (Chairman), Councillor Steve Hemingway (Vice-Chairman), Councillor Clare Billing, Councillor Bill Davidson, Councillor Jean Green, Councillor Sal Jarvis, Councillor David Leal - Bennett, Councillor Ben Lewis, Councillor Gerald Morris, Councillor Janine Paterson, Councillor Frank Radcliffe, Councillor Mike Rice and Councillor Deborah Segalini.
In attendance:
Councillor Lynda Needham (Leader of the Council), Councillor Julian Cunningham (Executive Member for Policy, Transport and Green Issues), David Scholes (Chief Executive), John Robinson (Strategic Director of Customer Services), Liz Green (Head of Policy and Community Services), Sarah Dobor (Communications Manager), Fiona Timms (Performance and Risk Manager), Rachel Cooper (Payment and Reconciliations Manager), Brendan Sullivan (Scrutiny Officer) and Hilary Dineen (Committee and Member Services Officer).

NB: Councillor Ben Lewis arrived at 7.53 p.m.
Also Present:
Three members of the public
Item Description/Decision
Apologies for absence were received from Councillors Paul Marment and Michael Muir.
RESOLVED: That the Minutes of the Meeting held on 19 January 2016 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 Lynda Needham (Leader of the Council) and Councillor Julian Cunningham (Executive Member for Policy, Transport and Green Issues) 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 Lynda Needham, Leader of the Council, thanked the Chairman for the opportunity to address the Committee and gave a verbal presentation on the issues within her Portfolio as follows:


The priorities for 2014-2019 onwards are:
Attractive & Thriving;
Prosper & Protect;
Responsive & Efficient.

Priorities have subtly evolved from the former annual priorities to reflect that economic growth for the District is important, further emphasised by the depth and duration of the recession.

The key project from 2016 onwards will be considered later in the meeting, however it was important to note that it was inevitable that projects often spanned several years.

NHDC undertook a period of exclusive negotiations with Hammersmatch. With no viable scheme presented, NHDC concluded at the Council meeting held on 11 February 2016 to cease work on this project.

Hitchin Town Hall/North Hertfordshire Museum
This Committee requested, at the meeting held on 18 December 2014, to have a more detailed look at the project, once it is completed.

The Chairman’s Reception and Community Awards was held at the Town Hall on Friday 18 March 2016, which was an excellent event.

NHDC was now working to complete the Museum fit-out following the contractor for this element going into liquidation.

Westmill Community Centre/John Barker Place
This project was nearing its Phase 1 completion with the new Community Facility.

Work on the new Multi Use Games Area would commence once the old Community Centre was vacated.

This was an excellent example of NHDC working with North Hertfordshire Homes.

North Hertfordshire Local Plan
Following the Preferred Options consultation in December 2014/January 2015 the 8,500 representations received had been assessed and work was continuing on the final Pre-Submission Plan.

The Pre-Submission Plan will be presented to Council in July 2016 and consultation will take place in the autumn, in accordance with the Regulations.

North Hertfordshire Leisure Centre
This is an exciting project to breathe new life into the North Herts Leisure Centre whilst increasing income for the Council.

Members may recall the extensive debate held regarding the Sports Facilities Strategy, which anticipated the need for a solution to this aging centre.

Work starts this week on an excellent scheme that provides a cost effective solution to prolong the life of the centre, increase facilities and increase income to the Council.

Renewal of Waste Contract/Shared Services with East Herts
This is a key service area that touches every resident each week.

The Council was currently working on a Strategic Business Case for the potential shared service and contract with East Herts which has the objective of providing additional cost effectiveness and resilience.

Building Control Commercialisation Project
Building Control is a service that is very important, but often goes unnoticed.

The Council is currently finalising arrangements with six other Councils within Hertfordshire to create a series of companies to:
• Undertake Local Authority work within the area;
• Undertake work in other Council areas:
• Compete with Approved Building Inspectors in the private sector;
• Reduce the financial liability to the Councils in the consortium;
• Deal with staff recruitment, retention and development issues.

Careline was a success story. They continue to win new contracts and had successfully taken on the Hertfordshire Equipment Service.

Capital Programme
The Council has an ambitious Capital Programme running to approximately £20m over the next 4 years which demonstrates how we continue to improve the amenities in our area despite financial challenges posed by external factors.

The robust Corporate Business Planning Process looks at:
• How services are delivered;
• What services are provided;
• The level of service delivery;
• Income generation.

The focus was on provision of front line service delivery and the council was looking at various ways of working and efficiencies including:
• Commercialisation;
• Partnership working’
• Shared services with other councils, the private sector or Town and Parish Councils;
• Invest to save;
• Efficiencies in contract procurement.

The Council continues to work to ensure that the Council’s priorities and services can be delivered and that the first priority is delivery of front line services.

Over the last 9 years the Council has achieved over £11 million of efficiencies from the annual revenue account.

In 2015/16 it was proposed that the Council would make £185,000 efficiencies, the current projected position estimates that this will be exceeded and achieve £260,000 efficiencies.

The revenue budget for 2016/17 is approximately £16 million.

Following the announcement of the Comprehensive Spending Review in late November all Councils sought to predict their financial position for the coming years in advance of the draft settlement in late December 2015. There was no forewarning of the redistribution that took place regarding Revenue Support Grant, which left many Shire Districts (those best placed to raise council tax) with a significantly lower settlement than predicted.

This redistribution left NHDC with a 58 percent reduction in Revenue Support Grant in 2016/17 and all RSG removed in 2017/18. Additionally, and with no warning there was a new concept of negative RSG from 2017/18 onwards. Negative RSG takes over £1.5 million from our budgets in 2018/19 and 2019/20 and was not planned for in the Medium Term Financial Strategy.

Our position for the next 4 years is that we will need to find approximately £2.5 million of efficiencies, even with the use of £4 million reserves.

In early January 2016 the three local MPs were lobbied and a joint presentation to the Secretary of State was made by the 15 affected Councils regarding the redistribution of RSG, following which the finalised settlement removed negative RSG in the first of the years and there was a transitional grant. This eased the situation slightly and we are grateful to our MPs for their support.

Councillor Needham advised that, in her view, the largest area of financial risk for NHDC currently was the future of the New Homes Bonus. Changes have been mooted for some time and a consultation has taken place, to which the Council has responded, the key elements being:
• Abatement of the New Homes Bonus if no Local Plan is prepared for 2017;
• Reduction in the years that the New Homes Bonus is payable from 6 to 4, 3 or 2 years;
• Removal of what is termed ‘deadweight’ from the calculation.

The removal of ‘deadweight’, the disregarding of the number of houses consistently built, is of particular concern as it penalises authorities such as NHDC who have good and consistent delivery levels. 

External Representation
Councillor Needham informed Members that one of the increasing areas of work that she is involved in is working in the wider environment and that she spent a lot of time representing and raising the profile of the Council on external organisations including:
• Local Government Association;
• District Council’s Network;
• East of England Leaders’ meetings;
• Hertfordshire Leaders’ Group - including discussion on Devolution bid for Herts;
• Greater Cambridge/Greater Peterborough Local Enterprise Partnership;
• Health and Well Being Board.

The anticipated funding over the next four years is one of a number of significant financial uncertainties and potential pressures.

The following are known risks not budgeted for:
• Reduction in Revenue Support Grant;
• Future possible changes to arrangements and financial support for the disposal of waste and the impact on the waste collection contract;
• Review and the possible withdrawal of the New Homes Bonus;
• The implementation of the Universal Credit;
• Impact on the number of appeals following the Valuation exercise expected in 2017 to determine Rateable Values;
• Fundamental reworking of Business Rates system.

Next Year
The plans for 2016/17 include:
• Partnership working with East Herts in respect of waste;
• Tender regarding the next waste contract;
• Tender regarding grounds maintenance;
• North Herts Local Plan;
• Consider partnership working for grounds maintenance;
• Make a decision regarding a potential Crematorium;
• Consider the budget for 2017/18 and fundamental review of the Capital Programme;
• Green Space Strategy;
• Community Halls Strategy;
• Leisure Strategy;
• Refurbishment of the Council Offices;
• Parking review;
• Employment of an Enterprise Officer;
• What follows partnership working;
• County devolution;
• Maintain services.

Members asked several questions including how much was the New Homes Bonus and how would the Waste Contract to be re-let, particularly in light of the problems of performance.

Councillor Needham informed Members that the Council was in year 5 of a twelve year plan and receives £2.5 million per year however, if the New Homes Bonus was ceased, savings of £5 million would have to be made.

At this stage it was intended that the Council would be tendering for a joint or partnership contract, subject to the development of a joint business case . Collection routes would be considered, in order to make savings and collection of food waste from flats would need to be considered.

The Strategic Director of Customer Services advised that he was aware of concerns currently being expressed in some areas, however NHDC remained one of the top recycling Authorities and provided a generally high level of service. Specific issues resulting in performance issues were being addressed. Although a number of comments were made using social media, these issues had not been reported to NHDC.

A radical change in the way collections were made was unlikely, except for that regarding food waste collections from flats.

It was important that members of the public were encouraged to report any issues to the Council so that they could be addressed and considered in the contract review process.

A Member asked that the ‘Invest to Save’ proposals be further elaborated on and asked what was the expected return on Capital and how it would be replaced.

Councillor Needham advised that the full Capital Programme was included in the papers to be considered at Cabinet on 30 March 2016. The principle was to either spend Capital monies or create income in order to reduce the amount of Revenue spending. An example of this was the investment made into Careline for the provision of extra staff and systems in order to gain contracts.

Capital could be replaced from Revenue funds and, if there were any excess in Revenue this would be moved to Capital. The financial landscape was ever changing due to different initiatives from Government and it was not possible to say when this might be possible.

The Chairman thanked Councillor Needham for her presentation.
RESOLVED: That the contents of the report entitled Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act Update be noted.

REASON FOR DECISION: To comply with best practice guidance and the terms of reference of the Overview and Scrutiny Committee.
The Performance and Risk Manager informed Members that, despite now being employed by Hertfordshire County Council, she would continue to provide insurance and risk management support and introduced the Payment and Reconciliations Manager who would provide performance information to this Committee in future.

She presented the Performance Indicator Monitoring report and drew attention to the following:

Status and Direction of Travel
• 8 indicators were green;
• 6 indicators were amber;
• 1 indicator was red;
• 10 indicators had improved;
• 9 indicators had deteriorated;
• 3 indicators had no change.

Since the report was published the figure for February 2016 had improved to 96.6 percent.

Since the report was published the figure for February 2016 had improved to 94.98 percent.

This continues to improve year on year.

A Member queried whether the 6 households identified as homeless due to Violent Breakdown of Relationship - Involving Partner were from outside of the area and whether they received support.

The Chief Executive advised that to be accepted as homeless the household had to have a local connection. Depending on the nature of the case households fleeing violence can be referred to outside agencies and it may be that a family is placed away from the District.

There had been deterioration in performance with less recycling and more residual waste being collected. Indications were that this was a national trend.

The Strategic Director of Customer Services advised that the percentage of waste recycled was marginally down despite there being a campaign in place to encourage recycling. Nationally waste tonnage was rising due to economic growth.

Members acknowledged that the economy had some effect on waste, but queried whether, as contractors become more strict about contamination of recycling, residents become less likely to make the effort to recycle.

The Strategic Director of Customer Services agreed that this could be an issue and that there was a carefully planned campaign in place to encourage recycling. There had been a downturn in the receipts for recycling which had a large effect on the Council. NHDC was currently now paying to dispose of some recycling rather than receiving an income.

The Council had never used formal enforcement against domestic waste customers, but chosen to rely on education and this had so far worked well with NHDC figures still favourable against national figures.

A Member queried whether the percentage reduction in North Herts was in line with the percentage reduction nationally.

The Strategic Director of Customer Services agreed to circulate relevant figures to Members.


(1) That the contents of the report entitled Performance Indicator Monitoring Report - Third Quarter 2015/16 be noted;

(2) That the Strategic Director of Customer Services be requested to provide information regarding national recycling figure and circulate this information to all Members of the Committee;

REASON FOR DECISION: To enable the Overview and Scrutiny Committee to monitor the Performance Indicators for the third quarter 2016/16.
The Performance and Risk Manager presented the report of the Strategic Director of Finance, Policy and Governance regarding Performance Management Measures for 2016/17.

She informed the Committee that Members had discussed the performance management measures for 201617 at a workshop held on 8 December 2015. The report suggested that future management measures be handled by the Executive Members rather than by report to the Overview and Scrutiny Committee.

The Performance and Risk Manager drew attention to indicator NI192 - Percentage of household waste sent for reuse, recycling and composting and advised that Officers had recommended a target of 58 percent, which was based on current performance levels, however, Members required the target to be set at 60 percent. It should be noted that it was anticipated that the target would not be achievable. There were no service changes or improvements planned, which would assist in meeting the higher target and the recyclables market conditions and contamination of recyclables could have the effect of reducing the percentage recycled in the District.

A Member queried why NI192 was considered not to be achievable as service changes and education had been put into place and may need time to come to fruition.

The Strategic Director of Customer Services informed Members that Officers had advised that service changes could not be guaranteed to bring about sufficient change in behaviour of residents and that the indicator had been increased contrary to Officer advice.

In respect of future management of Performance Indicators, Members considered the benefits and drawbacks of the suggested change. Members agreed that Executive Members should take an active role in the monitoring of performance targets and considered whether the Committee could put in place processes to ensure effective review through the presentations made to them by the Executive Members.

There was concern that Executive Members were only seen by this Committee once a year and therefore it would be difficult to note trends and gain an overview of issues through regular monitoring of a variety of indicators

They discussed that the Committee had a positive influence on setting and monitoring of performance indicators and noted that the Overview and Scrutiny Committee had, through regular monitoring, changed the Performance Indicator regarding sickness absence to separate long term and short term absence giving a clearer picture of absence trends.

Members discussed alternative options including consideration of exception reports and whether it was necessary for an Officer to present the report.

Members concluded that they should have a Task and Finish Group to look at Performance Monitoring and the use of Covalent that would consider:
• What information this Committee should consider;
• How that information should be presented;
• Who should be responsible for setting targets.

They agreed that the current system of setting and monitoring of Performance Indicators should continue until the recommendations of the proposed Task and Finish Group could be evaluated.

RESOLVED: That the Scrutiny Officer be requested to include a Task and Finish Group on Monitoring of Performance Indicators for consideration in the Work Programme for 2016/17.


(1) That the Performance Indicators and associated targets to be monitored throughout 2016/17 be approved;

(2) That the current system of agreeing and monitoring performance management measures continue until the recommendations of the proposed Task and Finish Group on Performance Indicators could be evaluated.

REASON FOR DECISION: To enable the Overview and Scrutiny Committee to continue monitoring Performance Indicators and effective performance management measure can be considered.
100 KEY PROJECTS 2016/17
The Performance and Risk Manager presented the report entitled Key Projects 2016/17.

The Chairman proposed that the Performance and Risk Manager be formally thanked for her contribution to the Overview and Scrutiny Committee meetings over the years and commented the she would be sorely missed.


(1) That the key projects, subject to capacity, that will be the focus for the Council in 2016/17 be noted;

(2) That the Performance and Risk Manager be thanked for her contribution to the Overview and Scrutiny Committee over the years.

REASON FOR DECISION: To enable the Overview and Scrutiny Committee to consider the key projects and monitor delivery of them.
The Communications Manager presented the report of the Strategic Director of Customer Services entitled District Wide Survey 2015 - Key Findings and Actions.

She advised that the District Wide Survey was carried out every two years and consisted of approximately 1,000 telephone interviews.

The questions were largely the same for each survey so that benchmarking could take place.

The overall satisfaction and perception of the Council was favourable as set against the national picture.

There had been a marginal drop in the proportion of residents who were satisfied with the way the Council runs things to 83 percent, although this satisfaction level was well above the LGA benchmark figure of 67 percent.

Thirty percent of people disagreed that NHDC makes an effort to find out what local people want and 24 percent disagreed that NHDC involves or fully consults people on important issue. This was being picked up through the Consultation Strategy and the intention was to address it by publicising consultations and considering whether sufficient variety of ways to respond were available. The results of consultations, including feedback received would also be publicised.

In respect of customer satisfaction with individual services, there was generally little change from previous years. The Waste Service achieved 86 percent satisfaction in the District Wide Survey, which was backed up by evidence provided through 3Cs data, in that the number of complaints was very low.

Section 8.3 of the report considered Information and Communication. The highest proportion of residents, 60 percent, obtained information from the NHDC website and 17 percent used Outlook Magazine to get information.

Outlook Magazine is distributed to all residents, the recall rate has dropped since 2011 and 2013 and therefore some additional telephone checks were carried out for the latest edition of Outlook to check there were no persistent issues and the recall rate was high. Our distributors advise that recall rates can be affected by a number of factors including things like having a striking front cover. The latest recall rate for Outlook was significantly higher than the industry average.

Paragraph 8.3.2 of the report gave details of how well informed people felt. It was suggested that, in future, NHDC seeks to find out how interested people are in receiving information as well as how informed they feel.

Contact with the Council was predominantly by telephone, most commonly to report an issue or seek advice.

Ten percent of people said that the contact was to make a complaint however this did not correspond to the evidence provided by 3Cs data. The discrepancy maybe about what constitutes a complaint.

There were some new questions about the new NHDC website and the feedback was positive, although 15 percent disagreed that the website was simple and easy to use. It would be helpful to find out which specific areas of the website were not as easy to access.

Members commented that the search facility was, in some cases, problematic.

The Communications Manager acknowledged that the search facility was an issue in that the Planning Portal and the Council Meetings and Members areas are hosted by third parties and therefore the main search facility did not look at these areas. Work was being undertaken with those providers to provide an integrated search facility.

A Member acknowledged the increased levels of satisfaction with the website and council services but expressed concern that satisfaction in rural areas was lower than that in urban areas which demonstrated an urban / rural divide, which could be the subject of a future task and finish group.

Members commented that issues such as PDFs opening in the same window, rather than a new window caused people to be frustrated and that the survey results showed that there seemed to be little communication with NHDC through social media.

In respect of consultations and what people want, a Member advised that Hitchin Committee had received a presentation regarding the way NHDC consults and this had highlighted issues such as the time given to respond and that this may be one of the ways that NHDC could improve. Members also commented that communicating effectively regarding consultations would make that consultation more effective.

The Strategic Director of Customer Services advised that the Council had recently adopted a Consultation Strategy which firstly discharged the Council’s statutory duties and then made sure that consultations were effective.

There was some discussion regarding the way questions were phrased and that the answers given were likely to be subjective.

The Communications Manager advised that the key to this type of survey was to ask the same question year on year in order to benchmark and compare although additional questions could be asked.

A Member drew attention to dissatisfaction expressed regarding the service received when contacting the Council and asked whether there were any performance indicators regarding the areas identified in Paragraph 8.4.5 of the report.

The Strategic Director of Customer Services informed Members that there were published Customer Service Standards that included the time taken to answer phones and respond to queries and that people could complain if they were unhappy with the service received. Information about complaints received regarding contact with the Council could be included in the next report regard 3Cs.


(1) That the key findings and observations from the District Wide Survey be noted;

(2) That the use of results by Heads of Service and Corporate Managers, in conjunction with Executive Members to inform the service planning process and to update relevant performance measures be noted;

(3) That the Scrutiny Officer be requested to include a Task and Finish Group on the urban / rural divide for consideration in the Work Programme for 2016/17;

(4) That the Strategic Director of Customer Services be requested to include information about complaints received regarding contact with the Council in the next 3Cs report.

REASON FOR DECISION: To enable the Overview and Scrutiny Committee to consider the findings and actions related to the District Wide Survey.
Councillor Cathryn Henry asked the following question on behalf of the Members of the Overview and Scrutiny Committee:

“Can the Executive Members for Community and Rural Affairs and for Policy, Transport and Green Issues please:

• Confirm if the entire £84,000 cut in grant funding* has been taken from area committee budgets;
• Confirm this decision was made in full consultation by the Executive Member(s) responsible for Grant Funding, and in turn by Cabinet;
• Explain what consultation has taken place with Members about how the cuts in grant funding should be implemented;
• Reassure the Committee that the effect of the severe delays** in the Grants Review has not resulted in the cuts being made crudely without the benefit of Members’ guidance. A completed Review would have enabled the Council to manage the cuts in grant funding in a considered and strategic way taking into account the Council’s and the community’s long term needs.

* On February 11 2016, Council agreed to efficiencies of £347,000 in 2016/17. This included a cut of £84,000 in the Council’s grants budget. The wording of Efficiency Number 11 was:
“To reduce overall NHDC grant budgets in 2016/17. For example, were we to reduce the grant budget by the expected 20% reduction to our overall Government Funding, the budget of £418K would reduce by £84K to £335K.”

** The Committee received a report from the Task and Finish Group on Grants in June 2013, which Cabinet endorsed at its meeting in July 2013. Furthermore, the Council’s review of its grant policies has been further postponed with the long awaited grants policy review report being withdrawn yet again from the Overview and Scrutiny Committee’s agenda for its meeting on 22 March 2016. The Committee has not seen a report on this subject since July 2014, nor has Cabinet since August 2014.”

The Executive Member for Community Engagement and Rural Affairs and the Executive Member for Policy, Transport and Green Issues provided the following response:

“First, to set the question itself in context of the budget decisions which have recently taken place and been agreed, and particularly the opportunities afforded to all members of the Council to respond to proposals for both growth and efficiency.

Member workshops, held on 4 and 5 November 2015, provided the first opportunity for all members to have sight of and comment on the proposals for growth and efficiency being made for the 2016/17 financial year.

The Cabinet report of 26 January 2016 regarding Growth and efficiency proposals stated under ‘consultation with external organisations and ward members’ that ‘’All Councillors were given opportunity to comment on the efficiency and investment proposals at the Budget Workshops held on the 4/5 November 2015. Notes of the comments raised at the workshops were attached to the Draft Budget report in December’’.

The proposal, which as the narrative in the budget papers quoted confirms, suggested a 20% reduction in the Council’s overall grant funding; hence by the use of the term ‘for example’ members at those workshops may have wished to suggest an alternative % reduction for consideration. Comments received were that there was agreement ‘in principle’ subject to the outcome of the grants review, that any reduction should be subject to analysis of specific groups which would be affected and/or that it could be supported provided the capital growth proposal, aimed at the improvement of urban and rural facilities went ahead.

In discussion with the Executive Members for Policy and Green Issues and Community and Rural Affairs, it was agreed that it would be unwise to amend the current ‘Memorandum of Understanding’ payments made to organisations such as CAB and NHCVS, as to remove funding without due consideration of individual impacts could be detrimental in terms of homelessness, debt advice etc

At its meeting in January 2016, the Overview and Scrutiny Committee received a presentation by the Executive Member for Community and Rural Affairs, assisted by the Head of Policy and Community Services, at which the following points arising from the Grants Review were mentioned and captured in the Minutes thus:


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’’

Thus whilst the sum of £84k has been removed from the discretionary (area committee) budgets to enable the authority to balance its budget as proposed, it should also be borne in mind that through these same workshops and committees has been agreement of growth. £1m capital for expenditure across the next four financial years has been secured, as the grants review found that for many groups it is smaller capital sums which are proving harder to secure.

At the 11th February 2016 meeting of Full Council, all budget papers were submitted for consideration by the Council’s members and it was agreed

(7) That the inclusion of the efficiencies and investment proposals set out in Appendices 3 and 4 of the report in the final General Fund budget estimates for 2016/17, be approved;

Appendix 3 included two efficiency proposals, one the suggested 20% reduction in the grants budget and the other a suggested reduction in awards made through current ‘Memorandum of Understanding’ payments which will be subject to further review in the light of individual organisations’ ability to raise funding either alongside or in lieu of funding from NHDC. These decisions are yet to be proposed and at such time, will of course be subject to member review and consideration. Appendix 4 contained the capital growth proposal toward the improvement of urban and rural facilities.

The question also refers to ‘severe delays’ in the completion and report back on the Grants Review. The report which will come forward at the next Committee cycle in June will include not only the outcome of the various tasks arising from the Overview and Scrutiny Task and Finish Group on Grants, but will confirm actions which have by necessity i.e. to ensure compliance with financial or other regulations, been completed. There have and remain several areas and actions where the original recommendation has been overtaken by other initiatives such as the review of commissioning by Herts County Council, the long awaited Cabinet Office report on the award of Grants by local authorities etc.”

Councillor Henry commented the delay in the review of the grants process demonstrated the difficult position the NHDC could find itself in when the budget process is completed before Policy was in place and, in this case, have ended up with the budget being set but no appropriate Policy.

She noted that a comment made in a Member Workshop regarding budgets that Memorandums of Understanding should be protected had affected the grants budget and that Members should be informed of the effect of this sort of comment on other areas.

She asked how this situation would be detailed in the Risk Register, how the Authority could ensure transparency regarding how comments made in a workshop by Members affected a particular budget and how Members could ensure that implementation was as intended rather than an interpretation.

The Head of Policy and Community Services outlined the issues faced when considering the grants review including changes in legislation and advice following audit reports and assured Members that the completed review would be on the agenda for this Committee in June 2016.

The document makes clear for Members and applicants what could and could not be funded and considers the services provided by outside organisations and the policy of the Council.

Councillor Henry expressed concern that there was a danger that budgetary issues could become the driver of strategic policy and that Members, when asked to make a decision, were clear about what they were agreeing to.

The Executive Member for Policy, Transport and Green Issues informed Members that Policy drives the budget. The grant review took account of the Task and Finish Group and audit reports and was not budget led.

The proposed Policy addressed how the Council interacted with organisations and the large amount of time spent by organisations on attracting small grants.

RESOLVED: That the response provided by the Executive Member for Community Engagement and Rural Affairs and the Executive Member for Policy, Transport and Green Issues be noted.

REASON FOR DECISION: To enable the Overview and Scrutiny Committee to keep the Committee updated on processes regarding budget setting and the Grants Policy Review.
Councillor Sal Jarvis, Chairman of the Task and Finish Group on the Quality of Council Reports, thanked her colleague, Portfolio Holders and Officers for their input and presented the Group’s report.

She informed Members that the Task and Finish Group had met on two occasions and collected evidence from Officer, Councillor and Parish Councillors and explained the basis for the recommendations as follows:

There was a need to find a balance between receiving a robust document that protected the Council against legal challenges and one that provided succinct, readable information. A suggested template was provided at Annex 1.

A lot of people felt that having the purpose of the report stated at the beginning and providing a brief history was important.

There should be less paper burden ways of imparting information and reports should only be produced if a decision was needed.

A lot of time was spent discussion version control and consideration was given to supporting Officers by enabling several people to work on the same document.

All reports should be written in plain English.

There was support for becoming paperless and the Group agreed that there should be a trial.

Members noted that there was little community feedback on the subject and acknowledged that some Officers may take some of the shortcomings mentioned in the report as criticism.

In respect of the quoted savings regarding printing, Members noted that these included recharge figures and therefore realising the full amount of stated savings could be difficult and they expressed concern regarding the comment questioning whether the Council’s arrangements for decision making was fit for purpose.

Councillor Jarvis clarified that the comment regarding decision making was that lengthy reports did not always enable good decision making.

The Scrutiny Officer advised that he a spoken to the press and liaised with all of the Parish Councils.

Members were advised that, by and large, the suggestion of change was welcomed and that Officers welcomed the consultation and were keen that a paperless solution be driven forward.


(1) That recommendations of the Task and Finish Group on the Quality of Council Reports be supported;

(2) That the report and recommendations of the Task and Finish Group on the Quality of Council Reports be referred to Cabinet for consideration on 14 June 2016;

(3) That the Scrutiny Officer be requested to actively report back to this Committee on the decision of Cabinet and be requested to request that Cabinet set proposed timescales for implementation.

REASON FOR DECISION: To enable the Overview and Scrutiny Committee to review the quality of council reports and submit recommendations to Cabinet.
The Scrutiny Officer presented the Overview and Scrutiny Annual Report.

He advised that the format was similar to those produced in previous years, two Task and Finish Groups were undertaken during the Civic year and there had not been a lot of public participation in that time. He asked the Committee to comment on the Committee’s way of working over the last year.

The Chairman asked for comments for inclusion in section headed Scrutiny for 2016/17.

Members suggested 2 further Task and Finish Groups being:
How NHDC awards Contracts;
The Council’s Management of Risk.

There was some discussion regarding whether the strengths and weaknesses of Council Departments could be addressed in general terms.

The Chief Executive suggested that this issue could be considered when the next 3Cs report is presented, however if there were specific issues these should be relayed to either the Head of Service, Director of the Head of Paid Service as part of an escalation process.


(1) That the following be included in the Annual Report of the Overview and Scrutiny Committee:
(i) Future Task and Finish Group on How Contracts are awarded;
(ii) Future Task and Finish Group on the Management of Risk.

(2) That the Chairman of the Overview and Scrutiny Committee be authorised to approve the final version of the Annual Report prior to consideration by Council.

REASON FOR DECISION: To enable the Committee to comment on the Annual Report of the Overview and Scrutiny Committee 2015/2016 prior to consideration by Council.
The Scrutiny Officer presented the report entitled Protocol for ask and Finish Groups and drew attention to Paragraph 7.1 which detailed the background and the proposed new features and Appendix A which contained the principles and the proposed protocol for Task and Finish Groups.

Members commented that the parallel report produced by the Authority’s Senior Management Team would be an additional, rather than an addendum report.


(1) That, in Paragraph 8 of the Principle for Task and Finish Groups, the words “addendum parallel report” be replaced with “additional parallel report”;

(2) That, subject to (1) above, the new Protocol for Task and Finish Groups and its accompanying principles be adopted.

REASON FOR DECISION: To enable the Overview and Scrutiny Committee to conduct Task and Finish Groups effectively.
The Scrutiny Officer presented the report entitled Resolutions of the Overview and Scrutiny Committee and drew attention to the following:

The Grants Policy Review report would be submitted to this Committee on 7 June 2016.

The Executive Member for Housing and Environmental Health would be making a presentation to this Committee on 7 June 2016.

The Project Board on Commercialisation was due to report to Cabinet in June 2016.

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 and drew attention to the following;

• Paragraph 7.2 detailed the items due to be considered at the June meetings;

• The Task and Finish Group on the Council’s Approach to Managing Larger Project would take place from April to June, followed by Recharges and Value for Money;

• Topics for future Task and Finish Groups were listed at Paragraph 8.4, to which the following would be added:
- The Urban / Rural Divide;
- Consultation with the Community
- Management of Risk.

The Chief Executive suggested that the Chairman of this Committee meet with the Chairman of the Finance, Audit and Risk Committee to discuss who would best consider issues.

RESOLVED: That the Overview and Scrutiny Committee Work Programme be noted.

REASON FOR DECISION: To enable the Overview and Scrutiny Committee to plan and carry out its workload efficiently and effectively.
Prior to the item being discussed Councillor Bill Davidson declared an interest as he was the Chair of Coombes Community Association and a Trustee of the Management Committee. He advised that he would leave the room and take no part in any debate or vote.

Prior to the item being discussed Councillor Jean Green declared an interest as she was a member of the Management Committee for Coombes Community Centre. She advised that she would leave the room and take no part in any debate or vote.

Prior to the item being discussed Councillor Ben Lewis declared an interest as he was a member of the Management Committee for Coombes Community Centre. He advised that he would leave the room and take no part in any debate or vote.

Prior to the item being discussed Councillor Clare Billing declared an interest as she was a member of the Management Committee for West mill Community Centre. She advised that she would leave the room and take no part in any debate or vote.

Prior to the item being discussed Councillor Frank Radcliffe declared an interest as he was a member of the Management Committee for West mill Community Centre. He advised that he would leave the room and take no part in any debate or vote.

The Head of Policy and Community Services presented the report entitled Community Centre Leases and Audit Outcomes.

She advised that the original option for a possible Part 2 report was no longer required as all the information required to enable a decision to be made had been able to be included in the Part 1 report.

A Shared Internal Audit Service Audit had recently been completed looking at the actions taken by Officers so far in negotiating leases with Community Centres. Two recommendations were made as a result of this audit as follows:

Recommendation 1: ‘’an updated report be taken to Cabinet to obtain a formal decision on how the Council should progress and complete community centre lease negotiations, in order to conclude this process and set the expectations for future lease negotiations for other NHDC owned community assets. This should include an update of the current position, including work undertaken to date and also tenancy options to be considered’’.

Recommendation 2: ‘’ It is recommended that the wider issue of members acting in additional outside roles be reviewed by the Council and further guidance be produced to limit the impact of potential conflicts’;

This report, due to be considered by Cabinet on 30 March 2014, was in response to Recommendation 1 above and that it was felt that negotiations had reached an impasse in a number of areas.

Paragraph 7.1 of the report outlined the purpose of the Community Halls Strategy and the negotiations with each of the Community Centres took into account the requirements of this Strategy.

Paragraph 8.2.7 of the report detailed that initial terms proposed by the District council to open negotiations and the current operational plans for each Community Centre were attached as appendices.

The Head of Policy and Community Services advised that throughout the negotiations, where appropriate, the support of a third party had been offered such as the Community Development Agency or North Hertfordshire CVS, in part to look at sustainability. The CDA in particular work with a number of groups operating rural halls and have had some considerable success with community groups.

One of the areas identified by Community Associations as a barrier to progressing negotiations was that of securing adequate and independent legal advice.

There are differences between the Centres in terms of their condition and this had formed part of the discussion regarding the period over which a tenant would take on a full repairing lease. One of the main issues of concern was around the use of the centres for elections, the Council has put a clause into the lease giving the Council the right to use buildings it owns for the day of an election but there had been a significant degree of resistance to this.

Paragraph 9.1 indicated the amount required to be invested over an initial 5 year period to sustain the building serviceability and Paragraph 9.6 detailed the current rebuild valuations, although it should be noted these did not represent the market values of the Centres.

Various options were outlined at Paragraphs 10.1 to 10.4 of the report.

Members asked why Community Centres were reluctant to allow the Council free use for elections

The Head of Policy and Community Services advised that the community groups had cited the potential impact of cancelling bookings and loss of income.

Members considered the various options many considered that Option 1 was the most desirable outcome, but acknowledged that it was an unlikely scenario.

They acknowledged the difficulty of negotiations between a big organisation such as NHDC and the community groups, which were often made up of volunteers with limited access to legal and financial advice and suggested that some empathy was needed for the community groups.

Members were concerned that the Council not look at the best deal for the Council in purely monetary terms, but that social and community value benefits should have a higher importance and value within the negotiations. It was also noted that in rural areas Parish Councils had no option but to maintain and repair village halls whilst Community Centres in Towns received financial support from the District Council, demonstrating a clear urban rural divide.

The Head of Policy and Community Services informed Members that the Council did provide a degree of legal advice and the CDA offered independent advice around the operation of the buildings.

In respect of the urban rural divide she advised that there would be a capital funding scheme available across the District.

She informed Members that, although there was nothing formal regarding capturing social or community value to be built into the lease renewal, these issues were considered, within negotiations, by looking at the numbers of people and types of groups using the centres.

Members felt that there should be a set of guiding principles to follow when considering lease negotiations including:

1. Social and community value to be considered;
2. An awareness that agreeing to solutions such as Option 1 could result in the Council being liable for repair costs ad infinitum;
3. The implications of expecting a community group to fund considerable repair bills
4. Be mindful of parity between areas;
5. If the Policy set by the Council can’t be made to work, then consideration should be given to changing the Policy.

They agreed that Community Centres should be in a good state of repair before requiring tenants to take on full repairing leases and therefore an amended version of Option 10.2 should be recommended to Cabinet.


(1) That Cabinet agree a resolution which enables investment in necessary works to Community Centres to take place to ensure facilities are in a reasonable standard of repair for lease negotiations to progress;

(2) That officers be requested to progress lease negotiations in accordance with the agreed policy where possible, but that in the event of failure to do so, Cabinet consider changing the agreed policy.

(3) That, throughout lease discussions, Cabinet should advise officers to pay due consideration to the guiding principles suggested by the Overview and Scrutiny Committee to ensure that the social and community benefits afforded by community centres are evaluated alongside any benefit derived from securing a full repairing or alternative lease arrangement.

(4) That subject to Cabinet agreement of recommendations (1) to (3) above, implementation should not be to the detriment of achieving the deadline of September 2016.

REASON FOR DECISION: To enable the Overview and Scrutiny Committee to consider the. Community Centre Leases and Audit Outcomes prior to consideration by Cabinet.
The Chairman noted that this was the final meeting of this Committee before the upcoming elections and took the opportunity to wish those standing for election good luck.

She informed Members that Councillor Deborah Segalini had chosen not to stand for re-election and asked that the Committee thanks for her contribution to the Committee and North Herts be placed on record.

The Chairman thanked the Members for supporting her as Chairman of this Committee.

The Chairman thanked Officers for their support of her and the Committee, in particular Brendan Sullivan (Scrutiny Officer) and Hilary Dineen (Committee and Member Services Officer).

RESOLVED: That the Committee’s thanks to Councillor Deborah Segalini for her contribution to the Overview and Scrutiny Committee and North Hertfordshire District Council be placed on record.
Published on Monday, 18th April, 2016