Overview and Scrutiny Committee Minutes

Date:
Tuesday, 7th June, 2016
Time:
7.30pm
Place:
Council Chamber, Council Offices, Gernon Road, Letchworth Garden City
 
 

Attendance Details

Present:
Councillor Cathryn Henry (Chairman), Councillor Steve Hemingway (Vice-Chairman), Councillor Ian Albert, Councillor Elizabeth Dennis, Councillor S.K. Jarvis, Councillor Paul Marment, Councillor Alan Millard (Substitute), Councillor Gerald Morris, Councillor Valentine Shanley.

NB: Councillor Cathryn Henry arrived at 7.33 p.m. and Councillor S.K. Jarvis arrived at 7.35 p.m.
In attendance:
Councillor Bernard Lovewell (Executive Member for Housing and Environmental Health), Norma Atlay (Strategic Director of Finance, Policy and Governance),Vaughan Watson (Head of Leisure and Environmental Services), Andy Godman (Head of Housing and Public Protection), Peter Carey (Environmental Health Manager), Martin Lawrence (Strategic Housing Manager), Gavin Ramtohal (Contracts Lawyer), Andrew Mills (Service Manager - Grounds Maintenance), Oliver Furbur (Project Manager - Waste Management), Chloe Hipwood (Service Manager - Waste and Recycling), Brendan Sullivan (Scrutiny Officer) and Hilary Dineen (Committee and Member Services Officer).
Also Present:
Councillor Julian Cunningham and two members of the public.
Item Description/Decision
PART I
1 APOLOGIES FOR ABSENCE
Councillor Steve Hemingway (Vice-Chairman) opened the meeting.

Apologies for absence were received from Councillors Clare Billing, Bill Davidson, Steve Deakin-Davies, Jean Green, Michael Muir, Janine Paterson and Frank Radcliffe.

Having given due notice Councillor Alan Millard advised that he would be substituting for Councillor Jean Green.

Councillor Cathryn Henry took the Chair.
2 MINUTES
RESOLVED: That the Minutes of the Meeting held on 22 March 2016 be approved as a true record of the proceedings and be signed by the Chairman.
3 NOTIFICATION OF OTHER BUSINESS
No other business was submitted for consideration by the Committee.
4 CHAIRMAN'S ANNOUNCEMENTS
(1) The Chairman reminded those present that, in line with Council policy, the meeting would be audio recorded;

(2) The Chairman welcomed Councillor Bernard Lovewell (Executive Member for Housing and Environmental Health) to the meeting;

(3) The Chairman welcomed the new Members to the Committee;

(4) The Chairman reminded Members that, in accordance with the email sent to Members on the subject, Item 9 - Corporate Objectives 2017/21 would be best considered alongside Corporate Plan documents and therefore would not be considered at this meeting.

(5) The Chairman drew attention to the item on the agenda front pages regarding Declarations of Interest and reminded Members that, in line with the Code of Conduct, any Declarations of Interest needed to be declared immediately prior to the item in question.
5 PUBLIC PARTICIPATION
There were no presentations from members of the public.
6 URGENT/GENERAL EXCEPTION ITEMS
No urgent or general exception items were received.
7 CALLED IN ITEMS
Since the last meeting, no decisions had been called-in by the Overview and Scrutiny Committee.
8 PRESENTATION BY THE EXECUTIVE MEMBER FOR HOUSING AND ENVIRONMENTAL HEALTH
Councillor Bernard Lovewell, Executive Member for Housing and Environmental Health, thanked the Chairman for the opportunity to address the Committee and gave a PowerPoint presentation on the issues within his Portfolio.

He advised that, as there would be reports to consider regarding the Common Housing Allocation Scheme at the next meeting of this Committee, he would discuss that area of his Portfolio at that time. The presentation at this meeting would focus on the other aspects of his Portfolio as follows:

SCOPE OF THE PORTFOLIO
The scope of this Portfolio was very wide ranging and included Careline, Environmental Health, Housing Services, Licensing and Safeguarding of Vulnerable Adults.

OBJECTIVES OF THE PORTFOLIO
The wide range of services and functions all related to the three main objectives of:
• The provision of housing and housing related services;
• The promotion of public health and the safeguarding of personal wellbeing;
• The protection of the environment.

CARELINE
• Established in 1982;
• This was the first year of collaboration with Herts County Council;
• The client base had increased by 31 percent;
• Working with 14 new corporate clients including local councils and housing associations;
• Received national recognition and had been nominated for awards;
• Financial performance had improved so that it was now making a profit (previously £300,000 in losses).

In response to queries about the finances of Careline, the Head of Housing and Public Protection advised that turnover had increased from £900,000 last year to £1.3 million this year.

Councillor Lovewell informed Members that through hard work Careline had been turned into a success story and now saved the County Council money and helped NHDC’s financial position.

The County Council and other organisations paid for the services provided. Some of this income was then invested in equipment and staff to improve and grow the service.

The Head of Housing and Public Protection advised that Careline had been declining, but was now a huge asset, which supported independent living. An ageing population meant that there was an opportunity for Careline to grow.

Careline was working with a lot of Public Sector partners, one of which decided to close and transfer its service to Careline. NHDC Careline was working with high quality partners to provide a high quality service, however it was important to keep track of costs in order to compete.

FOOD SAFETY REGULATION
• There was a regime of inspections, which focused on the poorer providers;
• NHDC offered education for food establishments.

Following a number of questions Councillor Lovewell advised that the team numbers had reduced over the years, however NHDC had a good and efficient team to undertake inspections and testing.

HEALTH AND SAFETY AT WORK REGULATION
• The Government asked the Local Authorities to target risks and investigate accidents and complaints;
• This responsibility was split between the Local Authority and the Health and Safety Executive with the Local Authority focussing on shops.

PRIVATE WATER SUPPLIES
• The Local Authority undertook a lot of testing of private water supplied to ensure safety.

INFECTIOUS DISEASE
• Reports of infectious disease were sent to NHDC;
• NHDC worked closely with Public Health England to address concerns and issues.

PUBLIC HEALTH ACTIVITIES
• This included public health/welfare burials and smoke free compliance.

PUBLIC SAFETY AT EVENTS AND LICENSED PREMISES
• NHDC had one of the largest entertainment venues in the country in Knebworth House;
• Monitoring public safety was a large undertaking, which was managed well.

STRAY DOG SERVICE
• The Council was responsible for collecting stray dogs;
• This service was contracted out.
• The problem of stray dogs may reduce once compulsory chipping was in place.

In response to a query regarding how achievement was measured he advised that in a lot of areas it was only possible to determine achievement once a problem had occurred.

The Environmental Health Manager advised that, where appropriate, NHDC worked with other authorities and it was useful to use other resources for a short period.

AIR QUALITY MANAGEMENT
• This included industrial pollution permitting.
• NHDC had two areas of high air pollution, which were being investigated and reported to DEFRA.

DISABLED FACILITIES GRANTS
• It was difficult to quantify the amount of money saved by enabling people to remain in their own home.

NOISE AND NUISANCE COMPLAINTS
• A very good noise application had been developed to enable people to monitor noise.

PLANNING CONSULTATIONS
• The team was responsible for dealing with conditions attached to HMOs (Houses of Multiple Occupation).

ENVIRO - CRIME
• Flytipping was a big issue;
• Dog Fouling was a serious issue;
• Other highway and street scene enforcement;
• Abandoned vehicles.

ENFORCEMENT ACTIONS 2015/16
• NHDC always prosecuted when it is the right thing to do;
• Legal Services were always helpful with this area.

PERFORMANCE INDICATORS
The three Performance Indicators demonstrated that the levels of service exceeded expectations as follows:

LP112 - Percentage of life-critical calls to Careline answered in under 30 seconds
Target - 80%
Outcome - 93%

LP134 - Percentage of H&PPS programmed inspections completed
Target - 94%
Outcome - 98.8%

LP137 - Percentage of customers satisfied with HPPS services
Target - 90%
Outcome - 93%

In response to questions from Members, the head of Housing and Public Protection advised that service users were provided with questionnaires regarding the service provided of which about 35% are returned. By their nature certain teams were less popular and trending performance were considered in these areas

KEY ACHEIVEMENTS AND OUTCOMES 2015/16
• Turn around of Careline;
• Almost 100% of regulatory interventions completed, supported by the courts;
• Consistently high level of customer satisfaction;
• Contribution to the integration of health and social care systems (via assistive technology and DFGs);
• Peer reviews and audits supportive of arrangements.

KEY PRIORITIES AND PROJECTS FOR2016/17
• Management of temporary accommodation;
• Procurement of a new Environmental Health software system to promote mobile working;
• Development of Herts Careline to achieve its potential;
• Leading role in the creation of a country-wide adaptions service, in partnership with Herts County Council and other Districts/Boroughs;
• Regulatory inspection programme.

Councillor Lovewell informed Members that he was aware that this was a large Portfolio and that he had been unable to cover all of the areas in detail. He advised that he would be happy to talk to any Member about the work undertaken and issues faced.

The Chairman thanked Councillor Lovewell for his presentation.

RESOLVED: That the Committee and Member Services Officer be requested to circulate the slides accompanying this presentation to all members and substitutes of the Committee.

REASON FOR DECISION: To ensure that Members of the Overview and Scrutiny Committee are able to understand the work of and the issues faced within the Housing and Environmental Health Portfolio.
9 CORPORATE OBJECTIVES 2017/21
The Chairman had previously advised that the report regarding Corporate Objectives 2017/21 would be best considered alongside Corporate Plan documents and therefore would not be considered at this meeting.
10 REVIEW OF GRANTS AND GRANTS POLICY
The Strategic Director of Finance, Policy and Governance advised that she would be presenting the report as the Head of Policy and Community Services was unable to attend.

She informed Members that, since publication of the report, further consultation with the Executive Member for Community Engagement and Rural Affairs had resulted in a number of changes to the report to be presented to cabinet including:

Paragraph 1.4 to read:
“To enable Cabinet to receive and consider proposals to improve the current grant award processes and criteria to meet latest requirements, including contractual, financial, equality, and transparency regulations”

Paragraph 2.1
Bullet point 2 to be deleted
Bullet point 3 to be deleted
Bullet point 4 to read: “Grants awarded to be in excess of £250 only, but remain subject to further review”

Paragraph 2.5 to read
“Agree that Sport North Herts and Stevenage and North Herts Women’s Resource Centre funding be reviewed in late 2016 to measure any benefit or impact of public health or other budget changes, and that following review the decision be taken by the Head of Policy and Community Services in discussion with the Executive Member for Community and Rural Affairs grants to continue, reduce or cease funding from 2017”

Paragraph 2.7 to read
“Agree that from financial year 2017, annual grant funding under Major MoU to RELATE and the North Herts Minority Ethnic Forum cease.”

Paragraph 2.9 to be deleted.

The Strategic Director of Finance, Policy and Governance advised that the current Grants Policy dated from 2002, which predated austerity measures following which the Council needed to make tough choices.

The report provided feedback and proposals regarding the recommendations of the Task and Finish Group on Grants and Financial Assistance, which took place during 2013 and the Shared Internal Audit Service (SIAS) review of the Council’s grant making process.

She drew attention to Paragraph 2.3 of the report which recognised that there were alternative ways to support community groups including reviewing the role of the Communities Officers and how they could best contribute to building capacity and sustainability in the local community.

Members were keen that the North Herts Citizens Advice Bureau and the North Herts Centre for Voluntary Service not be affected as reflected in Paragraph 2.4.

Paragraph 2.6 reflected the view that funding for the North Herts Arts Council and British Schools Museum should be via the service budget of the Museum and Cultural Services Department.

Although it was recommended to cease funding under Major MoU to Stevenage and North Herts Women’s Resource Centre, Relate and North Herts Minority Ethnic Forum, this would not prevent applications being made for grant funding.

The proposed Grants Policy sought to make clear who could and could not apply for funding and the types of expenditure that NHDC would not fund, for example in 2010 the Council took the decision not to fund precepting bodies.

Members noted that it had taken a lot of work and therefore time to produce the report and were pleased that the recommendations of the Task and Finish Group had been at the heart of the development process.

Members expressed concern at the proposed cessation of Major MoU funding to the Minority Ethnic Forum and the Women’s Resource Centre, particularly in regard to how many users would be affected and asked for some statistical information to be circulated to Members. There was also concern as to whether discussions had taken place with the organisations directly affected by this proposal. They asked that the legal implications specifically regarding cessation of funding to these groups be checked and recorded.

The decision taken by Council not to fund Town Centre Partnerships and precepting bodies was acknowledged, but Members felt this applied to the day-to-day business and not intended to restrict applications for project funding by these organisations.

The Strategic Director of Finance, Policy and Governance advised Members that the Council needed to make savings of between £2.6 million and £4 million. There were a number of statutory requirements and every Head of Service had been charged with offering efficiencies, but the decisions such as not to fund precepting bodies or Town Centre Partnerships were taken by Members. The concept was that Town Centre Partnerships would be pump primed to enable them to generate their own income. She also advised that organsations working with these bodies could apply for funding.

In respect of consultation, she reassured Members that all groups had been consulted and given notice that the Council was conducting a review.

Members welcomed the reduction in the proposed minimum grant but were concerned that the Policy consisted of a lot of restrictive rules rather than a prescription of suitable objectives. The document also contained conflicting messages such as the Council would not subsidise salaries, yet the grant to North Herts Citizens Advice Bureau did exactly that. It was pointed out that sometimes an organisation just needed a small amount of money to keep them going.

In respect of the MoU being effectively changed to contracts, there was concern that this would work well, as the reality of managing a contract with a voluntary organisation was very different from managing a commercial contract.

The Strategic Director of Finance, Policy and Governance advised that many other authorities now use the commissioned service approach and so the recipients of Major MoUs were used to being monitored and providing services under contract.

The Council needed to make it clear that groups had to find funding for costs such as salaries and that NHDC may be able to help with specific projects,

She acknowledged the difficulties in monitoring contracts with voluntary organisations.

Members felt that the policy was cost-driven rather than achievement led and that the effect of rules in it would encourage organisations to set up groups just to apply for grant funding and that accounting information may be presented in a way that appeared to minimise reserves. They felt that the tone of the document was negative and instead should lay out what NHDC wanted to achieve and link this to the Corporate Priorities.

They were worried that the impact of a new policy on community groups should be monitored and agreed that this could be the subject of a Task and Finish Group. There was some discussion about whether Area Committees should be consulted prior to implementation

The Strategic Director of Finance Policy and Governance advised that the Area Committees had been extensively consulted during the previous Task and Finish Group on grant funding and that there was a need for a policy to be introduced in the near future and that a Task and Finish Group to review the impact of a new policy could make recommendations to Cabinet who could then chose to change that policy.

After some discussion Members agreed that Area Committees should be asked to make a contribution to a Task and Finish Group.

Members agreed that, if Cabinet should decide to implement this policy, they should be requested to undertake a full review in 12 months.

RESOLVED:

(1) That the Strategic Director of Finance, Policy and Governance be requested to circulate to all Members of the Committee the following information:
(i) How much was the amount of the MoU granted to the Stevenage and North Herts Women’s Resource Centre;
(ii) How many women from North Hertfordshire used the Stevenage and North Herts Women’s Resource Centre.

(2) That, should the new policy be adopted, a Task and Finish Group to investigate the impact of the Policy on community groups be scheduled into the work programme to which Area Committees will be asked to contribute.

RECOMMENDED TO CABINET:

(1) That the Grants Policy should be redrafted in a more positive manner and should lay out what NHDC wanted to achieve and link this to the Corporate Priorities;

(2) That the legal implications specifically regarding cessation of funding to Stevenage and North Herts Women’s Resource Centre and North Herts Minority Ethnic Forum be checked and recorded;

(3) That, if Cabinet should decide to implement this policy, they be requested to undertake a full review in 12 months time.

REASON FOR DECISION: To enable the Overview and Scrutiny Committee to comment on the Review of Grants and Grants Policy prior to consideration by Cabinet.
11 PROPOSED COMMUNITY FACILITIES CAPITAL PROJECTS FUNDING SCHEME
The Strategic Director of Finance, Policy and Governance presented the report entitled Proposed Community Facilities Capital Projects Funding Scheme.

She advised that the scheme applied to rural and urban centres and was, in part, related to the negotiations to achieve repairing leases and that Council funding would leverage funding from other sources.

Members acknowledged that this helped address the concerns of, particularly rural, halls that funding for repairs was not available and may reduce the number of grant applications to area committees for village hall repairs.

They were advised that the exclusion for halls built after 2011 tried to recognise that newer halls would not have the same issues as older halls. Members agreed that the reason for the cut-off should be explained in the document.

RECOMMENDED TO CABINET:

(1) That the exclusion contained in paragraph 2.1 of the Qualifying Criteria and Implementation Process for the Community Facilities Capital Projects Funding Scheme (Appendix 1 to the report) be amended to include an explanation for this exclusion;

(2) That, subject to (1) above the recommendation contained in the report entitled Proposed Community Facilities Capital Projects Funding Scheme be supported.

REASON FOR DECISION: To enable the Overview and Scrutiny Committee to comment of the report entitled Proposed Community Facilities Capital Projects Funding Scheme prior to consideration by Cabinet.
12 PROCUREMENT OF WASTE AND STREET CLEANSING CONTRACT
The Service Manager - Waste and Recycling presented the report entitled Procurement of Waste and Street Cleansing Contract and advised that this was a large contract which covered the whole of North Hertfordshire.

The current contract would end in 2018 and the report set out the basics of the procurement for the new contract, which is based on the provisions in the existing contract, but aimed to achieve some savings.

The procurement was for a basic service with small optional changes, based on cost.

Re-zoning of the street cleansing schedule was being looked at in order to better meet the need of the area.

Members asked several questions including whether the proposed contract would be able to adapt to future change, such as an increase in housing numbers and whether the contract was designed in such a way as to fit in with the County Council responsibilities

The Service Manager - Waste and Recycling advised that it was estimated that by 2020 waste and street cleansing costs would represent more than 40 percent of the Councils expenditure budget and that issues such as future growth would be built into the contract. It will also be necessary to include some indexing.

In respect of detail regarding scheduling etc, any partnership working has to consider the whole system costs in order to ensure that costs were not passed from one authority to another and that one part of the system was not adversely impacted by another.

The Service Manager - Waste and Recycling reminded Members that performance of the waste services provided by North Hertfordshire was very high and that any changes were made for positive reasons. Options for major change, if needed, were being built into the contract and it was hoped that savings would be made by optimising collection routes.

The Strategic Director of Finance, Policy and Governance informed Members that nationally waste was the biggest expense for District Councils and The District Council’s Network were lobbying that waste must be fully funded under the Retention of Business Rates.

The Head of Leisure and Environmental Services advised that the next opportunity for change would be in 2025 and reminded Members that NHDC was considering joint working with East Herts District Council and, in this respect, neither council wanted a major change to service provision.

Members were supportive of the recommendations contained in the report.

RECOMMENDED TO CABINET: That the recommendations in the report entitled Procurement of Waste and Street Cleansing Contract be supported.

REASON FOR DECISION: To enable the Overview and Scrutiny Committee to comment of the report entitled Procurement of Waste and Street Cleansing Contract prior to consideration by Cabinet.
13 MEMBERS’ QUESTIONS
No questions had been submitted.
14 RESOLUTIONS OF THE OVERVIEW AND SCRUTINY COMMITTEE
The Scrutiny Officer presented the report entitled Resolutions of the Overview and Scrutiny Committee and drew attention to the following:

HITCHIN TOWN HALL
An update report was presented to Cabinet on 3 September 2015 and further reports were considered by Council on 21 January 2016 and 9 May 2016.

A report entitled North Hertfordshire Museum and Hitchin Town Hall Contractual Obligations was listed on the Forward Plan to be considered at a date to be arranged.

This Committee would undertake a full review of the project in the fullness of time.

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.
15 OVERVIEW AND SCRUTINY COMMITTEE WORK PROGRAMME
The Scrutiny Officer presented the report entitled Overview and Scrutiny Committee Work Programme and drew attention to the following:

O&S COMMITTEE MEETING - 19 July 2016
Councillor Hone, Executive Member for Finance and IT would make a presentation regarding Benefits, IT and fee charges.

Councillor Lovewell, Executive Member for Housing and Environmental Health would make a presentation regarding the Housing aspect of his Portfolio.

RAMIFICATIONS OF DECISIONS MADE
The Chairman drew attention to the Member request, during the budget process, which led to the decision that Memorandum of Understanding payments be protected and the resulting consequence that Area Committee Discretionary Budgets were cut by 55 percent rather than the expected 20 percent so that the monetary value of the saving could still be achieved. She felt that this consequence should have been made clearer to Members and requested that in future Members should be made fully aware of the ramifications of decisions due to be taken.

TASK AND FINISH GROUPS
The Task and Finish Group on Performance Indicators would take place immediately prior to the next meeting of this Committee due to be held on 19 July 2016.

The Chairman advised that a Task and Finish Group regarding the redevelopment of Hitchin Town Hall would be held at the appropriate time and asked Members to consider how this could be carried out effectively.

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.
16 GROUNDS MAINTENANCE CONTRACT PROCUREMENT
The Service Manager - Grounds Maintenance presented the report entitled Grounds Maintenance Contract Procurement.

He advised that the current contract gave the opportunity to review and extend the contact or go out to the open market. The recommendation was to extend the contract with John O’Conner for a period of ten years with a break clause at year five.

He drew attention to Appendix A of the report which detailed the analysis regarding the type of work undertaken as part of the contract and which was included as part of the process overseen by a Project Board.

NHDC had significant partners in North Hertfordshire Highways and North Herts Homes.

Members asked several questions including how long NHDC had worked with John O’Conner and why so many inspections were carried out.

The Service Manager - Grounds Maintenance advised that NHDC had worked with John O’Conner since 2004, at which time NHDC was their largest customer, however they have expanded over the years and now service several District Councils and Housing Associations.

In regard to inspections, the contract generates income, which meets the costs of three officers. Each Officer undertakes 5 inspections per day that are formerly recorded and this level of inspection is achievable and therefore ensures continuity, enables accurate statistical information to be gathered and helped maintain the close working relationship. If the number of inspections were to be reduced the level of detailed information available would drop and it would be more difficult to react to issues. Subsequently this would negatively impact upon the quality of service received by residents

The Head of Leisure and Environmental Services reminded Members that the value of green spaces to residents was very high. The system of inspection was considered to be fair and equitable by John O’Conner and enabled NHDC to provide a high quality service.

The Service Manager - Grounds Maintenance informed Members that the team also administered approximately 400 burials per year, dealt with issues around traveller communities, and were responsible for splash parks and play grounds as well as issuing land licences and looking after allotments, rivers and culverts, whilst having the smallest grounds maintenance team in any district or borough within Hertfordshire.

RECOMMENDED TO CABINET: That the recommendations in the report entitled Grounds Maintenance Contract Procurement be supported.

REASON FOR DECISION: To enable the Overview and Scrutiny Committee to comment of the report entitled Grounds Maintenance Contract Procurement prior to consideration by Cabinet.
17 EXCLUSION OF PRESS AND PUBLIC
RESOLVED: That under Section 100A(4) of the Local Government Act 1972, the public and press be excluded from the meeting for the following item of business on the grounds that it involves the likely disclosure of exempt information as defined in Paragraph 3 of Part 1 of Schedule 12A of the said Act (as amended).
PART II
18 GROUNDS MAINTENANCE CONTRACT PROCUREMENT
  • Report
RECOMMENDED TO CABINET: That the recommendations in the report entitled Grounds Maintenance Contract Procurement be supported.

REASON FOR DECISION: To enable the Overview and Scrutiny Committee to comment of the report entitled Grounds Maintenance Contract Procurement prior to consideration by Cabinet.
Published on Thursday, 7th July, 2016
10.28p.m