Overview and Scrutiny Committee Minutes

Date:
Tuesday, 17th January, 2017
Time:
7.30pm
Place:
Foundation House, Icknield Way, Letchworth Garden City
 
 

Attendance Details

Present:
Councillor Cathryn Henry (Chairman), Councillor Steve Hemingway (Vice-Chairman), Councillor Clare Billing, Councillor Bill Davidson, Councillor Jean Green, Councillor S.K. Jarvis, Councillor Gerald Morris, Councillor M.R.M. Muir, Councillor Janine Paterson, Councillor Frank Radcliffe and Councillor Valentine Shanley.
In attendance:
Councillor Jane Gray (Executive Member for Leisure), Steve Crowley (Contracts and Project Manager), Stephen Geach (Parks and Countryside Development Manager), Brendan Sullivan (Scrutiny Officer) and Hilary Dineen (Committee and Member Services Officer).
Also Present:
At the start of the meeting Councillor Julian Cunningham (Executive Member for Policy, Transport and Green Issues) and 2 members of the public.
Item Description/Decision
PART I
77 APOLOGIES FOR ABSENCE
Apologies for absence were received from Councillors Ian Albert, Steve Deakin-Davies, Elizabeth Dennis, Ben Lewis and Paul Marment.
78 MINUTES
Councillor Paterson advised that she had given her apologies for the meeting held on 13 December, but they had not been recorded.

RESOLVED: That, subject to the addition of Councillor Paterson to the apologies for absence, the Minutes of the Meeting held on 13 December 2016 be approved as a true record of the proceedings and be signed by the Chairman.
79 NOTIFICATION OF OTHER BUSINESS
No other business was submitted for consideration by the Committee.
80 CHAIRMAN'S ANNOUNCEMENTS
(1) The Chairman reminded those present that, in line with Council policy, the meeting would be audio recorded;

(2) The Chairman informed Members that there was no sound amplification and asked Members to speak loudly and clearly;

(3) The Chairman welcomed Councillor Jane Gray (Executive Member for Leisure) and Councillor Cunningham (Executive Member for Policy, Transport and Green Issues) to the meeting;

(4) 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.
81 PUBLIC PARTICIPATION
There were no presentations from members of the public.
82 URGENT/GENERAL EXCEPTION ITEMS
No urgent or general exception items were received.
83 CALLED IN ITEMS
Since the last meeting, no decisions had been called-in by the Overview and Scrutiny Committee.
84 PRESENTATION BY THE EXECUTIVE MEMBER FOR LEISURE
The Chairman reminded Members that the Green Space Strategy would be discussed later in the meeting and asked Members to restrict questions regarding that subject during this item.

Councillor Jane Gray, Executive Member for Leisure, thanked the Chairman for the opportunity to address the Committee and gave a verbal presentation regarding the issues in her Portfolio as follows:

KEY RESPONSIBILITIES
The Leisure portfolio included leisure facilities, green spaces, outdoor facilities and markets

MANAGEMENT OF LEISURE CENTRE CONTRACTS
NHDC had three contracts with Stevenage Leisure Limited to manage the three leisure centres in the District in Letchworth, Hitchin and Royston.

MANAGEMENT OF LEISURE CAPITAL PROJECTS
The main project at the moment was the upgrade of the North Herts Leisure Centre in Letchworth. NHDC was spending approximately £3.5 million on this contract, which was going well.

MANAGEMENT OF HITCHIN MARKET CONTRACT
This did not currently take up much time for either the Officers or the Executive Member.

There was a need to consider the future of Hitchin Market at some point.

LONG TERM PLANNING
This was about looking for opportunities that would enable NHDC to keep the stock in as good a condition as possible and to prevent serious and irreversible decline.

GREEN SPACE AND OUTDOOR FACILITIES
The green spaces and outdoor facilities were treasured in North Herts, but difficult decisions would have to be made.

This was the subject of the next item on the agenda.

TOP CHALLENGES
1. Meet future expectations of residents regarding green spaces and leisure services. Current expectation was high, particularly given the financial limitations going forward and that this was not a statutory service;
2. The NHDC Medium Financial Strategy shows the “Jaws of Doom” expectation that in future years there would be significant financial pressure on Council Services;
3. The North Herts Leisure Centre £3.5 million investment to ensure that the facility was fit for purpose for the next 25 years;
4. The production and adoption of the 2017=2021 Green Space Management Strategy that meets the criteria of the Medium Term Financial Strategy.

TOP OPPORTUNITIES
1. To complete and open the North Herts Leisure Centre;
2. To agree and implement the Green Space Strategy;
3. To investigate further Invest to Save opportunities so that NHDC can continue to provide this non statutory but much desired service.

PERFORMANCE INDICATORS AND TARGETS
1. Number of users to leisure facilities.
The target of 888,000 to November 2016 had been exceeded with 915,887 visits to leisure centres.
Frequent meetings were held with contractors that included target monitoring;
2. Contract Management for Leisure and Grounds.
The performance indicators focussed on continuous improvement and ensuring that facilities were fit for purpose.
Regular meetings with contractors was the basis of managing the contracts during which discussions were held regarding complaints, down time and the future.

KEY PROJECTS - GREEN SPACE
It had been necessary to streamline what would be done, due to the Medium Term Financial Strategy, but projects were still being undertaken including:

1. Norton Common, Letchworth - District wide skate park (£170,000 Section 106 funding).
Contracts had been awarded and the work would start in the next two months;
2. Play area renovations (£225,000) at:
Bancroft, Hitchin;
Serby Avenue, Royston;
Jackmans Central, Letchworth.
3. Bancroft, Hitchin - Multi Use Games Area (£170,000);
It had been disappointing to have failed with the Lottery grant application, but this project would go ahead and include availability for tennis, which had been a desire of the people in the area.
4. Walsworth Common, Hitchin - Pitch improvements (£100,000 Section 106 funding).

KEY LEISURE PROJECT
The main leisure project currently was the upgrade of the North Herts Leisure Centre. This project started in May 2016 and was due for completion in June 2017-01-29
The keys aspects to this were:
• New teaching pool;
• New cafeteria;
• Old Cafeteria converted to multi functional room;
• Refurbishment of the sports hall;
• Refurbishment of the leisure pool changing rooms;
• Improvements to car parking.
The contract with Stevenage Leisure had been extended until 2024 and until then would provide a contractual saving of £216,000 per annum.
It should be noted that 10 years ago NHDC was paying £400.000 per annum for the contracts on the leisure centres, this had turned round to an income of approximately £500,000, including the savings mentioned above.

BUDGETS
The working budget for Leisure Services demonstrated net income to the Council for allotments (£15.000), leisure (£271,000) and markets (£17.000). Parks Development had a working budget of (£192,000).

The Project and Contracts Manager advised Members that the budget figures did not include either recharges or capital charges.

Members commented that much of the leisure portfolio brings in income and therefore should be continued. However there was some concern that the amount of the recharges and capital charges were not made clear and asked whether there was a budget sheet that included these items and were those detailed budgets monitored.

The Project and Contracts Manager advised that detailed budgets were available and accessible to all Members and that those budgets were not monitored by his department, but by the finance team.

Members commented that this was more like a short term plan and should be more aligned to the Local Plan and asked whether the Local Plan had been taken into consideration when looking at leisure facilities, particularly as it was likely that many more people would be living in the area, which would then cause pressure on the facilities provided. They also queried how the leisure team was ensuring that developers were not putting in equipment that would then cause pressure on NHDC finances to maintain.

The Executive Member for Leisure advised that she was very mindful of the Local Plan and the associated pressures. There were Officers in the planning team dedicated to working on recommendations for the future. Once developed, these would be considered by the various departments.

Although this work had not been completed, she hoped that, if she were invited back to talk to the Committee next year, she would be able to give more information.

The Project and Contracts Manager advised Members that the Indoor Facilities Strategy considered the stock owned by the Council and that owned by other providers and this had been one of the factors which led to the upgrade of the North Herts Leisure Centre.

The Parks and Countryside Development Manager advised that they were working very closely with the planning team regarding the Local Plan and the types of facilities that should be provided when new housing was developed.

The Chairman commented that part of the role of this Committee was to give guidance, support and suggestions to Executive Members as early as possible in the process of developing strategies etc and consideration of leisure facilities and section 106 receipts as part of the Local Plan was one area that may benefit from early presentation to this Committee.

A Member commented that, due to the Baldock allotments becoming self managed. The income relating to allotments would reduce and expressed concern that developers were not currently asked for Section 106 contributions for allotments. He stated that Baldock was already woefully short of allotments and that, if the number of houses identified in the Local Plan were built, many more would be required and asked whether the Council would ask for contributions from developers for this in future.

The Executive Member for Leisure advised that the statutory obligation for allotments was across the District, but that she would discuss this issue with the Planning department.

In respect of competition in the market place, particularly regarding gyms, Members noted that provision had changed over the last few years with many more low cost, open 24 hours a day facilities and asked whether there was a risk that the Council competes against all of these other facilities, rather than offering facilities not provided by private providers such as cricket and rugby.

The Project and Contracts Manager advised that experience over the last 5 years regarding gym use had shown that people had moved to using the Council gyms. Some had previously used higher level memberships, but moved due the recession and the cost and others had not enjoyed the experience of the cheaper gyms and had moved for a better quality experience. This had demonstrated that the Council’s gyms were priced at the right level for the quality provided.

The Executive Member for Leisure informed Members that Stevenage Leisure Limited undertook a lot of research in order to ensure that they were providing the services that people wanted at the right price and were constantly monitoring where the demand was and how they could meet it.

The Chairman thanked Councillor Gray for her presentation.

RESOLVED: That the Committee and Member Services Officer be requested to circulate the PowerPoint presentation on Leisure to all Members and Substitutes of this Committee.
85 REVIEW OF THE GREEN SPACE STRATEGY
The Parks and Countryside Development Manager presented the report of the Head of Leisure and Environmental Services entitled Review of the Green Space Strategy.

The Parks and Countryside Development Manager informed Members that the report presented to Cabinet on 22 November 2016 identified that, in light of the financial outlook described in the Council’s Medium Tern Financial Strategy and the financial pressures facing the Authority, the existing relatively high level of capital and revenue expenditure devoted to green space could not be continued.

The Council then consulted on the draft proposals contained in that report by way of focus groups made up of members of NHDC’s Citizen’s Panel. This method was adopted as it ensured a representation of different demographic and socio-economic groups with the District and allowed a more considered opinion of the wider community. There was also a lot of press coverage that generated email and letter correspondence that also formed part of the consultation process.

One of the main findings of the consultation was for the Council to look at alternative ways to retain, wherever possible, equipped play areas.

There was particular concern about the proposed removal of play equipment from Brook View Play Area, Hitchin. The Brook View Play Area was the only play area included to have equipment removed that had been identified as medium use and had originally been included due to its close proximity to another play area. However the consultation revealed that the two play areas served different sections of the community, one was aimed at younger children whilst the other catered for teenagers. In view of the consultation feedback and that it was assessed as medium use the proposals had been updated to retain this play area.

It was proposed that the remaining 13 play areas, where it was proposed that play equipment be removed, would be given until March 2018 to enable interested third parties to put forward sustainable proposals that would fund both the capital and revenue requirements to safely continue to provide such facilities.

It should be noted that the existing proposals in the Green Space Management Strategy (2014-2019) were developed prior to the adoption of the current Medium Term Financial Strategy, with many of the proposals within the existing strategy not holding up to the scrutiny required by the current Medium Term Financial Strategy, therefore these had been reviewed.

Section 9 of the report detailed the recommendations of the Project Board as follows:
• Paragraph 9.1.1 contained recommendations in respect of play areas;
• Paragraph 9.1.2 contained recommendations regarding football pitches. The maintenance of football pitches was relatively low cost at about £400 per year;
• Paragraph 9.1.3 contained recommendations regarding football pavilions. The consultation recognised that football pavilions were use by a very small section of the community on a limited number of days and therefore this was an area where the Council could reduce expenditure without impacting on large portions of the community.
• Paragraph 9.1.4 contained recommendations in respect of other green space infrastructure.

Taking into account the results of public consultation, the revised Green Space Capital Programme focused investment on areas of greatest community benefit and would ensure that the Green Space Management Strategy met with the requirements of the Council’s current Medium Term Financial Strategy, whilst maintaining adequate and sustainable green space infrastructure for the next four years.

The Chairman reminded Members that this report would be considered by Cabinet on 24 January 2017 and that, if approved, the Strategy would be in place for 4 years. If Members of this Committee wished to make any recommendations for Cabinet to consider, this meeting was the opportunity to do so.

Members asked whether closing football pavilions would have a detrimental effect on the use of the adjacent football pitches and whether it was likely that any group would wish to take on the maintenance and upkeep of any of the pavilions.

The Parks and Countryside Manager advised that in Letchworth there was only one football site with an associated pavilion, yet all of the other pitches were in use and the consultation identified that many football players, particularly teenagers and children change at home. In respect of groups taking on the management of the pavilions, he felt that it was unlikely that any offers would be made, mainly due to the current condition of the buildings, however whether they were taken over or not, the Council would still make a saving by not having to maintain them.

Members commented that if consultees were asked if they used the pavilions, which were in a poor condition, the expected response would be no thank you and queried whether they were asked whether they would use a pavilion if it were of a good standard.

Members expressed some concern about whether the demographics and size of the focus groups were appropriate for the type of consultation, particularly whether young people were included, and felt that they would have more confidence if the demographic make up of the focus groups was included in the report presented to Cabinet.

The Parks and Countryside Manager advised that the consultation was undertaken by an independent company who were asked to select people who were representative of the population of the District and it was these people that identified that, although they, or their children used the football pitches they got changed at home and did not use the pavilions.

One Member stated that he felt that Baldock did not receive a fair share of the funding for its green spaces and leisure facilities, despite a report by the Playing Fields Association stating that Baldock had provision vastly below the national average. He was also concerned that discussions regarding a skate park in Baldock had not resulted in any action.

The Executive Member for Leisure stated that she would look into the details regarding the amount of the leisure budget spend on Baldock and would happily accept an invitation to attend a Baldock and District Committee meeting to discuss this point. She pointed out that parished areas of the District, which were mainly rural, paid a Parish Precept and did not receive any funding from the District Council for play areas. In respect of the discussions regarding a skate park, she advised that the Council would be unlikely to afford the revenue implications associated with the maintenance of such a scheme.

Members asked what had changed between the two reports provided.

The Parks and Countryside Manager advised that the original draft report had been published prior to the meeting of the Project Board on 9 January 2017 and therefore did not contain any recommendations from them. Following this meeting their recommendations were inserted into the report and the Strategy was updated to reflect these recommendations.

Members noted that previous efforts made by community groups to take on management of Council assets had been quite difficult and protracted and asked what the Council would do to proactively seek groups willing to take on play areas or pavilions and how they would make the process of taking these on as easy as possible, particularly as many of these were in areas without parish or community councils.

The Parks and Countryside Manager advised that he had already held discussions with the Communities Manager who would be working with the Parish Councils and community groups to support and assist them to take on the facilities.

Members noted the prospective capital savings and costs, but were concerned that no revenue figures were quoted in the report, particularly as this was the area with most pressure on it and asked for confirmation that approximately 20 percent of the proposed capital expenditure was for the removal of facilities.

The Parks and Countryside Manager confirmed that a proportion of the capital spend was allocated towards removal of facilities, but this was regarded as invest to save as the removal of pavilions would result in a revenue saving in no longer having to maintain them.

Members expressed some concern that, if play equipment were removed, the sites may then no longer be maintained and become an eyesore or be sold and possibly developed.

The Parks and Countryside Development Manager informed Members that the key driver of the strategy was to retain and maintain the green space for future generations. The green space was the most important element whilst the play areas and pavilions were additional benefits.

Members further discussed that Recommendation 2.3 was very passive and that the Council should be more proactive in seeking community groups to take on facilities and advertising that support would be offered to guide groups through the process, particularly through use of social media.

RESOLVED:

(1) That the Parks and Countryside Manager be requested to provide Cabinet, at the meeting to be held on 24 January 2017, with details of the demographics of the focus groups;

(2) That the Parks and Countryside Manager be requested to circulate the information provided in (1) above to all Members and Substitutes of this Committee;

RECOMMENDED TO CABINET:

(1) That Cabinet consider whether the demographics and size of the focus groups were appropriate for the type of consultation, particularly whether the views of young people and children who were the main users of these facilities, had been included;

(2) That Recommendation 2.3 of the report be amended to reflect that the Council should be more proactive in seeking community groups to take on facilities and advertise that support would be offered to guide groups through the process, particularly through use of social media.

REASON FOR DECISION: To enable the Overview and Scrutiny Committee to consider the report entitled Review of the Green Space Strategy prior to consideration by Cabinet on 24 January 2017.
86 MEMBERS' QUESTIONS
No questions had been submitted.
87 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:

MINUTE 50 - SEPTEMBER 2015 - TASK AND FINISH GROUP ON COMMERCIALISATION OF COUNCIL SERVICES
Members noted that the Project Board should have reported to Cabinet on 10 November 2015 and asked if there was any update available.

The Scrutiny Officer advised that the Chief Executive had, at the last meeting of this Committee, reported that the Project Board had met many times, that great progress had been made and that something would be happening very soon.

MINUTE 68 - DECEMBER 2016 - PRESENTATION BY THE EXECUTIVE MEMBER FOR POLICY, TTRANSPORT AND GREEN ISSUES
The Scrutiny Officer reminded Members that, in his presentation, the Executive Member had drawn attention to reduced funding for discretionary services due to pressure on the revenue budget and whether the current level of capital spend by the Council was sustainable and had invited the Committee to have a discussion regarding these issues.

The Scrutiny asked for advice regarding how this could be best achieved.

The Executive Member for Policy, Transport and Green Issues informed Members that he was happy to have a discussion with the Chairman, Vice-Chairman and Scrutiny Officer at some point in the near future.

RESOLVED:
(1) That the Scrutiny Officer be requested to organise a meeting between the Executive Member for Policy, Transport and Green Issues and the Chairman and Vice-Chairman of this Committee to discuss issues raised in his presentation to the Overview and Scrutiny Committee in December 2016;

(2) 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.
88 OVERVIEW AND SCRUTINY COMMITTEE WORK PROGRAMME
The Scrutiny Officer presented the report entitled Overview and Scrutiny Work Programme, the following issues were discussed:

COMMITTEE MEETINGS
The Scrutiny Officer drew attention to Paragraph 7 of the report, which gave details of items to be included in the agenda for the meeting due to be heldon21 March 2017.

TASK AND FINISH GROUPS
The Scrutiny Officer advised that progress on the Task and Finish Group on the Management of Larger Projects had been slow and as a consequence the report to this Committee may need to be deferred to June 2017.

The Scrutiny Officer drew attention to Paragraph 8.3, which contained a list of possible Task and Finish Group topics and asked Members to consider whether this list should be reviewed and in which order they would like to consider topics.

Members discussed the list and agreed that the proposed Task and Finish Groups on How the Council Awards Contracts and Keeping North Herts tidy be removed from the list and that the proposed Task and Finish Groups on The Urban/Rural Divide, NHDC’s Document Centre and Balancing Cost Savings Against Possible Environmental Impacts be placed on a reserve list.

He suggested that consultation regarding the Task and Finish Group on the Management of Larger Projects had not gone to plan. He commented that the Green Space Strategy appeared to have been driven by the Medium Term Financial Strategy and the decision by Council to Capitalise £2.5 million of pension contributions, which meant that there was £2.5 million less to spend on Green Space and other things. He suggested that it was a matter of deciding at what point people are asked about the decisions made, how aware people were of the significance of some of the decisions and that it appeared that Councillors and the public got involved after the real decision had been made.

Members commented that the Council should be asking people what they want rather than asking their opinion about decisions already made and agreed that a Task and finish Group on Consultations, including the demographic make up of the group and formats used should be undertaken.

Members considered that the remaining Task and finish topics should be considered in the following order:
1. Consultation;
2. Impact of the Grants Policy;
3. Section 106 funding.

FORWARD PLAN
The Scrutiny Officer drew attention to the Forward Plan and suggested that Members may wish to consider the following items:
• Commissioning and Contracting of Services Undertaken by CAB, CVS and Minority Ethnic Forum;
• Parking Charges.

Members agreed that these items should be considered by the Committee.

Executive Member contributions to the Overview and Scrutiny Committee
The Chairman advised that she had always been willing to try new ways of getting information to the Committee. The experience over the last two years had been variable, with some valuable information being gleaned from the presentations by the Executive Members. She asked Members to consider whether the current format should continue or whether there was a different way this could be done, which would have a more positive outcome and ensure effective recommendations were made to Cabinet.

Members suggested that papers relating to presentations should be circulated earlier and that they should have a list of issues they wished the Executive Member to address. They observed that presentations worked better when there was an associated decision to be made, as with the presentation earlier in the meeting and the least effective were those where the presentation covered too wide an area and therefore presentations should be about particular issues rather than the complete Portfolio.

The Chairman felt that it would be more useful if an Executive Member talked about issues at an earlier stage in the process, rather than coming to the Committee with a fully formed idea so that the Committee could add value to the process and offer suggestions for a way forward.

She noted that Service Plans often included issues that were going to be considered in the future and queried whether the Committee could look at these for guidance as to which Executive Member should be invited and what they would be asked to speak about.

The Scrutiny Officer explained that Service Plans were written by Heads of Service and included details of what they would be doing over the next year. Some were very detailed and useful, some were out of date and others had more or less detail. Service Plans could only be seen as one source of information and other sources such as the Capital Programme should also be considered.

Members agreed that that the Scrutiny Officer, Chairman of this Committee and the Executive Member for Policy, Transport and Green Issues meet to develop some suggestions regarding methods to effectively influence policy making in the future.

RESOLVED:
(1) That the Overview and Scrutiny Committee Work Programme be noted;

(2) That the following topics for Task and Finish Groups be removed from the list:
(i) How the Council awards Contracts;
(ii) Keeping North Herts tidy.

(3) That the following topics for Task and Finish Groups be placed on a reserve list;
(i) The Urban/Rural Divide;
(ii) NHDC’s Document Centre;
(iii) Balancing cost savings against possible environmental impacts.

(4) That the following Task and Finish Group be added to the list:
(i) Consultations, including the demographic make up of the group and formats used.

(5) That the following items be considered by this Committee:
(i) Commissioning and Contracting of Services Undertaken by CAB, CVS and Minority Ethnic Forum;
(ii) Parking Charges.

(6) That the Scrutiny Officer together with the Chairman of this Committee and the Executive Member for Policy, Transport and Green Issues, be requested to develop some suggestions regarding methods to effectively influence policy making in the future.

REASON FOR DECISION: To enable the Overview and Scrutiny Committee to plan and carry out its workload efficiently and effectively.
Published on Monday, 13th February, 2017
9.25 p.m.