Venue: Council Chamber, The Forum. View directions
Contact: Corporate and Democratic Support 01442 228209
To confirm the minutes from the previous meeting.
The minutes of the previous meeting were agreed by the members present and then signed by the Chairman.
Apologies for absence
To receive any apologies for absence
Apologies for absence were received from Councillors Chapman, Claughton and Freedman.
Councillor Stevens substituted for Councillor Freedman.
Declarations of Interest
To receive any declarations of interest
A member with a disclosable pecuniary interest or a personal interest in a matter who attends a meeting of the authority at which the matter is considered -
(i) must disclose the interest at the start of the meeting or when the interest becomes apparent
and, if the interest is a disclosable pecuniary interest, or a personal interest which is also prejudicial
(ii) may not participate in any discussion or vote on the matter (and must withdraw to the public seating area) unless they have been granted a dispensation.
A member who discloses at a meeting a disclosable pecuniary interest which is not registered in the Members’ Register of Interests, or is not the subject of a pending notification, must notify the Monitoring Officer of the interest within 28 days of the disclosure.
Disclosable pecuniary interests, personal and prejudicial interests are defined in Part 2 of the Code of Conduct For Members
[If a member is in any doubt as to whether they have an interest which should be declared they should seek the advice of the Monitoring Officer before the start of the meeting]
There were no declarations of interest.
An opportunity for members of the public to make statements or ask questions in accordance with the rules as to public participation
There was no public participation.
Consideration of any matter referred to the committee in relation to call-in
The Chairman asked that N Howcutt’s response to Councillor Symington be included in the action points from last meeting.
All other action points had been completed.
F Jump presented the Council’s forecast outturn for 2022-23 as at the 30 June 2022. The report covers the following budgets with associated appendices: The General Fund at Appendix A shows a pressure against budget of £0.872m is forecast. The Housing revenue Account (HRA) at Appendix B, a pressure of £1.040 is forecast. The Capital Programme at Appendix C. The General Fund Budgets are forecasting re-phasing to future years of £13.740m (14.5% of the budget). The HRA capital programme is forecast to budget. She welcomed questions from the committee.
Councillor Adeleke referred to item 8.2 on page 22 regarding the Berkhamsted Leisure Centre works that will continue into next year. Councillor Adeleke asked if this would be within the same budget or if there would be slippage.
F Jump stated that the programme should stay within the allocated budget and that the reference to slippage is in relation to decisions around the work and no budget pressure is expected at this point.
Councillor Adeleke next looked at item 8.4, asking how many properties they expect to purchase with £1m.
F Jump responded that purchase prices will vary but she expected £1m would only cover a handful of properties.
Councillor Tindall also referred to item 8.4. He asked if anyone had evaluated the turnover in Right to Buy properties in recent years to get an idea of how far the policy could be taken. He commented that £1m was on the low side, particularly when we are desperate for housing, and that he felt it was an easy way to mitigate some of the actions taken in the 1980s.
F Jump replied she did not have the statistics to hand but was happy to circulate the information. Action.
Councillor Tindall suggested they consider increasing the budget subject to the statistics.
F Jump took the comments on board. She felt that the budget of £1m is reasonable at this stage, and if they receive offers in excess of this amount they can look to reassess the figure as part of the budget setting for next year.
Councillor Tindall suggested there may be an increase in people selling Right to Buy properties in the wake of the financial crisis.
The Chairman noted the volatile environment and varying energy costs, stating that the new Prime Minister will also bring in new policies, and that they should wait to take a pragmatic approach.
Councillor Townsend requested more information on item 4.1 regarding residential services and the pressure of £0.729m. He suggested that this figure was being attributed to employee costs and asked for clarification on why employee costs have increased.
F Jump commented that employee costs are emerging as they respond to changes in round patterns and staffing requirements. Whilst they would've had an idea of staffing costs when setting the budget, costs have increased throughout the year. It was noted that this figure also includes agency staff costs, which are also increasing.
Councillor Symington commented on wages for waste staff, noting that last ... view the full minutes text for item 28.
F Jump presented the report, noting the focus on performance indicators showing as red and operational risks that has an overall score that has increased from the previous quarter.
Considering performance, F Jump referred to appendices A and B, noting that there are 6 performance indicators showing as green, 2 as amber and 1 as red. The indicator showing as red is for time taken for debtors to pay. She noted that this has been reported to the Committee for a number of years and continues to be impacted by the pandemic with an increasing number of debtors choosing to pay via instalments. She advised that there have been a number of government restrictions on debt recovery activity and that they would hope to see performance start to improve against this indicator, though the cost of living crisis is impacting a number of debtors.
Looking at the operational risk report, F Jump noted that the overall risk score has been increased on collection rates for council tax and business rates dropping below budgeted expectations. Whilst the likelihood of the risk occurring at this point in the year is lower, the impact is higher.
The Portfolio Holder, Councillor Elliot, referred to the time for debtors to pay, noting that this is a country-wide issue in the public sector. The council is in constant dialogue with commercial tenants and Councillor Elliot praised the Commercial Assets team for their proactive work with commercial tenants and residents.
Councilor Guest commented on time for debtors to pay and asked what work is being done to show that this is due to the impact of the pandemic.
F Jump advised that this is a result of officers interacting with debtors and comparing performance to previous financial years. She stated that they are now conscious of the impact of the cost of living crisis and that it is challenging to differentiate between the different drivers around debt repayment, though officers are looking to understand this where they can.
Councillor Adeleke referred to page 36 of the report regarding staff being overstretched, leaving some work undone. He commented that they were likely to see more government legislation regarding rebates in light of the ongoing financial crisis and asked what contingency plan is in place to ensure that residents are not impacted.
F Jump advised that they are conscious of the potential for additional use of their time to implement new government legislation and that they can flex their resource in the service in order to respond to additional demands.
Councillor Elliot commented that the Finance and Revenue and Benefits teams have stood up to all challenges over recent years and have quickly responded in distributing funds. He confirmed he had full confidence in both the teams that they are coping with the demands made of them.
A comment was made that it would be beneficial to also see a risk and opportunities register given the challenges ahead. F Jump agreed to discuss this further with N Howcutt and ... view the full minutes text for item 29.
M Brookes presented the report, drawing attention to the number of cases in court regarding fly-tipping cases, the work in the elections team to prepare for the Annual Canvas and preparing the Business Improvement District ballots in November.
Councillor Guest referred to item 2 on page 52 of the report, the operational risk to deliver a successful election. She asked for clarification if there would be no change to this in the first or second quarter as it stated both quarters.
M Brookes agreed that the report should read that it is the first quarter.
Councillor Tindall referred to page 61, the percentage of community alarm calls answered within 1 minute, noting that there was no number stating how many alarm calls were made and how far outside a minute they were answered.
M Brookes stated that this was not his service and therefore did not come under his area. It was noted that this could be taken to the Housing team to respond to. Action.
Councillor Tindall referred to page 62 regarding the percentage of stage 2 complaints resolved in 15 days and asked if there was any explanation for them all being in red, apart from the comments included.
M Brookes commented that they are aware of the poor performance across the board and that they are looking at the structure for complaints. He explained they require additional resources in this area to help with responses and that a post is currently being advertised to assist with this. M Brookes asked members to bear with them as they look at a new plan and recruit appropriate staff.
The Chairman highlighted that as they receive this report on a regular basis and should start to see improvements.
Councillor Tindall referred to page 64 and drew attention to the number of red columns relating to the performance of housing benefit claims. He said he hoped there was a plan intended to ensure claims are made in a more-timely manner.
F Jump added that the service is looking to ensure they are responding as needed and would seek a response on the point. Action.
The Chairman commented on page 52-53 of the report and the number of fly-tipping prosecutions. He asked if they are using opportunities to promote that they will go after those who fly-tip and will take them to court.
K Soley confirmed that they work closely with the legal team and will publicise any prosecutions for awareness campaigns.
The Chairman advised that he would speak to K Soley on this further outside of the meeting.
Councillor Stevens wished to make a comment rather than ask a question. He said he observed a recent walk along the high street in Berkhamsted, noting that A-boards and café seating was out, and that café owners denied knowledge of licenses. He advised that they subsequently received a number of calls on how to pay the license fee and that the activity had therefore paid off.
Councillor Mahmood commented on page 53 regarding ... view the full minutes text for item 30.
Quarter 1 Performance Report - Commercial Development Services
B Hosier highlighted that the Procurement and Contracted Services team moved into a new commercial strategy and delivery portfolio, led by Councillor Williams. He drew attention to point 3 on procurement compliance on page 68-69 which is a new entry that came from an internal audit report that recommended the number of times in any 1 quarter that the procurement standing orders were set aside and for non-compliant expenditure to be reported to the Committee.
Councillor Symington thanked B Hosier for the report and appreciated the response to the recommendation from the Audit Committee. Councillor Symington then referred to page 68 of the report, commenting that non-compliant aspects were listed but no costs were attached.
B Hosier agreed that no figures are listed, and any figures included would be contractual, which are published on the website. He confirmed he would come back to members with the value of the contracts, adding that they are only non-compliant from when the contract has expired and that the table lists mitigations for each item. Action.
Councillor Symington asked what the effect was of the 40% decrease in penalty charge notices (PCN) as noted on page 71.
B Hosier advised that this has resulted in a considerable shortfall for the council though he did not have the figures for the direct financial impact. He said we should bear in mind that there were two levels of income from a PCN depending on how quickly the penalty payment was made, as there was a discount for paying within the first 14 days. Some PCN’s will be challenged and then written off.
Councillor Symington queried if there would be an impact on the contract with the contractors Saba.
B Hosier confirmed that there are no targets on the number of PCNs issued and it would not impact on Saba, though if Saba do not fulfil the minimum number of Civil Enforcement Officer’s (CEO) each day then there is a financial penalty to them.
Councillor Symington asked B Hosier to expand on the Berkhamsted Leisure contract, commenting that they don't appear to have recovered as they may have done and that they appear to be running at a £145k deficit.
B Hosier explained that was the amount that Everyone Active have lost on the contract. DBC receive £35,833 each month as a management fee and that the loss would be picked up by Everyone Active.
Councillor Symington clarified that Everyone Active have communicated that they are losing money on the contract and have historically asked for a subsidy on this. She asked what negotiations are taking place around this.
B Hosier advised that historically Everyone Active paid a management fee to the council but during the pandemic and lockdown periods they lost significant income and therefore DBC made some decisions to support them. This year they negotiated a management fee so that the council didn’t lose money, though Everyone Active are still making a financial loss. Everyone Active would need to approach us if they needed ... view the full minutes text for item 31.
A Wilkie began by introducing himself to the Committee and took the report as read. He welcomed questions.
Councillor Adeleke commented on the green community grants as mentioned on page 83 of the report and he asked how they would ensure the funds would be spent appropriately.
H Peacock confirmed that projects went through a stringent assessment to be awarded funding and will be assessed at the end of the delivery of the project to ensure that the award was spent as expected.
Councillor Tindall noted item 2.8 of the report regarding staff turnover being at 12% and that he felt this disguises a problem with recruiting professional staff. He asked if they could see an overview of vacancies within professional staff, service implications and salary implications, noting that they may struggle with complaints if they don't have the right staff in place.
M Rawdon advised that they are struggling in some professional areas, though they have had 136 leavers and 132 new starters in the last year. There is recognition that needs to be done to ensure professional staff are attracted to and stay within the organisation and they have therefore recently looked at salaries and to potentially increase pay. It was noted that there is also agency cover, which they should keep to a minimum, and the focus is on being effective and maintaining value for money. There is oversight from the Strategic Leadership Team on areas where there are higher vacancies and a fortnightly report details all actions being taken to fill these roles.
Councillor Tindall asked if they are keeping in touch with neighbouring authorities regarding staff moving elsewhere.
M Rawdon stated that a recruitment meeting has been set up with heads of HR across Hertfordshire to look at how to best support each other on recruitment issues and they have to ensure they are paying appropriate rates.
The Chairman commented that Dacorum was a good place to work and that people have moved to work in the area.
Councillor Guest referred to item 5.4 on page 84 of the report regarding the bulk buy scheme and asked how they are working with the county council on this.
H Peacock advised that the County Council is part of the wider Hertfordshire Climate Change and Sustainability Partnership and are therefore already involved.
Cllr Elliot commended the report and wished B Trueman well in his future career.
The report was noted.
C Silva-Donayre began by noting the team's hard work in developing the strategy and business cases.
B Hosier took the strategy as read and advised that the recommendation was to acknowledge and note the content of the strategy, with a particular focus on commercial objectives and principles. B Hosier advised that these are identified in item 2 of the report and he asked members that they be clear on the objectives and considerations as they set out the framework to move forward with the commercial programme. He welcomed questions but requested that they relate to the strategy rather than the FBCs (final business cases), given that they are still under development.
Councillor Adeleke referred to item 2 on page 89, noting the last point on assets for investment. He commented that this was the flagship policy that the new Chief Executive had brought in and he asked for an update on progress on this in the last 12 months.
F Jump advised that this area remains in early stages of development and that further updates will be brought to the Committee in due course.
Councillor Adeleke followed up with a supplementary comment, noting that one of the statements is regarding looking outwards for opportunities and he asked when they would receive a full update report on this.
The Chairman suggested that this was contained within the strategy paper under item 3.
B Hosier agreed, adding that there is a current commercial programme that is being developed, and the development of business cases for income generation and commercial activities will go through the Commercial Board in autumn before going through the appropriate channels, including the Committee. Whilst there are a number of potential opportunities, these need to go through due diligence before they can be presented to members. He added that a timeline is included within the accompanying report under section 2.3 and that they will regularly bring back proposals and delivery to the Committee.
The Chairman asked if the timelines are achievable and if any slippage is anticipated.
B Hosier confirmed that the Commercial Board oversees activity as part of the commercial programme and that they are managing the development of the FBCs so a full business case will be presented back to the Commercial Board, with phase 1 to take place after 30th September and phase 2 after 31st October.
C Silva-Donayre advised that a further programme is being worked out once the FBC is developed and this will be made available once ready in the coming weeks.
C Silva-Donayre referred to an earlier question on strategy activity, noting that they are in the first tranche of business cases and they will be constantly looking for new opportunities to embed commercial behaviour within the organisation.
Councillor Mahmood commented on the target to save £2.5m in the next 3 years, as highlighted on page 99, and said he was looking for tangible figures that could be easily monitored.
The Chairman queried the comment and stated that there is ... view the full minutes text for item 33.
The Chairman asked members if they wished to make any alterations to the work programme.
Councillor Symington commented on electric vehicle charging points, noting that this was omitted from all reports and was now listed as a future report with no date to come back to the Committee. She requested that an update on the strategy be provided in October and asked why it was an undated report given that it is an ongoing programme.
The Chairman said he felt this was premature and invited Councillor Symington to send him a note on why he should revise his decision. He added that there have been a number of issues around charging points, including locations, finances and delivery, and that he therefore felt it would be premature to bring an update to the October meeting.
Councillor Symington responded that they currently have no information on the programme.
The Chairman suggested that it had been raised previously and that they should avoid repeating what has already been said.
B Hosier said he could provide a short update on electric vehicle charging points, noting that the project is ongoing and the contract was awarded earlier this year via a portfolio holder decision. The contractors have contacted the distribution network operators for costs and surveys and connection points and they are ready to proceed other than the terms and conditions of contracts which are now in the third or fourth iteration. B Hosier added that the discussion with contractors has always been that the project will be rolled out this financial year and that they are still on track for this, subject to documentation. He said it was worth noting that the project covers a 15-25 year period and that both parties are looking to cover as many unknown complications where possible. He confirmed that an update would be provided at future meetings and that progress is currently outside of their control.
The Chairman rejected Councillor Symington's request for an update at the October meeting and confirmed that the future report would be provided when an update was available.