Venue: Conference Room 2 - 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 held on 7 March 2023 were approved as an accurate record and signed by the Chair.
Apologies for absence
To receive any apologies for absence.
Apologies for absence were received from Councillors Guest and S Hobson.
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
On the action regarding green bin subscriptions, the Chair suggested that they needed to evaluate the communications that had taken place as well as looking at questions and comments that were raised following the launch to assess if there were any further lessons learned. The Chair confirmed that the action could be closed though should be considered going forward.
On the action regarding the breakdown of staff turnover, the Chair noted that the provided format was not easy to read and it was suggested that the amount of people in each team at the beginning of the period be noted to provide further context.
It was confirmed that all other actions were closed.
ACTION: Staff turnover table to be updated to include amount of people in each team at the start of the period.
C Silva Donayre opened the item, noting that the review is to ensure that the Council is making the most effective use of its assets to support the Council's wider strategic objectives as well as its commercial strategy.
D Barrett presented the update, advising that the intention of the review is to better understand the potential that the assets have to support the Council's objectives around place and bringing forward housing and commercial opportunities that may exist. Subject to the Committee's comments and support, D Barrett confirmed that they would like to take the review to Cabinet in June. The proposal is for the Committee to consider both the review and associated funding to support the project, which is being run by a strategic asset group that has attendance for the senior leadership team.
D Barrett noted the key objectives of the project, including housing delivery, focus on regeneration activities in the town centre and neighbourhood areas, and look at future income streams. Work has been split across 3 work streams and each will require external consultant support. The 3 work streams are as follows:
- High-level review of assets
- Detailed review of each asset class
- Assessment of options to deliver work not covered by the programme
D Barrett advised that the work is costed at just over £500k, split between the HRA and General Fund, and that this work can only be partially funded at present. It is therefore proposed that the shortfall of around £211k be funded by reserves. The project will also require interim internal resource, which has been set out in the report.
Cllr Hannell commented on affordable housing and asked how much of this will be social housing, noting that the average price of a terraced house in Hemel Hempstead is currently £525,668 and a flat is currently £245,935, according to Zoopla. Cllr Hannell queried the classification of the term 'affordable'. D Barrett advised that, outside of the project, there is a current programme being delivered under the business plan for new homes, all of which are being built for social rent. This programme continues at pace with 10 construction sites open and the ambition is to bring in further social housing, with the project highlighting what housing is required. D Barrett suggested that they will look at affordable housing alongside potential private housing, though this will be confirmed by the project. A new team within the Council was recently set up to work closely with planning colleagues and this includes working with developers to bring forward more affordable housing, possibly at social rent levels.
Cllr Hannell noted the ambition of the scheme and asked if there were concerns amongst the new administration that the projected rise of Hemel Hempstead's population by 50% over the next 30 years would adversely impact the Liberal Democrats' Green Recovery Plan to save the British countryside as the majority of the new housing would be built on greenbelt land. The Chair commented that much of the work ... view the full minutes text for item 7.
The Chair noted that new members had raised questions regarding terms of reference and phrases used within the report and explained that key terms can be defined at the beginning of the report.
Cllr Gale commented on the use of 'slippage' and 'pressure' within the report and asked if these could be explained further. N Howcutt explained that slippage refers to the timing of when money is spent and financial pressure is when a budget is under pressure due to an underspend or expected overspend.
B Hosier presented the report on commercial development, noting that this includes procurement, parking, the leisure contract, garages and the commercial programme. The report was taken as read and members were invited to raise questions regarding the report.
Cllr Santamaria commented on the temporary agency staff costs, noting that these appear to be significant and asked if any actions are being taken to reduce dependency of agency staff and increase employment of local people. M Rawdon noted the challenges within the hiring market and advised that they have set up a new agency framework where agencies will bid for work where agency staff are required and it is hoped that the Council will get a better mark-up rate rather than going direct to agencies. M Rawdon added that there is work underway to address how individuals are recruited, including the market forces policy that looks at areas where the Council struggles to recruit and retain staff to look at how to address concerns. M Rawdon noted that they will look to continue careers fairs and work with schools and careers advisors to help encourage the pipeline.
Cllr Santamaria asked how DBC compares to other councils in terms of their dependence on agency staff. M Rawdon stated that he was unsure though he could look into this further, though he would expect a similar picture across Hertfordshire.
The Chair asked B Hosier what the greatest challenge is at present. B Hosier stated that the main challenges are recruitment and the economy, noting that he is looking to generate income through garages and parking services, and that it is challenging to achieve these targets.
Cllr Capozzi commented on the garage service and asked how much of unused stock is due to it being unfit for use or people no longer having an interest in using these sites. B Hosier explained that the stock condition survey identified the number of garages not currently being used, noting that there are a number of areas where there are an excess of sites and other areas within the borough have waiting lists. B Hosier confirmed that they are looking at garages that require work in areas where there is strong demand and a programme of works is being put together to focus on these areas first.
Cllr Capozzi asked if the decrease in rental income could be a result of not having garages of good enough quality in areas where they are required. B Hosier explained that there is a ... view the full minutes text for item 8.
S Choudhury presented the update, noting the KPIs for customer service call waiting times, which was red during Q4 due to a surge in demand after annual rent letters were sent out and council tax bills as well as the garden waste subscription service going live. The customer strategy programme was recently introduced and will have an impact on waiting times as well as the customer experience overall, and S Choudhury advised that they are also taking immediate actions, such as improving the voice recognition service to improve call flows, updating key webpages and launching a new customer charter. The other area of reporting is complaints and the complaints service was red during Q4, predominantly due to the launch of the new complaints policy and the application of new timescales to respond to complaints.
Looking at challenges, S Choudhury advised that retention in customer services has been difficult as individuals become skilled in certain areas of the organisation and will typically progress into roles within these departments as they become available. Bringing in new members of staff means additional time is spent training and this is being mitigated against by bringing in a dedicated training officer so staff can take calls more quickly. S Choudhury noted that the call waiting time is dated and that this will be reviewed to make it more appropriate as well as looking at issue resolution rates.
Cllr Hannell commented on item 4.1 of the report and suggested that the department isn't particularly agile in responding to a predictable surge in demand as a result of the garden waste subscription service coming out at the same time as the annual housing rent. Cllr Hannell noted that the average call waiting time was 12 minutes and 35 seconds during this period and asked if there is an intention to respond to predicted surges in demand in future. S Choudhury confirmed that they did predict the demand and that an additional customer services role was created to deal with the additional calls that would come in as a result. The customer strategy looks to reduce call waiting times over the year and communication has been sent out to encourage people to self-serve where possible or looking at providing call-backs when there are lower demands.
Cllr Cox queried how the customer service calls and waiting times are currently monitored. S Choudhury explained that they use a dashboard with two supervisors who monitor these to identify high levels across each department. If there are areas with higher waiting times then staff will be brought over to take basic details and see if they can help resolve the issue or provide a call-back service with someone more skilled in the area. Cllr Cox asked if waiting times depend on the number of staff for each team. S Choudhury confirmed this, noting that customer service staff will be skilled in particular areas and, as they become multi-skilled, they can take more calls.
Y Salvin presented the update on digital and ICT, ... view the full minutes text for item 9.
The Chair noted that the risk register had not been discussed previously and suggested that this first be returned to for any questions. No questions were raised by members.
N Howcutt presented the report, noting the error on the front page of the executive summary and confirmed that the pressure on the underlying surplus should be £0.065m. The General Fund has a pressure of £65k, which is in line with the Q3 report. Large pressures have been experienced due to the rise in inflation, though this has also meant increased interest rates and there has therefore been a significant improvement on the treasury investment of over £1m. On HRA, there is a bottom line pressure of £2.9m, which will require an additional £1.5m draw down from reserves as agreed in Q3 where it was agreed that £800k would be drawn down. There has been a significant increase in the cost of maintenance and repairs due to cost inflation and also the Covid backlog as well as additional requirements from government, such as addressing damp and mould issues. Large growth has been factored into the HRA budget for 2023-24, though it will be a challenging budget as cost pressures increase. On capital, there has been significant slippage, and the planning moratorium has impacted this, meaning that planning proposals could not be approved for 6 months. Some approvals will come to Cabinet next month so will start to progress. On the General Fund, there have been fleet delays and a housing project. Regarding The Nickey Line, it was confirmed that this is delivered by HCC and will now be delivered in 2023-24.
Cllr Hannell referred to page 73 of the report and suggested that the current budget of £21.56m against the forecasted outturn of £22.9m means there is 6.6% more money. N Howcutt advised that the core funding is a combination of revenue support grant, business rates, council tax income and other grants, noting that additional funding was received, though some grants come in and go straight out. For The Nickey Line, N Howcutt advised that £600k came into DBC and was then paid to HCC. On how this is broken down, N Howcutt stated that the baseline funding for business rates was in line with expectations, and council tax was slightly low in terms of collection rate, though in line with expectations.
Cllr Hannell suggested that the Council did well to receive an additional 6.6% from the government. N Howcutt advised that the vast majority of this went straight out again and has no impact on the Council.
The Chair advised that most grants are proactively applied for by members of the team and were unlikely to be known about when budgets were set. N Howcutt agreed, noting that a report will go to Cabinet regarding UKSPF, a new grant received in year. Quarterly reports will provide more detailed reporting.
Cllr Elliot referred to the item on resident service on page 74 of the report, noting the roll out of the ... view the full minutes text for item 10.
The Chair advised the new Committee that the work programme allows members to ask officers to bring information and he encouraged all members to make requests. The Chair asked members to understand that officers would require time to prepare information and that the number of items on each agenda needs to be managed. The Chair confirmed that putting items onto the plan would be handled by Member Support before it is sent to him as Chair.
A member asked for further explanation of how the work programme works. The Chair explained that the work programme is the calendar plan of the agendas for all upcoming Committee meetings. Performance and outturn reports are brought from the officers' teams and other meetings will have specific items that are pertinent for scrutiny. The Chair advised that members are responsible for deciding what they want to scrutinise and that members should raise any items that they feel are missing from the plan.
Cllr Weston noted the reporting deadlines and asked if there would be issues if they are unable to have items ready by these deadlines. Mark advised that it would depend on what members want to see at the meeting but that they could agree appropriate times if the item requires further time.