Agenda and minutes

Venue: Level 8, Breckland House, St Nicholas Street, Thetford

Contact: Committee Services, Breckland Council  Tel: 01362 656870

Note: This meeting replaces that previously scheduled for 27 September 2007 

Items
No. Item

48.

Minutes pdf icon PDF 84 KB

To confirm the minutes of the meeting held on 21 June 2007.

Minutes:

The minutes of the meeting held on 21 June 2007 were confirmed as a correct record and signed by the Chairman.

 

49.

Apologies

To receive apologies for absence.

Minutes:

Apologies for absence were received from Messrs. D. Burnip, A. Colyer, T. Holden and W.H.C. Smith.

 

50.

Urgent Business

To note whether the Chairman proposes to accept any items of urgent business pursuant to Section 100(B)(4)(b) of the Local Government Act 1972.

50a

Structural Review

Minutes:

The Strategic Manager informed the Joint Committee that Paul Corney, the Revenues Manager, had tendered his resignation and would be leaving the Partnership the following week.

 

Members extended their appreciation and thanks to Mr Corney for his valuable contribution to the success of the Partnership and his work over the last six years and wished him every success for the future.

 

As a result, there was an urgent need to consider the question of his replacement and the opportunity had been taken to review the management structure.

 

Charts showing the original structure, the interim structure covering the period of the Strategic Manager’s secondment as Operations Manager at Breckland and a proposed new structure were circulated.

 

The current interim structure included two additional Principal Officer posts covering Benefits and Revenues and it was proposed that these be retained in the proposed new structure.

 

With the return of the Strategic Manager following completion of his secondment, the proposed new structure provided for the Benefits Manager (Sharon Jones) becoming Operations Manager under the Strategic Manager, responsible for overseeing the posts of Principal Benefits Officer and Principal Revenues Officer, together with the existing post of Performance & Support Manager (Rod Urquhart), whose role would also support the management of the operations structure.

 

In addition, the Strategic Manager reported that the turnover of the ARP Trading Company had grown to the point where it was felt that the opportunity should be taken to establish a permanent management structure.  To this end, it was proposed that the Strategic Manager and proposed Operations Manager should be employed wholly by ARP Trading, with their services to the Partnership being charged back to the Partnership.

 

A meeting of the Directors Board of ARP Trading had considered the proposal and, whilst they were agreeable in principle, it was recommended that in the first instance the officers be seconded for a period of eight weeks from 29 October 2007 to allow time for detailed proposals to be worked up in regard to contracts of employment etc. and for the matter to then be reported back to the next meeting with detailed recommendations.

 

In answer to questions, the Strategic Manager stated that the proposal aimed to rationalise the position between the Partnership and ARP Trading to ensure that the services to the two bodies could be maintained.  The proposal was affordable, strengthened the original structure with a net increase of one officer and would ensure no loss of impetus.

 

RESOLVED that

 

(1)   in principle agreement be given to the proposed new management structure;

(2)   as an interim measure, the Strategic Manager and Benefits Manager be seconded to ARP Trading for a period of eight weeks from 29 October 2007, with their services to the Partnership being recharged to the Partnership at the agreed rate;

(3)   a detailed report with recommendations on a permanent proposal be submitted to the next meeting of the Joint Committee on 20 December 2007.

51.

Performance Report (Agenda Item 5) pdf icon PDF 110 KB

Report of the Operational Board.

Additional documents:

Minutes:

The Performance Manager presented the report and highlighted the very successful open day held in September and the return visit to Bosnia. 

 

Congratulations were extended to the Strategic Manager for the excellence of his presentation given during the Bosnia visit.

 

The Performance Manager answered various questions of detail relating to the performance statistics. 

 

So far as BVPI 76c (Number of fraud investigations (per 1000 caseload)) was concerned, an action plan had been initiated to bring this item within target by the end of November, although in the case of Breckland, there was a little uncertainty as to whether the target would be fully met due to the fact that Breckland had less Fraud Officers per 1000 caseload which affected results.

 

BVPI 78a, 79b and 76d were expected to achieve target and move out of amber into green status.

 

The report was noted.

 

52.

Finance Update (Agenda Item 6)

Report of the Operational Board.

Additional documents:

Minutes:

The Chief Accountant presented the report, which updated the Joint Committee on the position in regard to the set up costs for East Cambridgeshire and sought approval for the introduction of a ‘vacancy factor’ for preparing the establishment budget for 2008-09.  Other budget issues were also reported on.

 

So far as the set up costs for East Cambridgeshire were concerned, the project costs compared favourably with the budget and it was recommended that the balance of £2,500 from the set up budget should be retained to contribute to service improvements.

 

On the question of introducing a ‘vacancy factor’ into next year’s budget, it was explained that Breckland was preparing its budget on this basis and that Forest Heath had introduced a similar mechanism.  This option allowed the budget to reflect staff turnover and would reduce the salary estimate by 3%, resulting in an overall reduction in running costs which would be shared by the two authorities in proportion.  Any saving above 3% would be available to the ARP management team for use in accordance with agreed virement rules.

 

Another budget issue was the anticipated impact from the Comprehensive Spending Review on the Housing Benefit Admin. Grant.  Early indications suggested that this grant would be reduced over the next three years which would directly affect all three partner councils.  Resources were likely to be further affected by the changes to the Local Housing Allowance scheme and the final phase of the salary blending exercise.

 

Budget preparations for the ARP had begun and it was proposed to present the estimates for approval at the Joint Committee’s meeting in December, in order to feed in to the parent councils’ budget approval timetables in the new year.

 

It was not possible to gauge the precise impact from the Comprehensive Spending Review at this stage as figures were as yet unknown.

 

The position was noted and it was

 

RESOLVED that

 

(1)   the balance from the set up budget for East Cambridgeshire be retained to contribute to service improvements; and

(2)   subject to agreement by the three Councils’ Heads of Finance, the introduction of a ‘vacancy factor’ for preparing the establishment budget is approved.

 

53.

Service Plan and Targets 2008-09 (Agenda Item 7) pdf icon PDF 119 KB

Report of the Operational Board.

Additional documents:

Minutes:

The Performance Manager presented the draft Service Plan for the Partnership for 2008-2009, which had been prepared in a standard format to feed into each partner authority and would be updated to take account of changes to national performance indicators.

 

Members and the respective authority performance teams were invited to comment on the draft Plan and suggest amendments.  A 2nd draft would then be brought to the next meeting for consideration, with a final draft being completed in February 2008.

 

Whilst the Plan was based on targets for each of the three partner authorities, it was explained that this was done to allow for time to enable a realistic step change approach which would ultimately lead to parity being achieved between all three partners. 

 

During discussion, the Chairman stressed the need to ensure best practice was fed back and shared between the three partner authorities and it was noted that regular joint meetings had begun and would be extended.  The need to feed back information to members was also noted.

 

RESOLVED that the draft Service Plan for 2008-09 be agreed for comment and a 2nd draft with any suggested amendments be submitted for further consideration at the next meeting of the Joint Committee.

 

54.

Software (Agenda Item 8) pdf icon PDF 60 KB

Report of the Operational Board.

Additional documents:

Minutes:

The Performance Manager presented the report, which advised members on progress and sought approval for the release of funding from earmarked reserves to complete the project on the grounds that this would reduce the ongoing revenues costs to all three authorities and gain additional efficiencies from the new software modules.

 

RECOMMEND to the relevant Committees of Breckland Council and Forest Heath District Council that an amount of £42,210 is released from earmarked reserves to support the project and complete the implementation of the additional software modules.

 

55.

Automated Forms Processing (AFP) (Agenda Item 9) pdf icon PDF 56 KB

Report of the Operational Board.

Additional documents:

Minutes:

The Performance Manager presented the report, which advised members on progress of this project and sought approval for the release of funding from earmarked reserves to support the project, on the grounds that it would increase accuracy in processing and increase the levels of performance by using the latest technologies to automate processes.

 

The options were to release the funding or to cancel the project and lose the DWP funded element of £165,000.

 

RECOMMEND to the relevant Committees of Breckland Council and Forest Heath District Council that approval be given to the release of funding of £34,002 from earmarked reserves to support the project and complete the implementation of the automated forms processing project.

 

56.

Home Working (Agenda Item 10) pdf icon PDF 55 KB

Report of the Operational Board.

Additional documents:

Minutes:

The Benefits Manager presented the report, which informed members of the findings of the piloted home working scheme and sought approval for the continuation and expansion of home working throughout the ARP, together with a request for additional funding for that purpose.

 

The pilot scheme had been very successful and in order to enable it to continue and be expanded, two additional servers were required.

 

It was noted that completion of an amalgamated home working policy was awaiting finalisation of the Breckland policy.

 

The reasons for the recommendation were that the continuation and expansion of the scheme would improve efficiency and capacity, would feed into the host authorities’ green agendas and would maintain and improve good staff morale.

 

The options were to approve the spend and increase performance levels as outlined in the report, or to not approve the scheme and the six staff currently working from home be returned to office working, which would not increase performance levels.

 

It was noted that the costs of the project were included within current budgets.

 

RESOLVED that approval be given to fully roll out the home working scheme on the basis of the costs as set out in the financial Proforma B attached to the report.

 

57.

Website (Agenda Item 11) pdf icon PDF 47 KB

Report of the Operational Board.

Additional documents:

Minutes:

The Performance Manager presented the report, which explained there was a need to carry out a complete overhaul and redesign of the website to update and improve its quality and functionality.  As a consequence, approval was sought for the release of funding to support the project.

 

It was felt from the Partnership’s perspective that a dedicated project manager should be assigned to the task, the resource for which would be taken from one of the existing teams (System Administration) and this post would need to be backfilled on a temporary basis by extending a current fixed term post until January 2008.

 

The options were either to do nothing and maintain the website as it is or to release the funding to enable the website to be redesigned in order to promote the ARP brand and realise additional opportunities.

 

The reasons for the recommendation were to enable the Partnership to move its branding forward, to have an innovative and more modern website and to increase publicity and opportunities for Partnership growth.

 

RECOMMEND to the respective Committees of Breckland Council and Forest Heath District Council that an amount of £28,500 be released from earmarked reserves to enable the redesign and relaunch of the ARP website, subject to a report back to the Joint Committee on the results of the tendering exercise.

 

58.

Local Housing Allowance (Agenda Item 12) pdf icon PDF 58 KB

Report of the Operational Board.

Additional documents:

Minutes:

The Benefits Manager presented the report and explained that, following the original pilot of this scheme, the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) had decided to roll out an amended version with an intended start date of 1 April 2008.

 

The Local Housing Allowance (LHA) forms part of the Welfare Reform Act 2007 and is a new way of working out housing benefit for private tenants.  LHA would be introduced in a phased approach affecting most new claims from tenants in the deregulated private sector.

 

The DWP recognised that there would be considerable costs attached to implementing the changes and that local authorities would need financial support to implement the new scheme.

 

So far as the Partnership was concerned, the DWP had allocated funds as follows:  Breckland - £118,628, East Cambridgeshire - £83,554 and Forest Heath - £75,332.  The funds were being provided to help authorities to set up their internal systems to comply with the revised legislation; there would be no additional on-going funding.

 

Under the new scheme, housing benefit would be paid directly to the claimant and not the landlord, for no less than 90% of benefit customers.

 

Extra Benefits resources would be required through the first year of the project and it was anticipated that the changes would create an increase in workload for the Overpayment Recovery section.  It was also recognised that additional resource would be required for a consolidation period following the inception of the new scheme.

 

Following the initial inception of the project, the home working project would have been embedded and this should enable a Benefits Assessment Officer to be released to work as an extra overpayments Officer on a permanent basis if required.  This would not affect on-going revenue costs.

 

It was noted that work had commenced with information leaflets and sessions being held with landlords and agencies.

 

RECOMMEND to the respective Committees of the three partner Authorities that

 

(1)   the funding from the DWP be pooled and released to enable the implementation of the LHA to comply with the amended Housing Benefits legislation;

(2)   an update be reported to the next meeting; and

(3)   information on the scheme be sent to members of the partner authorities to raise awareness, together with arrangements for a workshop session for members.

 

59.

Direct Debit Promotion Offer (Agenda Item 13) pdf icon PDF 58 KB

Report of the Operational Board.

Minutes:

The Performance Manager reported on progress towards increasing the uptake of direct debit payments and sought approval to pursue a marketing campaign and to accept a promotional offer from the Co-Op Bank.

 

It was explained that the Partnership had increased the number of direct debit payers year on year and continued to offer this method of payment as the best option for the customer.

 

The Co-Op Bank had approached the Partnership and was offering either a cash sum or prizes to the value of £250 per authority to promote the take up of direct debit cases.  There were no cost implications to the Partnership.  The advertising on the prizes would show “Sponsored by Co-Op Bank”.

 

The options were to do nothing and gradually increase the number of direct debit payers year on year or to accept the promotional offer from the Co-Op Bank and aggressively market direct debit as a method of payment.

 

The reason fro the recommendation was to increase the take up of direct debit payers to reduce the transactional cost of collecting the Council Tax for each authority.

 

RESOLVED that progress to date be noted and approval be given to accept the Co-Op Bank’s promotional offer and agree to a direct debit take up campaign across the three authorities.

 

60.

Items for Next Meeting

To note any items for inclusion on the agenda for the next meeting.

Minutes:

The following items were noted for inclusion on the agenda for the next meeting:

 

  • Structure Review Report
  • Local Housing Allowance Update
  • Website – Report back on Tendering Exercise
  • Budget 2008-09

 

61.

Next Meeting

To note the date of the next meeting on Thursday, 20 December 2007 at 4.00pm at Breckland House, Thetford.

Minutes:

The arrangements for the next meeting to be held on 20 December 2007 were noted.