Executive Member Portfolio Update (Agenda Item 6)
Mr William Smith, Executive Member for Internal Services, has been invited to attend the meeting to update Members on key ongoing issues and policies within his portfolio and to answer any questions.
Mr W Smith explained that Portfolios had changed since the election and he now had responsibility for the Customer Contact Centre and Human Resources as well as ICT and ARP. He then gave an update on each area.
ICT had been in-sourced creating savings of about £317,000.
The ICT Manager had left the authority and been temporarily replaced by two interim managers. Their fees were being shared by South Holland and the ARP was also making a contribution. They had been asked to review the ICT service and put forward options. Their research indicated that the best option was to join with other partners. Potential future savings of around £300,000 had been identified.
The first priority was to maximise savings for the Council. All options for ICT would be considered and these included outsourcing, joining with Compass Point, Norfolk County Council or ARP. Mr Smith was keen to develop ICT in partnership with the ARP to provide capacity and resilience and to be able to offer the ‘full package’ to customers.
Mr Rogers asked if the likely savings would off-set the effects of the £1.2million shortfall and Mr Smith confirmed that they would and that if the favoured option, of joining with the ARP, was chosen savings could be in excess of £600,000. The Chief Executive advised that that figure would not be reached within the next financial year.
Mr Smith then asked Mr Bambridge to update Members on the Members’ IT roll-out.
Mr Bambridge explained that he had been made E-Champion in May and had concentrated on the roll-out which had gone reasonably well with a few hiccups. Members were asked to let him have their comments for a report he was writing about the process, which would be presented to the Joint Audit & Scrutiny Panel in October.
Three Members were still experiencing problems with the new equipment, mainly due to line quality, and BT was working to rectify that. One Member was using his Norfolk County Council kit and one Member had no IT equipment. Four Members had yet to make an appointment to have their equipment delivered. It was hoped that all Members (with the exception of the one who did not use IT) would be connected a week before the deadline date of 29 July 2011. A series of training sessions were being organised which it was hoped would be mandatory, as there were new elements of the equipment that Members needed to be aware of.
The Helpline was being used to good effect. Members were asked to emphasise the importance of using the system to all Members as a few people were trying to by-pass the system which caused enormous problems. He had not received any complaints from those Members that were using the helpdesk and he asked to be informed of any problems. The service agreement required a two hour response and that was one of the things that would be reviewed at the Joint Audit & Scrutiny Panel meeting in October.
Mrs Irving said that the IT service was vastly improved now that it was in-house. She asked if the new e-mail addresses for Senior Managers had been added to the Outlook address book. The Chief Executive advised that the move over to the new e-mail addresses was in transition. Once complete the address book would be updated.<1>
Mr Gilbert agreed that the Helpline was excellent. However, he asked if a free text field could be added to the drop-down menu as it wasn’t always possible to allocate a problem to the items in the list. Mr Bambridge agreed to raise that matter at the next project meeting.<2>
The Vice-Chairman commended Mr Smith for sharing information with his colleagues. He asked for clarification of the projected additional savings. The Leader had commented that the Council would ensure that the partnership with South Holland was working well before looking for other opportunities – was that still the case?
The Chairman also asked if there were any residual issues from in-sourcing of the ICT contract.
Mr Smith advised that there had been some problems with the Steria contract. Its termination had left the Council vulnerable with regard to Disaster Recovery. At the recent Business Improvement & Projects Sub-Committee a paper had been adopted to release funds to enable a new Disaster Recover system. Other contracts organised by Steria had yet to come to an end, but no further problems were envisaged.
The Chairman felt that lessons should be learned for the future. He asked if measures were in place to prevent the same problems from happening again. Mr Smith noted that the Contract Monitoring Team had been set up to oversee such things. It had been temporarily overtaken by joint working and staff changes but was now back on the agenda.
The Chief Executive advised that the new structure contained a Commissioning arm which in time would include a generic contract monitoring role.
As part of the further development of the partnership with South Holland Mr Smith had asked for a service function analysis and he thanked the Business Improvement Team for the quality of the work they had done. He handed round a sheet which set out the statutory and discretionary functions of the Council with a breakdown of their costs and man-hours. A similar exercise would be carried out at South Holland and the results would provide an extremely potent management tool.
It had been a very successful year. Bury St Edmunds had joined the partnership and East Cambridgeshire, who had originally been clients, had also bought in to share the risks and benefits. In 2010/11 there had been about £1million to share between Breckland, Forest Heath and East Cambs. The share decreased with an additional partner, but it was a smaller share of a larger profit.
A member of staff had been recruited to find additional work for the ARP and he was employed on a commission basis.
Customer Contact Centre
There had been a lot of investment in the CCC and also in the Breckland Local Offices. Mr Smith wished it to be put on record that when he had taken over responsibility for the CCC it had been left in very good order by the previous Executive Member, Lady Fisher.
The interim ICT managers had been asked to give an overview of the service and they considered it to be one of the best in the region with average call waiting times of only 73 seconds and up to 90% first point of contact resolution.
One problem with the local offices was their cost per transaction. It might prove necessary to reduce opening times but Mr Smith was keen to keep the facility as he said not everyone had access to e-mails and vulnerable and anxious people needed face to face contact.
The One Stop Bus was also very successful and well used and put the Council in the public eye.
Mr Smith thanked the officers concerned for their work in the TUPE of staff from Steria to Breckland which had gone very well.
The HR department would be reviewing all Policies and Procedures and would also be ensuring that any future contracts were well negotiated.
The Chairman invited Members to put questions to the Executive Member.
Mr Joel asked about the future of the One Stop Bus. He agreed that it was very much appreciated, especially by older residents. He was concerned that it was only funded until September.
The Chairman thought that it was essential that the bus and local centres should be maintained. It should not just be a question of money. The district covered over 500 square miles which meant some residents had long distances to travel. The bus and local centres were desperately needed.
The Chief Executive sounded a word of caution with regard to the Bus. He said that it was well used in some places but that Members needed to look at its overall use before reaching a conclusion on its future.
He also advised that as things stood, in 2014 there would be a Unified Social Benefit. There would be no more Housing Benefit and the Government expected 99% of claims to be made on-line. That might lead to pressure to provide a social service to residents.
The Chairman reiterated that the Council needed to support and help people and the Commission had to act as a cautionary role to Cabinet.
He thanked the Executive Member for a very helpful presentation.