Executive Member Portfolio Update (Agenda Item 6)
Councillor Michael Wassell has been invited to attend the meeting to provide an update as Leader of the Council.
Councillor Wassell reminded Members that he had only been appointed as Leader of the Council one month and twelve days before. He said it had been a steep learning curve but he had been supported by the Officers and had received a good briefing from the previous Leader.
His style was open and he had a consultative approach. He expected high standards and believed that mutual respect was vital on both sides.
He was delighted to have appointed Councillor Turner as his Deputy as they worked very well together. He believed that the Executive team was strong and had a mixture of talents that would serve the Council and residents of Breckland well.
As each Executive Member would present to the Commission on their own Portfolios his update would focus on the key strategic areas.
Medium Term Financial Plan
The initial draft would be presented to Cabinet on 3 December, prior to public consultation. The draft Government settlement was due in December. The final Plan would be presented to Cabinet on 11 February 2014 and to Council on 27 February, along with the Council Tax setting report.
It was currently expected that the budget would balance in 2013/14 but the future of the plan would be dependent on the Transformation Programme delivering on-going income and efficiencies. The strategic use of balances in the next two years would buy time to set up a robust programme to reduce the funding gap over the longer term.
The main objective of the programme was to bridge the budget gap over the next five years. The Shared Management Team (SMT) was accountable for identifying opportunities, defining the business case and realising the outcomes of the programme. Elected Members would make the decisions regarding implementation.
The programme had a two-pronged approach. It would seek to make efficiencies where possible and to increase income. Some strategic ‘enabling’ projects had been identified and were currently at the proposal stage. They included:
· Shared procurement and contract management;
· A joint customer access strategy;
· The introduction of shared document management and other technologies to improve working practice; and
· Strategic ICT
Breckland and South Holland Councils had been awarded £385,000 between them from a Government pot of £6.9million to support and promote shared service projects. Only projects with a clear and proven benefit to the taxpayer would proceed.
A Procurement and Contract Management report and another on Customer Access were scheduled to be presented to Council on 7 January 2014. The Leader suggested that the Transformation Programme should be reviewed as part of the Commission’s work programme.
Shared Management and Services
The initial project brief in October 2013 had been to reduce the cost of shared management across Breckland and South Holland by about £700,000. The structure implemented in April 2011 was estimated to have reduced costs by £1.075million. Further savings were still being sought with on-going reviews of service provision.
Both Councils remained as separate, democratically accountable bodies. There was no requirement for common provision of services except where it worked for both parties.
No work was being carried out on finding a third partner at the moment as both Leaders agreed that stability was needed in the run-up to the 2015 elections. A third partner would only be taken on if they matched the culture that had been developed by Breckland and South Holland. The trust between the two authorities had been built up with joint Cabinet meetings and good communication. The Senior Managers had created a strong bond. They had been shortlisted for the Local Government Chronicle Award of ‘Management Team of the Year’ and had only just missed out on gaining that prestigious award.
Outside of the Shared Management agreement work was also being done to share services with other Local Authorities and possibly other organisations outside of Local Government. Two current examples were the shared Housing Manager (with Kings Lynn & West Norfolk and South Holland) and the CCTV service which were run for the Council by Kings Lynn & West Norfolk. Innovative ways of sharing services were being sought to either generate income or to reduce costs and to drive efficiencies.
Interim Management Arrangements
Geoff Rivers had been appointed Interim Chief Executive for an initial five month period. The timeline and duration of that appointment was dependant on the recruitment process for a permanent Chief Executive. That process had started and Members would be kept informed of progress.
Councillor Richmond commented on the interaction between the Council and the Police through the Safer Neighbourhood Teams (SNT) and said that there had been good results from working together. However, Members were not receiving feedback from the SNT and he wondered if that was due to staff shortages.
The Leader was aware that Safer Neighbourhood Action Panel (SNAP) meetings were held in a number of towns but that attendance was variable. He agreed that interaction was vital and asked the Executive Member for Community and Environmental Services to comment on the staffing issues.
Councillor Turner advised that the number of Breckland Officers had reduced, but the number of Police Officers involved in the Operational Partnership Team (OPT) had increased. She recommended that Members attend CAG (Community Action Group) and SNAP meetings which were publicised on the Police website and asked them to let her know of any issues.
Councillor North said that the SNAP meetings at Attleborough were closed to the public and District Councillors could only attend if they were specifically invited.
Councillor Turner was disappointed to hear that and said that she would speak to the Police. The purpose of the meetings was for residents to attend.
Councillor Bambridge suggested that details of the meetings should be on the Breckland website as well.
Councillor Joel was concerned about the levels of support Members were receiving from Capita and asked if recent leavers had been replaced.
The Leader was conscious of the need to keep the pressure on to ensure that Capita were fulfilling their requirements.
The new Deputy Planning Manager was present and introduced Philip James who had taken his place as Manager of the Planning Policy Team. He said that Capita were working on filling the other vacant posts.
Councillor Gilbert was aware that Capita staff were under a lot of pressure and almost at breaking point and Councillor Matthews complained about a lack of response to an Enforcement issue she had raised due to pressure of work and she asked the Leader to look into that.
A new Enforcement Manager had been taken on recently. The Leader was aware that there was a backlog of work and he would take that matter up with them but he thought that Enforcement was improving. Capita had performance targets set, but staffing levels were not in the control of the Council.
The Chairman asked the Leader for his views on the environmental issues associated with fly tipping and littering and the Leader responded saying that he thought that ultimately it was education that was needed. He was aware that NCC was considering reducing their waste site opening times and he thought that would be a bad idea. Generally he felt a robust approach was required.
The Executive Member for Community & Environmental Services said that people were taken to court for fly-tipping/littering where it was in the public interest to do so. In other cases restorative justice was used. Members needed to be pro-active as the quicker that fly-tipped items were cleared the better.
The Chairman noted that NCC was scrapping their CCTV system and he asked if Breckland would do the same.
The Leader advised that there were no plans to scrap the system which was not just useful for crime reduction but had also helped in other ways, such as identifying people in medical distress. The big budget deficit needed to be measured against the usefulness of the system.
Councillor Byrne informed Members that the new Chief Constable was holding a meeting that was open to all on 25 October.
The Chairman thanked the Leader for his update.