Venue: The Town Hall, Queen's Square, Attleborough
Contact: Committee Services 01362 656870
To confirm the minutes of the meeting held on 30 April 2009.
The minutes of the meeting held on 30 April 2009 were confirmed as a correct record and signed by the Chairman.
To receive apologies for absence.
Apologies for absence were received from Messrs. J. Gretton and A. Stasiak. Mr. J. Rogers gave apologies for late arrival due to a prior meeting in Norwich.
Non-Members wishing to address the Meeting
To note the names of any non-members or public speakers wishing to address the meeting.
The following Members were in attendance:
Executive Member Portfolio Update (Agenda Item 6)
The following Executive Member has been invited to attend the meeting to update Members on key ongoing issues and policies within their portfolio and to answer any questions:
Members may wish to refer to the following documents:
Mr. W.H.C. Smith explained that there would shortly be announced a re-organisation of the Portfolio structures.
Mr. Smith then gave an update on key ongoing areas of work within the area of Business Transformation as it stood at present:
With the signing of this latest contract, a new Contract Monitoring Group had been established to oversee and monitor all of the Council’s contracts, which included those with Serco, Parkwood PFI Leisure, Steria and Capita Symonds. This would be a specialist team which would develop an in-depth knowledge and expertise in dealing with contracts across all portfolio areas.
The results of the
Attleborough trial would help to inform the plan for an integrated
system of presence offices in all the five market towns in the
District. This would involve an
increased financial resource and some ICT issues remained to be
resolved to build in the necessary appropriate links to the
back-office. This work was being progressed.
Monitoring of ICT initiatives was carried out by the Business Improvement Board (previously the ICT Strategic Board), which now reported through the Executive Board to enable corporate monitoring and control.
The next major project for the team would be that of “mud to houses”.
With reference to the Police’s interest in having a presence at the Attleborough Customer Service Centre, Mr. Gilbert drew attention to the similar facility established at the Watton Post Office and offered to provide contact information if required.
So far as the ARP was concerned, a member queried the potential risk to the Council from the Partnership outgrowing its original purpose and asked at what stage could the ARP be said to have reached its optimum size?
The Executive Member replied that the ARP and ARPT had ... view the full minutes text for item 52/09
Report of the Strategic Director (Services).
The Trainee Economic Development Officer presented the report, which was made in response to the request made at the last meeting for an overview of the current economic situation in Breckland and how the recession had impacted on the local economy.
In summary, it was explained that the recession would continue throughout 2009, although there was evidence that the rate of decline was slowing and showing signs of improvement.
House prices were beginning to stabilise and borrowing was increasing. Businesses were less pessimistic than they were earlier in the year but, even if the economic situation improved, expansion was likely to be slow until there was confidence in a sustained recovery.
There was a range of support being offered to the business community through the local enterprise agencies, Business Link and Norfolk and Waveney Enterprise Service and Breckland liaised with these agencies and also gave support itself through visits and signposting services, as well as running business initiatives, for example the Breckland Enterprise and Learning Account (BELA). The Economic Development team had also developed a Business Response Toolkit which was readily available to provide support to businesses facing an administration or possible redundancy situation.
An update on the situation affecting the Council’s commercial portfolio was given. The portfolio’s overall occupancy rate was currently holding steady at 91%. There was continued interest in lettings and sales and the Council was diversifying the portfolio to meet the needs of a changing market, e.g. by turning vacant rooms in the Dereham Business Centre into meeting rooms, and introducing a Finders Fees service, as well as a programme of property improvements.
As a result, the commercial service was bucking market trends at present, and there were new sites being developed at Victory Park, Attleborough and on the Thetford Enterprise Park.
In considering the report, Members highlighted their concerns over the fact that the shortage of skills was still a significant issue, not only within Breckland but across the County as a whole.
The Chairman expressed the view that this was a fundamental problem for the County and a key factor affecting progress in improving the situation was the critical under-funding of the Learning and Skills Council (LSC) in Norfolk, which was responsible for further education.
Another Member added that another area of concern was that of those youngsters in the 16-19 age group who were not in full-time or further education, where support was needed. However, while the Council should do what it could to help, it had to be remembered that it was not a key provider for education and there were a range of other agencies and organisations involved where joint working on economic issues was to be encouraged.
The Member also commented that the Commercial Property portfolio was a long-standing and important sector for the Council, providing a good return on investment, which supported the other services of the Council and it was pleasing to hear of the continuing good progress of the portfolio. Business Link was cited ... view the full minutes text for item 53/09
Report of the Deputy Chief Executive.
The Training and Development Manager presented the report and circulated an additional paper showing a graph giving monthly comparison figures of overall sickness levels covering the years from 2006 to the present date, from which it could be seen that there was an overall downward trend.
The Training and Development Manager summarised the key elements of the sickness management policy and procedure, as outlined in paragraph 3.1.2 of the report, which included, amongst other things, requirements for return to work interviews to be conducted after every period of absence regardless of length or overall record; trigger points requiring a manager to review an employee’s absence levels and an informal and formal approach to managing sickness absence once trigger points had been reached.
The top three reasons for sickness absence were noted as:
One of the Human Resources’ objectives for 2009-10 was to implement a well-being scheme for staff to encourage healthier lifestyles. The first stage of this would be aimed at training for managers on “Tackling Stress in the Workplace”.
In noting the report, a Member was pleased to note that training on stress management was being introduced.
While being pleased to note the decrease in overall absence rates, Members were interested in receiving comparator information with the other Norfolk local authorities, noting that the overall absence figures equated to a sickness absence rate of two weeks per member of staff per annum, notwithstanding that these figures were comparable to those in the private sector. It was felt the use of comparator data would help identify trends and improve benchmarking, as well as ensuring targets were both realistic and challenging.
Another Member felt that there should be a clear review date indicated in the policy document.
Members discussed a number of factors influencing absences due to illness and it was noted that there were opportunities for staff to work from home where feasible in appropriate circumstances, for example to avoid the spread of coughs and colds or due to physical injury (such as a sprain or fracture) preventing them getting into the office.
The Commission concluded that it would be useful to look in more depth at the issues affecting sickness absences and the steps being taken to address them and reduce absence rates, as well as looking at comparison information for benchmarking purposes and target setting for the future.
Accordingly, it was
RESOLVED that <1<
a Task and Finish Group is set up to review sickness absence, to
look in more depth at the issues affecting sickness absences and
the steps being taken to address them and reduce absence rates, as
well as looking at comparison information for benchmarking purposes
and target setting for the future;
Mrs. S.M. Matthews be appointed as Chairman of the Group;
(3) the Member Development and Scrutiny Officer be authorised to invite nominations from the non-executive Members of the Council to complete the membership of the Task and Finish ... view the full minutes text for item 54/09
To consider the attached Planning Protocol for Members, which has been referred to the Commission from the Council meeting held on 28 May 2009.
The document has been previously considered by the Development Control Committee and the Standards Committee.
The Standards Committee recommended to the Council that the Protocol be amended by the addition of the words shown in bold type as follows (minute 13/09 of the Standards Committee meeting held on 28 April 2009 refers):-
“…… 2 to 5 APPLY TO ALL MEMBERS
2. Lobbying of Members by Applicants/Developers/Objectors/Supporters
2.1 If you are contacted by applicants, developers, objectors or supporters:
Consider referring those who approach you for planning, procedural
or technical advice to the officers.
Apart from usual discussions with your constituents as
Ward Member, you should not normally agree to private briefings with applicants, developers, objectors
or supporters unless there are very good reasons to
see them – if you do wish to attend such a meeting, then an
officer should also be present to take a record of what went on for
the planning file.
§ Members of the Development Control Committee should reveal at the discussion in Committee any meetings with or written material from applicants, developers, objectors or supporters. ……”
The Council has welcomed the introduction of the Protocol but there was some concern that the advice in relation to dealing with discussions with members of the public was unworkable. In the circumstances, the Council deferred a decision and has referred the document to the Commission for further consideration.
The Commission’s views are sought accordingly for recommendation back to the Council.
The Consultant Solicitor explained that this item had been previously considered by the Development Control Committee and the Standards Committee, the latter Committee having recommended some amended wording as set out on the agenda. When the matter was considered by the Council on 28 May, there had been some concern that the advice in relation to dealing with discussions with members of the public was unworkable. In the circumstances, the Council had decided to refer the matter to the Commission for further consideration.
The Planning Protocol was intended to be a general guide to Development Control Members on planning matters and for other Members generally in their roles as Ward Representatives.
Breckland was one of the few Councils that had not adopted such a Protocol. The main reason for having a Protocol was because people were generally more litigious these days and the number of applications for Judicial Review on planning matters was growing. Any perceived gaps in the Council’s procedures would be used by litigants to get a planning decision reviewed.
However, it was important that any Protocol was acceptable to and supported by the Council as whole.
The Standards Committee had proposed the inclusion of “supporters” as an additional lobbying group to those of applicants, developers and objectors and this was accepted.
The main wording in question was that contained in the second bullet point in paragraph 2.1 of the Protocol. While the Development Control Committee had agreed the draft Protocol, the Standards Committee had proposed an amendment to this part of paragraph 2.1 as shown highlighted on the agenda, taking the view that the protocol should not cramp the style of the ordinary Member in their relations with their constituents.
The Consultant Solicitor reiterated the legal advice given by Queen’s Counsel, which was, in effect, that Members should not meet with applicants, objectors, etc. without the presence of an officer, to avoid misunderstandings, and that responding to lobbying had to be exercised with great care, since if not, a Member’s integrity and honesty could be called into question. By way of further explanation, the view on the matter as expressed in the Nolan Report was read out, i.e. that it was not the intention to stifle the role of the Member in their constituency work, and it was this intent that the Standards Committee had in mind when proposing the amendment.
If Members’ concerns were not allayed by that explanation, their options were to recommend back to Council to either amend or cut the offending wording or to delete the paragraph in its entirety. A third option was to move that the section be applied to Development Control Committee Members only, bearing in mind the QC’s advice as reported to that Committee that its Members were ‘in the firing line’ as the decision-making body.
A lengthy debate then followed during which Members endorsed the need to have a Protocol but, at the same time, expressed their continued concerns that the wording in question would create more problems ... view the full minutes text for item 55/09
Report of the Head of Legal Services.
The Legal Executive presented the report which updated the Commission on the numbers and types of authorised cases handled in the past 12 months under the Regulatory & Investigatory Powers Act 2000 (RIPA), and their success or otherwise.
The Commission had requested an annual report to ensure proper scrutiny of the function.
The report revealed that the number of cases dealt with between July 2005 and May 2008 had totalled 32. Between May 2008 and May 2009, just eight cases had been authorised and details of these were as set out in paragraph 3.2.1 of the report, which was considered a moderate and appropriate use of the powers by the Council.
No issues were raised by the Commission and it was
RESOLVED that the report be noted.
Task and Finish Groups (Agenda Item 11)
To consider reports from Task & Finish Group Chairmen in respect of the following meetings:
Mr. B. Rose presented the minutes of the meeting, which were self-explanatory, and highlighted that three speakers would be attending the next meeting to talk about their respective fields of operation in the housing market.
RESOLVED that the unconfirmed minutes of the meeting of the Affordable Housing Task and Finish Group held on 20 May 2009 be adopted.
Scrutiny Call-ins (Standing Item)
To note whether any decisions have been called-in for scrutiny.
There were no items.
Councillor Call for Action (Standing Item)
To note any references.
There were no items to report.
The Member Development and Scrutiny Officer advised that he would be making a presentation on the new provisions to Members of the Council in July.
Report of the Deputy Chief Executive.
The Member Development and Scrutiny Officer presented the report and circulated a copy of an emailed response received from BT, refuting the Council’s claims that the move to cashless conversions was a further step in the run down of public telephone services prior to ultimate removal on the grounds of diminishing use making the facilities uneconomic.
On the issue of availability of ‘phone cards, three replies from a very quick and rough and ready survey of nine outlets indicated that the ‘phone card facilities were not well advertised or readily available.
Twelve best-case locations had been identified as needing to be retained and were put forward for the Commission’s support, although the emailed reply from BT did not give any encouragement in this.
Members took the view that the Council now had very good evidence to support its case for the retention of the telephone kiosks and opposing their conversion to cashless facilities. The Commission felt that BT’s response flew in the face of this evidence.
The Commission concluded that it needed to keep up the pressure on BT in what was a vital issue for rural areas and consequently, it was
(1) the Member Development and Scrutiny Officer, in consultation with the Chairman of the Task and Finish Group, be asked to write to the two local Members of Parliament to present the Council’s case evidence and enlist their support for the retention of existing public telephone kiosks in the rural areas through Parliamentary debate; and
(2) the proposed official response to BT be endorsed.
(a) A copy of the Commission’s work programme is attached. The Commission is asked to agree any additions, deletions or amendments to the programme as appropriate.
(b) Member Issues: In accordance with the Commission’s protocol for member leadership, which states that members of the Commission will take the lead in selecting topics for overview and scrutiny and in the questioning of witnesses, members are invited to put forward items for selection for future review.
The Chairman proposed a review of BT broadband provision across the County and the current poor service levels was included in the work programme.
Another suggested item was for a post-elections review.
To note the arrangements for the next meeting to be held on Thursday, 23 July 2009 at 2.15 p.m. Venue: The Regency Room, Assembly Rooms, Market Place, Swaffham PE37 7AB
Arrangements for the next meeting on 23 July at Swaffham were noted.