Agenda and minutes

Venue: Anglia Room, The Conference Suite, Elizabeth House, Walpole Loke, Dereham

Contact: Committee Services  01362 656870

Items
No. Item

106.

Minutes (Agenda Item 1) pdf icon PDF 98 KB

To confirm the minutes of the meeting held on 18 October 2012.

Minutes:

The Minutes of the meeting held on 18 October 2012 were confirmed as a correct record and signed by the Chairman.

107.

Apologies and Substitutes (Agenda Item 2)

To receive apologies for absence and to note substitute Members in attendance.

Minutes:

Apologies for absence had been received from Mrs D Irving, Mr K Gilbert and Mr B Rose.  Councillor C Bowes and Mr G Bambridge were present as substitutes.

108.

Urgent Business (Agenda Item 3)

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

Minutes:

None.

109.

Declaration of Interests (Agenda Item 4)

Members are no longer required to declare personal of prejudicial interests but are to declare any new Disclosable Pecuniary Interests that are not currently included in the Register of Interests. Members are reminded that under the Code of Conduct they are not to participate and must leave the room, for the whole of an agenda item to which they have a Disclosable Pecuniary Interest. 

 

In the interests of transparency, Members may also wish to declare any other interests they have in relation to an agenda item, that support the Nolan principles detailed within the Code of Conduct.

Minutes:

No declarations were made.

110.

Non-Members wishing to address the Meeting (Agenda Item 5)

To note the names of any non-members or public speakers wishing to address the meeting.

Minutes:

Mrs Armes, Mr Kiddle-Morris, Mrs Jolly and Mr Wassell were in attendance.

111.

Executive Member Portfolio Update (Agenda Item 6) pdf icon PDF 97 KB

Michael Wassell, Executive Member for Finance and Democratic 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.

Minutes:

Mr M Wassell, Deputy Leader and Executive Member for Finance and Governance gave Members a presentation on his Portfolio which gave details of the three main areas within the Portfolio; Democratic Services, Legal Services and Finance (copy attached).  The key areas of responsibility were noted and an explanation of the ‘day job’ of each service was given.

 

Democratic Services had the key responsibility of promoting local democracy. That included maintaining the register of electors, dealing with standards of ethical practice of both District and Parish Councillors; maintaining the register of interests of District and Parish Councillors; dealing with complaints and Freedom of Information requests and supporting the Scrutiny Commission and other Committees.

 

Current projects included the Local Government Boundary Review and preparing for the Norfolk County Council elections to be held in May 2013.

 

Legal Services was a small team that provided legal advice on a wide range of issues across the Council, in both a re-active and pro-active way.  Where specialist advice was required, external solicitors were used.

 

The Finance Team provided a wide range of services including Accountancy, Treasury Management and Purchase Ledgers.  The team managed and safeguarded the Council’s resources and supported Committee reports through the provision of Proforma Bs.  Their responsibilities also covered Central Administration, Post Opening and Cashiers Office and stationery procurement, along with preparing the Council’s accounts by 31 December each year. 

 

The Executive Member concluded his presentation by saying that combined with his responsibilities as Deputy Leader he found that his Council duties were a full time role.  He relied on his officers and trusted them to assist him in decision making.  He was also grateful to his Executive Support Member, Ellen Jolly, for her support.

 

Members then asked questions about the details provided in the presentation.

 

With regard to individual registration (which would replace household registration in 2014/15) Mr Bambridge asked how people would be affected.

 

The Democratic Services Team Leader advised that the initial process would be to match the Electoral Register to DWP records.  Anyone on the Register in 2014 would stay on it until after the 2015 elections.  After that everyone would have to register individually and provide details of date of birth and National Insurance Number.  There was a fear that the change might reduce the number of people on the Register, but to counter that, new ways of registering would be introduced, including on-line and possibly registering by text.

 

The Vice-Chairman wondered if a separate Finance Portfolio should be created to reduce the workload, but the Executive Member thought that having responsibility for Finance gave him a good insight into all areas of the Council.  He pointed out the additional costs of having an extra Portfolio.

 

The Chairman asked about Freedom of Information requests which had risen exponentially.  He wondered what percentage were valid and how many were spurious requests?  The figures were not available but would be provided.<1>

 

With regard to the recent PCC Elections at which there had been a very low  ...  view the full minutes text for item 111.

112.

Quarterly Governance and Performance Monitoring Report (Agenda Item 7) pdf icon PDF 59 KB

Report of the Executive Member for Performance and Business Development.

Additional documents:

Minutes:

The Senior Performance Analyst presented the report on behalf of the Joint Performance Team Leader who was unable to attend.

 

The report was for information only.  In future it would be reported to the Commission quarterly, before being presented to Council.

 

Mr Kybird was concerned that the summary report on Audit was the worst he had ever seen and that performance against Audit measures was 100% red or purple.  It was pointed out that there had been some IT issues during the transition period which had caused problems with getting the data onto the system.  They had been sorted out and the system was now more up to date.

 

The Chairman asked when the Commission would receive the report in future and the Deputy Chief Executive advised that the new system places accountability with the Portfolio Holders and their Managers.  A Performance Board, consisting of the Executive Member for Performance with the Deputy Chief Executive and others, would look at under-performance, risk and failure to achieve key milestones on a quarterly basis.

 

The system was interactive and could be updated daily.  It would be presented to the Commission quarterly for their advice on where the Performance Board should focus their activities.

 

The Chairman suggested that the report should be a Standing Item on the Commission’s agenda four times a year and that the report should be presented to Scrutiny before going to the Performance Board.

 

Mr Kybird asked for the report to include a summary of items that had been red for two quarters.

 

The Chairman said that he was more interested in trends, if they could be seen then it might be possible to influence them.  The Deputy Chief Executive pointed out that on page 56 it showed the position in the current and previous quarter and the direction of travel.

 

Mrs Jolly asked how the level of risk could be shown and also asked if the system tracked the performance of contracts.  The Senior Performance Analyst advised that they were currently looking at adding contracts to the Performance system and once that was done they would be able to produce reports.

 

The Deputy Chief Executive thought that the Executive Support Member was more concerned about contract expiry and renegotiation.  He explained that each contract had key indicators.  The Performance Board would look at the ‘reds’ in each quarter and identify risks.

 

The Chairman noted that high risk items needed to be addressed very quickly.

 

He thanked the officers for the report.

113.

Local Council Tax Support Scheme (Agenda Item 8)

To receive a presentation.

Minutes:

The Assistant Director of Commissioning gave Members a presentation on the changes to Council Tax Benefit which would take place from 1 April 2013. 

 

Council Tax Benefits would be abolished and replaced by a Local Council Tax Support scheme.  The Council was required to have adopted a scheme by 31 January 2013 to implement on 1 April 2013.  That scheme would operate on 10% less funding than was currently received.  The exact grant settlement was not yet known and the new scheme was being developed using models based on estimated figures.

 

The key elements of the new scheme would be:

 

·        that the benefits of Pensioners and vulnerable groups would be protected;

·        that it would continue to support and give incentives to those in work; and

·        that it would be affordable for the people of Breckland.

 

A key issue was that currently CT Benefit matched the maximum Council Tax charge.  One way to address the 10% funding gap would be to cap Council Tax allowance.  That would affect all the current CT Benefit claimants.

 

Other, technical changes had also been consulted on.  They included questions about Council Tax on second and empty homes.  The proposal was to charge 100% Council Tax on second homes (currently it was 90%) except for military personnel.  The exemption period on empty properties would be reduced to three months, followed by a 60% allowance for a further three months, then charging full Council Tax after that time.  It was hoped that that would also encourage empty properties to be brought back into use.

 

Members were shown the questions in a survey carried out with two groups of people: those on benefits who would not be affected and those on benefits that would be directly affected by the changes.

 

Of 770 people surveyed 48% had responded.  258 of those responses were from people directly affected by the changes.  Members were shown a table of findings comparing the responses from the two groups.  It showed broad support for the majority of the proposals.  The only exception was the proposal to cap the level of support which only 53% of those directly affected supported as opposed to 80% of those not directly affected. 

 

Other preceptors had also supported the scheme as it was cost neutral.

 

The scheme was being developed in an atmosphere of constant change with new announcements regularly being made by Government. There would be a £100 million grant for the transition to specific scheme requirements, but it could only be applied for once the scheme was adopted and it was not guaranteed.

 

The Operations Manager (ARP) was in attendance to answer any technical questions.

 

Mr Bambridge noted that it was a big difference of opinion regarding the cap.  The Assistant Director for Commissioning agreed and said they were not underestimating the impact of the changes.  There were difficult decisions to be made but the 10% gap had to be made up somewhere.

 

Mr Joel asked how ‘vulnerable groups’ were defined and was advised that the same  ...  view the full minutes text for item 113.

114.

Task and Finish Groups (Agenda Item 9)

Nothing to report.

Minutes:

The Chairman noted that a new Task & Finish Group would be needed to consider the Local Development Plan.  The Executive Member for Assets & Strategic Development advised that there would be a report coming shortly to Cabinet with a recommendation to set up a Cabinet sub-Committee to hold open meetings on the subject, which would feed into Scrutiny.

 

Mr Kybird noted that he was awaiting a response from the Emergency Planning Officer and the Deputy Chief Executive with regard to the Business Continuity Task & Finish Group.

115.

Health & Scrutiny (Standing Item) (Agenda Item 10)

To receive an update on the Norfolk Health Scrutiny Committee.

Minutes:

Mr Kybird reported that at the meeting held the previous week there had been discussion about the radical redesign of Mental Health Services.  He had requested to be on the joint committee that was to be set up.

116.

Scrutiny Call-ins (Standing Item) (Agenda Item 11)

The following decision has been called-in for scrutiny.

116a

Sale of Council Owned Land at Mackenzie Road, Thetford pdf icon PDF 59 KB

This item has been called-in at the request of the Ward Representative on the grounds that it is a controversial matter and it is important that the proposal to take the matter forward is carefully considered - further scrutiny of the options would hopefully confirm that this proposal from Council officers is the best solution for the problem and that the authority would be acting with the wider interests of the local community at the forefront of its considerations.

 

The following documents are attached for information:

 

  • Copy of the Executive Decision Notice as published and called-in
  • Copy of the report

Additional documents:

Minutes:

The Chairman asked the Vice-Chairman to introduce this matter as he had ‘called in’ the decision.  A note outlining the reasons for the call-in had been tabled.  The Vice-Chairman advised that Councillor Armes had been dealing with the issue as Ward Member and he asked her to speak on behalf of residents.

 

Mrs Armes explained that the problem had commenced in 2010 and she had become involved following her election as one of the Ward Members for Saxon Ward in 2011.

 

As no Commission Members had visited the site she passed round photographs to give a sense of the area of dispute.  This formed part of a piece of wooded land belonging to Breckland Council on which ‘Mr R’ had been parking his cars.  At times access to two footpaths had been blocked.

 

Mrs Armes asked why enforcement action had not been taken at an early stage.  She considered that the Authority had not been sufficiently strong in preventing misuse of its land.  If that land was now sold at auction she believed it would set a dangerous precedent.  There was little amenity space in the area and the woodland was much used by residents.  If the land was sold she thought other residents might apply to purchase parts of the land to extend their gardens. 

 

She reiterated that it would be wrong to auction the land and to continue to allow its use for parking.  She suggested a site visit.

 

The Vice-Chairman said that it was clear that there were a number of issues in the area which were complicated by neighbour disputes.  There were two principle issues:

 

  1. had the misuse of the land been addressed robustly enough; and
  2. was an auction the fair way to deal with disputed land?

 

He had called the matter in because he thought it would set a precedent and because he knew that residents did not feel that it had been enforced properly and that the sale was just to resolve the dispute.  On the contrary, he thought that the sale would escalate the problem and be a tacit endorsement of the misuse if sold to the person flouting the law.   It was also unfair as there was no regard to the ability to pay. 

 

If it was the Council’s approach to dealing with members of the public who abused Council land not to protect that land, what was to stop abuse of further areas of land?  Would future enforcement action be compromised?  He thought it was important to debate the Council’s responsibility for protecting public land.

 

The Chairman noted that the Council did not get involved in neighbour disputes and that it was the issue of selling the land that was to be debated.

 

The Executive Member for Assets & Strategic Development sought to put the matter into context.  He said that the Council owned over 5000 pieces of land in Breckland.  The unfortunate Land Management Officer had the onerous job of controlling those 5000 pieces of land.

 

The Active Land Management exercise  ...  view the full minutes text for item 116a

117.

Councillor Call for Action (Standing Item) (Agenda Item 12)

To consider any references.

Minutes:

None.

118.

Work Programme (Agenda Item 13) pdf icon PDF 75 KB

(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.

 

A copy of the Key Decision Plan is attached for Members’ information.

Additional documents:

Minutes:

The work programme was noted.

119.

Next Meeting (Agenda Item 14)

To note the arrangements for the next meeting to be held on 10 January 2013 in the Anglia Room, Conference Suite, Elizabeth House, Dereham at 2pm.

Minutes:

The arrangements for the next meeting on 10 January 2013 at 2pm in the Anglia Room were noted.