THE SCRUTINY COMMITTEE

 

Minutes of a meeting of the Scrutiny Committee held on Thursday 26th February 2004 at 10:00a.m. in the Luttrell Room, County Hall, Taunton.

 

PRESENT

Mr A J Govier  (in the Chair)

Mrs G Cawood

Mr J Garland

Mrs M Lawrence

Mr C Lockey

Mr D Nelson

Mr A Paul

Mrs C Smeaton

Mr M St John

Mr A Trollope-Bellew

Mrs E Waymouth

Other Members Present:  Mrs C Bakewell, Mr R Little, Paddy Macmaster, Hazel Prior-Sankey, Mrs J Shortland.

Apologies for Absence: Mr D Greene

 

379

DECLARATIONS OF INTEREST

 

Mr A Trollope-Bellew declared an interest in Item 5 – Performance Monitoring Report, the County Secretary advised that this was non-prejudicial.

 

380

 

MINUTES OF PREVIOUS MEETINGS

 

The minutes of the Scrutiny Committee meeting on 5th February 2004 were accepted as being a correct record provided the following amendments were noted:

Minute 373 – To note that the Corporate Director – Treasury apologised for the error contained within the table at paragraph 1.2 of his report;

Minute 373 – In the paragraph regarding the Chelston workshops to delete the word rental. 

381

PUBLIC QUESTION TIME

 

There were no questions.

382

PERFORMANCE MONITORING REPORT 2003/04  

1.0

The Committee was asked to consider a report from the Corporate Director – Treasury and the Acting Corporate Director – Central Services on the monitoring report that provided an overview of both financial and performance outturn forecasts for the current year. The monitoring report also serves to provide information for financial stewardship, as part of the performance management framework whilst also providing a commentary on the links between these data sets, where they can be identified.

 

1.1

 

 

 

 

 

1.2

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

1.3

 

 

 

 

 

1.4

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

1.5

 

 

 

 

 

1.6

 

 

 

 

 

1.7

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

1.8

 

 

 

 

1.9

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

2.0

 

 

 

 

2.1

 

 

 

 

2.2

 

 

 

 

 

2.3

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The report was designed to focus Member attention on the critical areas of business performance and to continue the work toward drawing links between performance and resources. The Committee heard that the Executive Board considered the report on the 25th February and the Chairman provided members with an update regarding BV indicators within the Lifelong Learning and Social Services Directorates.

 

Overall the Committee noted that performance was improving, or at least stable, on 83% (30) of our Key Performance Indicators (KPI’s). No comparison could be made on 15 targets, either because data was not available or because targets had not been set as they were new indicators with no baseline information available. These targets were identified in the individual directorate appendices that were attached to the main report. The position will be rectified next year when targets will be set for all existing key indicators. Targets were expected to be met or exceeded for 56% of KPIs.

 

In response to a question regarding the projected overspend of £1.140m on the Dimmer Lane CPO, the Corporate Director – Environment agreed to produce a briefing note for members on this issue. It was felt that this would be acceptable as this was a confidential issue as it had been referred to the Lands Tribunal. The Committee agreed to the Corporate Directors proposal.

 

In response to a question regarding the overspend on the School Transport budget and why it was allowed to happen and if this was going to occur again what action was proposed to be taken, the Corporate Director – Lifelong Learning reminded the Committee that he had highlighted this possibility twelve months ago and he thought there would be another overspend next year. The Executive Board had taken the decision not to directly meet this overspend from the contingency provision. The Portfolio Holder – Finance advised that this approach had given Officers the opportunity to negiotiate the best deal with suppliers. All Councils across the country were reportedly operating similarly, rather than fund from base budgets.  The Corporate Director – Lifelong Learning agreed to provide members of the committee with an update on what the overspend figure was likely to be.

 

In response to a question that asked if the wording in the report regarding the failure to predict demographic growth suggested that a mistake had been made the Corporate Director – Lifelong Learning responded that this was not a fair criticism as the large number of post 16 students could not reasonably have been anticipated, that included SEN pupils.

 

In response to a question regarding a table at 4.1 in the report that appeared to show the CPA Indicators had greater weighting than the Council’s own objectives the Acting Corporate Director – Central Services advised that the Council’s objectives were within the KPI’s and the table was demonstrating in a visual format the weightings that were used to judge the importance of individual PI’s.

 

In response to a question regarding the lack of information available on KPI (BV 12) Sickness absence the Acting Corporate Director – Central Services reported that the current HR Payroll dictated that it would only be cost effective to derive this information on an annual basis, but the new system would allow for this data to be retrieved more readily.

 

 

 

A member of the Committee reported back from a meeting they had attended concerning an item that appeared in Appendix B - Culture & Community Directorate - ‘Archives On-line’. This was a tremendous achievement and congratulations were passed to the Corporate Director – Culture and Community.

 

In response to a question regarding the lack of available data in 3 Environment Directorate KPI’s it was reported that this was largely because these were annual surveys that were very expensive, carried out by external contractors and mid-year analysis was not possible. There was a brief discussion regarding the Killed and Seriously Injured figures in Somerset and the Chairman indicated to the Committee that this matter was going to be discussed at the next Environment and Transport Policy Advisory Panel meeting.

 

In response to a question regarding an overspend in the Highways and Contract Management budget and whether this was due to the cost of safety repair work such as relaying surfaces and installing rumble strips, the Committee heard that potholes, kerb defects and repairs to the road edges had a separate budget.

 

In response to a question regarding the lack of KPI statistics in the Fire and Emergency Planning Directorate the Chief Fire Officer acknowledged the problems currently experienced but advised that new software being introduced now would allow for more detailed reports to be presented later in the year.

 

In response to a question regarding an overspend of £0.210m from Kilve Court the Corporate Director – Lifelong Learning reported that this followed a decision 4 years ago to loan money to the residential centre to increase its accommodation, and the repayments formed part of a licensed loan. The income levels recorded at Kilve were reportedly good.

 

In response to a question regarding the projected overspend of £0.705m for Children and Families that was mainly due to ‘out of County’ agency placements and an increase in fostering care the Committee agreed to ask the Corporate Director – Social Services for a breakdown of these figures. The Committee heard that NCSC referred to in the Social Services Appendix to the report represented the National Care Standards Commission who monitored the quality of care in private residential homes.

 

The Committee agreed to note the report.

383

CORPORATE MANAGEMENT STRUCTURE

1.0

 

 

 

 

 

 

1.1

 

 

 

 

 

1.2

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

1.3

 

 

 

 

 

 

1.4

 

 

 

 

 

1.5

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Chairman invited the Chief Executive to present his report that asked the Committee to consider outline proposals for the reorganisation of the Council’s Corporate management structure. The Chief Executive explained to the Committee the reasons why change was desirable; the interim and transitional arrangements already in place and his indicative structural proposals for the longer term.

 

A central theme in the Chief Executive’s report was the need for clarity and good communication to all members of staff so that changes were explained clearly and dealt with as sensitively as possible. He felt that for the majority of staff this would not be a ‘big issue’ as predominantly it would only affect some senior managers.

 

Although the Chief Executive acknowledged that the ‘old’ structure was an appropriate response to the problems that existed two to three years ago, he felt that further change was now needed to benefit from the lessons learnt. The most important aspect of this was a desire for an improved clarity and accountability within and between the tiers of management. In particular, the roles of Directors, Heads of Service and other senior managers should be consistent and of equal weight across the Directorates.

 

In response to a question regarding the transitional cost of such an exercise the Chief Executive advised the Committee that he had undertaken a similar review at his previous Authority and this had resulted in an overall saving. In certain cases in Somerset, several examples were given, it would be possible to save money by not back filling a post vacated by someone who had achieved promotion or retired.

 

In response to a question about the changes being monitored by the Change Management Board the Chief Executive replied that as he chaired the CMB he would personally oversee the project. He intended to conduct a review of the Corporate Services Directorates and acknowledged that some outcomes would be difficult but the challenge would be for individuals to develop their new role.   

 

The Corporate Director emphasised his desire that the Corporate Directors role would be more Corporate and not just about managing their own department. The Corporate Directors would work more closely as a team and the Chief Executive remarked that currently the Management Board was not competitive or divisive as problems and knowledge was shared amongst Directors.

 

The Committee welcomed the Chief Executives report, and noted that the Executive Board had accepted the recommendations on 25 February.

384

PROGRESS OF POVERTY COMMISSION AUDIT

1.1

 

 

 

 

1.2

 

 

 

 

 

1.3

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

1.4

 

 

 

 

 

1.5

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

1.6

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

1.7

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

1.8

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

1.9

 

 

 

 

 

 

2.0

 

 

 

The Committee was asked to consider this report of the Corporate Director – Culture and Heritage that presented the progress achieved with implementing 15 of the recommendations of the ‘Poverty in Somerset’ report as part of an on-going review of progress in implementing all of the recommendations of that report. 

 

The 15 recommendations were those that as at June 2003 (at the time of the completion of the third audit) had not been progressed at all or had been only partially completed.   The Committee was asked to note in particular the conclusions in section 3.4 of the report that highlighted actions still to be undertaken.

 

The Committee heard that the ‘Poverty in Somerset’ report was published in July 2000.  It sets out the main findings of the ‘Commission on Poverty’ to Somerset County Council.  The report listed recommendations for action to reduce aspects of poverty in Somerset. Since the publication of the report there have been four audits (May 2001 and Autumn 2002, June 2003 and December 2003).  The findings of the fourth audit were presented to the CIA Policy Advisory Panel on 13th January 2004.

 

 

It was reported that the paper presented the input by District Councils and Care Direct as well as previously recorded progress made to date – it also contained the recommendations from the CIA Panel and recommendations of Scrutiny Committee on 12th June 2003 and therefore formed the most comprehensive collection of data in relation to the ‘Poverty in Somerset’ report.

 

Also contained as an appendix was the Care Direct report that found significant progress had been made in addressing a number of key recommendations of the original Poverty in Somerset report covering welfare benefits, debt counseling, and social inclusion.  A number of Care Direct initiatives had resulted in significant and positive impact on “Somerset Citizens on low incomes” in recent years. The benefits for Somerset citizens are the streamlining of the claim process with a view to increase responsiveness and speed, expert assistance to complete application forms and finally wherever possible to maximize their income.

 

One major project had been the formation of the Joint Financial Assessment and Benefits (FAB) Team whose main partners were the Social Services Department and the local Pensions Service of the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP). Since October 2002, despite early teething problems, and the need to train an expanding staff group, it was reported that the FAB team had generated at least £2.4 million in new benefits for older people in Somerset. There was a prospect for further increases in the level of benefits.  For example, in the period April-June 2003, welfare benefits checks generated 642 Attendance Allowance claims of which only two were unsuccessful.

 

In response to a question regarding the funding of the Citizens Advice Bureau it was reported that as a consequence of the recommendations of the Poverty Commission report, the funding for Citizen Advice had been expanded and pilot projects were funded to establish welfare benefits work by the local Citizens Advice Bureaux in GP surgeries (South Somerset), and action research by the Childrens Society to establish the most effective ways of enabling welfare benefits advice to be made available to low income families. Funding was also provided to Age Concern Somerset to expand their work in helping older people gain access to welfare benefits. All of these projects were reported to have proved extremely valuable.

 

The Committee heard that the currently the main focus of the current Service Level agreement between Somerset County Council and Citizens Advice was to ensure through working with relevant organisations, that the needs of low income parents with younger children were addressed, whether in work or not. By helping them to maximize benefits, and raise income, this should have a considerable impact on lifting Somerset families out of poverty, and enabling parents to train or work.

 

In response to a question regarding the large number of action points and whether they had proved difficult to track the Corporate Director acknowledged that this had proved challenging but admitted that many of the recommendations were actively taken up by other areas within the Council and as responsibility could not be taken for these achievements so the credit must also be shared.

 

 

In response to a question regarding clear discernable results that had been achieved that would allow the Council to ‘flag wave’, the Lead Officer spoke passionately and listed numerous projects and initiatives that had taken part due to the work instigated following the Poverty Commission report. This had been helped by an estimated financial assistance of £5.5m that had been attracted in funding and successful grant applications achieved by the County Council.

 

The Committee agreed to note the report.

385

EXECUTIVE BOARD FORWARD PLAN

 

 

The Committee agreed to note the report.    

 

386

 

Scrutiny committee work programme

 

 

 

The Committee agreed to note the report. The Chairman advised the issues arising and questions from the formation of the Sub-Committees that had been raised would be considered at the Scrutiny Chairmen meeting on 19 March.

 

 

 

 

 

 

(The meeting ended at 12:50 pm)

 

 

 

 

 

CHAIRMAN