Agendas, Meetings and Minutes - Agenda and draft minutes

Agenda and draft minutes

Venue: County Hall Worcester

Contact: Emma James/Jo Weston  Overview and Scrutiny Officers

No. Item


Apologies and Welcome


The Chairman welcomed everyone to the meeting. There were no apologies for absence.


Declarations of Interest and of any Party Whip




Public Participation

Members of the public wishing to take part should notify the Assistant Director for Legal and Governance in writing or by e-mail indicating the nature and content of their proposed participation no later than 9.00am on the working day before the meeting (in this case 5 November 2021).  Enquiries can be made through the telephone number/e-mail address below.




Confirmation of the Minutes of the Previous Meeting


The Minutes of the Meeting held on 24 September 2021 were agreed as a correct record and signed by the Chairman.


Performance and In-year Budget Monitoring and 2022/23 Budget Scrutiny pdf icon PDF 137 KB

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In-year Budget Monitoring – Quarter 2


The Deputy Chief Finance Officer (DCFO) advised the Panel that as at Quarter 2 the year end forecast position showed a marginal overspend for CoaCh and the Chief Executive’s Unit was largely break even, with a few minor variances as detailed in the report. One of the variances related to additional expenditure in connection with the purchase of property related software following the insourcing of Place Partnership Ltd. The DCFO advised that they were currently looking at ways for this to be financed outside of CoaCh. The areas of underspend had been used to offset some of the increased costs, for instance, relating to legal costs for childcare cases.


In respect of the Communities budget, the Panel was informed that at Quarter 2 the year end forecast was for an overspend of £227k, which was mainly as a result of reduced income from The Hive, which was not likely to be received this financial year. The Assistant Director for Communities (ADC) explained that the main financial pressure had resulted from Civica moving out of the Hive. Consideration was being given to using the vacant space for a youth hub facility and she was liaising with the Department for Work and Pensions regarding possible grants available to assist this purpose. It was stressed that this possible income would not be at the same level as was previously obtained. 


The ADC also highlighted that ways in which the Archives/Archaeology unit could generate more income were being looked at, and a bid had just been submitted for an Archaeology contract. Other areas were also being reviewed to see whether there was any scope for efficiency savings. In response to a Member’s question about the potential of development streams, the ADC advised that there were two elements, firstly the advisory service which was base budget funded and where historical records were cared for and advice was provided for planning applications. The second element related to a field service and this was where there was the opportunity to tender for commercial work. The Panel was informed that the team was developing the skills required to be able to successfully bid for work. The Head of Libraries, Archives and Archaeology was currently putting together an Action Plan on income generation and was expecting that within the next 6 months the team would be in a better position to bid for significant work.


Budget Scrutiny


The Leader of the Council had suggested that Scrutiny Panel’s might wish to discuss emerging pressures and challenges for services in relation to the 2022/23 Budget at this meeting.


The DCFO advised that a post pandemic review of operations had identified a number of key pressures which would impact services including the rising costs of transport, energy and pay. It was noted that in CoaCh, the majority of the budget related to staffing.  The Government had confirmed that it would return to an annual pay award, but the pay award had not yet been set for  ...  view the full minutes text for item 333.


Overview of Council Communication pdf icon PDF 149 KB

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The Panel had requested an overview of the Council’s Content and Communication function. The Cabinet Member for Corporate Services and Communication gave a brief introduction to the report following which the Head of Communications and Engagement (HCE) provided an overview of the key issues. Some of the points highlighted were as follows:


·         The growing importance of social media, but also that traditional media remained a key communication channel too.

·         The Team had become more effective at communicating with residents during the pandemic, for instance with the issuing of public health messages.

·         There was more emphasis on hyper local targeting of publicity with a better understanding of different audiences.

·         Work was underway to develop better ways for Councillors to share messages in their local area.


Members questions created a number of areas of discussion, and the following points were noted.


·         In terms of drilling down into figures on ‘followers’ to gain a better understanding of the profile of the followers, the HCE advised that whilst there was a general understanding of the profile of followers, it was not possible to delve deeper to obtain detailed information on each platform. Engagement was the key aim, as well as numbers of followers, the Team were keen to see how often a message was viewed and how people interacted, for instance the number of likes and shares. More people were encouraged to ‘follow’ by creating 2-way conversations and by overlaying channels.

·         The Cabinet Member referred to the need for Councillors to take on a promotional sales role for the Council and advised that he was working with the HCE to develop a short paper on media issues to assist  Councillors to develop in this role.

·         The Chairman commented that it would be useful for the quarterly monitoring if the social media profiles could include age and gender profile by platform, to enable the Panel to drill down into the data. Also, for the  ‘traffic across social media channels’ to include a more detailed breakdown, eg number of hits.

·         On the issue of boosting social media, the HCE advised that ‘boost it’ posts were used on a regular basis on Facebook, with very positive outcomes.

·         A Member suggested that people might be less likely to respond to a social media post with a positive comment and queried how the success of the various initiatives could be measured. The HCE explained that social media posting was only one aspect of engagement, with others including website interactions and face to face drop-in centres.  Following a press release, many connections were received upon which sentiment analysis could be carried out. 

·         The HCE confirmed that actions could be tracked after messages had been shared. Members reported that the messages that they received were sometimes lengthy and in a format that was difficult to share. The HCE confirmed that future messages forwarded to Members would be sent in an easy to share format, which Members could automatically share with ease.  The possibility of sharing messages with Officers and partners was  ...  view the full minutes text for item 334.


Traded Services Overview pdf icon PDF 186 KB


The Panel had requested an overview of the Council’s Traded Services portfolio and strategy. The Cabinet Member for Corporate Services and Communication advised the Panel that a Traded Services Commercial Strategy had been developed in 2019 and had incorporated input from this Panel obtained through a Members workshop. In light of the impact of the pandemic, the Strategy now needed to be reviewed and revised and a number of different strategic approaches would be adopted to enable this to take place.


The Strategic Director advised that gross income generation from existing traded services was around £9m and Members were apprised of the current areas of activity that contributed to this total, including property rental, libraries and archives and archaeology.


In terms of progress being made, the Panel was informed that a commercial review of the Council’s testing laboratory, known as Scientific Services, had led to its closure as it was not making a surplus. This, therefore, resulted in a cost saving for the Council.


The Strategic Director explained that there would be a review of each area of income and it would be determined whether there were any opportunities for the cost base to be changed and increased income to be made. It was explained that this was how the partnership between the Council’s Archives unit and had been established. This had enabled the Bishops Transcripts to be available to in return for a licence fee and other benefits to the Council, with total income and cost savings amounting to £200,000.


With respect to opportunities currently being explored, the Panel was informed that these included the maximisation of usage of the Council’s corporate buildings following the introduction of the smarter ways of working programme and the installation of solar farms on Council owned land.


Members made a number of comments about the current situation and options for the future:


·         There was support for commercialisation and seeking to maximise income for the Council through fees and charges and investing in facilities to gain a greater return.

·         A Member expressed concern that a Traded Services Strategy would be outdated very quickly.

·         Members felt that focussing on skills sets and core competencies was important and taking a cautious approach was supported.

·         In response to a Member query about whether the Council could invest in a start-up company, the Strategic Director advised that a local authority trading company could usually be established for most areas, but they often created little profit.  The Cabinet Member gave an example of a company that he had been involved with through a different local authority and thought that there a number of reasons why the Council would wish to avoid setting these up.


Update on Performance Monitoring of Comments, Compliments and Complaints pdf icon PDF 327 KB

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Following consideration of performance monitoring of comments, compliments and complaints in July, the Panel received a further update which included the feedback obtained from the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman (LGSCO) for 2021. The Cabinet Member with responsibility for Corporate Services and Communication advised that the complaints team had recently been transferred to the IT and Digital Team, where it was anticipated that efficiencies to the systems could be made through automation. The Strategic Director commented that the LGSCO letter was an improvement on the previous years, although there were still some areas for improvement, to be addressed across the Council.


The Complaints Manager advised that the 2020/21 Annual report relating to Corporate representations had just been published on the Council’s website and the reports for Adult Social Care representations and Children’s Social Care representations were due to be published imminently. She provided the Panel with a brief overview of the trends shown in the above reports. She highlighted that as a result of the efforts of Worcestershire Children First,  the timescales for stage 1 children’s social care complaints being completed had significantly improved this year.


The Panel raised a number of questions as follows:


·         LGSCO letter remedy process. The Chairman referred to the delays in the remedy process which had been raised in the previous year’s letter and were still persisting. The Complaints Manager acknowledged that there were still some issues with the system and the Strategic Director agreed to follow this up and ensure it was resolved. When the LGSCO makes findings against the Council, the Complaints Manager highlighted that on occasions as well as requiring the Council to tighten procedures and offer a financial remedy, they might also take matters one stage further and ask the Council to investigate whether other customers could have been disadvantaged in the same way that the complainant had been. 

·         Independent Investigators. The Complaints Manager confirmed that 9 new investigators had been recruited recently, with a further two due to join the Team by the end of the year. It was clarified that the investigators were not employees as they couldn’t be guaranteed a certain level of work. Most of these investigators were part-time and they also often worked in the role for other authorities or had other commitments. The new recruits would help to spread the load of the Stage 2 corporate or social care complaint cases (and also for some adult cases) and it was anticipated that the impact of this recent recruitment on the compliance data was likely to be seen by March 2022.

·         LGSCO letter cross referencing. A Member queried the impact of the inability to cross reference the Ombudsman and Council cases. The Complaints Manager advised that the lack of referencing caused a number of issues for instance, the figures on the Councils website wouldn’t necessarily match with those on the LGSCO site. Also, in some circumstances, there weren’t case references, of cases that the Council had no knowledge of, which is then  ...  view the full minutes text for item 336.


Work Programme 2021/22 pdf icon PDF 132 KB

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The Panel was asked to review the Work Programme for 2021-22. It was noted that an extra meeting would take place in February to consider:


·         Smarter, healthier, and greener ways of working; and

·         Annual update on the Council’s energy purchasing arrangements via the West Mercia Energy Joint Committee including the Business Plan.


With respect to the libraries item scheduled for May 2022, the Chairman asked members to consider what specific area they would like to focus on.


With the addition of an update report on Complaints being added to the March Panel, the Work Programme was agreed.