Annual Presentation - Executive Member for Finance, Planning and Performance
- Meeting of Policy and Performance Scrutiny Committee, Tuesday, 21st February, 2023 7.30 pm (Item 78.)
Councillor Ward, Executive Member for Finance, Planning and Performance, presented to the committee. The Executive Member noted that the presentation summarised the progress of services under his portfolio in the Resources directorate, however emphasised that he was happy to answer questions on any aspect of his portfolio.
The following main points were noted in the discussion:
· The Executive Member was pleased that the council had paid almost £30million in energy grants and covid funding that had benefitted around 80,000 residents and 3,000 businesses. The Executive Member was also proud of the launch of the Community Municipal Investment for the Net Zero Carbon programme, The Executive Member noted the ongoing austerity and financial challenges affecting local government and the impact this had on managing the council’s budget.
· The Executive Member noted the significant workload in Legal Services, including the renegotiation of energy contracts and increase in disrepair cases. The Executive Member also commented on the recruitment and retention of legal specialists as a challenge in the current employment market.
· The Executive Member noted the work of the Democratic Services and Information Governance teams and their work in supporting members and the organisation in governance matters.
· On Electoral Services, the Executive Member expressed concerns about the government’s introduction of Voter ID requirements. There was a concern that many people would be denied the right to vote, and also about the implications for election staff in responding to a high number of enquiries and processing identification applications in advance of the next election.
· The Executive Member noted the successful implementation of the new Business Support service and highlighted the important work carried out by Digital Services.
· On Human Resources, the Executive Member welcomed their work in processing 347 DBS checks for households hosting Ukrainian refugees across 282 households. A new approach to performance development was currently being implemented. Improvements were also being made to the recruitment process, including working towards attaining the Disability Confident Employer status.
· The Executive Member commented on the work underway to improve the resident experience of council services, including improvements at the customer contact centre and to online services. The further development of online services would allow staff resources to focus on resolving complex issues and complaints.
· A member queried if the Executive Member was satisfied with the current range of performance measures covering his portfolio and if he considered any measures were lacking. In response, the Executive Member commented on the need to focus on persistent and complex issues and suggested that reviewing qualitative data helped to assess this.
· A member noted a recent investigation by the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman into the council’s complaints handling processes and asked if the Executive Member was previously aware of these concerns, why an external review had been commissioned and why was it not possible to carry out this review in-house, and if the increase in complaints could be attributed to not dealing with relatively straightforward complaints about repairs in a timely and efficient way. In response, the Executive Member advised that he was aware of an increase in complaints since the pandemic however did not envisage such an investigation. The Executive Member’s view was that issues that festered tended to fester for too long; it was right to commission an external organisation to review the council’s processes in this context. It was necessary to thoroughly review the council’s complaints handling as recent performance had not been good enough.
· A member asked if more staff resources would be allocated to complaints handling to deal with the backlog. In response, the Executive Member advised that he would be happy to arrange a discussion between members and senior officers to discuss the specifics in detail.
· In response to a question, the Executive Member advised that the Ombudsman investigation was prompted by the length of time taken to responds to complaints, The Committee commented on the need to efficient and effective escalation procedures.
· The Committee requested comparative information and best practice on how other local authorities structure their complaints handling function, and if there is any Ombudsman advice on the best way to structure complaints services. It was noted that the team that responded to complaints was a standalone service and it was queried if other local authorities embedded complaints officers in other services. The Executive Member advised that this would be looked into.
· A member queried if the borough had a large enough venue to hold the election count for the 2024 GLA election, given that the Sobell Centre was currently undergoing repairs following flood damage. In response, officers advised that options were currently being assessed.
· A member queried the accessibility of door entry systems on estates following the update of systems to cloud storage; the Executive Member advised that this could be discussed outside of the meeting.
· In relation to the new voter ID requirements, a member asked if the council was assessing those most at risk of being disenfranchised. In response, it was advised that officers were looking at this and clear communication would be needed ahead of the next election.
· A member asked about apprenticeships and training, and if the council would support “skills bootcamps” and other schemes to prepare people for employment. It was advised that these matters would need to be discussed with Cllr Bell-Bradford, the Executive Member for Inclusive Economy and Jobs.
· A member requested further information on the draft workforce strategy and suggested that this could also be considered in an upcoming meeting with HR officers. The Executive Member advised that members had a role to play in this work and he would discuss outside of the meeting.
The Committee thanked Councillor Ward for his attendance.
- The Committee requested comparative information on how local authorities structure their complaints handling functions and LGO guidance on this.
- A discussion be had on how members can contribute to the draft workforce strategy.