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Agenda item

State of the Borough Presentation

To receive the state of the Borough presentation from the Leader of the Council.  

Minutes:

79.1           The Leader of the Council introduced his state of the Borough presentation which set out the Council’s key achievements for 2021/22:

·         Finance and Resources Key Achievements – the budget for 2022/23, despite the financial challenges facing the Council, included the addition of £450,050 of ongoing growth in services and £392,548 of one-off growth to further support services and Council Plan ambitions; Council Tax remained one of the lowest in the country; a saving of £77,000 had been made on the successful completion of the Council’s end-to-end bulky waste review; four new leases were agreed within the commercial property portfolio thereby mitigating any void tenancies – overall annual rental income was £3.2milion; and in its first year, the Business Transformation Team had been recognised nationally by winning bronze at the iESE Public Sector Transformation Awards for the Best Transformation Team and were shortlisted for the Local Government Chronicle (LGC) Team of the Year award.

·         Economic Growth Key Achievements – the shop front grant scheme had successfully launched in September 2021 which was one of the key strands of the £2.1million High Street Heritage Action Zone programme with other strands including the public realm, upper floors scheme, traditional skills and Healings Mill; the Growth Hub had delivered 53 events throughout the year which included one to one events, online business workshops to help support businesses with branding, social media, developing eco-businesses etc; continued to work closely with Gloucestershire County Council to secure transport improvements for the delivery of an all-ways Junction at J10 on the M5; and, in November 2021, the Council worked with partners to celebrate the significance of 2021 for Tewkesbury with one of the key events – Tewkesbury Festival of Light – attracting more than 5,000 attendees.

·         Housing and Communities Key Achievements – a new Housing and Homelessness Strategy 2022-26 had been developed and was ready for adoption at the current Council meeting; consultation on the main modifications Tewkesbury Borough Local Plan had finished in January 2022 with adoption expected in Spring 2022; the Council had continued to work with partners within Tewkesbury and Brockworth through the Integrated Locality Partnership Scheme which looked at community wellbeing and building community resilience to help lead to positive health outcomes; the Council had supported over 300 community groups with funding advice, delivered over 150 affordable homes within the Borough, prevented 137 homelessness cases and provided housing advice to a further 170 cases.

·         Customer First Key Achievements – the Business Transformation team had implemented the new digital platform Liberty Create with over 50 processes being reviewed and improved helping the Council to provide its customers with a significantly enhanced online experience; the bulky waste service had been completely transformed with a new contractor having been appointed and now included a recycling option and the facility to book the service online - income had increased by over 100% and customer wait times had reduced from five/six weeks to less than one week; the Council had implemented a new 4Cs ‘have your say’ framework for customers, was committed to continuous service improvement and had implemented service reviews in key service areas: Development Management, Licensing and One Legal; and a new digital recruitment system had been launched supported with a new recruitment microsite.  In terms of Development Management, this was the most substantial service review the Council had undertaken with a reserve of £80,000 to support delivery plus corporate support – this meant the review was significantly different to others as it was resourced, had a corporate profile, was not siloed and had a ‘whole ‘team’ approach. The project comprised five workstreams looking at performance, structure and resources, procedures and processes, customer focus and engagement and Planning Committee effectiveness. The review had three underlying principles of customer focus, culture and transformation. The Development Management service review was still in its infancy but a monthly update newsletter had already been introduced, a set of objectives was being developed to show what the team wanted the service to look like, customer care training was being set up and a grant had been received from the government for a pilot project to develop a digital planning application tracker. There had also been a significant reduction in the backlog of older applications as well as an uplift in planning decisions/recommendations and early signs of improvement in householder application decisions.

·         Garden Communities Key Achievements – a Communications Officer had been recruited to provide dedicated support to the Garden Town Team; Tewkesbury Borough Council had been working closely with Cheltenham Borough Council and landowners to deliver the Golden Valley Garden Community, with HBD X Factory being selected as its preferred development partner; work had started on producing a sustainable strategy for Tewkesbury Garden Town; and the Council had been working with stakeholders and SEC Newgate (engagement consultants) to prepare and create a community engagement strategy for the Garden Town.

·         Sustainable Environment Key Achievements – the Council had delivered the first year of its climate change and carbon reduction action plan and had recently appointed a Carbon Reduction Programme Officer to further its ambitions; the Garden Waste Club had nearly 20,000 customers enabling them to dispose of garden waste in a sustainable way; the Council had introduced a small Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE) kerbside recycling scheme and had collected over seven tonnes of equipment to date; a Heritage Engagement Officer had been appointed to review a local list of non-designated heritage assets within the Borough; multiple improvements had been carried out to the Grangefield public open space in Bishops Cleeve which had enhanced the biodiversity and natural habitats for wildlife; and £700,000 (external grant funding/internal reserve) had been approved for the solar canopy in the Council Offices car park which would provide 75% of the energy consumed by the Council with the rest exported to the Leisure Centre. In addition, solar powered car parking machines had been installed across the Borough and monitoring and reporting procedures were in place across the Council’s estate. The majority of the pool cars were now electric, an electric/hybrid salary sacrifice scheme was being explored by the Human Resources team, a new tree management policy had been approved, with small amounts of tree planting and biodiversity improvements undertaken on Council owned land, and surveys of all key buildings e.g. Roses Theatre were being undertaken.

·         Our COVID-19 Response – the ongoing work of the business grants team had been phenomenal administering over 18 grant schemes throughout the year resulting in 5,477 individual grants being awarded in excess of £31.6million; measures had been put in place to enable the safe reopening of all the Council’s buildings in line with the government’s roadmap; the Council had awarded a total of £423,600 to residents through the COVID-19 test and trace support scheme; worked with Gloucestershire County Council in delivering the holiday activities fund and providing food vouchers during the summer and winter school holidays - over 2,070 food vouchers were issued; supported various voluntary and community sector groups with COVID-19 small community grants since the scheme started in April 2020, more than £128,499 had been awarded; the Countywide COVID Contain Outbreak Management Fund (COMF) provided £29,000 to help more than 20 households; actively supported the countywide response and recovery to homelessness; the Growth Hub had continued to support business throughout the pandemic with a dedicated ‘survive and thrive’ section on its website which helped provide COVID-19 support; the welcome back fund had been delivered and the reopening of the High Street safely fund had been extended; the successful operational recovery of Tewkesbury Leisure Centre had been supported in partnership with Places Leisure; and Ubico, particularly in relation to waste collection, had continued its excellent work to minimise the number of missed collections across the pandemic period.

·         Looking Forward – the Council would continue to deliver its Council Plan priorities incorporating the ongoing COVID-19 recovery to help support the communities within the Borough; the Business Transformation team would continue to build upon its successes to date and the team’s new priorities would include support to licensing, planning, community safety and trade waste; the challenging financial climate drove a desire to improve further and do more with less – with austerity came innovation and the Council had proven over the years to be good at that; support would be provided for central government policies like Ukrainian refugees and the Council Tax energy rebate scheme; and the Council remained committed to its ethos ‘Better for Customers, Better for Business’ as it wanted to ensure its customers could interact with the Council in a way that worked for them. Delivery of the year two carbon reduction action plan would be a major project including the introduction of carbon reduction champions for each service area supported with carbon literacy training for key members of staff. There would be further improvements made to the Public Services Centre including the potential retrofit of LED lighting, water flow restrictors and reducing the out of hours energy consumption, the installation of EV charging points across Council owned car parks, commencement of the Roses Theatre decarbonisation plans, further improvements to the energy efficiency of the Council’s domestic housing stock and development of a Boroughwide carbon reduction plan to support residents, communities and businesses. The Council aimed to be carbon neutral by 2030.

79.2           During the discussion which ensued, a Member requested an update on the Golden Valley Garden Community and was advised that a session would be provided for all Members in due course. Members thanked Officers for their hard work throughout the pandemic and felt the achievements which had been outlined highlighted the commitment of the Council’s Officers to the Borough. One Member expressed her concerns about the work of the Integrated Local Health Partnership in Brockworth and its lack of meetings and the Chief Executive undertook to speak to the Member outside of the meeting to resolve her concerns. Another Member referred to the recently refreshed and relaunched armed forces covenant which the Council had signed up to and he advised that he had attended a very interesting presentation on the subject which he felt would be useful for all Members to receive so they could learn about the important work the covenant promoted.

79.3           Accordingly, it was

                  RESOLVED          That the state of the Borough presentation be NOTED.