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Council Plan Performance Tracker and COVID-19 Recovery Tracker - Quarter Three 2021/22

To review and scrutinise the performance management and recovery information and, where appropriate, to require response or action from the Executive Committee. 


95.1          The report of the Head of Corporate Services, circulated at Pages No. 31-116, attached the performance management and COVID-19 recovery information for quarter three of 2021/22.  The Overview and Scrutiny Committee was asked to review and scrutinise the information and, where appropriate, identify any issues to refer to the Executive Committee for clarification or further action to be taken.

95.2          Members were advised that this was the third quarterly monitoring report for 2021/22 and represented the latest information in terms of the status of the actions set out in the Council Plan and the Corporate Recovery Plan.  Progress against delivering the objectives and actions for each of the six Council Plan priorities was reported through the performance tracker, attached at Appendix 1 to the report, which was a combined document that also included a set of Key Performance Indicators (KPIs).  In addition, a Corporate COVID-19 Recovery Plan had been established based on the Council Plan priorities, and a recovery plan tracker, attached at Appendix 2 to the report, had been created to monitor progress in delivering those actions and objectives.  Key financial information was also reported alongside the tracker documents with a revenue budget statement attached at Appendix 3 to the report, a capital monitoring statement attached at Appendix 4 to the report and a reserves position summary attached at Appendix 5 to the report.  Key actions for the quarter were highlighted at Paragraph 2.3 of the report and included the new Housing and Homelessness Strategy which had been considered by the Executive Committee the previous week and recommended to Council for approval; approval of the 2022/23 budget by Council in February; progression of the Tewkesbury Borough Plan with a summary of representations received during the public consultation on the main modifications being submitted to the Inspector; successful recruitment of a new Director of Law and a Carbon Reduction Programme Officer; and moving to the second phase of the HR project which was to implement a self-service tool for managers and staff to record information such as annual leave, sickness absence etc.  Members were reminded that, due to the complex nature of the actions being delivered, it was inevitable that some would not progress as smoothly or as quickly as envisaged and the details of those actions were set out at Paragraph 2.4 of the report.   It was noted that, where timescales had slipped, the majority had only done so by a quarter which was positive.  In terms of KPIs, the status of each indicator was set out at Paragraph 3.2 of the report and KPIs where direction of travel was down and/or were not on target, were set out at Paragraph 3.3 of the report – it was noted that the first six were related to planning and enforcement and Members would be aware that a planning improvement plan was in place but changes would not happen overnight so it was important to be patient.

95.3           With regard to the COVID-19 recovery tracker, key activities to bring to Members’ attention were set out at Paragraph 4.2 of the report and included: Tewkesbury Leisure Centre recovering well with no financial support being sought from the Council; fantastic work from the Growth Hub in supporting businesses; and contacting residents in relation to the Winter Food voucher scheme.  Paragraph 4.3 of the report referenced those actions within the tracker which had not progressed as intended and it was pleasing to note there were only three actions listed.  With regard to the launch of a new Tewkesbury Borough business grants scheme, Members were advised that the Council’s scheme had been deferred until March 2022 to avoid any confusion with the launch of the government’s new business grants.  It was noted that the Council Plan was refreshed on an annual basis and it was intended to merge the COVID-19 recovery plan tracker back into the Council Plan performance tracker with a single tracker document being brought to Overview and Scrutiny Committee for consideration from quarter one 2022/23.

95.4           During the debate which ensued, the following queries and comments were made in relation to the Council Plan and Recovery Plan trackers:

Priority: Finance and Resources

P48 – Objective 4 – Action a) Deliver the approved trade waste business case to make the service commercially viable – A Member noted that the target was March 2022 and he asked if this would be achieved by the end of the month.

The Head of Community Services explained that the service would be reviewed and a project plan in place by the end of March 2022 but there would be no change to the service at that point.

Priority: Economic Growth

P50 – Objective 1 – Action a) To deliver an economic assessment of businesses within Tewkesbury Borough – A Member asked whether the target date of June 2022 was realistic if quotes were still being obtained to carry out the assessment in the spring.

The Economic and Community Development Manager explained that Gloucester City Council was leading on the assessment, which would include a business survey and survey of economic data in the borough, and it was hoped the work would be completed within six weeks with the key recommendations being made by June 2022.

Priority: Housing and Communities

P58 – Objective 1 – Action a) Work with partners to undertake the required review of the Joint Core Strategy – A Member noted this had first been due for completion in autumn 2019 and the commentary stated that a revised timetable was expected to be presented to Members in March 2022.  She raised concern that this was a considerable delay and questioned whether the March deadline was achievable.

The Planning Policy Manager confirmed that the revised timetable was being taken to the Executive Committee on 30 March 2022.

P66-68 – KPIs 8-15 – A Member noted there were several new KPIs in relation to housing and she asked when the direction of travel and traffic light icons would be available as it was currently difficult to understand whether performance was good or bad.

The Head of Community Services advised that the KPIs were being reviewed for 2022/23 and would be updated to reflect the new Housing and Homelessness Strategy so he would ensure this was taken into consideration.

P69-70 – KPIs 18, 19 and 21 – Determination of ‘other’ applications and enforcement investigation of Category A and Category C cases – A Member noted these KPIs still had unhappy faces.  She understood that the planning service was being reviewed and asked whether there had actually been any improvement to date.

The Interim Development Manager explained that Officers were working hard to address the backlog of applications and it was hoped that an upturn would be reflected in the figures over the next two months.  He provided assurance that new applications were being dealt with in a timely manner.

A Member pointed out that there had been a dramatic improvement in terms of Category C and Category D cases being investigated within 10 working days during quarter three compared with previous quarters and the 2020/21 outturn which was positive. 

Priority: Customer First

P73 – Objective 2 – Action b) Implement an online offering for the licensing service – A Member noted this had been delayed a number of times - the new target date of December 2022 would be the fifth change - and he questioned whether there was enough resource to deliver by the new date and if there was any scope for it to be done sooner.

The Head of Community Services advised that the current paper-based system was very antiquated and did need to be replaced.  This was being overseen by the Business Transformation team and, whilst he did not think it could be brought forward, he saw no reason why it would not be achieved by the new deadline, in accordance with the project plan which had been agreed. 

The Head of Corporate Services clarified that the project went beyond the implementation of an online service with a complete review of the licensing function being undertaken.  The project contained four workstreams: IT; governance; HR and the team structure; and finance with support for each element being provided by the relevant sections.  He was confident the December deadline would be achieved with the resources backing the project.

P80 – KPI 34 – Average number of sick days per full time equivalent – A Member noted that long term illnesses were increasing once again and she queried whether this was for similar reasons as previously or if it was as a result of COVID.

The Head of Corporate Services confirmed that long term sickness had increased from 292 days to 501 days in quarter three; this was not COVID related but was due to significant long-term illnesses among six to eight members of staff for reasons similar to those which had been reported before.

P81 – KPI 37 – Percentage of formal complaints answered on time – A Member noted there was a downward trend with 80% of formal complaints answered in time during quarter one, 68% in quarter two and 65% in quarter three which was 73% overall against a target of 90%.  He asked whether this was linked to the increased number of sick days and if plans had been put in place to secure improvement.

The Head of Corporate Services confirmed this was a cross-service issue so he did not believe it was connected to sickness absence; however, complaints could be complex and services were under pressure.  The downturn had been discussed by Management Team and improvement was anticipated during quarter four. Top tips for dealing with complaints were communicated to staff, for instance, agreeing an extension of time with the complainant at an early stage if the complaint could not be resolved quickly.  Although the demand on services was recognised, it was important that complaints were being dealt with in a timely manner.

A Member asked whether there was any way to improve the customer experience in relation to general queries as he was aware of residents finding it difficult to get a response from Officers.  In response, the Head of Corporate Services explained there was no system for monitoring every piece of email communication which was received by the Council; however, there were customer service standards in place and he encouraged Members to speak to him if they had any particular issues so he could investigate these further.

Priority: Sustainable Environment

P88 – Objective 3 – Action a) Take a robust approach towards fly-tipping and other enviro-crimes – A Member queried whether consultation on the Public Space Protection Order had commenced at the start of the year as planned.

The Head of Community Services advised that the team had been extremely busy; however, he provided assurance that the consultation was ready to go and would commence shortly. 

COVID-19 Recovery Tracker Priority: Economic Growth

P100 – Action – Recover b) Develop a bid to host a Department of Work and Pensions Youth Hub within the Tewkesbury Growth Hub – A Member asked when the draft bid was due to be submitted and how successful it was likely to be.

The Economic and Community Development Manager confirmed that the bid had been submitted and, whilst it was hoped it would be successful, there were no certainties until funding had been secured.  Initial feedback was anticipated within the next two weeks.

95.5           Turning to the financial information, the Head of Finance and Asset Management was pleased to report a healthy projected outturn surplus of £3,609,348 for the full year against the approved budget.  A large percentage of the surplus had been generated in the last quarter through external funding, notably £1m for the transport modelling for the Joint Core Strategy, which had bolstered the position and would be allocated to specific projects.  The table at Page No. 40, Paragraph 5.2 of the report, highlighted the specific parts which made up the overall position.  The full year projection for employees showed a potential gross surplus of £663,191; however, there was a target to save £155,000 from employment costs across the Council, therefore, the net position was a surplus of £508,191 against target.  Savings had accrued across the majority of service areas including One Legal, Development, Democratic and Corporate Services.  A pay award of 1.75% had now been negotiated between the unions and employers; this was within the reserve that had been set aside which was good news.  Payments to third parties highlighted a £284,732 underspend which was largely due to certain growth items not coming forward in-year as expected e.g. in-cab technology, digital growth within the Business Transformation team and additional support for the Joint Core Strategy – these would be rolled forward at year-end to fund future expenditure within those areas.  In terms of savings, £112,000 had been budgeted for an additional food waste crew which had not been needed this year due to the additional demand being met through overtime and there had also been a significant saving in the Materials Recovery Facility (MRF) gate contract since changing provider; however, this had been offset by other expenditure such as the market supplement for Ubico drivers.  The full year cost in relation to the COVID pandemic was estimated at £442,917 and included the continued work of the business cell, additional costs for the provision of waste and recycling services and the continued support to Tewkesbury Leisure Centre.  Income had recovered well from the impact of COVID with a number of streams back on budget or delivering a small surplus including development management, bulky waste, trade waste and licensing.  Two areas which had not performed as hoped were car parks and Tewkesbury Leisure Centre which would not provide its contract fee during the year.  The income position had been boosted significantly by a £1m grant from the Gloucestershire Economic Growth Joint Committee for transport modelling required for the Joint Core Strategy with grants also received for homeless prevention, delivery of elections and new areas of activity within revenues and benefits.

95.6           The expenditure associated with corporate activities showed an estimated surplus of £1,541,063 for the financial year.  Core government funding was showing a significant surplus as a result of the additional COVID general grant fund of £424,927 and additional new burdens funding had been received for administering business grants and compensation for losses on sales, fees and charges.  The retained business rates position had changed significantly from quarter two due to a multitude of variations within the calculation including the award of further business rates relief, additional Section 31 government grants, clarification of the accounting treatment for reliefs and grants, review of empty property provisions, bad debts and appeals and the impact of significant reductions to Virgin Media assessments.  As a result, the anticipated retention of business rates income now showed a net surplus of approximately £0.8m from the original budget – a surplus release on business rates was not normally expected in-year.  In addition, the Council was a member of the Gloucestershire Business Rates Pool which was able to retain additional business rates within the county and the latest estimate suggested a windfall of circa £500,000 for Tewkesbury.  The surplus on net expenditure and the corporate net expenditure resulted in an overall budget surplus projection of £3.61m, plus a potential further £500,000 from the Gloucestershire Business Rates Pool.

95.7           The capital budget position as at quarter three was attached at Appendix 4 to the report and was currently showing an underspend of £2.2m against the profiled budget of £2.9m.  The capital programme estimated total expenditure for the year to be circa £3.9m which was much reduced on previous years as a result of the end of the acquisition phase of the commercial investment property strategy.  The main elements of this year’s forecast included Ashchurch bridge, vehicle replacement, replacement of the heating system at the Council Offices – although this was no longer going ahead at this stage, the money was now being spent on a solar canopy in the rear car park of the Council Offices - and Disabled Facilities’ Grants (DFGs).  Appendix 5 to the report provided a summary of the current usage of available reserves and showed that £848,040 had been spent to date.

95.8           A Member was surprised that the Council had a Domestic Abuse Service and asked what that covered.  In response, the Head of Community Services clarified that Tewkesbury Borough Council did not have its own service but it did have a duty around providing support and worked in partnership with Gloucestershire County Council on that.  He advised that new burdens funding was being used to fund an Officer jointly for the county and he undertook to circulate the new Domestic Abuse Strategy to Members following the meeting.  A Member drew attention to Appendix 4 which stated that fewer DFGs had been paid out in quarter three than expected and he questioned whether people did not know they were entitled to grant funding.  The Head of Finance and Asset Management advised that over £1m was available for DFGs which was held by Gloucestershire County Council and drawn down by Tewkesbury Borough Council.  The Head of Community Services explained that it was demand driven and DFGs were advertised on the Council’s website but the grants were for very specific purposes and were means tested so people may not be eligible, or the adaptations covered by the grants were not recommended by the Occupational Therapists.  There were approximately 75 applications per year but this seemed to be waning so Officers were working on countywide schemes to ensure the money was spent, for example, a recent project on insulating park homes.  Another Member sought clarification in relation to community grants and was advised that this covered grants which had been awarded under the old community grants scheme but had not been drawn-down; clarification was provided that the scheme was closed for new grants. With regard to Appendix 3 and payments to third parties, a Member noted the fantastic income from development services but he assumed that was partly due to the grant for the Joint Core Strategy transport modelling and questioned whether that was something which still needed to be paid for.  The Head of Finance and Asset Management confirmed that, unfortunately, it was expenditure yet to be incurred and would be held within the balance on behalf of the Joint Core Strategy ready to match off.

95.9           Having considered the information provided, it was

RESOLVED          That the performance management information and COVID-19 recovery information for quarter three of 2021/22 be NOTED.

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