Agenda and minutes

Scrutiny Commission
Wednesday, 30 October 2019 10.00 am

Venue: Sparkenhoe Committee Room, County Hall, Glenfield

Contact: Mrs R Whitelaw (Tel: 0116 305 2583)  Email: rosemary.whitelaw@leics.gov.uk

Items
No. Item

Webcast.

A webcast of the meeting can be viewed at https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCWFpwBLs6MnUzG0WjejrQtQ

31.

Minutes. pdf icon PDF 159 KB

Minutes:

The minutes of the meeting held on 4 September 2019 were taken as read, confirmed and signed.

 

32.

Question Time.

Minutes:

The following questions, received under Standing Order 35, were put to the Chairman of the Scrutiny Commission:

 

Questions asked by Mrs Sharon Scott

 

With reference to the proposed Stoney Stanton Strategic Development Area (SDA), please can the chairman confirm:

 

  1. That the Stoney Stanton SDA is not in accordance with the Strategic Growth Plan and therefore cannot be pushed down into the local Blaby District plan because the Southern Gateway proposal (covering the area to the west of Stoney Stanton and Sapcote) which was included in the draft plan circulated for public comment was dropped from the final plan following public feedback and a press release was issued to this effect and to do otherwise would result in severe risk to the Council’s reputation?

 

  1. That the Stoney Stanton SDA contravenes Blaby District’s Growth plan, which is to keep distinct areas of separation between the existing villages and to only build new villages away from existing settlements?

 

  1. That the additional housing is not required since Sapcote and Stoney Stanton have already exceeded their forecast housing requirements and alternatives such as brown field sites and higher storey builds in the City of Leicester and its immediate environs have not been fully investigated?

 

  1. That it is not appropriate to consider Hinckley National Rail Freight Interchange (HNRFI) as an employment area and finance for the proposed SDA because the labour requirements of HNRFI do not match the local skillset and will likely result in workers being brought in by bus from as far away as Burton on Trent and Derby, as is currently the case with Magna Park?

 

  1. That it is morally wrong to sell County Council farmland and deprive local farmers of their homes and livelihoods and that the County Council farms must be retained to give young farmers who cannot afford land of their own the opportunity to learn valuable farming skills?

 

  1. That the Council should not use the Council tax of local residents to engage in highly risky and speculative property development proposals such as the proposed Stoney Stanton SDA because the financial and reputational risk to the Council is too great?

 

Reply by the Chairman:

 

1.     The Strategic Growth Plan which focusses on delivering new housing, supporting the economy, identifying key infrastructure (including that brought forward by partner organisations, for example, Midlands Connect, and protecting the environment and built heritage recognises that significant new development cannot be accommodated within the City of Leicester and market towns and villages of Leicestershire without significant investment in infrastructure and services. It proposes:

·         a continued focus on Leicester, our ‘Central City’;  

·         identifying key growth areas, these include the A46 Priority Growth Corridor, the Leicestershire International Gateway (focused around the northern parts of the A42 and the M1), A5 Improvement Corridor, Melton Mowbray (a key centre for regeneration and growth);

·         focusing growth in areas close to existing and future employment clusters and new infrastructure proposals;

·         focusing growth in strategic locations thereby reducing the impact on existing communities;

·         delivering strategic growth areas through the development of new communities / garden villages.

It is for Local Plans to make specific site allocations consistent with the policy framework set out in the SGP but on the basis of the above a development at M69 J2 would, it is considered, be compliant with the SGP.

 

2.     It is intended that there would be an area of separation between the new settlement and the villages of Stoney Stanton and Sapcote similar to that which currently exists between the existing villages. The development would therefore meet the requirements of the Blaby Growth Plan.

 

3.     The County Council is aware of the  ...  view the full minutes text for item 32.

33.

Questions asked by members under Standing Order 7(3) and 7(5).

Minutes:

The Chief Executive reported that no questions had been received under Standing Order 7(3) and 7(5).

 

34.

Urgent Items.

Minutes:

There were no urgent items for consideration.

 

35.

Declarations of interest.

Minutes:

The Chairman invited members who wished to do so to declare any interest in respect of items on the agenda for the meeting.

 

All members of the Commission who were also members of district or parish councils declared a personal interest in the report ‘A Vision for Local Government in Leicestershire’ (minute 38 refers).

 

Dr T Eynon CC declared a personal interest in the Annual Delivery Report and Performance Compendium 2019 (minute 41 refers) as it referred to the Carillon Radio Wellbeing where she was a volunteer.

 

36.

Declarations of the Party Whip in accordance with Overview and Scrutiny Procedure Rule 16.

Minutes:

There were no declarations of the party whip.

 

37.

Presentation of Petitions under Standing Order 36.

Minutes:

The Chief Executive reported that no petitions had been received under Standing Order 36.

38.

A Vision for Local Government in Leicestershire. pdf icon PDF 432 KB

The report considered by the Cabinet on 22 October is attached for the Commission to consider and comment on.  Appendix A has been circulated separately to members of the Commission.

 

Additional documents:

Minutes:

The Commission considered a report which presented the draft strategic business case for the development of a unitary structure for Leicestershire together with findings of the review undertaken by Price Waterhouse Coopers (PwC) of the savings contained in the Financial Options Appraisal. A copy of the business case and PwC review marked ‘Agenda Item 8’ is filed with these minutes.

 

The Chairman welcomed to the meeting the Leader and Deputy Leader and officers who were in attendance to present the report and answer questions.

 

At the invitation of the Chairman, the Leader advised members that it was his view and that of many others that two tier authorities had a limited future. He referred to recent comments made by the Secretary of State for the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government who had indicated that his preferred vision was for unitary councils[1]. In the Queen’s Speech there was a commitment made to the publication of a Devolution White Paper and it was therefore important that the County Council came to a view on this matter so that it was position to respond quickly and positively to any new Government initiation on devolution or local government reform.

 

The Leader referred to the significant financial challenges facing local government and noted that this position was unlikely to improve over the short to medium term. Given this it was important to review the current structure and look to realise the significant efficiencies and savings that would flow from a single unitary structure; savings which could be reinvested in frontline services. With regard to services the Leader pointed out that the current two-tier structure led to confusion amongst members and residents as to where responsibility for delivery lay and this was aptly demonstrated on page 17 of the business case.

 

The Cabinet on 22nd October 2019 had approved the draft strategic business case and was seeking the views of the Scrutiny Commission. The Cabinet would consider the business case further in the light of comments made at its meeting on 22nd November and the intention was to submit a report to the full Council on 4th December to enable the County Council to come to a settled position on the matter. The Leader recognised that there were differing views on the matter including within his own Group and had therefore indicated to his Group Members that there would be a free vote at the Council meeting.

 

The Deputy Leader added that the current draft of the strategic business case was significantly different to the version consulted upon earlier and that the comments and suggestions put forward during the scrutiny process and by the cross party working group had in large part been taken into consideration in the revised version.  He and the Leader thanked members of the Scrutiny Commission for their work to date on this matter.

 

The Chairman opened the matter up for debate and questions. In the ensuing discussion and in response to questions the following points were made:-

 

i)             A letter had been received from all seven Leicestershire MPs opposing the proposals. Whilst noting this, the Leader advised that it was his view that the Council should proceed with the proposal so that there was a settled view on this matter. The letter from the MPs had been marked ‘private and confidential’ and as such it would be necessary to seek their agreement to its release.  It was noted that a copy of the letter had also been sent to the Leaders of the District Councils.

 

ii)            The proposals being put forward were not as  ...  view the full minutes text for item 38.

39.

Consultation on the County Council's Priorities. pdf icon PDF 244 KB

There will be a presentation for this item.

 

Additional documents:

Minutes:

The Commission considered a report of the Director of Corporate Resources which set out the outcome of the recent consultation exercise on the County Council’s priorities and outlined how it would be used to inform decisions taken as part of the refresh of the Medium Term Financial Strategy (MTFS).  The Commission also received a presentation on the matter.  A copy of the report and slides forming the presentation marked ‘Agenda Item 8’ is filed with these minutes.

 

In his introduction to the report, the Director of Corporate Resources explained that despite the positive tone of recent national announcements, the financial outlook for local government was still expected to be challenging.  The funding announcement only covered a one-year period, there was fiscal constraint at a national level and the implementation of the National Living Wage created a significant cost pressure.

 

Arising from questions and discussion, the following points were raised:

 

(i)            The outcome of both the survey and the focus groups showed that respondents were less supportive of further cuts than they had been previously and were therefore more willing to accept measures such as council tax increases.  A member suggested that this might not be the view of the majority of Leicestershire’s residents.

 

(ii)          Statutory services had been included in the consultation as there tended to be some flexibility regarding how they were delivered.  In addition, it was useful to understand the priorities of local residents and be able to reflect them back to central Government.

 

(iii)         It was noted that respondents would welcome greater investment in highways.  The Commission hoped that this view would be taken into account by the Cabinet when refreshing the MTFS.

 

(iv)         The support for reorganising local government was noted, with 81% of respondents agreeing.  It was clarified that 92 people had also chosen to mention specifically their support for a unitary council in the free text box, making it one of the top ten issues mentioned.  This response was in addition to completing the survey and respondents could comment on anything they wished, therefore the number of responses was expected to be smaller.

 

(v)          It was suggested that 4371 was a low number of responses, representing only a small proportion of Leicestershire residents.  More than 7000 people had responded to the previous consultation, undertaken in 2013.  The Director acknowledged that it was more difficult to engage with people, but he was pleased with the level of response.  Advice had been sought from an independent research company who welcomed the response rate for a consultation of this nature.  The Commission was also assured that the survey was just one of a number of different exercises, including the use of deliberative focus groups, that informed the MTFS refresh.  However, a member suggested that a different approach rather than the use of a survey, such as the narrative approach, should have been used.

 

(vi)         The consultation exercise had included meeting with focus groups; this provided a more detailed insight into the view of residents.  Due to the small size of the groups it was difficult to draw conclusions based on demographics, but in general the younger attendants had been more supportive of services for younger people and had promoted the concept of personal accountability.  The older attendants had generally been more concerned with safety and services for older people.  It was confirmed that the focus groups had been carefully recruited to in order to ensure that they were representative with regard to age, sex, disability, social grade, work-status, geographical location and ethnicity.  Different locations had been used throughout the county which were accessible by public transport.  There  ...  view the full minutes text for item 39.

40.

East Midlands Shared Services Performance Update. pdf icon PDF 266 KB

Additional documents:

Minutes:

The Commission considered a report of the Director of Corporate Resources which provided an update on the performance of East Midlands Shared Services (EMSS) and its strategic priorities during 2018-19.  A copy of the report marked ‘Agenda Item 10’ is filed with these minutes.

 

Arising from discussion and questions the following points were raised:

 

(i)            EMSS was based in two different locations because each Council had wanted part of the service on their premises.  Leicestershire County Council was the employer for all staff and the programme was overseen by a joint committee comprising two elected members from each authority.  Responsibility for chairing the meetings rotated every two years.

 

(ii)          There were examples elsewhere in the country of shared services arrangements which had not been successful.  However, a lot of effort had been put into ensuring the success of EMSS.  Strong governance arrangements had helped in this regard; this view was supported by the Head of Audit at Nottingham City Council.

 

(iii)         The Deputy Leader advised that EMSS was looking for opportunities to expand its business, although this was constrained by the corresponding need for capital investment.  The partnership with Nottingham University Hospitals had led to two further commercial opportunities within the NHS.

 

(iv)         Members were pleased to note that four percent of staff in the Employee Service Centre were apprentices and that almost all apprentices had gone on to be appointed in full time roles.  The revise of the scheme to extend it full across the business into the Finance Service Centre was also welcomed.

 

(v)          With regard to debt recovery, it was noted that a pragmatic decision had previously been made, that EMSS did not have the skills to pursue debt.  Work was now being undertaken on a debt strategy, which would differentiate between different types of debt and seek to manage their recovery sensitively.

 

The Chairman concluded by confirming that the Commission was generally supportive of EMSS and welcomed the savings and efficiencies that had been achieved to date.

 

RESOLVED:

That the report be noted.

 

41.

Annual Delivery Report and Performance Compendium 2019. pdf icon PDF 333 KB

Additional documents:

Minutes:

The Commission considered a report of the Chief Executive which presented the draft Annual Delivery Report and Performance Compendium for 2019 and sought the Commission’s views on its content.  A copy of the report marked ‘Agenda Item 11’ is filed with these minutes.

 

Arising from discussion and questions the following points were raised:

 

(i)            The Commission welcomed the report and commented on its usefulness, especially in terms of tracking progress with issues and identifying areas for possible Scrutiny attention.  Having a single overview of key delivery items during the year was particularly helpful and the broadening of the range of information provided on service funding, pressures and risks was felt to provide a more balanced overview of service delivery and performance issues.

 

(ii)          It was noted with concern that 17 percent of local adult social care providers had been rated as requiring improvements by the Care Quality Commission; officers undertook to provide more detail regarding this.  Officers also undertook to provide an explanation of why there was only one hostel to support people at risk of becoming homeless in Leicestershire, to confirm the arrangements for Disabled Facilities Grant funding in future years and to provide the locations of Changing Places toilets in the Oadby and Wigston area.

 

(iii)         It was noted that, if a service user in receipt of social care chose to have a personal budget, they would become the employer of their carer(s) and be required to make national insurance and pension contributions for their employee(s).  It was acknowledged that this could be seen as a disadvantage, however there were a number of benefits to the policy such as greater choice and control over the care received.

 

(iv)         There was continued uncertainty around how the European Regional Development Funds would be replaced following the UK’s exit from the European Union.  It was confirmed that the current funding arrangements would be in place until at least January 2020.  Discussions were taking place at a national level to determine future arrangements.

 

(v)          It was suggested that some of the items in the report, particularly some of the major infrastructure projects, were currently aspirational and did not have delivery plans in place.  There should be greater clarity regarding the status of projects.  This point was acknowledged, although it was explained that the report aimed to cover work that had already been delivered, that which was planned and those major projects that the Council wanted to see delivered. 

 

RESOLVED:

 

(a)  That the comments now made be submitted to the Cabinet for consideration at its meeting on 22 November 2019;

 

(b)  That officers be requested to provide the Commission with information relating to the number of adult social care providers rated as inadequate, services to support people at risk of becoming homeless, arrangements for Disabled Facilities Grant funding and the location of Changing Places toilets in Oadby and Wigston.

42.

Date of next meeting.

The next meeting of the Commission is scheduled to take place on 6 November at 10.00am.

 

 

Minutes:

It was noted that the next meeting of the Commission would be held on 6 November 2019 at 10.00am.