Venue: Council Chamber - Shire Hall, Gloucester. View directions
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To confirm and sign the minutes of the meetings held on 27 September 2023.
The minutes from the meeting held on 9 June 2023 were agreed as a correct record.
Referring to the action table, the following verbal updates were made:
· Cllr Spivey, Action 8 – This action was raised at Adult Social Care and Communities Scrutiny Committee where a full briefing was received on the use of Wotton Lawn and Wheatridge Court facilities from the Executive Director. An item has been scheduled for next summer to look at how GCC was using its own facilities to support the discharge of patients from hospital.
· Rob Ayliffe, Action 9 – The officer saw this action as an opportunity to do a ‘reset’ on the relationship between officers and members. The draft ‘Protocol on Informing Local Members’ had been approved by Corporate Leadership Team and was ready to share with this Committee, before being considered by the Constitution Committee for approval. This would be followed by officer training.
· Rob Ayliffe, Action 10 – It was advised that an ‘Open Day’ would be arranged for Members and Senior Officers to begin to build closer relationships, combined with a tour of Shire Hall, as well as producing a directory of officers to be added to Members Matter.
DECLARATIONS OF INTEREST
Members of the Committee are invited to declare any pecuniary or personal interests relating to specific matters on the agenda.
Please see note (a) at the end of the agenda.
No declarations of interest were received.
To receive an update on formal requests received and responded to by the council in 2022/23.
4.1 The Chair invited Jo Baynes- Kubiak, supported by Rob Ayliffe, to give a brief introduction to this item. The following points were noted:
· The Covid Pandemic had resulted in a significant backlog for Information Management due to many records only being available in paper form within Council offices, which were not accessible during various lockdowns. This had taken officers in the team a long and concerted effort to clear, whilst also undergoing an audit inspection and implementing resulting improvement actions.
· This report demonstrated that efforts had paid off and the team were now in a much better position. In addition, there had been a significant improvement in culture over this time, seeing less challenge on the advice given to release requested information.
· During this reporting period, Freedom of Information (FOI) request response had reached 90% which was the national target.
· The topics most requested were around Highways and the team had therefore worked closely with colleagues to increase transparency on Highways information and therefore move towards removing the need for an FOI to be submitted.
· 80% of Subject Access Requests received were in relation to information held by Children’s Services.
4.2 Noting the comment about highways being the most requested topic, it was hoped that the measures being introduced via the Highways Transformation Programme such as the ‘Fix my Street’ app, would help towards more information being publicly available, and therefore avoid the need for an FOI. As mentioned above, where the team noticed patterns, they would actively work with the department to encourage more publication of information. A member suggested that it would be useful to have more information available on road resurfacing schemes.
4.3 The officer advised that they had issued two recent vexatious request warnings due to the volume of requests received and the language used. One of the warnings had resulted in the individual stopping contact and the other had been referred to the Information Commissioner's Office by the requester.
4.4 It was noted that up to date comparative data in terms of the number of requests compared to similar authorities was not available, but it was understood that the high number of requests received were largely due to the large number of services GCC provided as an authority. There was also a lot from companies who were seeking marketing information or trying to access details on a up and coming contracts before details were made public. In these incidents, a lot of the information would already be available on the website so a ‘Section 21’ response would be used to signpost the requester.
4.5 The FOI Act also had an exemption which stated officers can refuse requests that would require more than 18 hours of research. At this point the team would either refuse the request, ask the requester to refine the scope to reduce the time needed or the option was given to pay a fee for the additional research to be undertaken.
To consider the attached reports:
1. Finance, Performance and Risk Monitoring Report
2. Strategic overview of Council performance for Quarter 2 2023/24
3. Corporate Strategic Risk Monitoring report for Quarter 2 2023/24
5.1 The Chair first invited Paul Blacker to give a brief summary of the first report, on Finance, Performance and Risk Monitoring. The following points were noted:
· The revenue overspend was £1.4m which represented 0.25% of the entire Council revenue budget. Within this overspend, there were some significant variations with Children and Families being £7.8m overspent, which was largely driven by the demand for external placements both in the volume and unit cost. Fortunately, this had been offset by an underspend within Economy, Environment & Infrastructure of £5.1m, largely due to higher energy sales from the Energy from Waste plant and £2.7m within Technical and Countywide budgets due to higher interest rates on cash balances.
· Excluded from this was the forecasted deficit within the Dedicated Schools Grant (DSG) of £45m. Members were aware that this was an ongoing national issue which officers were actively working with the Department of Education to help tackle.
· For capital, there was a small underspend but no significant issues present. All the forecasted capital projects for this financial year would be delivered.
· The budget consultation for 2024/25 was due to go live on 7th December 2023.
5.2 A member raised concern over the level of savings required from Adult Social Care, recognising this was already a very pressured service. It was advised that the department were currently undertaking a full review of their savings programme to assess feasibility and where savings had not been achieved, looking at alternative options.
ACTION: Paul Blacker – provide a summary briefing note of this review
5.3 Referencing the continued overspend within Children’s Services, a member asked about the budget amendment allocation which was passed at February Council to allocate one-off funding towards a spend to save review for the service. It was advised that this work was underway and will draw on Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy (CIPFA) benchmarking information, statistical neighbour analyses and the features of those counties judged good or better in their delivery of children’s services.
5.4 A member asked for an update on the DSG deficit position. It was advised that, as referenced in the report, there was currently a Statutory Order in place until March 2026 which allowed local authorities to hold this as a ring-fenced deficit. If there was no extension to this date by Government. If no further extension is offered, Gloucestershire (and all other local authorities) would be in a position of having to repay this deficit in March 2026. Discussions were ongoing as to whether the Statutory Order would be extended, but equally it was recognised HM Government needs to provide that a long-term solution to this national issue.
5.5 It was questioned whether overspends on revenue budgets would have an impact on the delivery of outstanding capital programmes. Members noted that this was not the case, and many capital programmes were focused on improving efficiencies and in turn potentially delivering revenue savings for their associated departments.
5.6 A member asked if there were holding costs arising from ... view the full minutes text for item 5.
To consider an update on the Council’s IT Improvement Plan.
6.1 Mandy Quayle, supported by Sherril Holder, Assistant Director of Digital & ICT, and John Deane, Head of Strategy and Architecture, updated members on the IT Improvement Plan. The PowerPoint was noted, and the following points were highlighted:
· The improvement journey, two years since exiting with the previous provider, had reached a point where there was a much more predictable and understood position on IT infrastructure and the Director wanted to recognise the huge amount of work put in by the teams to reach this point.
· On the other hand, officers did not underestimate the amount of work still to come and this was recognised by the recent Council Peer Review as well.
· Improving the experience for staff was equally about the stability of the infrastructure and equipment as it was about understanding and having the skills to use it effectively.
· Priority 1 incidents had increased in the last quarter and were currently too high, but it was recognised these incidents were not related to the modernised infrastructure, but to applications that were yet to be upgraded. All of them had also been resolved within the 4-hour target which gave confidence that these incidents were being managed much better.
· The team were pleased with the completion of moving Corporate Mobile Phones and BYOD to Microsoft 365 as well as the establishment of the Digital Hub already mentioned today.
· Work was ongoing to try and stabilise the Wi-Fi networks and changing the telephony system to move to MS Teams for external voice calls.
· There was also a key piece of replanning work around the One Programme implementation to ensure the Council ended up with fit for purpose software that was implemented in the correct way. There had been a number of high-profile examples of this going badly wrong for other local authorities, so GCC was proceeding with appropriate caution.
· The team were keen to continue to offer member training and have conversations on the best way to make this accessible for members.
6.2 A member suggested a future item for the Committee should be looking at lessons learnt from the whole process, starting back from when the old IT contract was in place and identifying improvements to apply in future projects. Officers confirmed a similar piece of work was ongoing which was leading into looking at what the next phase of the improvement journey looked like.
6.3 There was a suggestion that it would be useful for all members and staff to be briefed on the potential future use of Artificial Intelligence in Council services. Officers advised that they were currently working with Microsoft to scope something of this nature and would keep members informed on its development.
ACTION: Sherrill Holder
To review the committee work plan and suggest items for consideration at future meetings.
Forthcoming Executive Decision List
Members were advised that the next meeting would be Budget Scrutiny in January and a meeting structure for the day was for noting at Item 10 of today’s agenda.
The following items were requested for future consideration:
EXCLUSION OF THE PRESS AND PUBLIC
That under Section 100A(4) of the Local Government Act 1972, the press and public be excluded from the meeting during consideration of the following item of business on the grounds that there would be a likely disclosure of exempt information as defined in Paragraph 1 of Part 1 of Schedule 12A of the Local Government Act 1972, and that the public interest in withholding the information outweighs the public interest in disclosing the information to the public.
The Committee resolved that under Section 100A(4) of the Local Government Act 1972, the press and public be excluded from the meeting during consideration of the following item of business on the grounds that there would be a likely disclosure of exempt information as defined in Paragraph 1 of Part 1 of Schedule 12A of the Local Government Act 1972, and that the public interest in withholding the information outweighs the public interest in disclosing the information to the public.