To receive a verbal update from the Deputy Leader.
4.1 Members were reminded that the detailed Commissioning Intentions for the Council this financial year were set out in the papers for Budget Council in February (these can be accessed here).
4.2 Cllr Stowe gave a summary update of each priority within Corporate Resources for the next 12 months:
· Improving customer experience, ensuring contact into the Council was resulting in a solution or answer, rather than just signposting on. This would include benchmarking the current approach against other county councils, setting some common standards, developing consistent process, and providing training to staff. One of the key areas here would be the reporting of highway defects.
· The programme used for Enterprise Resource Planning (the integrated finance, HR, and payment system) was in need of an urgent update, which would include the incorporation of procurement and would ensure a more efficient, joined up internal process.
· Power BI was due to be rolled out across the council. This was a tool used to provide much more powerful and insightful analysis and presentation of service data in areas such as Adult Social Care, Gloucestershire Fire and Rescue Service etc.
· Although Equality, Diversity and Inclusion was in the Leader’s portfolio, it was a key priority across the Council. A self-assessment had recently been completed against the Local Government Association framework, off the back of which officers were currently working to bring forward new equality objectives and an action plan to deliver these. A learning and development programme was currently being rolled out to manager to enable them to develop more inclusive teams and services.
· Legal Services transformation was making good progress via its ‘grow our own’ programme, of which the first cohort of employees would be ready to hold their own caseload by the end of September, and the rollout of a new case management system which would be implemented within the next 6 months.
· Work continued on work force recruitment and retention issues. The Council was aware of the level of competition it faced within its peer group, it needed to make sure it was capable of retraining good staff, but also being successful in recruitment when vacancies arose. Development programmes were in place for key areas which remained a challenge nationally such as social care. The current budget also allocated sufficient funding to continue the offering of apprenticeship schemes across departments.
· Improvements to enable agile working continued, whilst also understanding how to maximise the use of the council’s existing estate. It was shared that the Integrated Care Board had agreed to move into Shire Hall later this year, which was good news for the city centre, and also for partnership working with GCC.
4.3 In terms of the budget amendments passed at Budget Council in February, Members were presented with a document which outlined each amendment in detail and allocated a Lead Cabinet Member and Director to each. This document has been published as a supplement to the original meeting papers.
4.4 Noting that some of the overspend in Children’s Services remained designated against Covid related pressure, it was queried on what criteria this allocation was made and how long it would remain as a separate budget heading. It was advised that it was expected to disappear for the 2024/25 budget and the Cabinet Member shared the concern around ensuring the expenditure had not been allocated under this heading, when it should have formed part of the base budget for the Service. It was reiterated that the Council had approved a fairly exceptional rise for the 2023/24 budget for Children’s Services plus the creation of a separate revenue reserve of £6m should it be needed.
4.5 Members welcomed the update on the ‘grow our own’ programme within legal services. It was suggested that the Council should consider discussions with the district councils about combining legal services across the local authority community. Although acknowledging the county council had specific specialisms, there were some common threads, and it could provide an opportunity for career development across the different specialisms. It was confirmed that there was no specific policy around bringing more council services back ‘in-house’ that were currently outsourced, however legal services was a good example of where the council would benefit from training good quality officers and avoid the need to outsource to temporary, and more expensive, alternatives.
4.6 A member requested a briefing note update on the Equalities, Diversity, and Inclusion agenda.
ACTION: Rob Ayliffe
4.7 There was a discussion about highway defects (potholes), both in relation to customer experience and procurement of contracts. Members felt that the reporting mechanism seemed to work very well, where the customers experience was failing however, was during the repair of defects. They shared experience of the current criteria, and possibly restraints within the current contract, meaning that potholes adjacent to each other were not being filled on the same visit. It was felt that potentially allowing slightly more flexibility in contracts, to for example fill a pothole that was 1mm smaller than the set criteria, would result in an overall better impression of value for money and experience of council services for residents.
4.8 Officers explained that the improvement journey for customer experience covered all aspects of customer contact with the council, including highway defects, and was focusing on ensuring customers received a timely response from the council, regardless of the specific outcome, as well as equality of service (for example, for residents who did not have access to the internet). The work around defect repairs was being dealt with by the Highways Transformation Board and was a separate piece of working being led by the Lead Cabinet Member for Highways.
4.9 On the procurement aspect, Cllr Stowe reiterated that it was very important to have a strategic resource that looked at all contract renewals, tenders, and ongoing management to ensure that, on behalf of the taxpayer, the council was getting good value for money across all departments. He expected the new role of Head of Strategic Procurement, that was currently being recruited to, would bring forward good improvements and deliver genuine savings, without impacting quality of service.
4.10 The Committee welcomed this discussion, alongside improvements made to the presentation of performance data and suggested this be an annual discussion post-budget setting. It was added that the 2023/24 performance data would begin in the summer and officers were working to ensure it highlighted progress of this financial year’s priorities clearly for the Committee, rather than just within that particular quarter. Feedback from members continued to be welcome on any further improvements that would help them better scrutinise council performance against its priorities.
4.11 A member raised concern around the quality of councillor communications in some instances, sharing an example of a particular issue which took the councillor many attempts to try and access information. It was acknowledged that where residents had to escalate issues with elected members, this represented a failure of demand within the council. This was something that would be addressed during the improvements to customer experience.