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Appointment of Vice-Chairman
It was proposed by Councillor E Buckmaster and seconded by Councillor Andrews that Councillor Boylan be appointed Vice-Chairman of the Overview and Scrutiny Committee for the 2023/24 civic year.
After being put to the meeting and a vote taken, the motion was declared LOST.
It was proposed by Councillor Swainston and seconded by Councillor Nicholls, that Councillor Horner be appointed Vice-Chairman of the Overview and Scrutiny Committee for the 2023/24 civic year.
After being put to the meeting and a vote taken, the motion was declared CARRIED.
RESOLVED – that Councillor Horner be appointed Vice-Chairman of the Overview and Scrutiny Committee for the 2023/24 civic year.
To receive apologies for absence.
Apologies for absence were submitted on behalf of Councillors Cox, Horner, McAndrew, Williams and Woollcombe. It was noted that Councillors Burt, Holt, Marlow and Watson were substituting for Councillors Cox, McAndrew, Horner and Williams respectively.
To approve as a correct record the Minutes of the meeting held on 21 March 2023.
The Chairman said that the formal signing of the minutes presented a challenge in that to the best of his knowledge, apart from some Officers, none of the new Committee Members following the District Elections were there. He suggested that the minutes of the 21 March 2023 meeting be agreed at the next meeting in September once he and other Members had watched the meeting to establish their accuracy.
He said that he had always found minutes to have been accurate and this was not a reflection on Officers.
The Chairman made some introductory comments in respect of the role of Overview and Scrutiny and said that the Members of Overview and Scrutiny would set the Committee work programme and go where the evidence took them.
The Chairman talked about the independence of the Scrutiny function and said that the process only worked effectively if Members from all parties had an equal voice. He said that he would be working with Officers to set up a workshop to consider the work programme and to identify training offers. Members noted that this would take place on 27 July 2023.
Declarations of Interest
To receive any Members’ Declarations of Interest.
There were no declarations of interest.
The Executive Member for Environmental Sustainability submitted a report in respect of the outcomes of the Member lead working group between East Herts Council (EHC) and North Herts Council (NHDC) and workshops held for senior managers.
The Executive Member for Environmental Sustainability referred to an undertaking by the Executive in 2022 to outline the governance and corporate support arrangements which would be put in place to support the new waste, recycling and street cleansing contract which would come into force in 2025.
The Executive Member for Environmental Sustainability said that the proposals supported the Council’s goals around digital transformation and ensured that residents received a consistent service across East and North Hertfordshire.
Members were advised that the report was not seeking to make major changes from the existing arrangements and it was proposed that each council would lead on their own customer service provision with minor changes to governance and financial management arrangements.
The Executive Member for Environmental Sustainability said that each council would remain responsible for its own income management and this would be facilitated by the shared client team function. He said that processes and policies will be aligned to support the new contract and minor updates have been made to service policies which would come into force in 2025.
Members were referred to a typographical error in paragraph 3.12 of the report, which should have read 2024 not 2025. The Executive Member for Environmental Sustainability asked that Members receive the report and provide feedback on the proposals identified in section 1 for consideration by the Executive.
Councillor E Buckmaster asked for some clarity around the customer service functions in terms of the preferred approach that had been considered by the working group. He said that he understood the benefits of the preferred approach in terms of management alignment but that each council would function separately in some areas.
The Executive Member for Environmental Sustainability said that economy of scales had been identified in pursuing a joint customer service and there were also disadvantages and these had been detailed in the report.
In response to a comment from the Chairman, Councillor Andrews, the Shared Waste Services Manager detailed the role and set up of the client services team. She talked about the existing service differences and the difficulties this posed in terms of procuring bins and catering for residents who had additional needs. Members were advised of the minor differences in respect of how the customer service teams processed assisted collections.
Councillor Watson asked about software integration and the digital service. He asked how efficiencies could be found and asked about the level of separation that would be required for the two services.
The Executive Member for Environmental Sustainability said that it was his understanding that the two councils would be pursuing independent transformation to accommodate the new contract and would be operating separately.
Councillor Holt referred to a reference in the report to a level of communication between both teams to overcome any challenges of developing an ... view the full minutes text for item 54.
The Executive Member for Financial Sustainability submitted a report inviting Overview and Scrutiny Committee to consider the latest information around the current Council Tax Support (CTS) scheme at East Herts and whether any changes to the scheme should be considered for 2024/25.
The Executive Member for Financial Sustainability said that it was a government requirement that this matter was given annual approval. He said that the recommendation was that the scheme remained unchanged for 2024/25. The scheme was monitored in relation to caseload numbers, changes to universal credit as well as opportunities to maximise automation and efficiencies.
The Executive Member for Financial Sustainability said that a further report would be submitted to Members early in the new fiscal year for the following years’ scheme to take account of changes and bring forward recommendations for change at that time.
Members were advised that the scheme had been the same since 2013 and there were no persuasive arguments to change the Council Tax support scheme for 2024/25 and this had the advantage of ensuring a degree of certainty for residents during a difficult financial period.
The Head of the Revenues and Benefits Shared Service confirmed to Councillor Andrews that this report had traditionally come before Overview and Scrutiny for Members’ views before being submitted to the Executive, and the Executive were due to meet on 11 July 2023. The government requirement was that this matter was then determined by Council each year.
Councillor Watson asked for some clarification regarding bad debts. He referred to the tax burden on the poorest residents. The Head of the Revenues and Benefits Shared Service said that the way the tax base was calculated in terms of where the cost of this benefit sits, was made up of many factors including the overall council tax and the various reliefs that were granted by the council.
The Head of the Revenues and Benefits Shared Service that the Council Tax support cost the council £6.6m as a part of the overall tax base of £135m. She said that Officers looked at the collectability of the debt for those people on council tax support, which equated to just over 5,000 households. She said that Officers worked with people to relieve themselves of debt and Officers also looked at the collectability of all debt.
Councillor Buckmaster said that he referred to a reference in the report that those on universal credit assumed their council tax was included and their debt was building up over time. The Head of the Revenues and Benefits Shared Service set out the ways Officers engaged with residents as early as possible. She said that a small amount of money was available for hardship relief to mitigate periods of arrears for those most in need of help.
The Head of the Revenues and Benefits Shared Service replied to a query from Councillor Clements regarding the factors that were considered when changes were recommended to the scheme for council tax support.
Councillor Nicholls asked about rising interest rates ... view the full minutes text for item 55.
The Scrutiny Officer said that this report was the usual draft work programme and reiterated that the function of Overview and Scrutiny Committee was to be a critical friend and to hold the Executive to account for its decisions and to review existing and new policies
The Scrutiny Officer said that in considering items for scrutiny, Members should have regard to the Executive’s forward plan and Overview and Scrutiny Committee’s terms of reference when setting its own work programme.
Members were advised that a workshop had been arranged for 27 July 2023 with the consent of the Chairman to consider possible items for inclusion in the work programme.
The Scrutiny Officer referred to the Waste Services Policy Statement discussed earlier at the meeting that Members might wish to include in their work programme. She said that it was hoped that by holding a workshop to develop items for scrutiny, Members would be better informed to plan their work taking a longer-term strategic view of the issues facing the council.
The Scrutiny Officer referred to the scrutiny proposal form included in the Agenda which was also available via MicrosoftTEAMs Channel. She referred to the flow chart which showed the initial scoping processes for considering items for scrutiny.
It was proposed by Councillor Redfern and seconded by Councillor Watson, that the Committee Work Programme, as amended, be approved. After being put to the meeting and a vote taken, the motion was declared CARRIED.
RESOLVED – that (A) the main agenda items for the next meeting be agreed; and
(B) the proposed Overview and Scrutiny Committee Work Programme be approved.
To consider such other business as, in the opinion of the Chairman of the meeting, is of sufficient urgency to warrant consideration and is not likely to involve the disclosure of exempt information.
There was no urgent business.