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Report of the Chief Executive
The Committee received notice of the Constitution of the Committee for the 2019/20 Municipal Year.
RESOLVED - That the information be noted.
The Committee is asked to approve as a correct record the minutes of the meeting held on 1 April 2019
RESOLVED – That the minutes of the meeting held on 1 April 2019 be approved as a correct record.
Report of the Chief Executive and Strategic Director, Corporate Services and Governance.
The Committee received a report setting out the Role and Remit and the Terms of Reference of the Committee as previously agreed by Cabinet and Council.
RESOLVED - That the information contained within the report be noted.
Report of the Strategic Director, Corporate Services and Governance.
The Committee were provided with a report which detailed the number of requests for information received by the Council under the provisions of the Freedom of Information Act 2000 between 1 January 2018 to 31 December 2018.
The procedure has three steps, the first of which is ‘providing the information’ requested within the statutory timescale of 20 working days. There is an electronic tracking system which provides a full audit trail of how the request has been handled and provides template response letters which fulfil the statutory requirements of the Act.
The second stage requires the Council to have an internal review process so that, if a requester is dissatisfied, they have an avenue of complaint, which is separate from the corporate complaints process. The review stage involves the requester writing to
the Strategic Director, Corporate Services and Governance within 40 days of
receiving a response, to request an independent review of the matter. The third stage gives the requester a right of appeal to the Information Commissioner if he/she is still dissatisfied, following the internal review.
Of the requests received 90.54% were dealt with within 20-day timescale. This represents an increase of 0.06% in performance on the 2017 figure of 90.48%, this is still high among other councils, Sunderland 98%, Newcastle 84.10% and Redcar and Cleveland, 85.82%.
Over the period 1 January 2018 to 31 December 2018 the number of requests received was 1332, which represents a 17.63% decrease on requests received in the previous year and a 549.76% increase since the implementation of the Act in 2005.
Five requests have been subject to an internal review, in all cases the original decision maker’s decision was upheld. Five requesters have exercised the right of appeal to the information commissioner. The Information Commissioner upheld the Council’s decision to treat one applicant as vexatious. The applicant has now appealed to the First Tier Tribunal. The other four relate to treating the requester as vexatious, the Council is awaiting a decision from the Information Commissioner.
Most requests are now submitted by email, 1328 by email and 4 by letter. Requests for information vary considerably and are difficult to categorise, there have been a lot about preparedness for Brexit, lots from campaigners, some asking for policies and information about how decisions are being made.
In 2018 requests appear to have been made from the press, however, it is not always possible to identify the source of a request as the requester need only give a name and a return address.
Because of reducing resources and in an effort to improve the timeliness of responses and minimise the impact of any increase in requests the following measures have been taken
· Services are now proactively publishing more information online, as information published online is exempt from disclosure under the Act as it is ‘information easily accessible by other means’, all staff have to do is send the requester a link to where they can obtain the information. An example of where this has diminished the ... view the full minutes text for item CR4
Report of the Chief Executive, Strategic Director, Corporate Resources and Strategic Director Corporate Services and Governance
The Committee were provided with a report which provides the year end assessment of performance and delivery for the period 1 October 2018 to 31 March 2019 in relation to the Council’s Thrive agenda.
The information contained with the report provides information to how well the Council is achieving against the strategic approach, Making Gateshead a Place where everyone Thrives. The report has been structured to show how the five pledges are at the front and centre of everything the Council does.
The following areas of performance were highlighted as areas of achievement, challenge and actions:
Performance relating to the speed of processing housing benefit
claims 6.2 days, compared to the previous year’s performance
of 7.5 days. This has primarily been due to the volume
of new claims reducing following the full service roll out of
Universal Credit and improvements in the use of IT.
· In order to support the Council’s role as corporate parents to children and young people who are looked after, the Council has a strategic indicator to achieve a year on year increase in the number of young people leaving care who are supported to have an opportunity in the Council for an apprenticeship. The year-end figure for 2018/19 has reduced from 4 apprenticeships to 2. (In addition there is one apprentice – LAC in the Housing Company) There is the intention to recruit a further 2 LAC apprentices to be based in the Office of the Chief Executive and Care, Wellbeing and Learning directorates. Additionally, the process of recruiting an Apprenticeship Co-ordinator is underway and part of their role will be to explore apprenticeships for LAC and care leavers.
• Performance relating
to council tax collection is slightly down at 95.7% compared to the
previous year of 95.9%.
• For 2018/19 the
indicator relating to business rates collection achieved 98%, which
is 1% above the 2020 target, however this is slightly down on the
previous year’s performance which ended at 98.6%.
• There has been
significant improvement in the Council’s performance
regarding the percentage of undisputed invoices paid on time, up
from 78.9% in 2017/18 to 87.7%.
• The direction of travel continues to be positive in improving Superfast Broadband connectivity, which now stands at 97.5% (up more than 1% from the previous year).
Two new strategic indicators relating to
Trading, will establish a baseline year in respect of:
• The amount of traded
• £ increase in new Services to Schools business generated.
Committee will be aware that due to the
Council’s own budgetary pressures the Council Tax payable by
householders has been increasing over recent years. This has led to
some residents finding it more challenging to pay their council tax
as well as other household bills.
• Performance around Council Tax collection has also been impacted on by the rollout of Universal Credit (UC), which has resulted in UC claimants not fully maximising support while delays in payments to UC claimants from DWP has reduced disposable income to claimants and ... view the full minutes text for item CR5
Report of the Strategic Director, Corporate Services and Governance
The Committee received an update report on the actions taken since the report brought to Committee on 3 December 2018.
Following a review of the Council’s sickness strategies, systems and procedures in 2005, Cabinet requested that the management of sickness absence continue to be scrutinised, with a view to reducing absence levels within the Council’s workforce and improving the health of the workforce.
The statistics quoted relate to a full year for the period 1 April 2018 to 31 March 2019. Some additional information is provide to allow a comparison for the full details.
Average sickness day per FTE for the period 1 April 2018 to 31 March 2019 was 11.38 compared to 12.75 for the period April 2017 to March 2018.
Across the Council as a whole stress, depression and mental ill health accounts for 31.5% of all sickness and remains the largest cause of sickness absence. Post-op recovery and hospital treatment makes up 17.5% and other musculoskeletal conditions account for 17.5%. These three categories remain the main cause of sickness absence.
As part of the North East Better Health at Work Award (NEBHAWA) and the employee Health Needs Assessment survey, three task and finish groups were set up. The groups considered weight management, reducing stress levels, increasing physical activity, improving sleep, getting a better worklife balance and reducing back pain. The groups facilitated several health campaigns such as the ‘step challeng’, Nordic walking and Bewicks health eating options which were promoted in the employee bulleting. There are further activities planned such as taster exercise sessions for domiciliary care staff. There have also been some local success, stories where small teams have participated in weight loss and exercise programmes, with very successful outcomes.
The Council participated in a joint project with UNISON, the objective being to reduce work-related stress to improve wellbeing and to reduce levels of stress-related sickness absence. As part of the project the HSE management standards survey tool was used to seek information mainly within the Care Wellbeing and Learning Group. The key area of concern included the demands placed on employees, the support provided by managers, lack of clarity in respect of individual rols and responsibilities leading to lack of control and the negative impact of organisational change. Action plans continue to be monitored to ensure the agreed timescales are met.
The last OSC report advised that Leisure Services and Occupational Health were working together to explore the introduction of a medical referral service to the Council’s leisure services. This would be on the basis that where Occupational Health identify that there is a need that an employee may benefit from an exercise programme they may be offered an introductory 12 weeks free or discounted GO membership to access leisure facilities. This programme has been implemented and to date 40 employees have been referred, 32 employees took up the offer and 12 have completed the 3 month programme with a further 20 still within their first three months of the programme. All of the ... view the full minutes text for item CR6
Report of the Acting Strategic Director, Communities and Environment
The Committee received the Interim report on the Review of Ways to help increase the support and capacity within the voluntary and community sector (VCS) in Gateshead. The view of the Committee were sought on the proposed recommendations which will be taken to Cabinet.
The Committee held 4 Evidence Gathering Sessions and heard from a range of organisations. The Committee were provided with a summary of Gateshead VCS Infrastructure, and the Council support still available to the sector. The Committee heard that there are 876 organisations registered with the Charity Commission. There are also approximately 750 to 1000 similar organisations operating in Gateshead’s communities. The Council offers significant financial support through grants, contracts and commissions and Non-Domestic Rate relief.
The Chair of Trustees at the Comfrey Project presented to the Committee offering an insight into the work of her charity in Gateshead and how working together with the Council is making a difference to the lives of Gateshead’s refugees and asylum seekers.
The Committee at its second session heard from Brighten Ryton and Dunston Activity Centre.
The Chair of Brighten Ryton informed the Committee of its role in supporting the Council to improve the local environment in Ryton, highlighting examples of work in local cemeteries, parks and improvements for some local heritage sites. The Group has provided almost 9,000 volunteer hours and raised more than £30,000 in its first two years of operation. It aims to expand its scope and increase its impact in future years and highlighted some areas where its efficiency could be enhanced through an improved interface with the Council.
The Chair of Dunston Family Church talked about the Church’s steep learning curve after taking on the responsibility for Dunston Activity Centre (and volunteer library) following a recent Asset Transfer from the Council. The Church through its volunteers and employees aims to improve the well-being of the local community through local activities and the provision the community space. The organisation also had to learn about Governance, due diligence, health and safety, financial and business planning, developing capacity and operating a community café. Whilst the centre is doing well, financial sustainability remains a challenge as the Church always looks to offer services at a lower cost or free.
The next session focussed on presentations from three key local funders (Community Foundation Tyne and Wear and Northumberland), The Ballinger Charitable Trust, and the National Lottery Community Fund). The funders covered:
· What they do and the opportunities they provide
· How they currently support the sector
· What outcomes/priorities they would like to see
· How Gateshead compares regionally/nationally regarding their funding programmes
· How could their impact in Gateshead be increased?
· What can partners (like the Council) do to maximize take up/increase effectiveness of their resources in Gateshead
· What can/should VCS organisations do themselves/collectively to increase take up/effectiveness – highlighting any common failings that restrict local take up.
Some of the key feedback and top tips from the session included:
· Always read the guidance thoroughly before applying – if in doubt get in ... view the full minutes text for item CR7
Report of the Chief Executive and the Strategic Director Corporate Services and Governance
The Committee’s provisional work programme was endorsed by the Committee at its meeting on 1 April 2019. Councillors have agreed that further reports will be brought to future meeting to highlight current issues / identify any changes / additions to the programme.
RESOLVED - (i) that the provisional work programme for 2019/20 be noted.
(ii) that further reports on the work programme will be brought to the Committee to identify any additional issues which the Committee may be asked to consider.