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Agenda and minutes

Scrutiny Committee
Tuesday 6 February 2018 7.00 pm

Venue: Room B12, Civic Centre, Home Gardens, Dartford, Kent, DA1 1DR

Contact: Email: memberservices@dartford.gov.uk 

Items
No. Item

32.

Apologies for Absence

Minutes:

Apologies for absence were submitted on behalf of Councillors; A Bardoe, J Burrell, P Cutler and T A Maddison (Substitute Cllr. J Jones).

 

The Chairman welcomed Councillor J A Kite MBE Leader of the Council to the meeting and his fellow Cabinet Members; Cllr. P F Coleman (Housing), Cllr. K M Kelly (Transport & Infrastructure), Cllr. A Lloyd (Finance & Major Capital Projects) and Cllr. Mrs. P A Thurlow (Events, Leisure & Heritage).

 

The presence of the Strategic Director (Internal Services), the Head of Housing Services and the Housing Maintenance Manager was noted and welcomed by Members.

 

The Chairman confirmed that as previously agreed by Members, the Orchard Theatre Director had not been required to appear before the Committee to present the Orchard Theatre Annual Report and Accounts 2016/17 documents [Item 12 pages 93-146]. The item would be considered on the papers presented and similarly going forward, subject to Members’ continued agreement.  

 

Members received as a tabled document, an updated Regulation 9 Notice covering the period up to 31 May 2018 published on 2 February (Item 7).

 

33.

Declarations of Interest

To receive any declarations of interest from Members including the terms(s) of any Grant(s) of Dispensation.

Minutes:

There were no declarations of interest.

 

 

34.

Confirmation of the Minutes of the meeting held on 14 November 2017 pdf icon PDF 118 KB

Minutes:

Through the Chairman, the Cabinet Portfolio Holder for Events, Leisure & Heritage sought clarification over Min. No. 30 – Dartford Festival 2017.  Specifically the Chairman’s recoded statement [penultimate para. agenda p.8] which noted a ‘decrease in stall holders and increase in sponsorship’. The Cabinet Member could not recall the Chairman making this statement on 14 November 2017.

 

The Chairman advised that he did recall making the statement [drawn from his understanding of the report presented to the Committee] but undertook to consult his notes and confer with the Committee Co-ordinator as necessary.

 

The Committee Co-ordinator confirmed that he recalled the Chairman making the statement and that the Minutes were designed to reflect the welcome trend of the increasing numbers of stall holders becoming financial sponsors of the Festival.

 

The Cabinet Member asked that it be noted for the record that the number of stall holders at the Dartford Festival had not decreased in 2017 and that there was in fact a waiting list for stall holder slots.

 

With these clarifications Members RESOLVED:

 

1.    That the Minutes of the meeting held on 14 November 2017 be confirmed.

 

35.

Urgent Items

The Chairman will announce his decision as to whether there are any urgent items and their position on the agenda.

Minutes:

The Chairman announced that there were no urgent items for consideration.

 

 

36.

To consider references from other Committees (if any)

There are presently no references from Other Committees for Members to consider.

Minutes:

There were no references from other Committees.

 

37.

Regulation 9 Notice pdf icon PDF 63 KB

To note the contents of the Regulation 9 Notice for the period 15 January 2018 to 31 May 2018.

Minutes:

Members received as a tabled document, an updated Regulation 9 Notice published on 2 February 2018.

 

Additional items detailed as key decisions for consideration by Cabinet on 8 March 2018 were; Refuse Collection and Street Cleaning Contract, Howbury Strategic Rail Freight Interchange and Housing Benefit Overpayment Write-offs

 

 

RESOLVED:

 

1.    That the contents of the updated Regulation 9 covering the period 2 February 2018 to 31 May 2018 Notice tabled for Members consideration be noted.

 

38.

Homelessness Review 2017 [Draw-Down] pdf icon PDF 61 KB

To consider the report and enclosures presented to Cabinet on 7 December 2017 and comment accordingly.

Additional documents:

Minutes:

Members considered on a draw-down basis, the report presented to Cabinet on 7 December 2017 which enclosed for approval the Council’s Homelessness Review 2017 (Appendix A to the report); being the first stage in developing Dartford’s wider Homelessness Strategy in 2018.

 

At the invitation of the Chairman, the Cabinet Portfolio Holder for Housing and the Leader of the Council responded jointly on behalf of the Administration.

 

The Cabinet Portfolio Holder advised Members that the Council’s Homelessness Review 2017 formed part of the analysis for, and would provide a major building block towards, the formulation of the Council’s Homelessness Strategy for 2018. The other key element in formulating the Council’s 2018 Strategy was the Homeless Reduction Act 2017 [in force from 2 April 2018]. The requirements of the 2017 Act would impose significant new burdens and financial obligations on Dartford and all local authorities. The Council’s Homelessness Strategy 2018 would reflect those realities and be defined by the main findings of the 2017 Review, as summarised in paras 3.5 to 3.15 of the covering report [Agenda pages 15/17].

 

A Member noted that data from Porchlight had registered a 37% increase in homelessness in Dartford and that figures published by Shelter recorded Dartford as having the highest number of homeless in a Kent borough. He asked whether the Council’s Homelessness Strategy 2018 would not just target ‘rough sleepers’ but also the ‘hidden homeless’ in Dartford, a category which was universally accepted as far out-numbering ‘rough sleepers’ in any given urban environment.

 

The Cabinet Portfolio Holder confirmed that Homelessness was a Cabinet priority, with ‘rough sleepers’ an especial priority, but that the Council’s Homelessness Strategy 2018 would address all aspects of homelessness as required under the 2017 Act. In response to a related follow-up question, the Leader confirmed that the Council’s 2018 Strategy, whilst focussing on the outcomes of the 2017 Review, would have a wider remit.

 

In further response to the Member, the Leader of the Council advised that the accuracy of the Porchlight and Shelter data for Homelessness in Dartford was problematical. The Council had no relationship with Shelter but did liaise with Porchlight, but the data published by both organisations was not recognised as accurate by Cabinet. In recent Council discussions with Porchlight their representative had also expressed doubts over the accuracy of the data for Dartford. The Council gave priority to Dartford residents assessed as ‘homeless’ but Shelter had a different interpretation of the ‘homeless’ figure for the Borough, and included both Dartford residents and those homeless families transferred to Dartford by London authorities for accommodation. This amounted to ‘double counting’ in the Council’s view and distorted the true picture of Homelessness in the Borough. He added that Porchlight were on record as praising the Council’s work regarding Homelessness in the Borough.

 

Another Member expressed particular concern over the loss of tied or rented accommodation in the private sector in Dartford, due to the termination of assured shorthold tenancies (ASTs) which had been  ...  view the full minutes text for item 38.

39.

CORPORATE PLAN: KEY ACTIONS and PERFORMANCE INDICATORS MONITORING REPORT - SECTION 5 HOUSING & STRONGER COMMUNITIES [Draw-Down] pdf icon PDF 84 KB

This report updates and provides further background to the report and Appendix B submitted to Cabinet on 7 December 2017.

 

Additional documents:

Minutes:

The report from the Head of Housing Services, provided Members with the background to the Housing Performance Indicator (PI) for ‘Percentage of Repairs Completed on Time’ - as detailed in Appendix B to the report to Cabinet dated 7 December 2017. The PI had been drawn-down by the Committee for scrutiny given a failure to meet target for 6 (six) consecutive Quarters.

 

The Chairman opened the topic for Members to pose questions to Cabinet Members in attendance.

 

A Member questioned, given the current volumes of repair work, why the Council continued to set targets that on the evidence of the past 6 (six) consecutive Quarters the Contractor was clearly unable to meet. He estimated the [combined] shortfall from target as some 400% over the 18 month period in question. He asked why such a sustained shortfall in performance had been allowed to [continue] to occur.

 

The Portfolio Holder for Housing gave an initial response on behalf of Cabinet.  He advised Members that bi-monthly meetings were held with the Contractor to discuss problems and that the Contractor was an improvement on the previous Council contractor. Completion of emergency repairs remained good at 99% but a combination of adverse weather and resident absence [when the Contractor’s workmen called] had been significant factors in ‘pushing back’ completion times for non-urgent repairs. It was important to keep targets realistic but ‘stretching’ for the Contractor.

 

The Member maintained his doubts over current target levels, given the record of failure over 6 consecutive Quarters and suggested that such a consistent failure to meet targets set suggested a need to drive innovation in the Contractor’s current working practices.

 

The Leader advised that the current targets were good and realistic and had continued to be approved by tenant and leaseholder representatives at the Council’s Resident Involvement Joint Liaison Group (RIJLG) meetings throughout the period under review. Tenant representatives on the RIJLG understood the need for the Council and the Contractor to switch resources to meet unforeseen eventualities such as severe unforeseen weather. There may be a case for re-calibrating some targets to improve the urgent/non-urgent repair target relationship and this would be kept under review by the Housing Team. However, the main objective for the Council was tenant satisfaction. This continued to be achieved, as confirmed by tenant representatives in their regular meetings with the Leader, Portfolio holder and the Head of Housing Services and his Team. The Council’s repairs service and operation was far better than a tenant could expect from a private sector landlord, or the average property owner could afford to spend on their property.

 

The Head of Housing Services advised Members that he and his Housing Maintenance Manager took the Contractor’s failure to meet the target for non-urgent repairs over the previous 6 Quarters personally. In a sustained effort to get the Contractor’s performance for non-urgent repairs back on target, the Housing Team constantly reviewed and monitored the Contractor’s performance. That analysis by the Housing Team showed that the Contractor could probably benefit  ...  view the full minutes text for item 39.

40.

Identified Initiatives Reserve 2017-18 [Draw-Down] pdf icon PDF 53 KB

This report updates Committee Members on expenditure to date from the Identified Initiatives Reserve 2017-18 prior to presentation of that expenditure to the General Assembly of the Council, at their Budget meeting due to be held on 26 February 2018.

Additional documents:

Minutes:

The report from the Financial Services Manager detailed expenditure from the Identified Initiatives Reserve (IIR) for the 207-18 financial cycle to date (attached as Appendix A to the report) as requested by the Chairman of Scrutiny, prior to submission of the budget to the General Assembly of the Council (Budget) meeting on 26 February 2018.

 

The report informed Members that identified expenditure from the IIR is initially approved by the Managing Director, and subsequently approved in detail directly by relevant Directors and Senior Managers as set out in Appendix A.

 

Areas of expenditure approved for payment from IIR monies in the 2017/18 financial cycle to date included:

 

·         Community Grants for local organisations reviewed by the Leader/Deputy Leader of the Council and approved by the Managing Director;

·         Events managed by the Policy & Performance Team including the Steam Rally, St. George’s Day, Santa’s House and the Carol Concert;

·         Feasibility Studies – primarily for the Stone Lodge site in 2017;

·         Salute to Youth – awards programme for uniformed groups in Dartford reviewed by the Leader and Deputy Leader and approved by the Managing Director;

·         Planning Local Development Framework – periodic work not in the local budget for necessary consultancy support to refresh Dartford’s Local Plan;

·         Town Centre Promotions, initiatives and works as agreed, to support the town centre in support of the Capital Schemes Redevelopment Programme;

·         Town Centre Wi-Fi – continued funding of this public provision.

 

 

The Leader confirmed the following points in response to individual questions from Members:

 

·         The Leader and other Cabinet Members call down funds from the IIR for spending within their portfolio responsibilities, under the overall guidance of the Managing Director who ensured good governance and probity and consistency of expenditure throughout each annual spending cycle ;

·         Ordinary Members could call on the IIR for monies providing the proposed expenditure conformed with the Council’s priorities and objectives;

·         Local events were funded from the IIR [rather than a dedicated Events Budget] given their irregular nature e.g. 1914 and 1918 anniversary celebrations for WWI and the most recent celebration of the Suffragette movement: contingency use of the IIR gave vital fiscal flexibility for such one-off celebratory events;

·         IIR funding of more regular Council events e.g. Carol Concert, Santa’s House also made sense in terms of flexibility given that formats might change or demand lessen;

·         Some recurring Grants were financed from the IIR [rather than the Grants Budget] when flexibility was required or awards were made subject to the decision of a Panel. All such spending proposals/awards, including those proposed by the Leader and Deputy Leader were monitored by the Managing Director to ensure consistency, probity and good governance.

 

A Member asked when the Council’s Audit Board had last examined the workings of the IIR.

 

The Cabinet Portfolio Holder for Strategic Council Finances advised Members that the IIR was subject per se to scrutiny by the Council’s External Auditor Grant Thornton UK, the Council’s Internal Audit team, and independently by the Audit Board via  the standard agenda item for ‘  ...  view the full minutes text for item 40.

41.

Council Events 2017 [Draw-Down] pdf icon PDF 73 KB

This report updates the Committee on events held in the Borough during 2017 either directly provided by the Council or with Council support, other than the Dartford Festival.

 

 

Minutes:

The report from the Policy and Corporate Support Manager updated Members on events held in the Borough during 2017 (other than the Dartford Festival) which the Council had provided directly, or had been provided by others with support from the Council.

 

The Chairman proposed and Members agreed that the Vice-Chairman assume the Chairmanship for discussion of this item, drawn-down on behalf of his political Group.

 

The Acting Chairman thanked Officers for an excellent report and the Cabinet Portfolio Holder for her efforts on behalf of the Council and the residents of Dartford through-out the period under review. He asked:

 

(i)            Who was responsible for the overall scheduling and co-ordination of the Council run and/or sponsored events;

 

(ii)          Was there a link on the Council’s public website for the events to be included in the Council’s ‘Calendar of Events’;

 

(iii)         Who made the artistic decisions on bands for the Festival and Plays and Films to be shown in Central Park.

 

 

 The Leader of the Council responded on behalf of Cabinet. He advised that:

 

(i)            The co-ordination of the Council sponsored events was undertaken by the Parks and Town Centre Managers via a co-ordinated diaries and booking system, aided by the Projects & Events Officer in the Corporate Policy team;

 

(ii)          The Council events ‘sold themselves’ and did not require marketing, but promotion through the ‘Calendar of Events’ posted on the Council’s website would be considered;

 

(iii)         Ultimately the Council decides which acts will feature in the Dartford Festival and which plays are performed and films shown in Central Park, but seek views via social media for past performances and future content aiming at a spread of action-based, family and participatory productions.

 

He added that The Orchard Theatre had their own menu of productions including using local acts with a combination of HQ Theatres Ltd and the Council making the final choices.

 

A Member asked why the events were almost entirely located in the Town Centre.

 

The Cabinet Portfolio Holder for Events, Leisure & Heritage advised that access to the events was key and the Town Centre provided that with parking. Summer Sizzler events were held in the Parishes but residents liked the Town Centre and Central Park which drew significant numbers to the Bandstand concerts held on Sundays.

 

The Leader advised that whilst the majority of events were located in the Town Centre, they had a Borough-wide impact and appeal e.g. the St. George’s Day Parade and the Festival of Light. Parking in the Parishes was generally poor although Swanscombe & Greenhithe Town Council ran their own Carol Concerts and Cinema programme. Events in the Town Centre were free, in a central venue and promoted community inclusiveness.

 

In response to further questions regarding how the Council’s present schedule of events met Corporate Plan Objectives, stimulated Town Centre Regeneration and might be expanded from its present season theme base, the Leader of Council gave the following response.

 

Businesses in the Town Centre benefited enormously from the added footfall provided by the events and had  ...  view the full minutes text for item 41.

42.

Orchard Theatre Annual Report and Accounts 2016/17 [Work Plan] pdf icon PDF 59 KB

To consider the Theatre Director’s annual report for the year ended 31 March 2017 together with the Theatre’s published Accounts for the corresponding period.

Additional documents:

Minutes:

The covering report from the Leisure and Communities Officer presented for scrutiny by the Committee, the Annual Report and Accounts for the Orchard Theatre Dartford for the year ended 31 March 2017 from the management company HQ Theatres Ltd (attached as appendices B and C to the report). The Monitoring Schedule attached as Appendix A to the report, set out how the Council had monitored the provision of services provided by HQ Theatres Ltd in the period under review.

 

The Chairman reminded Members that as previously agreed, going forward, the Orchard Theatre Director Chris Glover would no longer be required to appear before the Committee and that the Annual Report and Accounts for The Orchard would be scrutinised by the Committee on the papers presented in the Agenda.

 

In response to a question from the Vice-Chairman, the Leader of the Council advised that in addition to The Orchard Theatre, Mr Glover also managed HQ Theatres’ Ltd. operation in Bromley where he was now primarily based. H Q Theatres Ltd now regarded The Orchard Theatre as a success story and a demonstration of the company’s ability to ‘turn-around’ a failing operation. Mr Glover’s move to Bromley was a career development within HQ Theatres Ltd, much as his predecessor at The Orchard had gone on to manage The Dublin Opera House.

 

Mr Glover’s day-to-day duties at The Orchard were undertaken by the Deputy Theatre Director based in Dartford.

 

                        RESOLVED:

 

1.    That Members note the Annual Report and Accounts 2016/17 for The Orchard Theatre, Dartford as presented in Appendices B and C to the report respectively;

 

43.

Review 2017-18 Work Plan pdf icon PDF 47 KB

To consider the 2017-18 Work Plan Update document attached as Appendix A to the report.

 

.

Additional documents:

Minutes:

The report from the Committee Co-ordinator asked Members to agree the contents of the Updated Work Plan 2017-18 document attached as Appendix A to the report.

 

Members’ proposed two further topics for scrutiny by the Committee in due course, subject to the deadlines of the draw-down process:

 

(i)            Go live date for roll-out of Universal Credit in the Borough’ – arising from Member discussion of agenda item 8 – ‘Homelessness Review 2017-18 [Min. No. 38 refers];

 

(ii)          Use of Council Funds – arising from Member discussion of agenda item 8 – ‘Homelessness Review 2017-18 [Min. No. 38 refers].

 

 

RESOLVED:

 

1.    That Members note the contents of the Updated Work Plan attached as Appendix A to the report;

 

2.    That the draw-down proposals noted at (i) and (ii) above be advised to Member Services by the Chairman and Vice-Chairman respectively for their political Groups within the specified deadlines, for approval by the Managing Director.