Agenda and minutes

Scrutiny Committee - Wednesday 20 April 2022 7.00 pm

Venue: Council Chamber - Civic Centre. View directions

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No. Item


Apologies for Absence


Apologies for absence were submitted on behalf of Councillors Sacha Gosine and Denzel Reynolds.


In the absence of the Cllr. S Gosine the Vice-Chairman Cllr. Garden assumed the chairmanship of the meeting.


The presence of the Directors of Growth & Community and Housing & Public Protection were noted, together with the Waste & Parks and Community Services Managers, to respond to the items drawn-down on behalf of the Labour & Co-operative Group [items 8 and 9 in the published agenda refer].



Declarations of Interest

To receive declarations of interest from Members including the terms(s) of the Grant of Dispensation (if any) by the Audit Board or the Chief Officer & Director of Corporate Services.


There were no declarations of interest.


Confirmation of the Minutes of the meeting held on 19 October 2021 pdf icon PDF 181 KB




That the minutes of the Committee meeting held on 19 October 2021 be confirmed as an accurate record of those proceedings.


Urgent Items

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


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


To consider references from other Committees (if any)

There are currently no references from other Committees for Members to consider.


There were no references from other Committees for Members to consider.


Regulation 9 Notice (Forward Plan) pdf icon PDF 126 KB

To consider any issues arising from the Regulation 9 Notice [Forward Plan] for the period 15 March 2022 to 31 July 2022.




That Members note the contents of the Forward Plan for the period 15 March 2022 to 31 July 2022.


Draw-Down - Urbaser Update

To receive a verbal update from the Waste & Parks Manager on the current performance of the Council’s Waste Collection contractor Urbaser.


Members received a verbal update from the Waste & Parks Manager (WPM), in response to the draw-down request made by the Labour & Co-operative Group concerning the performance of the Council’s waste and recycling contractor Urbaser.


The WPM informed the Committee that Urbaser was now in the third year of its contract with the Council. The first year of operation had been undertaken in pre-COVID times with satisfactory outcomes achieved across the range of contracted services, but the last two years following the onset of the Pandemic and subsequent periods of Government lockdown measures, had presented Urbaser with significant challenges which, on the whole, the company had met well, with some acknowledged difficulties, in an extraordinary two year period.


Principal difficulties encountered by Urbaser [in common with all companies in the sector], had been a shortage of fuel and HGV drivers, exacerbated by a concerted campaign by Climate Change protesters to block M25 access roads in and around the Dartford area, which at times, had severally impacted vehicle access and egress for the companies large vehicles.


The onset of the Pandemic from February 2020 had also impacted Urbaser in terms of collection crew absences. However, the company had responded well overall displaying a flexible and adaptive response. More agency staff had been employed to cover long-term sickness absences due to COVID, and an HGV driver recruitment and training scheme introduced to meet that continuing need. Urbaser had also introduced pay awards to help retain staff, and agreed standard rates for its job roles to stop staff ‘poaching’ by other companies/local authorities. The company had also introduced increased flexibility between its waste collection and street cleaning staffing roles to cater for absences, and introduced week-end working in an effort to meet all its contractual targets. All of these measures had enabled Urbaser to complete 95% of its collections on schedule, and 99.9% of its overall contracted workload. Given all of the difficulties generated by the Pandemic, and other significant national factors as detailed above, the WPM advised Members that Urbaser had performed well throughout the period of the Pandemic, albeit with some acknowledged difficulties, to which it had adapted with flexibility and overall success.


In response to several specific areas of complaint from Members, in particular from Councillors representing Wards in Swanscombe and Greenhithe, the WPM confirmed the following points:


·       Waste and recycling collections were not undertaken on a Ward basis but by specified routes on designated days;

·       If a collection was ‘missed’ on a designated day (for whatever reason), the crew would return on the next available day, no collections were ‘missed’ as such, but could be ‘delayed’;

·       Garden waste had been subject to delays in recent weeks due to vehicle breakdown, but a new vehicle was now in operation and the backlog in collections being addressed;

·       Urbaser had 4 vehicles which had designated compartments for separate glass collection. The seals on the designated compartments were subjected to particular wear and tear issues and when they failed, glass was collected with all  ...  view the full minutes text for item 30.


Draw-Down - Update on the Council's Equality Report

To receive a verbal update from Officers on the Council’s proposed report on equality as initially raised at GAC on 13 December 2021 [Min. No. 48, Question 2 and published Answer refer].


Members received an initial verbal update from the Community Services Manager, in response to the second draw-down request from the Labour & Co-operative Group.


He reminded Members that the Council’s initial efforts to gauge the level and depth of inequality amongst residents in the Borough had been undertaken through a series of questionnaires posted via the Dartford Healthy Living Centre. That exercise had been repeated on three separate occasions without achieving any meaningful response. Due to the restrictions imposed by the Pandemic and subsequent Government lock-down measures, it was impossible to obtain the necessary face-to-face contact with residents to effectively gauge their responses (including via body language), and properly identify need amongst groups with protected characteristics such as the elderly, and those from minority ethnic backgrounds (BAME). Unfortunately, these were the same groups that had been most impacted by the Pandemic and the hardest to reach on a one-to-one basis as a consequence.


The Council had approached the University of Greenwich to seek an alternative way of carrying out this work. The University had proposed an in-depth study to assess the needs of the nine (9) universally identified protected characteristics in society, and had submitted three proposals ranging from £30K-£70K in price. Officers continued to assess all three proposals to identify where most need lay in terms of re-dressing inequality amongst and within the protected groupings in Dartford. A need for a focus group had been identified to undertake further in-depth assessments of particular need, both within and between identified protected groupings.


The Leader of the Council informed the Committee that no meaningful progress could be made without collaborative and cross-party working. He had appointed Cllr. Oliver as Lead Member for the topic to take matters forward, including via a cross-party Members’ Focus Group under his over-all authority as Leader. Recent changes in the Council’s Senior Management Team had included the appointment of a new Director of Growth & Community with extensive experience in the field. The Leader’s view was that more output was required to identify relevant need within Dartford, which a £70K academic study alone could not wholly address. He advocated increased working from within the Council by both Officers and Members in consultation with residents and their own focus groups, to identify specific needs within the Dartford community across all groups, not just those with protected characteristics.


The Director of Growth & Community supported the Leader in his assessment and proposals for action going forward. She advised that a £70K survey and academic report would only give the Council a one-off snapshot at the question of inequalities within the Dartford community at a given moment. In her experience, what was required was a change in the current delivery of Council services, to re-assess and re-design services to meet identified resident need, and formulate consistency of policy going forward to meet that need as it evolved. Two-way communication between the Council and residents would be essential to check and challenge reports and mooted changes in policy. Looking at the policies and  ...  view the full minutes text for item 31.


Work Programme 2022-23 Municipal Year pdf icon PDF 78 KB

To receive and consider a report and draft Work Plan for 2022-23 [Appendix A to the report].

Additional documents:


In response to a specific question from a Member, the Committee Clerk confirmed that the Committee’s Work Plan was a living document which could be updated throughout the municipal cycle, with topics added either in Committee or via the drawn-down facility, as outlined in the Committee’s Protocol.




1.     That Members note the report and the current Plan was set out in Appendix A to the report.