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(Corporate Communications Manager) This virtual meeting is to be webcast, and Members are reminded of the need to unmute before speaking. The Chairman will read the following announcement:
“I would like to remind everyone present that this meeting will be broadcast live to the internet (or filmed) and will be capable of repeated viewing (or another use by such third parties).
Please also be aware that if technical difficulties interrupt the meeting that cannot be overcome, I may need to adjourn the meeting.”
The Chairman reminded everyone present that this virtual meeting would be broadcast live to the Internet, and that the Council had adopted a protocol for the management and webcasting of its virtual meetings.
(Democratic & Electoral Services Manager) To report the appointment of any substitute members for the meeting.
The Committee noted that there had been no substitute Members appointed for this meeting.
(Democratic & Electoral Services Manager) To confirm the minutes of the meeting of the Committee held on 28 January 2020 (as attached).
(1) That the minutes of the meeting held on 28 January 2020 be taken as read and signed by the Chairman as a correct record.
DECLARATIONS OF INTEREST
(Monitoring Officer) To declare interests in any item on the agenda.
In considering whether to declare a pecuniary or a non-pecuniary interest under the Council’s Code of Conduct, Members are requested to pay particular attention to paragraph (11) of the Code in addition to the more familiar requirements.
This requires the declaration of a non-pecuniary interest in any matter before Overview & Scrutiny which relates to a decision of or action by another Committee or Sub-Committee of the Council, a Joint Committee or Joint Sub-Committee in which the Council is involved and of which the Councillor is also a Member.
Paragraph (11) of the Code of Conduct does not refer to Cabinet decisions or attendance at an Overview & Scrutiny meeting purely for the purpose of answering questions or providing information on such a matter.
There were no declarations of interest pursuant to the Council’s Code of Member Conduct.
Public Questions & Requests to Address the Overview and Scrutiny Committee
(Democratic & Electoral Services Manager) To receive questions submitted by members of the public and any requests to address the Committee, in accordance with Article 6 (Overview and Scrutiny) of the Council’s Constitution.
(a) Public Questions
Members of the public may ask questions of the Chairman of Overview and Scrutiny Committee at ordinary meetings of the Committee, in accordance with the procedure set out in the Constitution.
(b) Requests to address the Overview and Scrutiny Committee
Any member of the public or a representative of another organisation may address the Overview and Scrutiny Committee on any agenda item (except those dealt with in private session as exempt or confidential business), due to be considered at the meeting.
The Committee noted that no public questions or requests to address the meeting had been received.
Executive Decisions - Call-In
(Democratic & Electoral Services Manager) To consider any matter referred to the Committee for decision in relation to a call-in, in accordance with Article 6 (Overview and Scrutiny) of the Council’s Constitution.
The Committee noted that no executive decisions had been called-in for consideration since the previous meeting.
(Democratic & Electoral Services Manager) Progress towards the achievement of the Work Programme for the Overview and Scrutiny Committee is reviewed at each meeting.
(a) Current Work Programme
The current Work Programme for the Committee is attached as an Appendix to this agenda.
(b) Reserve Programme
A reserve list of scrutiny topics is developed as required, to ensure that the work flow of the Overview and Scrutiny Committee is continuous. When necessary, the Committee will allocate items from the list appropriately, once resources become available in the Work Programme, following the completion of any ongoing scrutiny activity.
Members can put forward suggestions for inclusion in the Work Programme or reserve list through the adopted PICK process. Existing review items will be dealt with first, after which time will be allocated to the items contained in the reserve work plan.
The Chief Executive presented the Work Programme for the Overview & Scrutiny Committee for 2020/21.
The Chief Executive suggested that the Council’s Covid-19 Response and Recovery should be added to the Work Programme as a standing item, which the Committee agreed. In addition, the Committee agreed that the other standing items on the Work Programme should remain in situ for the coming municipal year.
In respect of the items listed for the next meeting in July, a number of the Committee felt that the Local High Streets Task & Finish Panel should continue and be considering the longer term viability of the local High Streets; it should not be subsumed by the newly created Portfolio Advisory Group for Covid-19 Recovery. The Chief Executive advised the Committee that it was important to ensure that the work of the two Groups was aligned and work was not being duplicated. Cllr S Murray also opined that, whilst the work of the Task & Finish Panel was important, the same Officers were probably involved in the Portfolio Holder Advisory Group which should take priority at the current time. The Chairman reminded the Committee that this item could be discussed in detail at the next meeting.
In respect of the items listed for the remaining meetings in the municipal year, it was noted that the Work Programme was lighter than in previous years but the Committee did have five standing items on the Work Programme. The Chairman highlighted that other issues would arise throughout the year, and the Committee felt that a lighter Work Programme would provide flexibility for later in the year.
The Chairman observed that the planned external scrutiny of the Epping Forest Sixth Form Consortium had been carried forward on the Work Programme for some years now, and requested the Committee to consider whether it should be removed. Cllr S Murray, who had initially raised this item, stated that legally the Sixth Forms were operating as a consortium, but in reality they were operating as four independent Sixth Forms with a degree of co-operation. In addition, not all of the Sixth Forms throughout the District were part of the Consortium either. Given the current situation with the Covid-19 pandemic, the Committee agreed that this item was not a priority currently, and it should be moved to the Reserve List.
The Committee also agreed that the other item on the Reserve Programme List – external scrutiny of Essex County Council Children’s Services – should remain there for the time being.
The Vice-Chairman suggested it might be useful to undertake external scrutiny of the London-Stansted-Cambridge Consortium. Cllr A Lion gave the Committee a very brief summary of the work of the Consortium and advised that it would be useful for the Committee to receive an update from the Director. The Committee noted that this item could also be linked to Covid-19 Recovery issues, as well as carbon emissions. Cllr N Bedford informed the Committee that Councillors could register to receive a regular update issued by the Consortium. ... view the full minutes text for item 7.
Corporate Priorities 2020/21
(Leader of Council) To receive an overview of the Council’s Corporate Priorities for 2020/21.
The Committee received a presentation from the Leader of Council on the Council’s corporate priorities for the municipal year 2020/21.
The Leader informed the Committee that the following would be the priority for the Cabinet over the next twelve months:
(i) to retain a strong financial position for the Council and support of local businesses;
(ii) to benefit from the investment opportunities for the Council in its services and property assets through Qualis, to provide a long-term income stream for the Council;
(iii) to complete the refurbishment of the Civic Offices to provide increased income streams and make available the Conder building for development;
(iv) to progress the recovery from the Covid-19 pandemic, with local high streets as a priority and the introduction of new rates for parking to encourage this;
(v) to implement the Local Plan, and address the issues raised by Natural England and the Planning Inspector during the Examination in Public;
(vi) to progress the Council Housebuilding Programme;
(vii) to link Community and Health issues with Housing issues, as good housing led to good health and good communities within the District; and
(viii) to maximise the use of Council-owned assets in order to protect the Council’s front-line services.
A number of Councillors supported the initiatives to aid the recovery of the District’s high streets, including the reduction in parking fees although it was accepted that this did encourage the greater use of cars rather than alternative forms of transport. The Leader acknowledged the concerns of the Committee and reiterated that the priority was currently to protect the District’s high streets. However, the Cabinet was always considering different ways of supporting green initiatives, and more people had been walking to their local high streets during the pandemic lockdown.
Cllr S Murray enquired why Epping and Waltham Abbey were deemed the priority for high street recovery grants? The Leader explained that Epping High Street had been included in the Local Plan whilst Waltham Abbey High Street was the one most in need of regeneration within the District. Buckhurst Hill, Loughton High Road and Loughton Broadway had all benefited from enhancement schemes in the past, however, bids for other schemes throughout the District were being put together. There was a need to increase investment throughout the District and have a credible Economic Strategy in place.
There was some support from the Committee for the proposed new cinema in Epping to be an independent cinema rather than be part of a big, national chain, but the Leader stated that he wanted a viable cinema on the proposed site, regardless of whether it was an independent cinema or not.
Some of the Committee had concerns about the level of accountability of Qualis to the Council and Councillors, and that the decision-making needed to be more open and transparent. In addition, there were also concerns about Qualis possibly offering services in the future that were already being provided by more established companies, for example accountancy services. Qualis also needed to show that it ... view the full minutes text for item 8.
That the Committee review the Executive’s current programme of Key Decisions to enable the identification of appropriate matters for the Overview and Scrutiny Work Programme and the overview of specific decisions proposed to be taken over the period of the plan.
(Democratic & Electoral Services Manager) Article 6 (Overview and Scrutiny) of the Constitution requires that the Committee review the Executive’s programme of Key Decisions (the Cabinet Forward Plan as was) at each meeting, to enable the identification of appropriate matters for the Overview and Scrutiny Work Programme and to provide an opportunity for the overview of specific decisions proposed to be taken over the period of the plan.
The Constitution (Article 14 (Decision Making)) defines a Key Decision as an executive decision which:
(a) involves expenditure or savings of £250,000 or above which are currently within budget and policy;
(b) involves expenditure or savings of £100,000 or above which are NOT currently within budget and policy;
(c) is likely to be significant in terms of its effect on communities living or working in an area comprising two or more wards;
(d) raises new issues of policy;
(e) increases financial commitments (i.e. revenue and/or capital) in future years over and above existing budgetary approval;
(f) comprises and includes the publication of draft or final schemes which may require, either directly or in relation to objections to, the approval of a Government Minister; or
(g) involves the promotion of local legislation.
Wherever possible, Portfolio Holders will attend the Committee to present forthcoming key decisions, to answer questions on the Forward Plan and to indicate where appropriate work could be carried out by the Council’s Overview and Scrutiny function on behalf of the Cabinet.
The Executive’s current programme of Key Decisions is attached as an Appendix to this report.
The Committee considered the Executive’s current programme of Key Decisions.
Leader of the Council
When questioned about the proposed land sale of the Pyrles Land Nursery site in Loughton, G Blakemore undertook to issue a full written response to the Committee in the days following the meeting.
Cllr C Whitbread assured the Committee that public consultation and member engagement on proposals for the Epping development sites would be brought forward shortly.
Planning & Sustainability
Cllr N Bedford explained to the Committee that there was currently an issue with the access road for the Latton Priory Masterplan and that, as the Masterplan was part of the Harlow & Gilston Garden Town project, the Healthy Town framework also applied to the Latton Priory development.
In respect of the Mitigation Strategy for the Epping Forest Special Area of Conservation, Cllr N Bedford informed the Committee that the Strategy was in the process of being developed, and high level talks had taken place with the District’s three Members of Parliament to make them aware of the ongoing issues with Natural England.
Finance & Economic Development
Cllr J Philip explained that work on the Council budget for next year was beginning, but the Council would not need to enact an emergency budget in relation to the Covid-19 pandemic. This process would involve revising the Medium Term Financial Strategy, however, the exact timing had not been decided upon. It was intended to have the accounts for 2019/20 signed off by the end of October 2020.
Environmental & Technical Services
Cllr S Murray highlighted the Strategic Review of Waste Management item and commented that as this was one of the Council’s key services then the review should have full member involvement and a public consultation if any significant changes were proposed.
Cllr D Wixley enquired if any changes were required to the Council’s Procurement Strategy now that the United Kingdom had left the European Union? Cllr C Whitbread reassured the Committee that as the majority of the European Union laws were enshrined in British Law, considerable changes to the Strategy were not expected.
Cllr D Plummer asked if the Council had formally made any representations to the County Council to re-open the Recycling Centre at Waltham Abbey? Cllr C Whitbread stated that he believed social distancing was the reason why the Centre had not yet re-opened.
Housing & Community
Cllr D Wixley commented that, as the policy of the County Council was to keep people in their own homes for as long as possible, should more single-storey properties be considered as part of the Council Housebuilding Programme? Cllr H Whitbread informed the Committee that a full update would be presented to the Stronger Place Select Committee in July, but reassured that Councillor that the suggestion would be considered.
Cllr D Sunger asked if the bidders for the External Maintenance Repairs and Redecoration Programme contract had considered social distancing as some of the Council’s tenants would still be shielding at home. Cllr H Whitbread undertook to provide a fuller response to the Committee ... view the full minutes text for item 9.
To consider the attached report and schedule of nominations (to be circulated) for appointment to membership of the Select Committees for the current municipal year and to make appointments to the position of Chairman and Vice-Chairman for each of the Select Committees.
The Democratic & Electoral Services Officer presented a report on the membership of the Overview & Scrutiny Select Committees for the municipal year 2020/21.
The Committee was reminded that the Overview and Scrutiny rules set out within Article 6 of the Council’s Constitution required the Committee to determine the number of Select Committees and review whether they should continue in being, at its firstmeeting of each municipal year. Additionally, the membership, Chairmanship and Vice-Chairmanship of the Select Committees were to be approved by the Overview and Scrutiny Committee at the first meeting each year, as such appointments were reserved to the Committee and not made by the Council at its annual meeting.
The Committee was advised that no request for membership of a Select Committee was made by a Councillor that was not a member of a political group. Therefore, it had been proposed to retain each Select Committee at eleven members with membership on a pro rata basis between the different political groups. It was also highlighted that any member of the Audit & Governance Committee was not permitted to be a member of the Stronger Council Select Committee, under Article 11 of the Constitution.
Cllr S Murray was concerned that all four of the Council’s Scrutiny Committees could be chaired by a member of the Conservative group, who also controlled the Cabinet. The Councillor felt that at least one of the Scrutiny Committees should be chaired by a member from a different political group, as this was an important point of Scrutiny and would also aid the transparency of the Council. It was highlighted that numerous other Councils followed this process and maybe this Council should consider it for the next municipal year. Cllr J H Whitehouse supported the principle outlined by Cllr S Murray and agreed that not all of the chairmanships of the Scrutiny Committees should go to the majority party.
(1) That the continuation of the following three Select Committees be agreed for the 2020/21 municipal year:
(a) Stronger Communities Select Committee;
(b) Stronger Council Select Committee; and
(c) Stronger Place Select Committee;
(2) That the membership of each Select Committee p be agreed as eleven members for 2020/21;
(3) That the following nominations for membership of each Select Committee for 2020/21 be agreed:
(a) Stronger Communities Select Committee:
· Cllr A Beales;
· Cllr I Hadley;
· Cllr J Lea;
· Cllr J McIvor;
· Cllr A Mitchell;
· Cllr D Plummer;
· Cllr S Rackham;
· Cllr J Share-Bernia;
· Cllr D Sunger;
· Cllr J H Whitehouse; and
· Cllr D Wixley;
(b) Stronger Council Select Committee:
· Cllr R Bassett;
· Cllr P Bolton;
· Cllr H Brady;
· Cllr R Brookes;
· Cllr D Dorrell;
· Cllr H Kane;
· Cllr S Neville;
· Cllr M Owen;
· Cllr S Rackham;
· Cllr D Stocker; and
· Cllr J M Whitehouse;
(c) Stronger Place Select Committee:
· Cllr L Burrows;
· Cllr I Hadley;
· Cllr S Heap;
· Cllr S Heather;
· Cllr J Jennings;
· Cllr S Jones;
· Cllr H Kauffman;
· Cllr C McCredie;
· Cllr J McIvor;
· Cllr R Morgan; and
· Cllr R Bassett;
(4) That the ... view the full minutes text for item 10.
To consider the current Work Programmes for each of the Select Committees (as attached).
The Committee considered the current Work Programmes for the three Select Committees.
Stronger Communities Select Committees
R Pavey informed the Committee that the Work Programme would be reviewed and presented at the July meeting of the Select Committee, as there were still some items outstanding from the postponed meeting in April. Cllr S Murray suggested that the items in relation to the work of the Council-funded Police Officers and the presentation from the District Police Commander should be retained, as well as the Health & Wellbeing Strategy as that would be important for the recovery from the Covid-19 pandemic. Cllr D Wixley also suggested that the item concerning the GROW Community Garden in Loughton was also linked to the Health & Wellbeing Strategy and should be retained. Cllr J H Whitehouse commented that she would prefer not to see so many quarterly reports at the Select Committees, and felt that there were too many presentations as well.
Stronger Council Select Committee
Cllr P Bolton stated that the Select Committee would be focussing on the People Strategy and the effect of the Covid-19 pandemic on staff morale, as well as paying close attention to the Accommodation Programme. Cllr D Dorrell added that he would be particularly interested in the review of the Technology Strategy.
Stronger Place Select Committee
Cllr D Sunger advised the Committee that the recruitment to the new Climate Emergency Officer posts, the Green Agenda, Older People’s Services and Air Quality would be significant issues for the Select Committee throughout the coming year.
(1) That the Work Programmes for the three Select Committees be noted.
Exclusion of Public and Press
(Democratic Services Manager) To consider whether, under Section 100(A)(4) of the Local Government Act 1972, the public and press should be excluded from the meeting for the items of business set out below on grounds that they will involve the likely disclosure of exempt information as defined in the following paragraph(s) of Part 1 of Schedule 12A of the Act (as amended) or are confidential under Section 100(A)(2):
The Local Government (Access to Information) (Variation) Order 2006, which came into effect on 1 March 2006, requires the Council to consider whether maintaining the exemption listed above outweighs the potential public interest in disclosing the information. Any member who considers that this test should be applied to any currently exempted matter on this agenda should contact the proper officer at least 24 hours prior to the meeting.
(Democratic Services Manager) Article 17 - Access to Information, Procedure Rules of the Constitution define background papers as being documents relating to the subject matter of the report which in the Proper Officer's opinion:
(a) disclose any facts or matters on which the report or an important part of the report is based; and
(b) have been relied on to a material extent in preparing the report and does not include published works or those which disclose exempt or confidential information and in respect of executive reports, the advice of any political advisor.
The Council will make available for public inspection for four years after the date of the meeting one copy of each of the documents on the list of background papers.
The Committee noted that there was no business which necessitated the exclusion of the public and press from the meeting.