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The Chairman will read the following announcement:
This meeting is to be webcast and the Chairman will read the following announcement:
“I would like to remind everyone present that this meeting will be broadcast live to the internet and will be capable of subsequent repeated viewing, with copies of the recording being made available for those that request it.
By being present at this meeting, it is likely that the recording cameras will capture your image and this will result in your image becoming part of the broadcast.
You should be aware that this may infringe your human and data protection rights, and if you have any concerns then please speak to the Webcasting Officer.
Please could I also remind Members and Officers to activate their microphones before speaking.”
The Democratic and Electoral Services Team Manager reminded everyone present that the meeting would be broadcast live to the Internet, and that the Council had adopted a protocol for the webcasting of its meetings.
To report the appointment of any substitute members for the meeting.
The Committee noted that Councillor S Rackham had been appointed as substitute for Councillor I Hadley.
DECLARATIONS OF INTEREST
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 reported pursuant to the Council’s Members’ Code of Conduct.
To confirm the minutes of the meeting of the Committee held on 31 March 2022.
That the minutes of the meeting held on 31 March 2022 be taken as read and signed by the Chairman as a correct record, subject to the following amendments:
(1) Correction of ‘part’ to ‘parts’, ‘border’ to ‘borders’ and the addition of Buckhurst Hill Parish Council (Minute no 92), to read: “Councillor D Wixley commented that parts of borders on the RVRG came under Buckhurst Hill and Chigwell Parish Councils but this was not referred to in the report”.
(2) Correction of ‘37’ to ‘36’ (Minute no 94), to read: “Sale of the Pyrles Lane site, Loughton, to Qualis – the number of houses within the scheme had been increased to 36 following the Committee’s meeting in June 2021”.
Councillor J H Whitehouse and S Murray raised the issue of officers not reporting back and replying to members’ questions raised at a previous meeting. There should be a better mechanism in place, so that perhaps responses of a substantial nature could be reported in the Bulletin, which might provide a faster response than the minutes. The Chairman, Councillor H Kane, agreed, and was of the opinion that reporting back by officers should be improved but this matter would be discussed at the Joint Meeting of the Chairmen and Vice-Chairmen on 28 June 2022.
Public Questions & Requests to Address the Overview and Scrutiny Committee
(Democratic & Electoral Services Team 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 Team 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.
Corporate Priorities 2022/23
(Leader of Council) To verbally present the Council’s corporate priorities.
The Leader, Councillor C Whitbread, presented an overview of the Council’s corporate priorities for 2022/23 at the Committee’s first meeting in the new municipal year.
Priorities – to maintain our sound finances, as the Council was facing challenging times with the rising cost of living and interest rates, in addition to maintaining low council tax and essential services for residents. The Council was working with its partners across a range of services, such as Biffa who had experienced staffing issues. The Council supported three contracted Essex Police constables. It welcomed Qualis, which was running council house repairs and developing sites in Epping etc. Fundamental to the Council was how these services were delivered and how it had transformed to deliver services and look forwards.
Local Plan – adoption of this was key to investment in the District and about creating jobs. The North Weald masterplan would be a major employment area, but the Council was waiting on the Local Plan Inspector to finalise matters.
Recovery – following the Covid pandemic, staff were working from home with hybrid working and it had changed local democracy, but communications needed to be in place. Councillor A Lion would lead on this as the Customer Services portfolio holder, and Councillor K Williamson’s portfolio would be focussing on services in planning processes and how to shape the Council’s plans for the future. Council tax had only been raised when necessary. The community hub in the refurbished Civic Offices had moved through some initial teething problems but was now being welcomed by our community partners.
Devolution – it was very important that the Council liaised with its partners in the health services and in local government (East Herts, Harlow and Broxbourne local authorities) across all areas to search out those of common interest, but the Council’s ambitions would change as the year progressed.
Councillor S Murray agreed with the Leader’s focus on sound finances. In respect of Councillor L Burrows’ portfolio covering reviews and efficiency, it would be useful to look at any work proposals where money could be saved as long as the Council was not cutting costs unnecessarily. Qualis must be one of the areas this Committee scrutinised. With the Leader’s portfolio incorporating Council partnerships, there should be more support for the Epping Forest Foodbank in this current climate where things could deteriorate. Furthermore, in view of the Council’s constant transformation and looking at new ideas, the staff did need stability. Members needed to be able to analyse what had worked, so the steps should be – change, evaluation and analysis. The Leader replied that the Council had changed over the years. Leisure services was a transformation at its best with a new sports centre at Waltham Abbey and one to come in Epping to provide services residents cared about and at prices they could afford. The Council had returned and revisited policies. Progress on Council housebuilding was one such area, which was transformational across Essex and the development of the wellbeing hub’s partnership ... view the full minutes text for item 7.
To consider the attached report on the nominations for membership of and to appoint the Chairman and Vice-Chairman for each Select Committee. (NB: Any further nominations will be reported at the meeting).
Article 6 of the Council’s Constitution required that the memberships of the select committees were appointed 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.
Councillor S Murray remarked that he was pleased that three of the new select committee vice-chairmen were new members.
(1) That, in order to reflect pro rata requirements and the lowest number of members necessary to achieve cross-party representation in the rules of the Constitution, each select committee would comprise 11, except Stronger Communities, which it was agreed would comprise 12 to accommodate an independent member for 2022/23;
(2) That appointments to the select committees for 2022/23 be adopted, as set out in the appendix to these minutes; and
(3) That appointments to the positions of Chairman and Vice-Chairman of each select committee for 2022/23 be made, as set out in the appendix to these minutes.
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 overview and scrutiny 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 Chairman advised members that the committee’s work programme would be discussed at the forthcoming Overview and Scrutiny Agenda Planning Group on 20 June for the first cycle of scrutiny committees. Furthermore, Councillor H Kane had a lot of ideas and changes she wished to discuss at the Joint Meeting of Overview and Scrutiny Chairmen and Vice-Chairmen on 28 June 2022.
Councillor S Rackham asked if external scrutiny of Essex County Council (Children’s Services) and Essex Highways could be undertaken. The Chairman advised this would be an item for discussion at the upcoming joint meeting. However, she thought it more appropriate that the Committee concentrated on scrutinising the way the Council was working, rather than on external scrutiny of outside organisations, as members could not influence that organisation but only ask questions.
That the Committee reviewed its current work programme and reserve Programme.
(HRA Service Director) To receive a verbal update of the types of rents charged for social housing and the context.
D Fenton (Service Director (Housing Revenue Account)) provided an update on the types of rents charged on the Council’s tenanted properties. This was in response to a member’s question from a previous meeting. There were two types of rent, social rent and affordable rent and these were governed by the Rent Standard, which was set by the Social Housing Regulator. The Government had set affordable rent several years ago to allow housing providers to charge a higher, but discounted rent at 80% of market value. This was so that the extra income above the social rent could be ringfenced to use for further housing developments. All the rents on the Council’s new houses were charged as affordable rents. If they were not it would be difficult, because as a housing provider the Council carried out financial feasibility studies on all the proposed housing projects, so that whatever was built, did not contribute to breaking the HRA Business Plan. If the Council charged social rents on new builds, without substantial grants from Homes England, it would break the HRA Business Plan. Affordable rents were also charged on any buybacks of street properties owing to the financial viability just stated. Social rents were much simpler as they were set using a formula provided by the Social Housing Regulator. Social rents were usually increased every year.
The Committee asked the following questions of the HRA Service Director.
What was the difference between affordable rent and social rent on properties, for example in Loughton? D Fenton replied that she would provide some comparisons, for publicising in the Bulletin.
When people bid, did it affect their bidding as people might be able to afford social rent, but not affordable rent, so was there any evidence that it influenced how people bid and was that information available in the bidding process? D Fenton replied this information was always provided in choice-based lettings literature. The type of rent being charged would influence how people bid but the majority of Council properties were charged at social rents. The Council had not entered into a contract with Homes England to instigate ‘conversions’, where all empty properties or voids were converted into affordable rents, and had no plans to do this, so there would be both affordable and social housing in the future.
Did the Council only charge affordable rents on new builds or buybacks? D Fenton explained yes, but the Council did not always charge 80% of market value, which was the upper level, to ensure all rents were compatible with the Housing Allowance.
Why had a written report not been provided because it was more difficult to scrutinise a verbal report? D Fenton offered to provide a retrospective written report for the minutes if this helped.
That the verbal report be noted.
(1) That the HRA Service Director would provide some comparisons between affordable rent and social rent on properties, for publicising in the Bulletin; and
(2) That the HRA Service Director would provide a retrospective ... view the full minutes text for item 10.
To review the attached final draft prior to approval by Council on 28 July 2022.
The Chairman advised that the final draft would go before Council in July, for approval.
The following amendments were noted at the meeting:
· Sale of the Pyrles Lane site, Loughton, to Qualis – the number of houses within the scheme had been increased to 36 following the Committee’s meeting in June 2021; and
· Councillor D Wixley would email some corrections he had noted to the Democratic Services Committee Officer for inclusion in the final draft including an amendment to the call-in of the Jessel Green tree planting;
Councillor H Whitbread (Housing and Community Portfolio Holder) was please at the outcome of this decision and the tree planting that had taken place in Chigwell and Loughton.
That the final draft of the Overview and Scrutiny 2021–22 Annual Report, including the amendments above, be submitted to Council on 28 July 2022 for approval.
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.
Article 6 (Overview and Scrutiny) of the Constitution requires that the Committee review the Executive’s programme of Key Decisions (the Cabinet Forward Plan) 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 overview and scrutiny on behalf of the Cabinet.
The Executive’s current programme of Key Decisions of 1 June 2022 is attached as an Appendix to this report.
Cabinet’s Key Decision List (KDL) updated to the 1 June 2022 was scrutinised by the Committee and the following points were raised.
It was thought that some of the reports going to a scrutiny committee for pre-scrutiny, were too close to a Cabinet meeting, as the Cabinet report could already been written for that decision. The Leader replied that improvements had been made but the Council did need to be agile and was always looking for opportunities and the way we could transform and move business forward. Comments made by scrutiny committees were helpful, but scrutiny members were welcome to attend Cabinet meetings.
(a) Environmental and Technical Services Portfolio
Transfer of services to Qualis regarding Grounds Maintenance and MOT and Fleet – Councillor C Whitbread replied that consideration of the business cases should go to Overview and Scrutiny Committee. Councillor H Kane remarked she was looking to make changes so that proper scrutiny was undertaken.
That the Committee reviewed the Executive’s current programme of Key Decisions of 1 June 2022.