Agenda and minutes

Stronger Council Select Committee
Tuesday, 19th January, 2021 7.00 pm

Venue: Virtual Meeting on Zoom. View directions

Contact: A Hendry  Email:


No. Item


Webcasting Introduction

This virtual meeting is to be webcast. 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). Therefore by participating in this virtual meeting, you are consenting to being filmed and to the possible use of those images and sound recordings for webcasting and/or training purposes. If members of the public do not wish to have their image captured they should ensure that their video setting throughout the virtual meeting is turned off and set to audio only.


Please also be aware that if technical difficulties interrupt the meeting that cannot be overcome, I may need to adjourn the meeting.”




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The Chairman 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

virtual meetings.




Subsitute Members (Council Minute 39 - 23.7.02)

To report the appointment of any substitute members for the meeting.

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The Committee noted that there were no substitute members.




Notes of Previous Meeting pdf icon PDF 320 KB

To agree the notes of the meeting of the Select Committee held on 13 October 2020.

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That the notes of the meeting held 13 October 2020 were agreed as a correct record.




Declarations of Interest

To declare interests in any item on the agenda.

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(a)          Pursuant to the Council’s Code of Member Conduct, Councillor R Bassett

declared a personal interest in item 8, Accommodation Update, by virtue of being the Chairman of Community Transport. The Councillor had determined that his interest was non-pecuniary and he would remain in the meeting for the consideration of this item.




Terms of Reference & Work Programme pdf icon PDF 99 KB

(Chairman/Lead Officer) The Overview and Scrutiny Committee has agreed the terms of reference and work programme for the select committee. Members are invited at each meeting to review both documents. 


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Councillor Jon Whitehouse asked about the item on the work programme on the Asset Management Strategy he asked if a report on this would be coming back to this committee.  A Small said that he would look at it to see if an updating report needed to come back to this committee and when.




Draft Budget Proposals 2021/22 pdf icon PDF 213 KB

To consider the attached report on the draft Budget proposals for 2021/22.

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Andrew Small and Chris Hartgrove introduced the report on the draft budget proposals. They noted that the Cabinet had considered the draft Budget Proposals for 2021/22 on 22nd December. At that meeting they agreed the proposals should go forward for Scrutiny by this Stronger Council Select Committee.


The Committee were informed of the difficulties involved in developing a set of draft budget proposals this year and that as a consequence the proposals were less well developed and liable to change as better information became available.


The Budget development process was exceptional this year, in that Covid-19 was having, and would continue to have, a huge impact on many areas of the Council’s income and expenditure. The impact, and continued uncertainty, was expected to continue into 2021/22 – at least during the early months – as the vaccine was rolled out. This was making the preparation of robust budgets exceptionally challenging, which has meant many significant assumptions have had to be made at this stage.


There were a lot of unknowns for which assumptions had to be made such as Leisure and Car Parking in the short term, impact on Council tax and rents in the medium term, and how the High Streets would recover, the survival of businesses and other longer term impacts on the community and economy.


It was noted that at November 2020 the council had a gap of £2.1 million, but now this had been closed somewhat.


Appendix A to the report reflected the emerging budget proposals and Appendix B the outline budget for the Housing Revenue Account.


On the General Fund Budget it was noted that work done during the latter part of 2020  led to a balanced position by December and there was no longer the £4.1million underlying  deficit anticipated by the Medium Term Financial Plan (MTFP) in November but a net deficit of £2.1 million by amelioration by assumed government grants and use of £1million from the general reserves. The task for officers was to address that deficit by the 22nd December 2020 Cabinet meeting. The budget had been fully balanced when the papers were released for that meeting. However, before the meeting took place, the Government announced the Local Government Settlement for 2021/22. Unfortunately this opened up another (smaller) deficit.


The Public Sector Pay Freeze reduced pressure on spending although they were still assuming an increase of 1.5% (reduced from 3%). Costs on premises could be reduced in excess of 10% due to the new working arrangements and the refurbished Civic Offices.


No increases in Car Parking charges were assumed, with other assumed inflationary increases relatively modest (many were constrained by statute). However, there had been a range of significant positive developments to report on Fees and Charges due mainly by the new lease agreement at North Weald Airfield.


The assumed Council Tax increase of £5 for a Band D property currently remained unchanged from the MTFP and the anticipated collection rate was further reduced from 98.0% to 97.5%. Also, there  ...  view the full minutes text for item 31.


Accommodation Update pdf icon PDF 136 KB

To consider the attached report on the accommodation update for the council offices.

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The Service Director for Service, Delivery and Performance, L Wade, introduced the report on the update for the accommodation project. The Select Committee noted that construction works, fixtures and fittings continued to be on time, orders had now been placed with the first delivery taking place in January.  Minor amendments had been made to the ground floor space to enable a large PACE room to be available impacting the consultation space.


Requirements for the desk and car park system were now complete and configuration of the IT system that would manage this had now commenced.


One of the “Travel to the Civic” options for employees and residents was the DRT.  This was launched in January and there had already been a positive take up for the service with residents which we hoped to extend to employee usage. 


Individual sessions had been taking place with teams and there had been a big focus on decluttering.  With a “Scan it, Scrap it, Store it, Stop it” campaign, we had been keen to ensure that we only retained what was necessary and recognised that files could be retained in digital form.


Commercialisation of the 2nd floor was now live.  Officers would be looking to review the interest and opportunities for this space at the end of January.  Talks continued with partners in terms of how they would use the Civic and this also extended to other partners that would be using touchdown space in the community hub.


Due to the current lockdown, we would be closely reviewing the plan and understanding any impact this may have on the fit out of the building and the co-ordination of both external and internal resources that will need to install equipment.


The refurbishment continued to be within the agreed budget and was forecasting a positive variance of £106,066.


Councillor Bassett asked about moving of offices and the removal of papers from officers. He noted that there was a legal requirement to keep some of these papers in hard copies, who would supervise this? He was told that this would be done in conjunction with each Service Director and the appropriate managers.


Councillor Brookes, noting that it would be a phased re-introduction to the offices, asked how many staff, given the restrictions, were working in the Civic Offices at present. She was told that there was restricted space in the Conder building at present, with only about 18 persons a day going in. This was also due to Health and Safety restrictions.


Councillor Neville asked how many council staff have been using the demand responsive transport. Also was it right that you had to book it three days in advance. L Wade said that she did not know the exact number but understood that it was mainly used by hospital staff not council staff. Councillor Bassett added that you did not have to book it three days in advance, as long as they had some advanced warning. Councillor Jon Whitehouse pointed out that the website said that  ...  view the full minutes text for item 32.


Corporate Performance Reporting pdf icon PDF 223 KB

To consider the attached report on the quarter 3 performance data.

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The Chairman, Councillor Bolton, introduced the report on the results of corporate performance for quarter 3. He took each page of the report and asked for members to stop him if they wished to discuss any of the outcomes.


Councillor Whitehouse asked about the amber indicator for private sector letting, noting that it had been postponed. What had caused this? He was told that it was a resource constraint that led to this prioritisation that led to this being paused, a number of staff being unavailable due to several issues occurring at that time.


Councillor Whitehouse asked about the red indicator on the “Fix the Basics” item under the consumer excellence programme. He noted that the ‘Contact-Us’ email account had been withdrawn despite it being still on the website. What had been put in its place. He was told that a redirection had been put in place and officers were not aware of any issues stemming from this. But it would be checked. Councillor Neville said that the clerk at Buckhurst Hill Parish Council had not been redirected during a recent routine enquiry. It would be a good idea to investigate this more.


Councillor Brookes asked if there had been a lot of changes in the Contact Centre as she had recently been put through to the wrong office. She was told that there had been some recruitment in the last quarter, but there were no really new officers now.


Councillor Dorrell asked about the amber indicator on the Digital Members Journey noting that had been giving members a lot of problems on i-pads for some time now but was worried that he could not go back and look at notes he had made on agendas at the time. Was there any update on this problem? He was told that officers had formed a group to identify and understand what was happening. Councillor S Kane added that it was a Modern.Gov issue as he has also had problems on his i-pad. He asked if the problem was with the private paper section or the public version. Councillor Dorrell said it seem to be the private (signed in version) but only on his i-pad, his other device (Android) seemed to be OK. Councillor Philip confirmed that was the exact same problem for him as well. Councillor Kane said that he would investigate and get back to the Committee.


On the section on attracting, on boarding and retaining staff, Councillor Rackham noted that anything the council could do to retain its staff would be most welcome.


On the section on ICT Restructure, the Councillor Bolton noted that it said to reduce overall headcount but also that there were 10 vacancies in the team. Was this a paradox. Councillor S Kane said that they had identified jobs that did not exist previously, and jobs that were no longer required. They had lost 17 staff in that section but needed to recruit 10 staff to complete the team.


Councillor Bassett noted that  ...  view the full minutes text for item 33.


Dates of Future Meetings

To note the next meeting date of this Committee will be held on:


13 April 2021.

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The Committee noted their future meeting dates.