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Overview and Scrutiny Minutes - 16th January 2008

TORRIDGE DISTRICT COUNCIL

OVERVIEW AND SCRUTINY COMMITTEE

Committee Room, Riverbank House, Bideford

16th January 2008

PRESENT: Councillor C J Leather (Chairman)
Councillor Mrs C B Church (Vice Chairman)
Councillors R Brown, D C Fulford, R Johnson, B J Lacey,
D M Lausen, Mrs F M Perkin, S Robinson and A J Symons

Independent Members: Mr F French and Mr R Rumbold

ALSO PRESENT: Councillor J Morrish

22.

RESIGNATION OF MEMBER FROM THE COMMITTEE

The Chairman reported that Councillor L S Ford had resigned from the Committee, which meant there was one vacancy, which should be filled by the Liberal Democrats.

23.

MINUTES

Resolved: That the Minutes of the Meeting held on the 5th December 2007 be confirmed as a correct record and signed by the Chairman.

(Vote: 12 For, 0 Against)

24.

FORWARD PLAN

Mr R French declared a personal interest relating to "Public Health and Well Being" (Non Executive Director of the North Devon Primary Care Trust)

Councillor A Symons declared a personal interest in "Consultants - Use of and Value for Money" (Is a Consultant)

Councillor R Brown declared a personal interest in the "Burton Art Gallery" (Trustee of Holsworthy Museum)

The Committee considered their Forward Plan, which had been circulated with the Agenda.

The Chairman reported that as a result of a vote at Full Council the Committee were requested to add back into their Forward Plan "Post Office Closures".

The Committee also agreed that "Public Health and Well Being" should be included on the Forward Plan, to include a Presentation from Julia Page of the Primary Care Trust relating to life expectancy statistics. (Mr Roger French to pursue with Julia Page with a view to the presentation being made to the April Meeting of the Overview and Scrutiny Committee). Councillor A Symons, the Authority's Lead Member for Health also referred to the consideration being given by the Primary Care Trust to the reallocation of its resources, and the work being undertaken to review this matter.

At this point the Chairman referred to the Budget Setting Exercise, and invited Mr. Dan Bates, the Head of Financial Services, to make his presentation on this topic to the meeting. It was noted that this presentation had been made to a recent meeting of the Policy, Performance and Resources Committee, and that the Chairman had felt it would be beneficial for this Committee to receive the information given.

The Head of Financial Services began by advising that he hoped Members would glean an insight into the budget setting exercise through the presentation, and started by providing background information and setting the scene with regard to the process to be followed. Reference was made to anticipated changes within Local Government in the next three years, structure changes, shared services, the efficiency agenda, LSP and the Comprehensive Performance Assessment.

The Head of Financial Services outlined the following four different scenarios to the Committee in respect of the Authority's Medium Term Financial Strategy

  • (a) - Do Nothing
  • (b) - Full Scale Shared Services
  • (c) - No Shared Services/Remove HRA costs (Crash and Burn)
  • (d) - The Middle Way

Details were also provided of the Authority's reserves which could be well above the usual requirement as a result of the housing stock transfer, and reference was made to the fact that growth bids had been split in two, and now related to 'unavoidable cost pressures' and 'service development initiatives.'

The presentation concluded by the Head of Financial Services referring to the details, approach and the timetable for Members in respect of the budget process, and referring to the need to aim to balance income and expenditure without drawing on reserves. With regard to the timetable, it was confirmed by the Strategic Director (Resources) that the Independent Members of the Overview and Scrutiny Committee would be welcome to attend the meetings organised in respect of the budget process.

The Head of Financial Services then answered Members' questions and the items discussed related to the cost to the Authority of the Concessionary Bus Passes; the crash and burn scenario and shared services.

Councillor J Morrish updated the Committee on the work undertaken in the last nine months in respect of shared services, and the discussions in respect of unitary authorities.

The Committee then returned to consideration of their Forward Plan and discussed in particular the scope in respect of the item relating to "Consultants - Use and Value to the Council." Details were provided of the information required which included the number of Consultants employed over the last two years and the cost involved together with a breakdown of the categories of Consultants and why they were required. The Strategic Director (Resources) advised the meeting that the requested information would result in a great deal of work, and also confirmed that the Authority used the Best Value Code of Accountancy Practice when employing Consultants.

The Committee noted that the Strategic Director (Resources) would be canvassing sections to endeavour to obtain the information requested, and would also be utilising information collated in respect of a Freedom of Information request.

The Chairman drew attention to the aspirations of the Friends to manage the Burton Art Gallery, and asked the Committee to consider receiving a presentation from the Friends on this topic at their next meeting scheduled for the 27th February 2008.

The Strategic Director (Resources) referred to the background information to be put together in respect of the proposal in connection with the formation of a North Devon Museums Trust, and advised that Officers had been asked to examine options and put forward a report to the Community Development Committee.

It was proposed by Councillor R Johnson and duly seconded, "That the Friends of the Burton Art Gallery be asked to attend the next meeting of the Overview and Scrutiny Committee scheduled to be held on the 27th February 2008 and make a presentation to members.

(Vote: 6 For, 4 Against and 2 Abstentions)

Thereafter, it was;

Resolved: That the Forward Plan, as amended, be noted.

(Vote: 12 For 0 Against)

25.

URGENT MATTERS OF INFORMATION BROUGHT FORWARD WITH THE PERMISSION OF THE CHAIRMAN AND COMMITTEE

(a) Dedicated Officer Support for Committee

The Chairman advised that he felt it was important to seek dedicated Officer support for the Committee, even if this was only on a part time basis, and that this should be examined during the current budgetary process.

(b) Provision of Agendas/Reports

The Chairman expressed the view that reports despatched late for Agenda items on the Programme Committees did not always give Members adequate time to for a considered response. Likewise verbal reports should be discouraged, even if only a brief report, in favour of written. This avoids the possibility of misinterpretation and provides clarity.

(c) Attendance at Programme Committee Meetings

The Chairman reported that Councillor Mrs C B Church, in her capacity as Vice Chairman, had attended, as an observer, the most recent meeting of the Community Development Committee, and he had observed the recent Policy, Performance and Resources Committee. The Committee noted that between them the Chairman and Vice Chairman intended to cover both main programme Committees of the Council, with a view to reporting back to Overview and Scrutiny. The Chairman suggested that other Members of the Committee might also find it beneficial to attend the Programme Committee Meetings if possible.

The Chairman invited Councillor Mrs Church to provide and update to the meeting in respect of her attendance at the Community Development Committee. Members had circulated to them a written report prepared by Councillor Mrs Church detailing some of the issues raised at that meeting.

Members of the Overview and Scrutiny Committee felt that this was a very useful exercise and agreed that the Chairman and Vice Chairman should continue this practice. In this connection discussion also ensued on the 'call in' procedure.

The Strategic Director (Resources) confirmed that all items placed on the Programme Committee Agendas fell within the remit of the Constitution and the Scheme of Delegation. It was also noted that the Solicitor had recently circulated further advice to all staff in respect of Part II items.

Discussion ensued on the Members' Bulletin, which it was felt should be utilised more fully for reports which only required noting. In this respect if was agreed that in the future the Independent Members of the Committee should receive a copy of the Members' Bulletin.

(d) Public Net Service

The Chairman referred to a recent e mail he had received in respect of a free trial of a publication known as "Public Net Briefing". This publication was seen as being useful to the Overview and Scrutiny Committee, and the Chairman agreed to sign up for the e mail receipt of the copy which could be shared with the Committee.

26.

PLANNING OBLIGATION AGREEMENTS

The Committee considered the report prepared by the Chairman following their scrutiny of Planning Obligation agreements (Copy enclosed). This report detailed the purpose of the work of the Overview and Scrutiny Committee into this topic and put forward recommendations drawn from their previous debate. The report also thanked Mr K Miles and Mr P Kemp of Torridge District Council, and Mr B Hensley, Mr S Keable and Mr I Sorenson of Devon County Council for their valuable input to the process.

Recommended:

(1) That Members be informed of all Planning Obligation Agreements affecting their Wards.

(2) That Quarterly Planning Obligation progress reports be made to the Plans Committee.

(3) That Planning Obligations be agreed before a decision on an application, unless there are exceptional circumstances.

(4) Include in the emerging Local Development Framework, standard charges to be introduced on all developments.

(5) Whenever possible, Planning Obligation financial contributions to be paid at the commencement of a development.

(6) That Ward Members be given the opportunity to be involved with Officers before the finalisation of a Planning Obligation agreement.

(12 For, 0 Against)

27.

LEISURE PROVISION AND CURRENT CONTRACT

The Committee had previously requested that Leisure Provision and the current contract should appear on their Forward Plan. In this respect a briefing note on the topic had been circulated with the Agenda and Members were asked to consider the scope of their future discussions.

The Committee debated this issue and requested the following information/attendance at future meeting(s):

(1) A representative of Parkwood Leisure to be invited to a meeting to answer Members' questions.

(2) Provision of a copy of the Leisure Contract.

(3) Details of any Quality Assurance Programme.

(4) The cost to the District Council in respect of the facilities operated by Parkwood Leisure.

(5) Attendance of Head of Service for Sports and Leisure.

Discussion also ensued on the liability for future maintenance bearing in mind that the Authority's own maintenance staff had now transferred to Tarka Housing; statistical information relating to the fees for the leisure facilities; benchmarking with other Authorities and Performance Indicators; the profit being made by Parkwood Leisure and the way in which complaints are dealt with.

The Strategic Director (Resources) confirmed that she would make enquiries of neighbouring authorities in respect of the provision and renewal date for their leisure services.

The meeting commenced at 6.30 pm and ended at 9.26 pm