Greenwich Council

Agenda and minutes

Venue: Committee Room 6 - Town Hall, Wellington Street, Woolwich SE18 6PW. View directions

Contact: Daniel Wilkinson  Email: daniel.wilkinson@royalgreenwich.gov.uk or tel: 020 8921 5102

Note: Moved from 19 September 2017 

Items
No. Item

1.

Apologies for Absence

To receive apologies for absence from Members of the Panel.

Minutes:

Apologies for absence were received from Councillors Harpinder Singh, John Fahy and Councillor Maureen O’Mara.

 

Councillor Gary Parker gave apologies for leaving the meeting early at 7.30pm.

 

Councillor Angela Cornforth gave apologies for lateness and joined the meeting at 7.40pm.

2.

Urgent Business

The Chair to announce any items of urgent business circulated separately from the main agenda.

Minutes:

The Panel agreed that Item 10 Responses to Freedom of Information Requests would be taken after Item 5.

 

The Panel noted that there had been a disagreement with the Charlton Central Resident’s Association (CCRA) regarding the minutes of 16 February 2017 relating to Item 5 – Response to Freedom of Information Request. The Chair of the Corporate Finance and Performance Scrutiny Panel was of the opinion that the minutes accurately reflected the meeting and they had been signed off. The Chair of the Panel invited the Chair of the CCRA to give a short verbal statement, which was as follows:

 

‘As advised by Cllr Lloyd in an email dated 30 August I am offering this verbal / written submission to the Panel.

 

Having read the minutes of the above meeting CCRA are unhappy with the detail and accuracy of the debate recorded after page 3 para5: It was emphasised that recorded information for the purpose of FoI Act also included metadata such as notebooks and post-it notes.

 

Whilst this sentence captures the point we made the minutes fail to record a disagreement between the Chair of the Panel (Cllr Lloyd) and the Chair of CCRA (Brenda Taggart) as he disputed this statement. For brevity the Chair of CCRA suggested this item be the subject of a further meeting with the Panel’s Chair. It is important that this discussion was captured as it has great bearing on the fulfilment of FoI requests.

 

CCRA secured a follow up meeting with Cllr Lloyd (3rd July) at which we produced information to support officer’s notes being classed as evidence within the Act. At this meeting we also requested that the minutes of the Overview and Scrutiny meeting be amended to acknowledge the original exchange about metadata.

 

This request was subsequently denied by Cllr Lloyd and raises an important principle regarding the RBG’s accountability to the public when they seek redress.

 

As professionals in our own rights we know that minutes are not an ‘exact verbatim testimony’ (Cllr Lloyd email 30/8/17) but we do expect them to record accurately important exchanges during debate.

 

This raises an important issue about the public’s right to be represented accurately and, under the circumstances, we would welcome further information regarding the practices and protocols governing the acceptance of minutes.’

 

The Chair of the Corporate Finance and Performance Scrutiny Panel responded that all pertinent points were addressed and although the minutes were not as detailed as the CCRA would have liked, they were an accurate record and given the strength of the CCRA’s disagreement, he felt it was important to give them the opportunity to provide a statement.

 

The Chair of the CCRA with respect, understood, but felt that the public had a right to view minutes ahead of a meeting and be able to amend them.

 

The Panel noted that Responses to Freedom of Information Requests was a standing item on their agenda and would be revisited until it was deemed that a substantial improvement in performance had been  ...  view the full minutes text for item 2.

3.

Declarations of Interest pdf icon PDF 40 KB

Members to declare any personal and financial interests in items on the agenda.  Attention is drawn to the Council’s Constitution; the Council’s Code of Conduct and associated advice.

Additional documents:

Minutes:

Resolved –

 

That the list of Councillors’ memberships as Council appointed representatives on outside bodies, joint committees and school governing bodies be noted.

4.

Minutes pdf icon PDF 48 KB

Members are requested to confirm as an accurate record the Minutes of the meeting held on 21 June 2017 and the Notes of the meeting of 18 July 2017.

 

No motion or discussion may take place upon the Minutes except as to their accuracy, and any question on this point will be determined by a majority of the Members of the body attending who were present when the matter in question was decided.  Once confirmed, with or without amendment, the person presiding will sign the Minutes.

Additional documents:

Minutes:

Resolved -

 

That the minutes of the meetings of the Corporate Finance and Performance Scrutiny Panel held on 21 June 2017 and 18 July 2017 be agreed and signed as a true and accurate record.

5.

Headline Equality Measures pdf icon PDF 122 KB

To note progress made on the Council’s annual Headline Equality Measures between April 2016 and March 2017

Additional documents:

Minutes:

The report was introduced by the Senior Corporate Development Officer who gave a brief introduction and asked for any questions.

 

A Panel Member asked, in relation to a disproportionate number of employees who had taken enhanced voluntary redundancy being disabled, did the Council provide enough support to disabled staff. The Head of Human Resources responded, there was an assumption that staff aged 50 years or more were more likely to suffer ill-health and that staff had to self-declare if they had a disability. The Council had recently publicised to staff that they needed to do so, so as not to be disadvantaged. There was support in place including the Disability Staff Forum and the Mental Health and Wellbeing Network.

 

The Panel asked for an outline of the tangible steps taken to offer support during the enhanced voluntary redundancy reorganisation. The Head of Human Resources said that eligible staff were initially written to and 175 chose to take up the offer of redundancy. They would have had access to HR services and could discuss with their managers and the Unions had worked closely with HR. Staff could pull out at any point ahead of signing their finalised documentation.

 

The Panel queried why the Royal Borough of Greenwich was below the Government guidance threshold of 5% disabled staff, and what was being done to encourage the recruitment of disabled people. The Head of Human Resources explained that the Council had achieved Disability Confident Employer Status. That if a disabled person declared their disability on the application, they were guaranteed an interview. Reasonable steps were in place during the recruitment process, and a new training programme around recruitment and unconscious bias was under way. HR also worked closely with the Disability Forum and the Mental Health and Wellbeing Network.

 

The Chair highlighted the substantial increase in racist and religious hate offences and the increase in homophobic offences for 2016/17 shown under HEM 13: The number of hate offences recorded by the Police. He asked that a written response be provided to detail what steps were being taken to address the issues of under-reporting.

Action: Housing and Safer Communities

 

The Panel asked under HEM 18 and 19: Written, Spoken and Sign Language Translations – Number of Requests Met, for more detail on this item and whether it was a determining factor in under-reporting of hate crime where English was not a first language.

Action: Health and Adult Social Care / Housing and Safer Communities

 

On HEM 7: Working Age Population on Out -of-Work Benefits the Panel asked why people remained long-term on out-of-Work benefits. They also queried why no comparative data with other boroughs was provided. The Assistant Director Employment and Skills responded that of the 16,950 in receipt of Out-of-Work benefits, 11,280 (66%) received Incapacity Benefit or Employment Support Allowance. These tended to be people with long-term health and mental health conditions and Government programmes had failed to support this group in-to work. A new Health and Work Programme was due to go  ...  view the full minutes text for item 5.

6.

Contract Standing Orders - Summary of Exemptions and Variations pdf icon PDF 172 KB

To note the summary of Exemptions from Contract Standing Orders and Variations under Contract Standing as reported to Cabinet on 21 June 2017

Additional documents:

Minutes:

The report was presented by the Senior Assistant Director of Finance and the Assistant Director of Corporate Finance and Deputy s151 Officer.

 

Resolved:

 

That the summary of Contract Standing Orders Exemptions and Variations reported to Cabinet on 21 June 2017 be noted.

7.

Contract Standing Orders - Summary of Exemptions and Variations pdf icon PDF 132 KB

To note the summary of Exemptions from Contract Standing Orders and Variations under Contract Standing as reported to Cabinet on 12 July 2017

Additional documents:

Minutes:

The report was presented by the Senior Assistant Director of Finance and the Assistant Director of Corporate Finance and Deputy s151 Officer.

 

Due to a printing error, Appendix 1 page 120 for CON887 – Provision of design engineering services by Systra Ltd in association with the Quietways programme (Financial Year 2017/18) was read out by the Senior Assistant Director of Finance and the Panel asked that it be re-circulated to them by email.

Action: Senior Corporate Development Officer

 

Resolved:

 

That the summary of Contract Standing Orders Exemptions and Variations reported to Cabinet on 12 July 2017 be noted.

8.

Procurement pdf icon PDF 152 KB

To advise members of the work being undertaken to improve procurement, having regard to best practice elsewhere in the UK

Minutes:

The report was presented by the Senior Assistant Director of Finance and the Assistant Director of Corporate Finance and Deputy s151 Officer.

 

The Panel asked if liaison with Durham had been useful and would the Council continue to work with them. The response given was that reference had been made to CIPFA and Durham was considered an area of Best Practice. The Council would therefore maintain contact with them and they had been assisting with both strategy and the documentation.

 

The Panel questioned if a company would be employed to upskill staff in the new ways of working. The response was that discussion had been undertaken with one company so far and other offers would also be followed up.

 

The Panel queried how they would be able to scrutinise the decision taken on the improvement of procurement, to which the Assistant Director responded that this could be incorporated in-to the reporting process. The Panel requested that an update report be included in the Work Programme for 2018/19. This should include the initiatives considered and looked at, and timescales.

Action: Senior Corporate Development Officer

 

The Panel wanted to know if there was an overall lead officer for the project. The Senior Assistant Director said that there was not as data sets in various areas were being looked at to review the process.

 

The Chair asked how the Council would ensure that contractors were using sustainable materials and local labour, and that they were meeting policies and good practice. The Senior Assistant Director responded that policies would be updated and taken in-to the procurement cycle earlier; culture would be changed to ensure officers invested more time in meeting social and green objectives.

 

The Panel enquired if there would be an action plan, to which the response was that one would be put in place and this would be included in a report to a later meeting.

 

In response to a question asking if it would be better to spend more in order to change the process more quickly, the Assistant Director confirmed there was potential to speed up the procurement process but this had been reviewed and the aim was for a more organic cultural change.

 

Resolved:

 

That the work being undertaken to improve procurement, having regard to best practice elsewhere in the UK, be noted.

9.

Website Development - Update Report on Digitising Council Services pdf icon PDF 62 KB

To note the Council’s current provision of digital services and receive an update on plans for the website over the next 12 months

Minutes:

The Panel noted that the Cabinet Member for Customer Services and Anti-Fraud gave apologies.

 

The report was presented by the Assistant Director for Communications and Democratic Services.

 

In response to questions from the Panel, he said that the use of e-forms compatible with mobile devices was being rolled out as it was critical that residents’ needs were met. He added that residents experiencing problems with the website could provide feedback by email, Twitter and Facebook or by ringing the Service Centre. The Council had chosen not to use the Traffic Light faces used by other councils as it was felt they did not give accurate feedback and Google analytics was used instead to review a resident’s journey through the system.

 

A member raised an issue a resident had had with parking permits online and having to print and bring to a Service Centre. The Panel stated that online forms should be kept under review to ensure the Council moves to ‘true’ online forms, negating the need to print out before completion and this should be addressed in the next report.

Action: Communities and Environment (Communications and Digital Services)

 

The Panel requested that any user testing included local community groups.

 

Resolved:

 

That the update on the current provision of digital services and plans for the website over the next twelve months be noted.

10.

Responses to Freedom of Information Requests pdf icon PDF 111 KB

To note the Council’s performance in dealing with Freedom of Information and Environmental Information Regulations requests from 1st January 2017 – 30th June 2017.

Minutes:

The report was presented by the Head of Corporate Services, who gave a summary of the performance data between January and June 2017. She asked the Panel to note an overall upturn in performance. This was due to use of Covalent software, which was real time, twice weekly updates were supplied to all directorates, and random checks were undertaken to review the quality of responses.

 

The Panel queried the reason for variation in Directorate performance in terms of response times. The Head of Corporate Services replied that quite often this was related to the complexity of the response needed. Staff turnover could also be a factor. The Management Team had looked at the areas where there were issues and increased resourcing and it was expected that there would be an improvement in the next quarter.

 

The Panel requested that information relating to Internal Reviews and Complaints to the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) be broken down by department, the same as FOIs and this information should be included in future reports.

Action: Communities and Environment (Corporate Services)

 

The Panel asked if there were checks relating to quality control to ensure that issues were resolved before a response was provided. The Head of Corporate Services said that responses were usually of a good quality and each department had a highly experienced representative. There was a move towards using standardised templates and measures were put in place to ensure errors did not occur again.

 

The Chair invited three representatives of the Charlton Central Residents Association (CCRA), including their Chair, to address the Panel. They thanked the Chair of the Panel for taking the item early after Item 5.

 

The CCRA made the following points;

 

The statement at 3.3 in the report ‘For the purposes of the Act and the EIR, recorded information includes printed documents, computer files, letters, emails, photographs and sound or video recordings’ was at variance with the report to Cabinet of 21 December 2004 entitled Freedom of Information Policies, which gave a more expansive list of data sources, which included notebooks and post it notes. The list of items would be reviewed to ensure that all data sources referenced in the Cabinet report were included.

Action: Communities and Environment (Corporate Services)

 

Concerning the Data Protection Act; the CCRA reported that it was not their experience that quality was good. They gave an example of a Freedom of Information response that included third party information that should have been redacted. A review would be undertaken.

Action: Communities and Environment (Corporate Services)

 

The CCRA felt that timely responses to requests were inconsistent across departments of the Council. The Chair felt that this question had already been answered.

 

The graph shown in the report at 4.2 showed performance over a period of six months. The CCRA had noted that the trajectory appeared to be in the wrong direction and asked if this was due to both FOI and EIR being included in the graph. They queried if there would be any benefit in  ...  view the full minutes text for item 10.

11.

Commissioning Future Reports pdf icon PDF 41 KB

To note the work programme items that are scheduled to be presented to the next meeting of the Panel and to identify any specific themes or lines of enquiry

 

Minutes:

The Panel requested that the report on the Use of Public Buildings included the Public Hall.

Action: Senior Corporate Development Officer/ Communities and Environment / Regeneration, Enterprise and Skills

 

Resolved:

 

That the Work Programme items scheduled for the meeting of 16 November 2017 be noted.