Agenda and minutes

Resources and Public Realm Scrutiny Committee
Tuesday 9 January 2018 7.00 pm

Venue: Boardrooms 4/5/6 - Brent Civic Centre, Engineers Way, Wembley, HA9 0FJ. View directions

Contact: Bryony Gibbs, Governance Officer  020 8937 1355; Email: bryony.gibbs@brent.gov.uk

Items
No. Item

1.

Apologies for absence and clarification of alternate members

Minutes:

Apologies for absence were received from Councillors Aden, Davidson and Stopp. Councillors Choudhary and Kabir were substituting for Councillors Aden and Stopp respectively.

 

 

2.

Declarations of interests

Members are invited to declare at this stage of the meeting, any relevant disclosable pecuniary, personal or prejudicial interests in the items on this agenda.

Minutes:

For purposes of transparency, Councillor Crane declared that he was a Director of I4B.

3.

Deputations (if any)

To hear any deputations received from members of the public in accordance with Standing Order 69.

Minutes:

There were no deputations.

4.

Minutes of the previous meeting pdf icon PDF 135 KB

To approve the minutes of the previous meeting of the Committee held on 27 November 2017 as ab accurate record.

 

Please note these minutes will be circulated as a supplemental item to the main agenda.

Minutes:

RESOLVED: That the minutes of the previous meeting held on 27 November 2017 be approved as a correct record.

5.

Matters arising (if any)

To consider any matters arising from the minutes of the previous meeting.

Minutes:

There were no matters arising.

6.

Budget Scrutiny Task Group Report pdf icon PDF 88 KB

This report set out the findings and recommendations of the recent budget scrutiny task group.

Additional documents:

Minutes:

The Chair introduced the report of the Task Group, highlighting that it had been finalised prior to the provisional Local Government Finance Settlement announced on 19 December 2017. The Settlement provided an option to certain councils to increase council tax by a further one per cent, over and above the existing maximum increase of 3.99 per cent per year. Councillor McLennan (Deputy Leader), Althea Loderick (Strategic Director, Resources) and Ravinder Jassar (Head of Finance) were present to address members’ queries.

 

Councillor McLennan reminded the committee that the Council had set a two year budget in 2017/18 and acknowledged that this was reflected in the approach taken by the Budget Scrutiny Task Group. A decision had not yet been made regarding the option to add a further one per cent to the planned level of Council Tax increase for 2018/19. At the invitation of the Deputy Leader, Ravinder Jassar provided a brief commentary on the 12 recommendations of the Budget Scrutiny Task Group, confirming that there was broad agreement to all of the recommendations and that a number were already in place. With reference to Recommendation 1, Ravinder Jassar explained that the council’s medium term financial planning encompassed planning, as far as reasonably possible, for the consequences of Britain’s exit from the European Union (EU) by holding an adequate level of reserves and building contingencies into the base budget for known and measurable impacts such as inflation. Recommendation 2 had also been met, as London Councils had agreed to a sub-regional veto with regard to the Strategic Investment pot produced via the London business rates pool. In response to a query, it was clarified that the decisions regarding these funds would require a two thirds majority vote to be carried. The Government had not yet confirmed whether any restrictions would be placed on funds drawn from the London business rates pool.

 

Members subsequently questioned the implications of bringing procurement back in-house for the 2017/18 and 2018/19 budgets, with particular comment sought on the challenging savings in place for the department. Further detail was sought regarding the risks that Britain’s exit from the EU posed for Brent’s local economy and the mitigating actions identified. Concern was expressed regarding the council’s level of preparation for these risks and it was queried how Brent’s planning compared with that of other councils, whether the council undertook scenario planning and if the local economy was prepared for related shocks. It was noted that the Economic Prosperity Board had undertaken an impact assessment on the implications of Britain’s exit from the EU on the workforce. A query was raised regarding whether the implications of the role out of Universal Credit had been factored into the budget.

 

Several queries were raised regarding the option to further increase council tax. Members questioned what process would be undertaken if the option was to be pursued, whether the Localism Act provided any powers to place a one-off levy on those in the highest council tax banding and how the impact on  ...  view the full minutes text for item 6.

7.

The Digital Strategy and the Customer Experience pdf icon PDF 120 KB

To receive a report from the Director of Performance, Policy and Partnerships providing an update on the Brent Digital Strategy 2017 – 2020 and its impact on the customer experience in accessing services.  The report also provides an outline for the forthcoming Channel Strategy and seeks feedback from the Committee on its scope and the principles proposed to underpin the ways in which Brent Council will design and deliver its services across a range of contact channels to ensure accessibility and value for money.

Additional documents:

Minutes:

Peter Gadsdon (Director Performance, Policy and Partnerships) introduced the report on the Brent Digital Strategy 2017-2020. The report provided an overview of the Digital Strategy, approved by Cabinet in June 2017 and outlined the proposed Channel Strategy currently in development. The Digital Strategy set out a vision for a programme of change, driven by use of new technologies, through which the priorities of the Brent 2020 plan could be met. In line with this, the Channel Strategy would help to provide clarity regarding the impact on the customer experience across all channels of contact with the council and ensure consistency in the quality of access.

 

Highlighting the key themes of the Digital Strategy, Peter Gadsdon advised that the work being undertaken focussed on enabling customers to access services online, via their preferred device at any time, whilst promoting self-help and digital inclusion. At the same time, a significant focus of the strategy was to address the needs of vulnerable service users who were not able to self-help or access services independently. For this cohort, the future experience for accessing services would be more tailored to their needs, including appointments, relational support in community based settings and earlier interventions by core services. The Digital Strategy also included an objective to Trial radical approaches and develop innovative solutions for new models of service delivery’. Workstreams under this objective would trial and implement new technologies, including chatbots (virtual agents) and next generation telephony, across multiple council departments and service areas.

 

Peter Gadsdon outlined some of the work currently underway, advising that  the council had invested in a new development team, which would be tasked with building a single system to replace and streamline a number of back-office systems. Another big investment in progress was the procurement of the new telephony system which would provide a much more flexible and responsive communications system for Brent.

 

In the subsequent discussion members sought an update on the progress made in reducing the number of publically advertised telephone numbers for council services, questioned whether the council had undertaken research regarding preferences for different automated telephone menu options and queried whether the website could be accessed in different languages. Questions were raised regarding response times with regard to emails and how to manage public expectations. Members expressed support for the Harlesden Community Hub model but noted that issues had been raised regarding uniformity and quality of service due to the range of different partners contributing to its delivery. It was subsequently queried whether this issue was being monitored and addressed. With regard to the Channel Strategy and the different contact channels identified, the committee emphasised that face-to-face was a broad category and questioned whether a consistent offer would be provided by all staff, including back-office staff who may be approached in the civic centre. Questions were raised regarding the council’s Client Index system and how this fit into the Digital Strategy, with comment particularly sought on the potential for achieving cost savings for the council by  ...  view the full minutes text for item 7.

8.

Review of Recycling Rates in Brent pdf icon PDF 101 KB

This report provides details on the Borough’s current recycling rates along with a comparison against rates from other similar authorities.  The report has been requested by the Scrutiny Committee to assist Members in considering how performance might be improved.

 

In addition details are provided on attempts being made to reduce food waste in the recycling stream and on the use of new technology to help improve recycling rates.

Minutes:

The Chair advised that the committee had undertaken a site visit to the Abbey Road, Brent Reuse and Recycling Centre in preparation for this item.

 

At the invitation of the Chair, Councillor Southwood (Lead Member for Environment) introduced the report and advised that it reflected on the challenge to the council to sustainably maintain recycling rates against an increasing proportion of flats in the borough. It was explained that people living in flats found it hard to recycle and this was a key element of the challenge faced by the council in maintaining recycling rates. Amar Dave (Strategic Director, Regeneration and Environment), Chris Whyte (Operational Director, Environmental Services), Simon Finney (Head of Environmental Improvement) and Kelly Eaton (Public Realm Policy and Projects Manager) were also present to address the committee’s queries.

 

In the subsequent discussion, members highlighted that whilst the number of bulky waste requests had reduced, there had been no change in the total tonnage to Abbey Road and sought comment on this trend. Kelly Eaton confirmed that bulky waste requests and reduced from 80 to 20 per day since the Bulky Waste charge was introduced. However, there had not been a significant increase in visitor numbers or alternative methods of taking bulky waste items to the Abbey Road site and further work, which would form part of the six month review of the service, was required to better understand this trend.

 

Members further questioned why the council was not being bolder in its recycling targets, citing the 100 per cent targets of some American cities and noting without endorsing, the enforcement tactic employed by some boroughs of charging residents for putting recyclable materials in to their black bins. The committee questioned why Brent had one of the lowest rates of recycling out of the six authorities in the West London Waste Authority and, noting that Brent residents were no longer able to access the Harrow Waste, Refuse and Recycling Centre free of charge, questioned the co-operation between neighbouring boroughs. A member questioned whether Veolia (the council’s public realm contractor) had been financially penalised for the fall in Brent’s recycling rates and queried what strategy was in place to address the issue of recycling in flats. The success of the Envac System which was used in some new developments in Wembley was commented upon and it was queried why this was not a requirement for all new developments. It was also noted that some of the collection systems for estates were not fit for purpose and this needed to be addressed with the council’s Housing Team. Further questions were raised regarding Brent’s ability to increase charges for Trade Waste and how to better educate Brent’s residents regarding the free of charge services to address illegal dumping.

 

In response, Chris Whyte advised that the legislative framework in America was more beneficial to absolute targets, permitting enforcement fines for non-compliance. Simon Finney outlined the enforcement powers under the Environmental Protection Act and advised that the requirements of taking enforcement action under  ...  view the full minutes text for item 8.

9.

Review of Trading Standards' Role and Priority Areas pdf icon PDF 127 KB

This report outlines the role and priorities of the Council’s Trading Standards, focussing, as requested by the Committee, on the following areas:

 

·         Analysis on the role of Trading Standards in 2017

·         Are the Service targeting the correct areas?

·         What do the public want trading standards to do?

 

Additional documents:

Minutes:

The Chair advised that the committee had visited the Trading Standards team in preparation for this item and welcomed Councillor Miller (Lead Member for Stronger Communities), Amar Dave (Strategic Director, Regeneration and Environment), Simon Legg (Senior Regulatory Service Manager), Samuel Abdullahi (Acting Team Leader ) and Anu Prashar (Senior Prosecutor).

 

At the invitation of the Chair, Councillor Miller introduced the report reviewing the role and priorities of the Trading Standards Service (TS). It was noted that many of the outputs of the service had a direct impact on Brent residents,  helping people often in extremely vulnerable circumstances. The TS had operated on a joint consortium basis between the London Borough of Brent and the London Borough of Harrow for over 50 years, with Brent acting as the host authority. The committee heard that TS performed the statutory role of a ‘weights and measures authority’ with the responsibility of enforcing more than 250 pieces of legislation covering a wide ranging remit.  Councillor Miller advised that the budget for TS had reduced significantly in recent years, whilst demand had continued to increase and welcomed the committee’s views regarding priorities for the service going forward.

 

During members’ discussion, the committee sought further detail on spend-to-save opportunities for the service, referencing the Proceeds of Crime (PoC) Act 2002 and the Home Office incentivisation scheme as a potential source of income. A query was raised regarding the TS’s scope to take enforcement action against ticket touts. Members queried whether the TS worked with the voluntary sector, particularly in relation to raising awareness around fraud and scams and supporting victims of such acts. A member noted the proliferation of online scams and questioned how the TS had evolved to respond to this trend. Clarification was sought regarding the powers of the TS to prosecute in cases of fraud. Discussing the rising number of acid attack incidents across the country, members questioned how the TS worked with Brent traders regarding the sale of chemicals used in such assaults.

 

In response to the queries raised, Councillor Miller agreed to explore spend-to-save opportunities but cautioned that there were Home Office controls regarding the way in which income generated through the PoC Act 2002 could be applied in this regard. Simon Legg advised that the most appropriate powers to address ticket touting were those belonging to the  Licensing Team (in relation to illegally trading without the appropriate street trading license) and the Police’s powers under the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994 (prevents the reselling of tickets to avoid opposing fans creating  matters of public order). The TS did work with the voluntary sector including Age UK and Citizens Advice but noted that much of the work undertaken by the TS was done so in line with its statutory responsibilities. Online scams were reported via ActionFraud, a national fraud and cyber crime reporting centre. The TS also had a dedicated standalone computer to allow officers to go through the details of online scams without leaving a  ...  view the full minutes text for item 9.

10.

Any other urgent business

Notice of items to be raised under this heading must be given in writing to the Head of Executive and Member Services or his representative before the meeting in accordance with Standing Order 60.

Minutes:

None.