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Declarations of Interest
To provide an opportunity for Members and Officers to declare any disclosable pecuniary and non-pecuniary interests in any item on the agenda.
Councillors S Gardiner and N Mannion declared personal interests as future recipients of a pension from the Cheshire pension fund.
Councillor J P Findlow declared a personal interest as a current recipient of a pension from the Cheshire pension fund.
Public Speaking/Open Session
In accordance with paragraph 2.24 of the Committee Procedure Rules and Appendix on Public Speaking, set out in the Constitution, a total period of 15 minutes is allocated for members of the public to put questions to the Committee on any matter relating to this agenda. Each member of the public will be allowed up to two minutes to speak; the Chair will have discretion to vary this where they consider it appropriate.
Members of the public wishing to speak are required to provide notice of this at least three clear working days in advance of the meeting.
Sue Helliwell asked about the Council’s policy on the disposal of Council-owned land, with particular reference to public open space. She asked who took decisions to release land and whether there were any prior discussions with local ward members, the Leader, planning committees and the relevant committee chairs.
The Director of Governance and Compliance responded that the publication of notices advertising the potential loss of open space was a statutory process and followed a set procedure. The Director confirmed that in the case of a recent disposal of open space in Alsager, the process had been followed. A detailed written response to the question would be provided.
To approve as a correct record the minutes of the meeting held on 2nd December 2021.
That the minutes of the meeting held on 2nd December 2021 be approved as a correct record.
To respond to budget consultation.
The Committee considered the Medium-Term Financial Strategy 2022 to 2026 as part of the budget consultation. The consultation document included proposals to update the current MTFS that was approved by Council in February 2021.
All Committees were being asked to provide feedback in relation to their financial responsibilities as identified within the Constitution and linked to the budget alignment approved by the Finance Sub-Committee in July 2021. Responses to the consultation, including those of all service committees, would be reported to the Corporate Policy Committee at its meeting on 10th February 2022 with a view to the Committee making recommendations to Council.
Appendix 1 to the report contained the Budget Engagement document, including the survey questions that had been used during the consultation period, which closed 4th January 2022.
The Provisional Settlement announced on 16th December 2021 had varied the assumptions contained in the Budget Engagement document. Appendix 2 to the report, which had been circulated to members before the meeting, set out the changes announced and the impact on the estimated funding envelope.
The Executive Director of Corporate Services informed the Committee that the budget for Corporate Services remained fairly static over the four year period of the MTFS, at £36m next year, rising to £38m largely as a result of inflation. There was some growth attributable to the revenue consequences of capital expenditure on ICT and to pay inflation and increased national insurance contributions. The Executive Director briefly discussed the proposals within the consultation document that were relevant to the responsibilities of the Committee.
Members raised the following matters in relation to the consultation document:
§ Members asked whether the mitigation to address reducing levels of Dedicated Schools Grant was as up to date as it could be. The Executive Director of Corporate Services would ensure that this was addressed in the report back to the Committee in February.
§ The question was asked whether there was sufficient flexibility to allow for a smaller increase in Council tax, for instance by utilising money currently intended for the General Reserves? Officers responded that the Government had an expectation that councils would increase Council tax to achieve financial sustainability. Members would have to consider any flexibility in Council tax rises in relation to risks such as the pressure on the Adult Social Care budget and inflation.
§ The question was asked whether the Government would be moving to a deprivation-based model of assessing the needs of local authorities from 2023. The Director of Finance and Customer Services replied that this had been a feature of the fairer funding consultation that had taken place in recent years. Whilst it was not certain when any such change would take place, the Government did appear to be moving towards a deprivation-based model.
§ Concern was expressed about the energy consumption of the cloud-based platform Atamis and the green credentials of the company providing the system. The Executive Director of Corporate Services undertook to look into the matter and write to ... view the full minutes text for item 61.
To develop and approve a new approach for communications with residents.
The Committee considered a report which set out proposals for how the Council would meet its Corporate Plan commitment to communicate effectively with residents. The report explained the approach for communicating with residents and highlighted priority communications activity for January 2022 – March 2023.
Members raised the following matters in relation to the report:
§ The comment was made that some residents did not have access to digital technology and might therefore be excluded from certain forms of engagement. The Head of Communications responded that the communications plan would sit alongside the Digital Strategy which aimed at improving access across the board. On being asked whether digital equipment could be provided by the Council for those in deprived circumstances, the Executive Director of Corporate Services explained that this was not currently planned and that some community-based projects might assist. .
§ The comment was made that town and parish councils and local volunteers would be willing to assist with the distribution of hard copies of documents to residents where necessary.
§ Some members of the public were still finding it difficult to access Cheshire East committee meetings over the Internet. The Executive Director of Corporate Services responded that there were ongoing technical issues involving the Council’s firewall and that a solution was being sought; she undertook to pursue the matter and report back to Members.
§ Greater emphasis should be placed on residents in particular, as opposed to other stakeholders, and recognition should be given to the communication difficulties experienced by older people.
§ The communications plan should also address the needs of minority groups such as travellers.
§ With regard to a question about how robust social and digital media platforms were against attempts by third parties to influence and disrupt communications, the Executive Director of Corporate Services suggested that the Committee might wish to add an item on cyber security to its work programme.
§ In response to a comment about the difficulty in contacting officers, for example in the highways and planning services, the Chief Executive reiterated the importance of customer service and explained that work was underway to make improvements.
The Head of Communications advised that the next step would be to conduct a survey of residents and customers to understand their communications preferences and needs. The results of that survey, and a draft communications strategy, would then be brought back to the Committee.
Members asked if the results of the survey could be published on the Council’s website. The Director of Governance and Compliance undertook to work with Democratic Services to ensure that this was done.
On a related matter, Councillor C Browne advised that he and the Leader of the Council were planning a Q&A session for residents.
That the Committee
1. approves the development of a communications strategy for residents, including undertaking a survey of residents and customers to understand their communications preferences and needs; and the results of the survey, together with the draft communications strategy, be brought back ... view the full minutes text for item 62.
To consider an update on health and safety and workforce 2021/22.
The Committee considered an update report on the health, safety and wellbeing of the organisation. The report and Appendix provided a summary of data regarding accident and information data for the Council and maintained schools for Quarter 2 2021/22, the year to date and comparative data for the same periods in the last two years.
Members asked the following questions in relation to the report:
§ With regard to staff currently working from home, what arrangements were in place to monitor accidents at home, and what risk assessments were in place. The Head of Audit and Risk responded that risk assessments were in place and were reviewed with line managers. Accident reports were required to be completed where accidents occurred.
§ What arrangements were in place to ensure that Council equipment provided for home working was safety-checked.
§ How staff absences and shortages, particularly in schools, were being addressed.
§ Whether some form of post-assessment would be undertaken to assess the lessons learned from staff working from home.
The Head of Audit and Risk undertook to provide members with a written response.
§ Whether the statistics relating to academies could be made available. The Head of Audit and Risk replied that she would see if this information could be shared with the Committee; she undertook to report back as part of the next update at the March meeting.
§ If a definition of ‘accident’ could be provided. The Head of Audit and Risk replied that this would be included in the next update report.
That the report be noted.
To consider the Work Programme and determine any required amendments.
The Committee considered its work programme for 2021/22.
The Executive Director of Corporate Services reported that a Covid Update report would be included on the work programme for the February meeting. The report on EDI Strategy and Objectives would be deferred to the March meeting.
Members noted the significant workload for the February meeting and suggested that the meeting start at the earlier time of 10.00 am. The Executive Director of Corporate Services undertook to discuss the matter with the Chair and Vice-Chair.
That the work programme be noted.
To receive the following minutes of sub-committees:
Finance Sub-Committee – 1st December 2021
General Appeals Sub-Committee – 7th December 2021
The minutes of the following sub-committee meetings were received:
§ Finance Sub-Committee – 1st December 2021
§ General Appeals Sub-Committee – 7th December 2021
Reporting of Urgent Decisions
To note any urgent decisions taken on behalf of the Committee.
There were no urgent decisions to report.