LEADER'S REPORT TO COUNCIL
To receive a report from the leader on the activities of the executive (cabinet) since the meeting of Council in July 2018.
Council received an update on the work of the Cabinet since Council’s previous meeting on 13 July 2018.
The Leader introduced the report, highlighting the launch of and desire to promote the care heroes website; a council tax reduction for care leavers; success of the community brokers team; schools performance results; the recognition of the need to do more to improve educational outcomes for looked after children; the visit from members of the House of Lords Select Committee on the Rural Economy; and the launch of the quarterly council publication ‘Herefordshire Now”.
The following issues were raised in discussion:
· A member welcomed the introduction of a bike share scheme in Hereford city, the council’s support for cycling and highlighted the opportunity to bid for national funding for a closed cycling track that could be at the heart of encouraging cycling. He also urged that old railway lines across the county be developed for cycling which would amongst other things contribute to the income from tourism.
· Referring to the sale of land and buildings within the Enterprise zone at Rotherwas an assurance was sought that disposals would not limit the potential for a route of an eastern bypass for the City. The Leader noted that this matter had been previously been discussed by council. The focus of economic development was linked to the western bypass.
· In response to a question about representation of small and medium enterprises at the visit from the House of Lords Select Committee on the Rural Economy the Leader agreed to provide detail to members.
· A member expressed dissatisfaction that elected members had not been invited to the Select Committee’s visit and about communication with him both about the event and generally as local ward member. The Leader replied that the event had not been arranged by the council. He had sent the councillor information about the event in advance of it. He recognised the importance of there being engagement with local ward members.
· It was noted that, as referred to at paragraph 11 of the report, Council had resolved in July to ask the Leader to consider an additional objective for the chief executive to “champion high standards of conduct and a strong commitment to public service throughout the council.” As the report said, the Leader had decided not to include such an additional objective as it restated what was a general requirement of all managerial posts.
Several members questioned the decision not to include the proposed additional objective. It was suggested that the decision was contrary to council’s wishes, in itself unwelcome, and did not set a good example. The objective’s inclusion would have demonstrated public facing leadership on these issues in accordance with the recommendation of the Committee on Standards of Public Life in its report in 2013, “A review of best practice in promoting good behaviour in public life”, that chief executives of all organisations delivering public services should take personal responsibility for ethical standards in their organisations. The Leader’s decision was to the detriment of the council’s reputation. The assertion that the provision was implicit within the current objectives did not preclude it being made explicit.
The Leader commented that he had decided, as set out in paragraph 11 of the report, that the inclusion of the additional objective proposed would have been superfluous.
In response to the concerns expressed about the treatment of council’s recommendation the Chairman read council’s resolution in July 2018 to the meeting, confirming that it had been a matter for the Leader to consider the issue and decide upon it. The matter could be reviewed at the next annual review of the chief executive’s objectives.
· The Leader confirmed the recruitment process for a further Independent Person to support the council in delivering its responsibilities in relation to standards in public life was underway and a report would be made to the Audit and Governance Committee in November.
· Several members referred to the new council publication “Herefordshire Now”. Clarification was sought on its circulation and total cost. It was also observed that the Government had some years ago criticised some council publications, with the then Secretary of State describing them as propaganda at the taxpayers’ expense.
It was also asserted that it was essential that information the publication contained was accurate. The statement that the proposed western bypass would reduce congestion in the city was contrary to the various studies that had been produced.
The Leader replied that 5,000 copies had been printed at a cost of £499. These would be distributed in various public buildings across the county. The publication was also on line. He had no costing in terms of officer time but the information was being produced by officers all the time. Collating the material was therefore not a significant task. It was important that the public was aware of what the council was doing. This was not propaganda but the council communicating with its residents and engaging the community in debate about the direction of council services. The importance of such communication had been recognised in the recent corporate peer challenge.
Removing traffic that did not need to be in the city from the city had to be of benefit and ease congestion.
· The Leader clarified the respective roles of the Marches Enterprise Joint Executive Committee (MEJEC) and the Marches LEP Board, the relevant legal requirements relating to meetings of the MEJEC and action taken to seek to minimise costs of attendance by holding meetings on the same day as Board meetings. It was noted that the minutes of both bodies were available on line.
· The Leader acknowledged that, as referred to at paragraph 10 of the report, the Secretary of State for Justice’s response to the request that he reconsider the move of remand cases from Hereford to Kidderminster had been disappointing. He accepted a member’s suggestion that the matter should be raised with the county’s MPs.
· With reference to additional legal spend on the disposal of the smallholdings estate the cabinet member contracts and assets agreed to supply a written answer on the legal costs incurred to date on the disposal programme, noting that some disposals were ongoing. The Leader added that the receipts from sales had proved to be higher than the sum predicted.
· In relation to the recent Ofsted inspection of local authority children’s services and the invitation to all members to support the continued improvement journey, it was observed that one of the principal failings continued to relate to the management of the council’s own staff, was therefore within the council’s control and should be readily capable of being addressed. It was questioned when this matter would finally be remedied. The Leader commented that Cabinet was due to consider the improvement plan in response to the inspection on 18 October. He welcomed all members’ views upon it. He looked forward to the plan delivering the required results.
· Whilst the first parish council summit was welcome, the timing was questioned having regard to the fact that the development of parish council budgets would be well advanced reducing the scope to discuss taking on additional roles in service delivery if these were proposed by Herefordshire Council. It was also suggested that such summits should be held on quarterly or 4 monthly basis. The Leader emphasised his support for the role and value of parish councils. The summit was about greater engagement and dialogue about the issues. It was not intended to be a meeting focussing on additional budget commitments. He explained how the October date was the earliest convenient date to seek to achieve maximum attendance. He wanted regular summits to take place. He confirmed that a team of officers would continue to provide support to liaison with parish councils.
· It was asked if officers could deliver services within budget having regard to the financial pressures facing the council and the importance of maintaining adequate reserves. The cabinet member – finance and corporate services commented that officers had to demonstrate the need for any changes requested in budgets. Some events, for example an increase in the number of looked after children, could not be foreseen leading to unexpected costs requiring budgets to be adjusted. Any concerns about the level of reserves should be raised with the S151 officer. As cabinet member he had sought confirmation from that Officer at the last council meeting that the reserves were appropriate. The release of reserves was targeted on opportunities to change the mode of future service delivery mindful of expected levels of government funding in 2020 and beyond. The picture was uncertain and he supported the retention of a prudent level of reserves having regard to the advice of the S151 officer.
· It was asked why the budget consultation had not included much on capital expenditure, when such consultation would take place, why member suggestions in the budget consultation meeting had not been taken up, how many responses had been received to the budget consultation and whether the leader would commit to improving the process of public consultation and consider the possibility of establishing a cross-party working group on that subject. The leader commented that some 40 people had attended the budget consultation. He would like to see improved engagement and would welcome any suggestions.
· The cabinet member – finance and corporate services undertook to provide a written answer on the budget consultation response. The budget for 2019/20 was in line with the medium term financial strategy. He noted that the scrutiny committees would have the opportunity to comment upon it. It had to be born in mind that every £10m of capital funding required £0.5m of revenue expenditure year on year to finance it. This meant that the room for manoeuvre was more limited than it might appear.
· In response to a question the leader reiterated his pride in the decision to reduce council tax for care leavers noting that this was one of many actions being taken with partners and the community to achieve the best outcomes for looked after children and care leavers.
· A question was asked about the financial health of Hoople Ltd and whether it was generating the income to the council that had been expected on its establishment. The cabinet member – finance and corporate services commented that Hoople’s accounts could be inspected.
· It was asked whether some of the funds from the disposal of land at the former Holme Lacy primary school would be allocated to Mordiford Primary School as it was having to accommodate pupils from the Holme Lacy catchment. The Leader undertook to inform the local ward member of the consideration of the allocation of that capital receipt.
· It was asked whether Balfour Beatty Living Places (BBLP) would be able to deliver their responsibilities to maintain the council’s open spaces and verges given that it was understood that they had sold the equipment they owned required for these tasks and would therefore be reliant on third party contractors. It was requested that members be informed of the sum raised by the sale of the equipment, noting a forthcoming decision proposing to relaunch the existing Herefordshire Public Green Spaces Community Grant scheme apparently relied on funding raised by the sale of that equipment. The cabinet member contracts and assets confirmed that BBLP remained contracted to deliver this work. The Chairman suggested that the detailed point should be pursued outside the meeting.
RESOLVED: That the report be noted.
- Leader's report to Council, main report, item 31. PDF 86 KB
- Appendix 1 for Leader's report to Council, item 31. PDF 91 KB