Agenda and minutes

People Scrutiny Committee - Thursday, 17th November, 2022 10.30 am

Venue: Council Chamber, County Hall, Lewes. View directions

Contact: Beth McGhee  Senior Policy and Scrutiny Adviser


No. Item


Minutes of the previous meeting held on 27th September 2022 pdf icon PDF 443 KB

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18        Minutes of the previous meeting – 27 September 2022


18.1     The Committee RESOLVED to agree the minutes of the meeting held on 27 September 2022 as a correct record and agree the recommendations made at the meeting.



Apologies for absence

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19        Apologies for absence


19.1     Apologies for absence were received from Councillor Charles Clark, Mr Trevor Cristin (Diocese of Chichester Representative) and Miss Nicola Boulter (Parent Governor Representative).



Disclosures of interests

Disclosures by all members present of personal interests in matters on the agenda, the nature of any interest and whether the member regards the interest as prejudicial under the terms of the Code of Conduct.


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Urgent items

Notification of items which the Chair considers to be urgent and proposes to take at the appropriate part of the agenda. Any members who wish to raise urgent items are asked, wherever possible, to notify the Chair before the start of the meeting. In so doing, they must state the special circumstances which they consider justify the matter being considered urgent.


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21        Urgent items


21.1     There were no urgent items.



Adult Social Care Workforce Update pdf icon PDF 322 KB

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Adult Social Care and Health (ASCH) Workforce Programme

22.1     The Assistant Director, Operations (ASC) and Head of Training, Workforce and Organisational Development in ASCH introduced a report and presentation updating the Committee on the ASCH Workforce Programme (2022-25). The update was provided in response to a request made by the People Scrutiny ASC Workforce Review Scoping Board, in March 2022, for the Committee to have an update on the Department’s work to address recruitment and retention challenges later in the year. As part of the presentation, the Committee was updated on the latest Skills for Care data on the East Sussex care workforce (all sectors), which showed an increase in the turnover rate (from 27.8% in 2020/21 to 34% in 2021/22) and vacancy rate (from 4.6% in 2020/21 to 8.8% in 2021/22). The turnover rate was slightly higher than the regional (33.4%) and national (30%) average turnover rates. The average number of sick days in the local care workforce (7.2 days for 2021/22) was highlighted as below the national average (8.1 days).


22.2     The Assistant Director and Head of Training, Workforce and Organisational Development outlined a number of projects the Department was undertaking as part of the Programme, within its six workstreams (strategic workforce planning, leadership and management, recruitment, retention, building and enhancing social justice in the workforce, and enhancing the wellbeing of the workforce). The Department had established channels, including a dedicated email address, for all ASCH staff to make suggestions or comments on the Programme and since March 2022 over 700 staff had accessed these channels, demonstrating a good level of staff engagement. The presentation concluded with a look ahead at projects and work planned over the coming years of the Programme. The presentation slides delivered were appended to the report included in the Committee’s agenda pack.


22.3     The Chair thanked the officers for the presentation. The Committee asked questions and made comments on the following areas:


·                     Local social care workforce size – a question was asked on how many posts in total there were in the care sector locally. The Director of ASCH responded that the figure was around 18,500 posts in total but noted that the figure was challenging to calculate accurately as factors such as fluctuating levels of funding in the system impacted overall numbers of posts at any one time. The Director emphasised that regardless of the total number of people employed, both the vacancy and turnover rates were very challenging.


·                     Skills for care data – officers were asked to comment on data covered in the presentation, including the increase in the vacancy and turnover rates. Both the Director and Head of Training, Workforce and Organisational Development responded that both rates were of huge concern. The Head of Training noted that the increase in the vacancy rate may have been impacted by a scheme to enable younger people to try roles before they applied, as a lot of those people had since left. In terms of other work  ...  view the full minutes text for item 22.


Reconciling Policy, Performance and Resources (RPPR) pdf icon PDF 223 KB

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23.1     The Chief Finance Officer introduced the report which provided the Committee with an opportunity to consider the current position of the services within its remit and identify any information required ahead of the Committee’s December RPPR Board. As the Autumn Statement was being announced on the day of the Committee’s meeting, the Chief Finance Officer committed to circulate a briefing to all councillors on the implications of the Autumn Statement for ESCC.


23.2     The Committee asked questions on the following areas:


·                     Use of County Hall – a question was asked on whether financial analysis would be undertaken of the impact of alternative use of County Hall on future years of RPPR. The Chief Finance Officer responded that while the papers presented to the Committee provided an overview of the current position for service budgets and portfolio plans, to inform consideration of information the Committee required ahead of its RPPR Board, any ideas or options to mitigate future budget pressures would be considered through the RPPR process for 2023/24 onwards. The Chair of the Committee also advised that consideration of the Council’s property strategy would be a matter for Place Scrutiny Committee. The Lead Member for EISEND confirmed that Cabinet had discussed with the Corporate Management Team how to make best use of the Council’s office accommodation post-COVID, so the matter was under consideration.


·                     Budget sustainability – recent press coverage of the challenging financial position facing county councils in the South East was noted and assurance sought that ESCC was not facing similar challenges. The Chief Finance Officer responded that much like other local authorities, in the medium term, ESCC faced a significant deficit and would not be able to present a balanced Medium Term Finance Plan without additional sources of funding. The current position did not, however, generate the scale of concerns other councils had reflected publicly recently.


·                     One Council working – a question was asked on how well Directors felt they were able to achieve their services’ priorities given, what could be seen as, conflicting priorities and demands in other areas of the Council. The Director of ASCH responded that they recognised and saw a One Council approach in the way services and priorities were planned and delivered at ESCC. First and foremost, the Council’s priorities and the way Departments worked together was informed by the range of statutory responsibilities the directorates were responsible for delivering. Beyond that, where there were opportunities to work more flexibly on delivering broader priorities there was a corporate, One Council approach used, particularly through the RPPR process which provided a mechanism to ensure the Council effectively used its resources to deliver on a range of priorities and agendas. The Lead Member for EISEND added that the limitations on resources meant that there were often challenging decisions to be made around prioritisation of resources, and that the RPPR process enabled the Council to plan its budgets and priorities considering demands as a whole. The Director  ...  view the full minutes text for item 23.


Work Programme pdf icon PDF 392 KB

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24.1     The Chair introduced the report which outlined the Committee’s latest work programme. The Chair of the Scrutiny Review of Use of Digital and Technology in ASC reported that the Review was concluding, having considered a range of evidence and would be reporting to the Committee’s next meeting. The Chair of the Review Board added that they were supportive of the Committee’s work programme, which was balanced, and that they welcomed the opportunity scrutiny reviews provided for the Committee to act a critical friend to work taking place and give a greater profile to that work.


School Attendance Data

24.2     Following a request of the People Scrutiny Board that scoped a potential review of School Attendance in March 2022, an update on school attendance data was considered to assist the Committee with work programming of this planned review. The Director of Children’s Services introduced the latest data that was appended to the report, outlining that in line with a national trend post- coronavirus pandemic, the rate of school absences in East Sussex had not improved. The Head of Education: SEND and Safeguarding added that the Department had recently received national comparator data for autumn/winter 2021/22 which showed that East Sussex had overall absence and persistent absence rates closer to the England average than its statistical neighbours. Despite this, improving school attendance was a very high priority for schools and the Department.


24.3     The Head of Education: SEND and Safeguarding also outlined that new national guidance on attendance had been published and was due to come into force as statutory guidance in 2023. The Department was looking at how to organise its services to deliver on new expectations this created. The guidance created a new category of attendance; children with attendance at 50% or lower would be classed as having ‘severe absence’. Early analysis indicated that there would be significant numbers of children in this category in East Sussex, who would need to be supported by the Council as a result of the new expectations.


24.3       The Committee asked questions on the following areas:


·                     Reasons for absences – questions were asked on whether the Department looked into the reasons for absences from school and ensured the interventions taken in response addressed those reasons, noting that sometimes a family’s lifestyle or situation could be a cause. The Head of Education: SEND and Safeguarding responded that the reasons for school absence were varied, and layered, and it could be challenging to unpick the causes unless the Department was already working with families. When working with children or families, the Department would explore the reasons for school absences and make an intervention tailored to the cause. Causes of poor attendance could range from anxiety and mental health issues, including parental anxiety about school, to Emotionally Based School Avoidance, to a children’s Special Education Needs or Disability (SEND) (for example instances of children with autism who struggled at school).


The Head of Education: SEND and Safeguarding added that the Department was working  ...  view the full minutes text for item 24.


Elective Home Education (EHE) in East Sussex pdf icon PDF 310 KB

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25        elective home education (EHE) in east sussex


25.1     The Assistant Director Education and the Head of Education: SEND and Safeguarding introduced the report which updated the Committee on the work the Department undertook to meet the Council’s statutory requirements relating to Electively Home Educated (EHE) Children. The growth in the number of children electively home educated between the 2017/18 and 2021/22 academic years was highlighted, and it was noted that the current number of children EHE in East Sussex was equivalent to around the size of a large secondary school. The introduction also covered:

·                     The limited statutory powers the Authority had to ensure EHE children received a good standard of education, and to safeguard children. The Head of Education: SEND and Safeguarding noted that EHE had been a factor in a number of serious case reviews nationally.

·                     The changing national policy and legislative framework, including that the Schools Bill, which had been expected to legislate for new duties on local authorities – including to maintain a register of children not in school – appeared to have been removed from the Parliamentary timetable as a result of recent national political changes.

·                     The service had recently undergone an internal audit that had received an opinion of substantial assurance that the service was delivering its duties.

·                     Service improvements were being implemented and schools were supportive of work to reduce the number of children EHE and bring children EHE back into school wherever possible.


25.2     The Lead Member for EISEND commented that the reasons for families choosing to EHE were varied, and as a result the standard of education children received was very varied. The Authority had very limited powers, particularly around ensuring the safeguarding of EHE children and it was unfortunate that the future of the Schools Bill, which would have given greater powers in this area, had become uncertain.  


25.3       The Committee asked questions and made comments on the following areas:


·                     Areas with high EHE – a question was asked on where the five schools with higher levels of EHE mentioned in the report were situated in the county. The Head of Education: SEND and Safeguarding committed to follow-up with this information, as well as where the schools with lowest level of EHE were situated. The Head of Education: SEND and Safeguarding noted that the schools with high or low levels were identified by schools recording requests to off-roll children. The Department knew that there were children in some parts of the county who had never been on-rolled; and there were parts of the county where certain philosophical beliefs around education were contributing to high levels of EHE but the position of children who had never been admitted to a school roll would not be reflected in the data.


·                     Religious education – a question was asked on whether there was any focus on ensuring EHE children received a religious education. The Director responded that parents that elected to home educate their children were not bound by the national curriculum or to  ...  view the full minutes text for item 25.