Agenda and minutes

Place Scrutiny Committee - Wednesday, 25th November, 2020 10.00 am

Venue: Remotely via Teams and CC1, County Hall, Lewes

Contact: Martin Jenks  Senior Democratic Services Adviser

No. Item


Minutes of the previous meeting pdf icon PDF 132 KB


9.1       The Committee RESOLVED to agree the minutes of the meeting held on 23 September 2020 as a correct record.


Apologies for absence


10.1     There were no apologies for absence.


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.



11.1     Councillor Godfrey Daniel declared a person non prejudicial interest in item 6 on the agenda as he is a Blue Badge holder and this item refers to the Blue Badge application process.


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.



12.1     There were none.


Reconciling Policy, Performance and Resources (RPPR) 2021/22 pdf icon PDF 220 KB

Report by the Chief Executive.

Additional documents:


13.1     The Assistant Chief Executive introduced the report. He outlined that there was still considerable uncertainty around the Government’s Spending Review which was due to be announced later in the day. It was likely that the Council would not receive full details of the financial settlement of funding from central Government until later in December.

13.2     The Committee discussed the report and commented on several aspects. A summary of the points raised is given below.


Medium Term Financial Plan (MTFP)


13.3     The Committee noted the projected budget deficit of £11.548 million for 2021/22 in the updated MTFP and the scenarios outlined in the report. It asked for further details of some of the larger budget pressures described in the table on pages 39 and 40 of the report namely:

  • Looked After Children (LAC) placement costs (MTFP reference Z)
  • Adult Social Care (ASC) future demand modelling (MTFP reference AD); and
  • Council Tax collection fund deficit (MTFP reference AF)


13.4     The Chief Finance Officer explained that the financial planning process keeps budget pressures under review during the course of the year. Some of the cost pressures identified through the MTFP are related to increased costs due to Covid19. The approach to the current year’s budget (2020/21) is to identify Covid19 costs and non Covid19 costs separately and they will be reported through Council Monitoring reports. It is assumed that the Council will be compensated by central Government for the majority of Covid19 related expenditure. 


13.5     The growth in LAC placement costs reflects the situation that a number of children are being placed in settings due to Covid19 that are more expensive and that this cost pressure will reduce over time. The ASC future demand modelling takes into account an anticipated increase in the percentage of people being discharged from hospital with care needs that will become the responsibility of the Council initially (around 60%). The Council is working with the District and Borough councils to understand the impact on Council Tax collection rates. It is anticipated that there will be a downturn in collection rates as the number of people claiming support increases.


13.6     The Council is seeking financial certainty after the announcement of another one year financial settlement in the Spending Review 2020. The Council would like to see a return to longer term financial settlements where the Government announces revenue funding for three financial years and capital funding for four financial years.


Covid19 costs and current year deficit


13.7     The Committee asked if there was a Covid19 expenditure funding deficit at present. The Chief Finance Officer outlined that around £40 million has been paid so far to the Council in Covid19 expenditure payments from central Government. The Council has also submitted a claim for the loss of fees and charges totalling £1.6 million for the first four months of the year and there will be opportunities to make further claims. It was confirmed that the financial situation is manageable, and any funding deficit will be reported through the quarterly Council  ...  view the full minutes text for item 13.


Use of Office Automation and Artificial Intelligence (AI) Systems pdf icon PDF 144 KB

Report by the Chief Operating Officer.

Additional documents:


14.1     The Head of Strategy & Engagement IT&D introduced the report. It was outlined how the use of Robotic Process Automation (RPA) software technology and virtual assistants can increase efficiency, accuracy and productivity. The Corporate Management Team (CMT) has approved the proof of concept work on a virtual assistant Chatbot for the Blue Badge application process, which is one of the top five pages accessed on the Council’s website. The application process has a lot of repetitive steps which are suitable for automation.


14.2     CMT has also approved the business case for a software platform to enable other teams across the organisation to use process automation RPA technology on a service needs basis. There is a four stage plan for the development of new automated processes. A number of candidates for automated processes have been identified by services, including an application within the Social Services team for payments.


14.3     The Committee thanked officers for a very interesting report and discussed various aspects of the use of automated systems. It was confirmed that the intention is to use these systems to make better use of the resources we have now and to improve efficiency. The guiding principle is to use automated systems such as virtual assistants in situations where they work well, thereby freeing up human resources for the processes that people do best.


14.4     The Committee observed that it was important to retain the facility to be able to speak to someone where people need to access a service that way or need help at that point in the process. It was clarified that the automated applications are service led and are designed in conjunction with services so they will be tailored to their needs. They are not intended to take away the option of being able to speak to someone or to make them impersonal. There will always be ‘hand off’ points in the automated processes where it will be possible to speak to a human operator. By automating some processes, the intention is to give staff more time to deal with the more complicated enquiries. The use of virtual assistants is intended to enhance residents’ experience by allowing them to search across different sources of information.


14.5     The Committee commented that the use of office automation is a welcome development and area that scrutiny should continue to keep an overview of. There are clear advantages and the ability to bring together various sources of information on one place is very useful.


14.6     The Committee RESOLVED to note the update on the Council’s work to utilise automation to ease demand and increase efficiencies to support the Core Offer.



Scrutiny Review of Becoming a Carbon Neutral Council pdf icon PDF 132 KB

Report by the Review Board.

Additional documents:


15.1     Councillor Martin Clarke, Chair of the Review Board, introduced the report. The review is structured around the Council’s Climate Emergency Plan examining the actions necessary for the Council to become carbon neutral in its own operations. The Review Board makes a number of recommendations which fall into three categories:

  • Recommendations where the Council has direct control to make the necessary changes;
  • Recommendations for specific projects to show what can be done and to act as examples of best practice; and
  • Recommendations where the Council can influence others, or to lobby for policy changes and resources to tackle climate change.


15.2     The Review Board is conscious of the financial pressures the Council is under and the cost implications of implementing the recommendations should be assessed through the Council’s Reconciling Policy, Performance and Resources (RPPR) budget setting process where the long and short term economic, social, environmental and carbon impacts can be taken into account. The Chair of the Review Board thanked the witnesses and officers involved in the review and the Lead Members for their comments on the draft report.


15.3     The Committee discussed the report of the Review Board. The Committee commented that there are fast moving changes in technology and policy in this area, and it will be important that the outcomes of the review allow flexibility in response to these changes.  The review is one of the first to be undertaken using remote meeting technology which worked really well, enabling the Review Board to speak to a wide range of witnesses and cover at lot of material in a short space of time. It was noted that where the Council is seeking to move away from the use of fossil fuels for heating and vehicles, there is some overlap with the requests the Council receives to divest the East Sussex Pension Fund from investments in fossil fuels.


15.4     The Director of Communities, Economy and Transport commented on the fast moving policy environment and drew the Committee’s attention to the Government’s recently announced Ten Point Plan for a Green Industrial Revolution which echoes some of the topics explored in the review.  The Ten Point Plan covers areas such as:

  • Advancing the development of off-shore wind power;
  • Driving the growth of low carbon hydrogen;
  • Stopping the sale of petrol and diesel vehicles by 2030;
  • Investment in green public transport, cycling and walking;
  • Greener buildings; and
  • Protecting the natural environment.


15.5     The Committee commented that it welcomed the report of the Review Board and wished to endorse it.


15.6     The Committee RESOLVED to endorse the report of the Review Board, and make recommendations to Cabinet for comment, and County Council for approval.



Scrutiny Review of Road Repairs - monitoring report pdf icon PDF 127 KB

Report by the Director of Communities, Economy and Transport.

Additional documents:


16.1     The Contract Manager Highway Infrastructure Services introduced the report. The report is an update on the implementation of the recommendations of the scrutiny review. The review focussed on issues to do with potholes, carriageway repairs, drainage and pavements. Some of the actions have been completed whilst others are ongoing in nature. Significant progress has been made on drainage and in particular work on flooding hotspots and mapping the drainage network. A system of advisories and a velocity patcher have been used to undertake wider pothole repairs. The Team has completed a survey of all the pavements and is developing a plan of works based on that information.


16.2     The Committee discussed the update report and made a number of observations. The comments made by the Committee are summarised below.


Unclassified roads


16.3     Some members of the Committee commented that the reported 14% of unclassified roads requiring maintenance does not correlate with the condition of most roads (with the exception of the principal roads) that the public see which require some work. It was clarified that the percentage of roads requiring maintenance is a national measure as reported to the Department for Transport (DfT) which refers to roads in a ‘red’ condition requiring immediate repair. There is a large proportion of other roads classified as being in ‘amber’ condition which need some work. The original Review Board examined the prioritisation and classification of roads based on the annual survey information. The Director of Communities, Economy and Transport added that previously 25% of unclassified roads were in need of maintenance and work had been carried out on over 140 miles of road. Unclassified roads account for over 1,000 miles of the road network in the County and their condition has been improved.




16.4     The Committee welcomed the completion of the condition survey of pavements (also known as footways) and the development of a three-year improvement plan. It noted that the condition of pavements has been an issue with residents, and it is encouraging to see where improvements have been made. This is an example of the Council doing what it says through scrutiny action. The Committee discussed funding for pavements, and it was clarified that the existing £1.6m budget would be used to prioritise those pavements in the worst condition. At this stage it is not possible to estimate the level of funding that will be required to reduce the 18% of pavements that are classified as being in ‘red’ condition (in need of repair).


16.5     It was noted that having pavements in good condition is key to encouraging people to walk more and focus should be given to walking routes to school and town centres. Avoiding falls on pavements is also important in terms of peoples’ health and the impact falls have on the National Health Service and Adult Social Care services.


Kerbs on concrete roads


16.6     The review examined the issue of damaged ‘stick on’ kerbs on concrete roads where kerbs are constructed on top of  ...  view the full minutes text for item 16.


Work programme pdf icon PDF 370 KB

Additional documents:




17.1     The Committee received a number of updates related to previous requests and work programme items.


Emergency Active Travel Fund


17.2     The Director for Communities, Economy and Transport gave an update on the Emergency Active Travel Fund which is an allocation of Government funding to support walking and cycling during the Coronavirus pandemic. The timescales attached to the funding meant the bids for the first tranche of funding had to be put together very quickly and with minimal public consultation. Schemes had to be put on the ground quickly, although the Council did try to consult local communities and interest groups where possible. A number of neighbouring authorities have withdrawn some of the temporary schemes. The temporary scheme on Hastings seafront has subsequently been removed, but the scheme in Bexhill remains in place.


17.3     The Government has announced the second tranche of funding and the bid made by the Council has an emphasis on improving the footway network. The second tranche of funding has strict criteria, especially on timescales for delivery, which has been divisive for local communities. The Committee noted that the community blame the Council for the lack of consultation and the haste with which the schemes were implemented, when in fact the situation is a result of the criteria imposed on the funding by Government. The community would rather the money was not spent on poor schemes. A full list of the proposed schemes totalling £1.8 million funded under the second tranche has been published on the Council’s website (About the Emergency Active Travel Fund – Emergency Active Travel Fund – East Sussex County Council).


17.4     The Council is also consulting on the Walking and Cycling Strategy for the County which is a longer-term piece of work which allows fuller consultation. The Committee noted that it would be better to consult with all user groups within the community, not just the existing cycling and walking groups, including those who do not currently cycle to avoid this issue becoming divisive. The Director for Communities, Economy and Transport confirmed that views on the Strategy are being sought from all groups, and having a Strategy is the best approach to this issue.


Countryside Access Strategy


17.5     The Committee asked for an update on the transfer of Seven Sisters Country Park to the South Downs National Park (SDNP) as part of the implementation of the Countryside Access Strategy. The Lead Member for Transport and Environment confirmed that approval had been granted from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and approval is expected shortly from the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government. Councillor Chris Dowling, who is the ESCC appointed representative on the SDNP Board, confirmed that this is an important project for the SDNP and outlined that there is a lot of energy and enthusiasm on the Board for the projects to take advantage of the opportunities managing Seven Sisters Country Park presents.


Work programme items


17.6     The Committee discussed the potential items for inclusion  ...  view the full minutes text for item 17.