Report by the Chief Executive.
22.1 The Chair introduced the report which is the Committee’s opportunity to review it’s input into the RPPR budget setting process for 2021/22 and consider any areas for inclusion in the Committee’s future work programme. The Committee commented that they were happy with scrutiny’s involvement in the RPPR process and went on to discuss elements of the Medium Term Financial Plan (MTFP) and areas for inclusion in the work programme which are summarised below.
22.2 The Committee discussed the work of the Trading Standards team, and particularly the work to protect vulnerable people from rogue traders and the vital work on scams. It was noted that further savings are planned for the service and the Committee will want to explore the impact of those savings on service provision to ensure the sustainability of the Service.
22.3 The Director of Communities, Economy and Transport (CET) commented on the fantastic work the Team does and the work to protect the vulnerable through the National Scams Team, as well as the work with the Police and other agencies. The Lead Member for Communities and Safety outlined that the Covid19 pandemic had had an impact on the Service and its ability to carry out planned work and generate income. The work of the Trading Standards Team also has a strong relationship with community safety and the Police.
22.4 The Committee agreed to include request for a report on the work of the Trading Standards team in the work programme to examine how services are currently being provided, the impact of proposed savings on the sustainability of the service, and whether it is adequately funded to continue its work to protect the vulnerable and work with partners on community safety.
Access to the Internet and Digital Inclusion
22.5 One of the areas highlighted in the Committee’s comments to Cabinet was the importance of access to the internet and digital inclusion. The Committee noted the good work of the Library Service to provide Covid secure access to the internet, which had provided a vital service for people wishing to apply for jobs or make benefits applications online who do not have internet access. The Committee also noted the importance of completing the work to provide the maximum internet coverage possible through the Superfast Broadband Project and the Council’s support for the Gigabit Broadband Voucher scheme.
22.6 The Lead Member for Communities and Safety assured the Committee that the Library Service would continue the work to support digital inclusion, and outlined the support Library Service staff had given to other departments during the pandemic such as the community hubs, and had ensured the home delivery of library materials for those unable to use the digital library.
22.7 The Committee agreed that it would like a report later in the year to update the Committee on the delivery of the Broadband Project and the role of the Gigabit Voucher scheme in enabling access to broadband services by hard to reach properties and communities.
Government Funding for Highways
22.8 The Committee asked for an update on the impact of central Government funding announcements for highways, including the Council’s £5.9million share of the £1.7 billion pothole fund, and whether this meant that the Council had received an increase in funding. The Director of Communities, Economy and Transport clarified that the pothole fund money was for one year only and capital spending on highways will be in line with the sums agreed by Cabinet and Full Council as part of the budget setting process. Some elements of the Department for Transport (DfT) grant are lower than the previous year (2020/21) but are higher than the levels received in 2019/20. Overall, capital spending on highways will be as stated in the capital programme and the pothole fund money will be used to support this. The available funding will be applied across the County guided by the priorities in the asset management plan.
22.9 The Committee commented that it would be beneficial for the Committee to remain sighted on the levels of expenditure for highways maintenance and in particular for potholes and re-surfacing.
Highways Fault Reporting App
22.10 The Committee discussed whether there was scope to bid for money from the IT transformation programme to develop an app for reporting potholes and other highways defects to gain the benefits of utilising developments in artificial intelligence (AI) and make the process more efficient. This would improve the reporting process from the customer’s perspective and make more efficient use of the Highway Stewards time. The Committee also noted that Members often had an expert knowledge of recurring potholes and other problems in their Divisions and it may be helpful for the Highways Reference Group to look at ways of capturing this information.
22.11 The Director of Communities, Economy and Transport responded that having an app for mobile phones and other devices would be good, but development costs can be expensive. The costs and benefits of developing an app would need to be assessed to ensure value for money. The Assistant Director Operations added that the timing of developing an app would need to be carefully considered to fit in with re-procurement of the highways maintenance contract and this is something that the Highways Reference Group could examine.
Support for Business
22.12 The Committee discussed the support for business that the Council is providing and the changes that have been brought about by the Covid19 pandemic. The Committee agreed that it would be helpful to have a report from the Economic Development team on their work to support businesses and the changes to economic regeneration work following the Covid19 pandemic and the impact of national lockdowns on the local economy.
Medium Term Financial Plan (MTFP)
22.13 The Committee enquired if the pandemic had affected the budget forecasts used in the MTFP plan. The Chief Operating Officer outlined that up to date forecasts had been used for the February Budget Council meeting and are continually kept under review. There had been some Government funding announcements received after the Full Councill meeting which will be used to update the MTFP and will be reported through Council Monitoring reports.
22.14 The Committee RESOLVED to agree:
1) That there were no suggested improvements to the RPPR process from a scrutiny perspective; and
2) to add the items referred to in paragraphs 22.4, 22.7 and 22.12 (above) to the future work programme for consideration by the new committee at the next Place Scrutiny Committee meeting.