A Cabinet report of the Chief Executive setting out the Council approach to community, economic and organisational recovery following the Covid-19 pandemic was considered for pre-decision scrutiny (item 8a on the agenda filed with these minutes).
The Chief Executive, the Strategic Director of Housing, Planning, Regeneration and Regulatory Services and the Strategic Director of Corporate Services attended the meeting to assist with the consideration of this item. The following summarises the discussion:
(i) The Chief Executive expressed satisfaction that the Scrutiny Commission was once again active, despite the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic and acknowledged that scrutiny would have a significant role in the recovery of the Council.
(ii) Councillors expressed thanks to Officers in responding successfully to the crisis and acknowledged the significant amount of work that had been undertaken in ensuring the Council remained efficient and functional. Particular reference was made to ICS who they felt deserved recognition. The Chief Executive put on record his thanks to employees for their commitment and professionalism.
(iii) Members’ involvement in the recovery of the Council would be significant, and where possible, Members should do this through the committees they participate in. Council resources had been focussed at responding to crisis and maintaining excellent services during the current pandemic, and Officer time was limited as a result of this. Councillor casework would extend across all themes within the recovery plan; organisational, economic and community. Councillors were advised to concentrate on urgent casework at present and in due course would receive guidance on the routine casework.
(iv) The Council aimed to continue to communicate and engage with local businesses as this had been done successfully so far. It was suggested that ‘communication and engagement with local businesses’ was the priority in the ‘Backing Our Businesses’ section of the report, and that this should be made the first objective, as opposed to the final one.
(v) The Council had responded to the crisis in a way that allowed innovative and new ways of working to develop and opportunities presented had been embraced. It was anticipated that positive changes that had derived from the pandemic would be adopted on a long-term basis by the Council.
(vi) Risk Management associated with the Council’s approach to recovery was refined and applied to individual risks, as opposed to the overall approach. This would allow for thorough examination of the risk and identification of appropriate solutions.
(vii) Employee sickness levels remained roughly standard for the time of year. There would be an opportunity to measure statistics associated with staff sickness at future Scrutiny Commission meetings, if a temporary revised structure allowed for this.
(viii) It was recognised that the current financial situation of the Council was exceptional, and that income had been compromised as a result of the pandemic. The Council was explicitly monitoring the ongoing implications of the pandemic and was considering the adaptations required to facilitate this. An outturn return will be presented to Cabinet which will indicate the initial impact of the pandemic. Beyond this an interim budget will be developed which will culminate in reports to Cabinet and Council in the autumn.
(ix) Commercialisation remained a significant consideration of the Council’s business and where possible, would continue to incorporate the original ideas proposed previously, prior to the pandemic. It was noted that the link to recovery and regeneration would be explored. The approach to commercial property would be revised to take into account changes in the economy, markets, legislation and finances.
(x) The Council had been able to manage cash flow through the treasury in the normal way. There had been some adverse cash flow impact experienced, but this was manageable within the context of the Council’s cash balances and had also been somewhat mitigated by additional Government funding received.
1. that the Cabinet be informed that the Commission supports the recommendations as set out in the report of the Chief Executive, subject to the change recommended in resolution 2 below;
2. that it be recommended to Cabinet that the Council’s objective to communicate and engage with local businesses be made the first point in the ‘Backing Our Businesses’ section of the report.
3. that officers be asked to ensure councillors receive advice and guidance on the continuation of routine casework when information is available.
1. The Commission, having carefully considered the report, felt the Cabinet should approve the recommendations set out.
2. To emphasize the importance of the continuation of communication and engaging with local businesses.
3. To ensure that Councillors were able to continue with casework in a safe and timely manner where possible.