West Berkshire Council

Agenda item

Corporate Programme and Development & Planning New Ways of Working

Purpose:

(1)  To advise the Commission of the Council's Corporate Programme and its current areas of activity in order that it might identify projects requiring Overview and Scrutiny involvement.

(2)  To present the report to the Commission setting out the findings of the New Ways or Working review for the Development and Planning Service.

Minutes:

The Commission considered a report (Agenda Item 7) concerning the Corporate Programme and the Development and Planning New Ways of Working (NWOW) Review. The purpose of the report was to advise the Commission of the Council’s Corporate Programme and its current areas of activity in order that it might identify projects requiring OSMC involvement. The report also aimed to set out the findings of the NWOW review for the Development and Planning Service.

David Lowe drew attention to page 37 of the NWOW final report for Development Planning where the methodology was set out. Each service would be reviewed over a three year period to ensure all services were performing effectively and efficiently and that money was being invested in the right places. David Lowe stated that the initial methodology had been enhanced as the process progressed.

Review teams consisted of a number of Officers from different areas such as Performance, Human Resources and Digital Services. Each Officer would look at a service with regards to their particular discipline and provide a report. Each report would then be compiled in to a single pack for consideration by senior Officers and Executive Members, who would scrutinise and form recommendations for improvement, before the information was submitted to the Corporate Programme Board.

Councillor Ian Morrin asked how the Officers involved in the reviews were chosen. David Lowe stated that Officers from outside of the organisation would have been chosen if cost had not been an issue. Officers that had an understanding of the Service being reviewed were chosen. Approval had been obtained for an analyst to be appointed.

David Lowe reported that the role of the review team was to collate the data and then questions needed to be asked regarding what could be gained from this information. Data was presented to Nick Carter and other Senior Officers. Although using internal resources did pose challenges, those who formed the review teams were not working directly for the services being reviewed and therefore could be objective. Nick Carter concurred that there was understandably a challenge if Officers were not experts of the area being reviewed. However, the aim of the work was to improve from the current position. Nick Carter acknowledged that views might differ from someone outside of the Local Authority however, this option was too costly. Councillor Morrin stated that it was possible that things could be missed that would be picked up by an external resource.

David Lowe explained that the Development and Planning Service was the first to be reviewed and the objectives could be seen set out under section 2.2 of the report. The review process included the development of a SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant and Timebound) action plan for each service. David Lowe commented that the only element of SMART that was not yet available was a timeline.

Councillor Alan Law referred to the Corporate Programme and noted that he could not see Development and Planning detailed. David Lowe confirmed that this was because the review of Development and Planning had been completed. The Education Service was the next to be reviewed followed by Public Protection and then Adult Social Care. Councillor Lee Dillon commented that it would be helpful to include commentary on projects rated at red on the Corporate Programme.

Councillor Law asked if there was any reasoning behind the order in which services were reviewed. David Lowe explained that Development and Planning had been reviewed first due to the issues it was facing in meeting certain targets. It was noted that Planning Services and Development Control had been assessed together . The aim was to have completed a review for each service by October 2020.

Councillor Law queried how the process differed to TEB. Gary Lugg explained that TEB had a narrower focus on monetary issues whereas NWOW was much broader.

Councillor Law asked what had been learned from the process so far. David Lowe stated that the process was continually improving. Initially distance had been kept between the review team and the service being reviewed however, it had been acknowledged that there was merit in a closer involvement, particularly when conducting the review of the Education Service. David Lowe felt that so far the process had uncovered some benefits that would improve service delivery.

Nick Carter reported that Wokingham Borough Council had carried out a review that was a radical new model and had involved spending a large amount of money of resources including a system analyst. In West Berkshire the decision had been taken not to go into the same level of detail as there was not the resources available to do so. There was however, desire to carry out some cost and service analysis work.

Councillor Gordon Lundie noted the 25 recommendations from page 74 of the report. It was felt that these were high level and Members needed to know what the next steps would be. Councillor Lundie stated that it needed to be demonstrated how the 25 recommendations would lead into an improvement plan and future savings.

David Lowe reported that some of the recommendations had no cost attached, for example DP03, which required a response to be provided to staff on their suggestions put forward at the SWOT workshops. Other recommendations however, required further resource including feasibility studies, business cases and other steps required for approval to be sought.

Councillor Lundie asked how the benefits would be assessed and David Lowe explained that the NWOW was about service improvement and not finance and there was currently a separate Financial Challenge being undertaken for this purpose.

Councillor Lundie asked when the process for the review of Development and Planning would close and David Lowe reported that the recommendations had been considered and signed off by the Corporate Programme Board however, it was not yet known when all the actions would be completed. This would be monitored continuously.

Councillor Laszlo Zverko asked about service delivery and if phone calls and other communications from the general public were being included. David Lowe confirmed that a three tier model had been used and customers who would normally use a telephone were encouraged to use digital systems.

Councillor Zverko asked what mechanisms were in place to record the comments from the general public. David Lowe reported that for the Housing Service, people who were on the Housing Register had been approached and there had been a strong consensus that improvements could be made to customer services. These comments had been incorporated.

Councillor Lee Dillon referred to the order in which services were picked and asked how it was ensured that the allocation of resources was fair. Nick Carter stated that this was a risk because there were particular digitalisation projects that would require a high level of resource. Front line services had been prioritised and therefore the order was logical. Nick Carter was aware that resources were likely to be an issue later in the process.

Councillor Law asked if the Executive was involved in the prioritisation of services. Nick Carter confirmed that there was a desire to get certain services involved in the review early on such as Education and Planning and therefore conversations around the order had taken place.

Councillor Dillon referred to one of the Key Performance Indicators under agenda item 9 regarding benefit claims. This related to Landlords of whom the Housing Service would have contact with on a regular basis. Councillor Dillon asked how it was being ensured that joint working was taking place to progress certain issues. Nick Carter reported that any opportunities for linkages between services would need to be picked up as the process progressed. Nick Carter referred back to the review that had taken place in Wokingham. There had been huge exit costs involved and service delivery issues. A difference approach was being taken in West Berkshire.

Councillor Morrin was aware that much of the work required would fall within the remit of digitalisation and ICT and he asked what thought had been given to this. Nick Carter confirmed that the Corporate Project Board had carried out work on demand and supply. Regarding funding, he was aware that this would probably become an issue later on and would need to return to the Executive for consideration.

Councillor Morrin asked why conversations regarding funding were not taking place at that time with the Executive. Nick Carter stated that the work needed firming up before going to the Executive to improve its chances of being accepted. It was likely that cases for the different service areas would need to be taken to the Executive as and when they were ready. Currently the Corporate Project Board was not clear what would be required in terms of ICT however, if it was beyond the available budget then the Executive would  need to be lobbied. Councillor Morrin was still of the view that discussions with the Executive were required early on.

Councillor Mike Johnston referred to the review undertaken by Wokingham with regards to support services and asked if there were any ICT areas that could be lifted from the lessons that had been learned. Nick Carter stated that Wokingham had taken a very radical approach and it was too early for the benefits to be apparent. If this was to be considered the support services would have to be considered as its own entity. 

Councillor Marigold Jaques noted that 60% of planning applications were being rejected because the application process had not been correctly followed. Gary Lugg stated that this was a national issue and South Oxfordshire were seeing 55% of planning applications rejected for the same reasons. Simple errors were causing the problems and it was possible that there might be ICT solutions to the issues. This would improve West Berkshire Council’s efficiency however, investment in digital support would be required. David Lowe felt that this figure needed to be reduced down to as close to zero as possible as any reduction would provide an improved service.

Councillor Jaques asked if Officers had any idea of who was failing to fill in the necessary details correctly. Gary Lugg stated that those failing to submit planning applications correctly included large planning applications from agents to individuals. Oxford had a system in place whereby £20 could be paid to have forms checked however, the uptake was very low. Councillor James Cole was of the view that attention in this area might improve if the retention of planning fees was reviewed. Gary Lugg stated that people were offered three chances to complete their forms correctly and were offered support if required.

Councillor Law referred to 2016 when Development Control had been visited by an external consultant and asked how the NWOW differed to this process. Gary Lugg stated that the consultant had come with the view of implementing software across public services. The consultant had concluded that given the constraints being faced no improvements could be suggested. Gary Lugg reported that this information had been captured by David Lowe’s team when the NWOW review had been undertaken. There was an element of process mapping that needed to be undertaken.

Councillor Law noted that good feedback was provided regarding Development Control on page 71 under section 6.3.4, where it stated ‘the team appears to be ahead of many of its contemporaries elsewhere in local government’. Councillor Law asked if this was the case why the benchmarking figures were so negative. Gary Lugg confirmed that benchmarking suggested that in West Berkshire there was a case of up on price but down on income.

Councillor Law referred to page 52 where West Berkshire was compared to other local authorities and again did not appear to be performing positively in terms of benchmarking. Gary Lugg explained that this was because income was down but expenditure was average in the area.

Councillor Dillon referred to the action plans that would be formed and asked what the role of OSMC would be in the process. Councillor Law asked what the measure of success would be. Nick Carter suggested that Officers return to OSMC after the fourth review to make an assessment and confirm if the process was adding value. Nick Carter stated that the NWOW was not just about driving savings and was focused on service improvement. Councillor Dillon therefore asked if the first reviews were pilots and David Lowe confirmed that only the first two were considered to be pilots.

Councillor Law stated that he had a good knowledge of planning and therefore there was nothing in the report that surprised him. He felt benefits were about getting the information into the public domain.

Gary Lugg explained that each service was in a difficult place. Issues being faced included service management and capacity.

Councillor Dillon asked if Gary Lugg felt that the review had put his service in a better position to fight for resources. Gary Lugg reported that it had created more opportunity to bid for corporate support.

Councillor Law summarised that there seemed to be overlap between the NWOW and the financial review taking place. It seemed like a zero based budget review was being avoided. It was important that all areas were pulled together and a holistic approach taken to ensure benefits reached full potential. Finally there was additional investment required for ICT.

RESOLVED that:

·         The NWOW should return to the Commission after the fourth service had been reviewed.

·         The Commission noted the report.

Supporting documents: