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Agenda and minutes

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Contact: Gordon Oliver / Vicky Phoenix 


No. Item


Minutes pdf icon PDF 408 KB

To approve as a correct record the Minutes of the meeting of the Commission held on 6 September 2022.


The Minutes of the meeting held on 6 September 2022 were approved as a true and correct record and signed by the Chairman.


Actions from previous Minutes pdf icon PDF 233 KB

To receive an update on actions following the previous Commission meeting.


Members noted the updates on the actions from the previous Minutes.

The following comments were made:

Action 76 – It was suggested that the word ‘currently’ be added before 120 litres, to reflect the fact that stricter limits may be possible in future.

Action 79 – There was discussion as to whether this action should be closed since the Economic Development Team were struggling to identify the top-10 employers due to a lack of employment data. However, it was requested that the action remain open for one more meeting.


Declarations of Interest pdf icon PDF 300 KB

To remind Members of the need to record the existence and nature of any personal, disclosable pecuniary or other registrable interests in items on the agenda, in accordance with the Members’ Code of Conduct.


Councillors Adrian Abbs and Tony Vickers declared an interest in Agenda Item 6, but reported that, as their interest was a personal or an other registrable interest, but not a disclosable pecuniary interest, they determined to remain to take part in the debate and vote on the matter.


Petitions pdf icon PDF 297 KB

Purpose: To consider any petitions requiring an Officer response.


There were no petitions to be received at the meeting.


Items Called-in following the Executive on 3 November 2022 pdf icon PDF 212 KB

To consider any items called-in by the requisite number of Members following the previous Executive meeting.

Additional documents:


Councillors Adrian Abbs and Tony Vickers declared a personal interest in Agenda Item 6 by virtue of the fact that York House was within their ward. As their interest was personal and not prejudicial or a disclosable pecuniary interest, they determined to remain to take part in the debate and vote on the matter.

The Commission accepted a call-in request submitted on 10 November to review the Executive’s decision (EX4279) of 3 November 2022 concerning the freehold disposal of York House (Agenda Item 6). The call-in request had been submitted in accordance with Sections 5.3 and 6.4 of the Council’s Constitution.

It was noted that provision had been made for a Part II discussion, but since the information was already in the public domain, this was considered unnecessary.

Joseph Holmes was invited to provide an overview of the proposed course of action in relation to the disposal of the freehold of York House:

·         The report identified alternative uses for York House that had been considered and rejected by a range of service areas over an extended period of time.

·         It was noted that any proposal would be require an appropriate business case.

·         Given the lack of any firm proposals, the Executive had agreed to proceed with the disposal of the property.

Members who had submitted the call-in were invited to present their reasons and proposed alternative course of action. The following points were made:

·         Members of Executive and OSMC had not undertaken a site visit to see the property – as a result, everything in the report had to be taken at face value.

·         The property could potentially be used as accommodation for young care leavers and a local charity was looking for a property for this purpose. Members asked if this use had been considered.

·         There was insufficient evidence in the report to provide assurance that all possible uses had been considered. Members had hoped this information would be provided in response to the call-in. It was assumed that the Executive would have seen this information, but if not, they would have had to make the decision on the basis of insufficient information.

·         Both Members and the public needed to understand how the Executive came to the decision, and if all options had been considered. It was suggested that the report should have included a table of pros and cons for each option.

·         The Education Service had expressed interest in using the property for a SEND Unit, but a business case had not yet been drafted. It was suggested that the disposal be paused to allow the business case to be developed and considered.

·         Members challenged whether this was the right time to sell the property, since the property market was falling and there was a reduced chance of a quick sale at a high value.

·         It was asked whether additional investment could be made to improve the value of the property. Also, Members wanted to know why the property had been allowed to deteriorate.

·         It was noted that  ...  view the full minutes text for item 33.


Customer Journey Task Group - Interim Report pdf icon PDF 400 KB

Purpose: To present the interim findings of the Task and Finish Group set up to review the customer journey for West Berkshire Council service users inside and outside of office hours.

Additional documents:


Councillor James Cole introduced the Customer Journey Task Group Interim Report (Agenda Item 7) and summarised the key points.

Members made the following observations:

·         The scope of the review was very large and that things were changing before the Task Group could report back.

·         It was suggested that the Task Group should not look at the quality of particular services, other than the interfaces with customers, and that the Out of Hours Service, Contact Centre and website would be sufficient.

·         The Out of Hours Service had been included following concerns about a couple of incidents, but it was acknowledged that this may over-extended the scope of the review.

·         Some changes had already been made in response to early feedback from the Task Group.

·         There was praise for the collaborative approach taken by the Task Group Members.

·         Standards and working practices changed very quickly in website design.

·         The way in which the Council interacted with its customers had changed over time and the Council needed to be responsive to changing expectations and needs and to take account of the fact that different people would use systems in different ways.

·         The Council had developed the Business West Berkshire website, but initially there had been no links to and from the main Council website. This had exposed some silo-working within the authority.

·         There were two Task Groups being run simultaneously and there was a need for additional officer resource to support the scrutiny function.

·         Members expressed surprise that the Task Group had not been made aware of the Customer First Programme Board and Place Review from the outset.

·         The Customer First Programme Board had an operational focus, while the Task Group was looking at more strategic issues.


Fees and Charges Task and Finish Group - Interim Report pdf icon PDF 297 KB

Purpose: To present the interim findings of the Task and Finish Group set up to review the customer journey for West Berkshire Council service users inside and outside of office hours.

Additional documents:


Councillor Tony Linden Presented the Fees and Charges Task Group Interim Report (Agenda Item 8) and summarised the key points.

It was noted that they key thrust of the Task Group’s Interim Report was the need for additional and more granular information to allow Members to make more informed decisions as to the appropriateness of proposed changes to fees and charges.

Officers highlighted that the Task Group would not present its final report until March 2023, which would be too late for recommendations to be incorporated into the 2023/24 fees and charges.




Appraisal Review pdf icon PDF 1005 KB

Purpose: To provide an update on the appraisal system for Council officers.


Paula Goodwin (Service Lead – Human Resources) presented the report on the Council’s appraisal process (Agenda Item 9).

It was noted that the report had been requested to provide additional detail that had not been covered in the report to the previous report to OSMC on 24 May 2022.

Members made the following observations:

·         The table showing the percentage of appraisals undertaken appeared to show a lot of red, which was a concern and was contrary to assurances given that the appraisal system was working well.

·         It was suggested that appraisals should consider employee wellbeing, motivation and mind-set, as well as progress towards objectives and targets.

·         Also, it was suggested that employees needed to be able to have ad-hoc meetings with managers.

·         Assurance was also sought that appraisals were being written up.

·         Employees needed feedback from managers about how they were performing.

·         Employee morale could be affected by a range of factors such as cost of living and workplace bullying.

·         Appraisal completions within the Director and Support (People) had gone from 100% in March 2021 to 33.33% in September 2022, which was a concern. Reductions in other service areas were also concerning.

·         It was important to retain Council employees, since some services were using high numbers of agency staff, which was costly.

·         Members had been made aware a few months previously that some had not had an appraisal for several years.

·         A question was asked about the impact of Covid and home-working on the frequency and quality of appraisals.

·         Appraisals should be a two-way process where appraisees should be able to say what they needed and officers should have access to training.

·         The new system was not due to be procured until 2024, which seemed a long time.

·         Detail was sought as to the number of staff subject to detailed supervision sessions.

·         The tones used in the RAG ratings were difficult to distinguish by those who were colour blind.

·         The previous report to OSMC had been indicated that the new framework would be implemented in September / October, but it had slipped to 2023.

·         Previously, the Executive had been provided with appraisal data and this had shown some services with fewer than 30% of staff receiving appraisals. However, this had since improved.

Officers responded to the points made as follows:

·         The RAG rating used in the table showing the percentage of appraisals completed showed comparison with previous years rather than a performance against an absolute standard.

·         Managers were required to have regular 1-2-1 meetings with their direct reports, and the 1-2-1 form included a section on employee wellbeing. Also, a Wellbeing Officer had been appointed who had made good progress on progressing the wellbeing agenda within the Council. Employees and their managers were being supported from a wellbeing perspective.

·         The appraisal form included standards for competencies. However, a new behaviour framework had been agreed and would replace the competency framework next year. This behaviour framework included more soft skills.

·         Managers and employees were expected to document appraisals quickly. Although there  ...  view the full minutes text for item 36.


Revenue Financial Performance Report Quarter Two 2022/23

Purpose: To report on the in-year financial performance of the Council’s revenue budgets.

Additional documents:


Joseph Holmes presented the Revenue Financial Performance Report for Quarter Two 2022/23 (Agenda Item 10).

Members made the following points:

·         Members asked for the table showing spend on agency staff to be included in the version of the report that was taken to Executive.

Action: Joseph Holmes to include the agency spend table in the Revenue Financial Performance Report.

·         The moratorium on recruitment in Planning would remain until the Place Review had been completed, which would not be until March 2023,. Members wondered how long it would take for agency costs to be addressed.

·         Housing was facing significant pressures in relation to temporary accommodation. The Council was already spending a significant amount on hotel accommodation and demand was likely to increase due to cost of living increases. Members were aware of cases where residents had been evicted by landlords and rents had been put up by significant amounts.

·         The position had improved, with a reduced level of overspend. However, reserves were being utilised. It was suggested that the report should include a table of reserves.

Action: Joseph Holmes to include a table showing levels of reserves.

·         Previously recruitment freezes had caused the performance of the Planning Development Management service to dip and Members were keen to avoid similar issues elsewhere this time.

·         There had been positive news in the Autumn Statement.

·         The tables on page 5 and 7 appeared to show an error in the totals.

Action: Joseph Holmes to review the tables on pages 5 and 7 of the report.

Officers responded to the points made as follows:

·         It was confirmed that there was no moratorium on recruitment to essential Planning posts and the Council was going to market to recruit several Development Management posts to replace the current temporary posts. This included enforcement posts. Recruitment was also being undertaken for the Planning policy posts. However, it was noted that the jobs market was challenging.

·         The rising costs of temporary accommodation was a reflection of the current economic position. The Council was housing those it was able to and options for reducing demand and costs were being considered.

·         The recruitment freeze applied to most posts, but recruitment was still underway for essential posts, including for Adult Social Care and Children’s Social Care.

·         The vast majority of earmarked and risk reserves would be utilised and the Council was in difficult financial circumstances. However, inflation was at a level that had not been seen for 40 years.

·         It was hoped that by Quarter 3, Government funding in relation to Adult Social Care discharge would come through to support the financial position and reduce the call on reserves. The final settlement was expected around 21 December. However, there was currently a funding shortfall of around £15 million, which was substantially higher than any previous savings that the Council had delivered, and the additional funding would be significantly less than the shortfall.


Capital Financial Performance Report Quarter Two 2022/23

Purpose: The financial performance report provided to Members on a quarterly basis reports on the under or over spends against the Council’s approved capital budget. This report presents the Quarter Two financial position.

Additional documents:


Joseph Holmes presented the Capital Financial Performance Report for Quarter Two 2022/23 (Agenda Item 11).

Members made the following points:

·         It was noted that the iCollege project was delayed due to delays in appointing the contractor and accessing the site and this would be an issue for those students who were in alternative provision. Members wondered if there was any additional information on this project.

·         The forecast underspend on the A4 Faraday Road improvements were noted and Members asked what this related to.

·         Members asked about the cost of reprofiling £17.9 million of capital expenditure.

Officers responded to the points made as follows:

·         The Council remained committed to the iCollege project. There was no additional information beyond what was in the report. It was noted that there were significant cost increases on all construction projects.

·         The A4 Faraday Road scheme was linked with the Robin Hood Roundabout scheme. The Council was looking at enhanced active travel provision. The scheme was part-funded from S106 contributions from the North Newbury Development, but a funding bid for government funding had been unsuccessful. Highways was reviewing the scheme to see what could be delivered. The schemes needed to be progressed together for reasons of economies of scale.

·         It was explained that capital financing costs were not applied until the next financial year. Reprofiling spend into next year would mean that the Council would pay less capital payments in 2023/24, but there would be an additional cost in 2024/25. The Council would normally put £600,00 into the budget for capital financing costs – this reprofiling would represent £428,000 based on current interest rates. However, this could change if interest rates changed in future years.


West Berkshire Local Flood Risk Management Strategy (including North and East Thatcham Flood Alleviation Scheme) pdf icon PDF 369 KB

Purpose: To provide an overview of the West Berkshire Local Flood Risk Management Strategy, outline the Council’s duties and responsibilities under the Flood and Water Management Act, update OSMC on the flood alleviation and drainage works programme, and provide an overview of the North and east Thatcham Flood Alleviation Scheme.

Additional documents:


Jon Winstanley (Service Director – Environment) presented the report on the Flood Risk Management Strategy and North and East Thatcham Flood Alleviation Scheme (Agenda Item 12).

Members made the following points:

·         Members had been impressed with the schemes that had been delivered.

·         There was praise for the contribution to flood risk management of Stuart Clark who had passed away earlier in the year. There was also praise for Carolyn Richardson and other partners involved in the emergency response.

·         However, it was suggested that the Council would need to devote greater resources to flood prevention in future. An impending National Infrastructure Forum report would highlight that most properties had a 60% chance of being flooded within the next 30 years (this was a national figure and further work would be needed to understand the local situation).

·         Mapping of surface water flooding was improving.

·         The Council needed more flood wardens and more local knowledge input to flood risk management planning.

·         Ward Members were encouraged to attend their local flood wardens meetings.

·         It was suggested that a future OSMC Task and Finish Group could look at the impact of the water cycle on the Council’s activities.

·         The Council needed additional staff resources devoted to flood risk management.

·         Planning officers and planning committee Members needed better education on the water cycle.

·         There was a backlog of maintenance work on sustainable drainage schemes and there was a risk that this responsibility would come to local authorities with no additional funding.

·         The government expected that £56 million would need to be spent on flood risk management within the next 20 years.

·         Most people did not know what surface water flooding meant, or the risk that they were exposed to, and that risk would only increase over time.

·         West Berkshire Council needed to work with the Local Government Association to ensure that the Lead Local Authority Role was properly recognised and resourced.

·         A variety of flooding issues had been raised in relation to sites within Basildon Ward. There appeared to be a public perception that local authorities had cut back on gully /drain clearing operations.

·         Insurers had highlighted that flood risk was increasing.

·         Clarification was sought as to whether the scheme at Blandys Hill was a Council scheme or a Thames Water scheme.

Officers responded to the points made as follows:

·         The Council had a good Flood Risk Management Team and a new Team Leader would be appointed in due course.

·         There had been a lot of work undertaken in relation to mitigation of surface water flooding, and mapping of flow paths.

·         Groundwater also posed a significant risk and this was more difficult to address.

·         The Council had been successful in securing funding and had done some good groundwork.

·         Strategic flood risk assessments were carried out to inform the Local Plan.

·         A Surface Water Management Plan was in place for key flood risk areas.

·         The Local Flood Forums would help to identify where future efforts should be focused.

·         Rainfall in November had been 210% of the average  ...  view the full minutes text for item 39.


Health Scrutiny Committee Update pdf icon PDF 302 KB

Purpose: To receive an update from the Chairman of the Health Scrutiny Committee.


This item was not discussed as the Chairman of the Health Scrutiny Committee was unable to attend the meeting.


West Berkshire Council Forward Plan September to December 2022 pdf icon PDF 359 KB

Purpose: To advise the Commission of items to be considered by West Berkshire Council from 1 September to 31 December 2022 and decide whether to review any of the proposed items prior to the meeting indicated in the Plan.


The Commission considered the West Berkshire Forward Plan (Agenda Item 14) for the period covering September to December 2022.

Members had no comments in relation to items on the Forward Plan.

It was noted that from next year, the Forward Plan would look further ahead to allow OSMC to better plan its work programme.


Overview and Scrutiny Management Commission Work Programme pdf icon PDF 286 KB

Purpose: To receive new items and agree and prioritise the work programme of the Commission.


The Commission considered its work programme for the remainder of the 2022/23.

It was noted that an additional meeting was provisionally proposed for March 2023. This would be reviewed in the New Year to see if it was still needed.