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Agenda and minutes

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No. Item


Minutes pdf icon PDF 403 KB

To approve as a correct record the Minutes of the meetings of the Commission held on 14 September 2023 and 11 October 2023.

Additional documents:


The Minutes of the meetings  held on 14 September 2023 and 11 October 2023 were approved as a true and correct record and signed by the Chairman.


Actions from previous Minutes pdf icon PDF 112 KB

To receive an update on actions following previous Commission meetings.


Members noted the updates on actions from the previous meetings.

A typo was highlighted in Action 90.

It was noted that an issue had been raised at Health and Wellbeing Board in relation to Council Tax, possible reductions and also debt collection mechanisms. This was to be discussed at the Mental Health Action Group, to which Councillor Carolyne Culver had been invited. It was asked that this be added to the action log.


Declarations of Interest pdf icon PDF 306 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.


Councillor Justin Pemberton declared an interest in Agenda Item 7, and reported that, as his interest was a disclosable pecuniary interest or an other registrable interest, he would remain to take part in the debate, but would not take part in any vote on the matter.


Petitions pdf icon PDF 302 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 meeting of the Executive on 2 November 2023 pdf icon PDF 230 KB

Purpose: To consider any items called-in by the requisite number of Members following the meeting of the Executive on 2 November 2023.

Additional documents:


The Commission considered the call-in of the Executive Decision (EX4402) on 2 November 2023 regarding the Property Investment Strategy Review (Agenda Item 6).

Councillor Iain Cottingham (Executive Portfolio Holder for Finance and Corporate Services) presented the background to the Executive report and the reasons for the decision. Key points were as follows:

·       There was considerable pressure to deliver a balanced budget in 2023/24 and various options had been considered to achieve this.

·       The main reason to divest the investment property portfolio was to comply with government policy, which stated that local authorities should not take undue risk with taxpayers’ money. The administration considered that being a buy to let commercial landlord constituted undue risk.

·       Although the Council had borrowed funds at a low rate of interest, and the portfolio was well diversified, the value of the assets had decreased since purchased 5-6 years ago.

·       Government guidance was to use capital receipts in order to achieve a balanced budget in current and future financial years. Capital receipts would allow investment of these funds rather than borrowing via the Public Works Loan Board at current interest rates (circa 5.7%).

·       There would be a capital saving by reusing capital receipts to reinvest for the benefit of West Berkshire residents rather than investing in assets right across the country, which would require capital investment of around £2 million over the next 10 years for maintenance.

Councillor Ross Mackinnon presented the reasons for the call-in:

·       A publicly stated strategy of divesting the whole portfolio by a certain date put the Council at a severe commercial disadvantage when negotiating with potential buyers.

·       The Executive paper included financial projections, which indicated that the properties could be sold at a significant capital loss.

·       Pubilcation of the above strategy would mean that the Council would receive
much less than they otherwise would have done.

·       There was an error in the financial description – savings of £6.9 million would be cumulative over the life of the Medium Term Financial Strategy rather than annual savings.

·       During the debate at Executive, more than one councillor had indicated that they did not fully understand the report’s financial implications, and Members of the Executive may also have struggled to understand these.

·       It was suggested that Members of the Executive did not have the competence to make the decision, since the Budget and Policy Framework reserved decisions on the Property Investment Strategy for Full Council. Any in-year changes could only be made by the Executive in very narrow circumstances, which had not been met.

·       The Monitoring Officer had indicated that the Executive had not actually made a decision to change the Strategy.

The Chairman invited Joseph Holmes (S.151 Officer) and Nicola Thomas (Deputy Monitoring Officer) to provide their advice as to whether the decision had been contrary to the Budget and Policy Framework:

·       It was acknowledged that the report should have been clearer that it would be taken to Full Council in February 2024 where there would be the opportunity for a full debate.

·       There  ...  view the full minutes text for item 35.


Fostering in West Berkshire pdf icon PDF 410 KB

Purpose: To provide an oversight of the recruitment, remuneration and initiatives that are both taking place and planned with foster carers in West Berkshire.

Additional documents:


Dave Wraight presented the report on Fostering in West Berkshire (Agenda Item 7).

The following points were raised in the debate:

·       Members were very supportive of the report and congratulated the officers.

·       Members asked about the differences in outcomes for fostered children compared with those in other forms of care. It was explained that stability was important. Fostered children cited having someone who cared / looked out for them and was interested in them as being the most important thing to them. Foster carers provided stability, love, care and attention and were de facto parents. This made a tangible difference to those children.

·       A question was asked about how many children were in a care home who didn’t need to be. Officers explained that children were not placed into residential homes who did not need it or unless there were no other placements available. There were around five children who were in residential homes where foster carers were being sought, but there was a shortage of places.

·       Members asked about the potential saving from moving children from residential care to foster homes. Officers indicated that children who they were looking to step down into foster care currently cost between £3,500 - £4,500. The overall cost was £6,500, but that included some children with particular needs who required 2:1 staffing, where it would not be possible to step them down into foster care.

·       Members asked whether having a dedicated officer for foster carer recruitment would improve the timeline for approval of new foster carers. Officers indicated that there would be time savings, because the function would not be in addition to an individual’s other responsibilities. However, some aspects had a fixed timescale, such as training of new foster carers. Normally, it would take 7-8 months, but it was suggested that this could be reduced by a couple of months.

·       A question was asked about whether foster carers would be entitled to the 30 hours of childcare per week announced in the March 2023 Budget. It was confirmed that they would be eligible.

·       Members asked about families who were hosting refugee children. It was explained that unaccompanied refugee children would be placed by Children and Family Services. If they were under-16, they would be placed in foster care. Supported lodgings were used for 16-17 year olds. Arrangements were different for refugee children who were with their families, but families who were no longer hosting refugees had been approached to see if they would be interested in fostering.

·       There was discussion about private fostering arrangements where children went to live with other family members. While Children and Family Services would need to know about such arrangements, that was the limit of their involvement. However, where children were removed from their home environment and relatives were asked to care for them, that was covered by kinship care or connected fostering arrangements, which would need to be assessed and regulated. The level of funding and support provided under those arrangements were the same as for  ...  view the full minutes text for item 36.


Equalities, Diversity and Inclusion Framework pdf icon PDF 491 KB

Purpose: To present a new Equality, Diversity and Inclusion Framework for the Scrutiny Commission to review prior to going to Executive for approval on 14 December 2023..

Additional documents:


April Peberdy (Interim Service Director – Communities and Wellbeing) presented the item on the Equality, Diversity and Inclusion Framework (Agenda Item 8).

The following points were raised in the debate:

·       Members questioned the text on P104, which said ‘this will align with one of the goals of the newly elected Liberal Democrat administration to demonstrate that West Berkshire is a good place to work’. It was suggested that reports or strategy documents should not refer to individual political parties. It was also noted that the priority was similar to that of the previous administration.

·       Members noted the aim to progress to achieving Stonewall accreditation. However, in recent months, several large organisations had left the Stonewall Champions Scheme due to concerns related to its Chief Executive’s comments about people with gender-critical views. Also, an independent review had found that any organisations who followed Stonewall’s advice risked committing unlawful discrimination itself. Members were reluctant to pursue Stonewall accreditation, and it was suggested that the Executive may wish to reconsider this.

·       In relation to support for Armed Forces personnel, Members noted that there was only one reference to Dennison Barracks and asked if the commitment should be widened to include those who had retired from the Armed Forces. The Council should be actively seeking to identify them and engage with them. It was confirmed that officers would be engaging with retired Armed Forces personnel to understand their needs and ensure they were met. It was noted that the Armed Forces Champion was Councillor Stephanie Steevenson.

·       Officers indicated that the aim was to have EDI Champions across the Council, including a Member EDI Champion.

·       On page 104, it was suggested that economic, health and economic opportunities be expanded to include social opportunities to address issues with social isolation.

Action: Add social opportunities to the list on page 104.

·       It was noted that the appendices referred to ‘equity’ rather than ‘equality’. This was not part of the Equalities Directive, and it was suggested that achieving ‘equity’ might be an unachievable goal. Members noted that previously there had been no mention of equity. Officers suggested that the aim should be to achieve ‘equity’ as far as possible, so everyone had the same ability to access services.

·       It was noted that equity could be achieved in different ways, and some were easy to achieve (e.g., presenting information in different formats for people with dyslexia).

·       Surprise was expressed that some Members may not wish to aspire to equity, and it was suggested that it was incumbent on the Council to address inequity wherever possible.

·       It was highlighted that p103 of the report talked about transport initiatives, before noting that funding was not available to deliver them. Officers were asked if more should be done to address transport issues, particularly in rural areas. Officers explained that issues could be addressed by delivering services in different ways (e.g., outreach services within communities rather than providing transport).

·       Councillor Lee Dillon indicated that he was happy to accommodate the comment around  ...  view the full minutes text for item 37.


2023/24 Revenue Financial Performance Quarter Two pdf icon PDF 2 MB

Purpose: To report on the financial performance of the Council’s revenue budgets. This report is Quarter Two for the 2023/24 financial year. The report is highlighting the financial position at each quarter of the financial year and impact on the Council’s General Fund position. This allows the Executive and Scrutiny Commission to consider the implications and the actions being taken to mitigate and manage the position.


Joseph Holmes (Executive Director – Resources) presented the Revenue Financial Performance Report for Quarter Three 2022/23 (Agenda Item 9).

The following points were raised in the debate:

·       Members noted that the forecast savings required for 2024/25 had increased to £14 million, which represented an increase of £11 million over 3 years. Officers highlighted that a report to Executive on 2 November had set out the reasons for the increase, including an increased in demand and forecast model growth for adults’ and children’s social care costs.

·       A question was asked about the £2.3 million flexible use of capital receipts for transformational activity. It was noted that government guidance set out what Councils could use capital receipts for, including to reduce future borrowing requirements and to fund the capital programme. Since 2015, government had allowed councils the flexibility to use capital receipts to fund transformation activity. The definition for this was pretty wide. Previously, the main constraint in West Berkshire had been the lack of capital receipts, because the Council was not rich in capital assets. The emphasis was on invest-to-save projects. The report to Executive had separated planned and new spend. Examples included nearly £1 million for recruitment and retention payments for Children’s Social Care Workers where the aspiration was to reduce agency costs. It was also proposed to use capital receipts against the work of the Projects Team and Digital Team in areas where the Council was seeking to reduce unit cost of delivering services.

·       Members commended the measures that had been taken by officers to manage cost pressures around procurement, staffing and agency costs, and asked about the levels of savings that would be delivered in future years. Officers indicated that it was hard to quantify savings in the long-terms, but agency costs for the most recent four-week period were £580,000 compared with just under £750,000 a year ago. Agency costs were expected to come down further in Q3. The Council had been successful in permanent recruitment to posts, but there were still significant numbers of agency staff in Children’s and Adults’ Social Care.

·       Members noted that the £3.7 million overspend for Children and Family Services, was after use of reserves, mitigations and transformation funding and asked for more detail. It was explained that there had been an investment around enhancing children’s social workers’ package to secure more permanent staff and reduce reliance on agency workers. The flexile use of capital receipts would reduce the overspend position.

·       A question was asked around the seasonality of spend on agency staff. Officers confirmed that there were some peaks and troughs with spend in December being slightly lower due to the additional bank holidays. It was noted that the report made like for like comparisons.

·       Members asked if savings were being achieved from agency staff moving to full-time contracts or just reaching the end of their temporary contracts and not being replaced. Officers indicated that it was a mix of both – 22 agency staff had become permanent.

·       There was discussion around  ...  view the full minutes text for item 38.


Health Scrutiny Committee Update pdf icon PDF 307 KB

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


Councillor Carolyne Culver provided an update on the work of the Health Scrutiny Committee (Agenda Item 10). Key points were as follows:

·       The Health Scrutiny Committee had not met since the last Scrutiny Commission meeting.

·       The Healthcare in New Developments Task and Finish Group had met recently. The scope of the review included:

o   consideration of the health needs of the local population;

o   how future primary care / public health services were planned with consideration for housing growth and demographic changes;

o   clarity around planning policy and planning consultations with key stakeholders;

o   greater understanding around commissioning of health services for new developments.

·       The Task Group had started its review before the election and its membership had changed following the election. There had been just one meeting since the election, but a further three sessions were planned.

Resolved to note the update.


Appointment of Task and Finish Groups pdf icon PDF 307 KB

Purpose: To agree Terms of Reference and/or Membership for any Task and Finish Groups that the Scrutiny Commission may wish to appoint to undertake in-depth scrutiny reviews.


The Chairman provided an update on the Appointment of Task and Finaish Groups (Agenda Item 11).

It was confirmed that Councillor Paul Kander had replaced Councillor Dominic Boeck on the Covid and Recovery Task and Finish Group.

The Task Group had met once, but a further session was planned for December 2023, with further sessions planned in the New Year.

Resolved to note the update.


Sports Hub, Monks Lane, Newbury pdf icon PDF 281 KB

Purpose: To consider the decision of the Executive in relation to the future of the Sports Hub proposal at Monks Lane in Newbury and decide whether the Scrutiny Commission would like to review any aspect of the proposal.

Additional documents:


The Chairman presented the item on the Sports Hub, Monks Lane, Newbury (Agenda Item 12).

Previously, the Scrutiny Commission had asked for costings related to the Sports Hub. These were reported to Executive on 2 November 2023.

The Chairman outlined a proposal for a Task and Finish Group to be set up to undertake a review of the Sports Hub for the following reasons:

·       Value for Money – Despite the Council being in a challenging financial position, funds for the scheme had been reprofiled rather than being put back int the pot for reallocation. It was not clear what the funds would be used for if the Monks Lane scheme was not to be progressed.

·       Project Management – The London Road Industrial Estate (LRIE) Task Group had made recommendations on how the Council could improve its project management processes. It was important to learn lessons from the Sports Hub project.

·       Advice Received – There was inconsistency in the advice to Planning Committee and Executive. Lessons needed to be learned in order to avoid similar issues in future.

·       Strategies – The Council’s Playing Pitch Strategy identified the top priority as Faraday Road, but numerous references were made at meetings to Monks Lane being the top priority. If Monks Lane was the top priority then it was a de facto replacement for Faraday Road, but District Planning Committee and the High Court were told that it was not a replacement.

It was suggested that the Task Group could consider whether Members of the Executive should be on a Planning Committee where the Council was the applicant, as had happened with Monks Lane.

It was suggested that the Task Group could be concluded quite quickly.

The following items were raised in the debate:

·       The Conservative Members supported the proposed review and suggested that ‘replacement’ could be taken to mean replacement in planning or strategic terms.

·       It was highlighted that the new administration had different priorities and was already delivering football at Faraday Road. It was questioned whether it would be worth spending time and effort on a review of the Sports Hub. The LRIE review had already looked at project management and lessons learned were being implemented. It was suggested that scrutiny reviews should focus on the work of the current administration.

·       Members noted that the Financial Review Panel were scrutinising all spend over £500, which showed that lessons had been learned and were being applied. It was suggested that if a future project was to have issues with project management, then that would be the appropriate time for a review, and the Commission should be forward looking.

·       It was suggested that the Council’s priorities had not materially changed, but there had been a significant change in tactics. It was noted that the Leader of the Council had welcomed scrutiny.

·       Members recognised that it was important to look at lessons learned and best practice. It was suggested that if the review could be concluded quickly then it would be worthwhile in order to  ...  view the full minutes text for item 41.


Thames Water Update pdf icon PDF 303 KB

To provide an update on activities following the Thames Water and Environment Agency review on 11 October 2023.


The Chairman provided an update following the review of Thames Water’s activities at the meeting on 11 October 2023 (Agenda Item 13).

The Chairman had kept in contact with parties who had spoken at the previous meeting. She offered to circulate a detailed update with the minutes of this meeting.

Action: Councillor Carolyne Culver to circulate an update with the minutes.

It was recognised that it was important for the Scrutiny Commission to follow up with Thames Water on issues raised at the meeting, including:

·       Tankers were once again being used at East Garston and Brimpton.

·       Thames Water had acknowledged that sewage had been released into the River Pang and had issued an apology.

·       Councillor Stuart Gourley had been seeking a meeting with Thames Water and the Environment Agency regarding the London Road Pumping Station and pollution in the Northbrook Stream.

·       Councillor Paul Dick had followed up on questions asked at the meeting.

·       Stakeholders who had spoken at the meeting had provided feedback on performance metrics – this had been passed to Thames Water.

·       There had been flooding at Standford Dingley since the lining and sealing works had been completed.

It was noted that Thames Water had been responsive to queries. Members were encouraged to report issues to Richard Aylard and Karen Nelson.

Resolved to note the update.


West Berkshire Council Executive Forward Plan pdf icon PDF 384 KB

Purpose: To advise the Commission of items to be considered by West Berkshire Council’s Executive and decide whether to review any of the proposed items prior to the meeting indicated in the Forward Plan.


The Commission considered the West Berkshire Forward Plan (Agenda Item 14).

It was noted that the Waste Strategy was on the agenda for 27 February 2024.

A question was asked about the item related to the response to the Rwanda motion. It was suggested that this related to a motion proposed by former Councillor Steve Masters.

Resolved that the Forward Plan be noted.


Scrutiny Commission Work Programme pdf icon PDF 164 KB

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

Additional documents:


The Commission considered its work programme (Agenda Item 15).

At the workshop with the Executive Members and senior officers in September, a number of ideas had been put forward, which had been run through the PAPER prioritisation methodology. The Chairman read out the list of proposed items and invited comments.

It was noted that the scores had been reviewed in light of feedback received from Scrutiny Commission Members.

Issues that Members felt should be included in the work programme included:

·       Waste

·       Housing

·       Bus services

·       Active travel

·       Attainment of children on free school meals

Councillor Christopher Read declared an interest in relation to the proposal to consider Wraparound Care on the basis that his wife was an early years manager. He noted that the decision to offer more generous wraparound care may accelerate the closure of nurseries, which could be particularly problematic for lower income families in rural communities.

It was suggested that the review of attainment of children on free school meals could be carried out in autumn 2024 once the next round of exam results had been published.

It was felt that the review of Wraparound Care could be deferred until the outcomes were better understood.

It was noted that the Royal Mail’s performance had been reviewed by Ofcom at the national level.

In relation to the proposed review of the Broken Market for Children’s Social Care Placements, it was noted that this had been partially covered by the Fostering item. The Regional Fostering Partnerships were aimed at tackling this issue, and it was suggested that the Commission wait to see how that developed.

In relation to the proposed review of Recruitment and Retention, Members suggested that the Personnel Committee be approached to understand what information they gathered. It was suggested that this should come to the meeting on 27 February 2024. As part of the report, it was suggested that we should seek to provide comparisons with appropriate private sector organisations.

It was suggested that Housing should be considered by a Task and Finish Group. Councillors Justin Pemberton and Antony Amirtharaj asked to be part of the Task Group. Affordable rents and vacant social housing units were highlighted as issues of concern. It was suggested that this could commence when the Covid Task Group concluded.

It was proposed that the review of the Libraries Service should be considered once the 2024/25 budget had been agreed.

It was suggested that the focus of the review of bus services should be connectivity from rural wards. It was noted that the Bus Survey results were due at the end of October. Again, it was suggested that the Budget report could better inform the focus of the review.

Action: Gordon Oliver to check if the Bus Survey results were available and when the Transport Advisory Group would be looking at the Bus Strategy.

It was noted that the Cultural Heritage Strategy Delivery Plan had a low priority rating. It was suggested that this strategy may change in future. If so, then the  ...  view the full minutes text for item 44.