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Agenda and draft minutes

Venue: Committee Room Council Offices Market Street Newbury. View directions

Contact: Gordon Oliver 


No. Item


Minutes pdf icon PDF 485 KB

To approve as a correct record the Minutes of the meetings of the Commission held on 28 November 2023, 18 January 2024, and 6 February 2024.

Additional documents:


The Minutes of the meetings held on 28 November 2023, 18 January 2024 and 6 February 2024 were approved as true and correct records and signed by the Chairman.

The Chairman then read out a statement which covered the following points:

·       The role of the Scrutiny Commission was to hold the Executive and other decision makers to account, and it had a unique legitimacy to examine issues.

·       It was not appropriate for a Member of the Executive to put pressure on the Chairman to reverse a decision that had already been made about the Commission’s work programme.

·       Executive portfolio holders should respect the independence of the scrutiny function and should not seek to direct the work of the committee.

·       While the Chairman was happy to consider requests regarding scrutiny of an issue, she would not be bullied. Any such attempt raised suspicions and suggested that the decision to scrutinise an issue was correct.

·       Members were reminded that they should come to scrutiny meetings with independent minds.


Actions from previous Minutes pdf icon PDF 176 KB

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

Additional documents:


Members noted the updates on actions from the previous meetings.

Comments were made in relation to the following terms:

·       Action 119 - it was considered that the terms equity and equality had not been properly defined, so this action was not considered to be closed.

·       Action 122 – Members asked if it would be possible to see the Bus Survey results.


Gordon Oliver to seek further clarification of the definitions of equity and equality from officers.

Gordon Oliver to ask for the Bus Survey results to be provided to Scrutiny Commission Members.

The Chairman read out an update on flooding/sewage issues. It was agreed that this would be appended to the minutes. The following matters were discussed in relation to the update:

·       It was explained that Gold Command meetings were only used for emergency incidents. However, Strategic and Tactical Groups had been set up for the recent floods. It was acknowledged that it would be useful to review the effectiveness of these groups.

·       The importance of maintaining sluice gates was highlighted, since these could exacerbate flooding if they could not be opened. The Environment Agency lacked powers to require landowners to maintain them.

·       It was suggested that people living in mills were often unaware of their responsibility to manage river levels and that this should be considered as part of future discussions with Thames Water and the Environment Agency.

·       Ownership of one of the bunds in Linear Park had changed hands and it was suggested that changes in ownership needed to be tracked so authorities knew who to contact if there was an issue.

·       Jon Winstanley committed to provide an update on the uptake of flood grants to the October meeting.

·       The threshold of 50 affected properties for local authorities to be eligible for flood grants was seen as a high bar for small local authorities like West Berkshire. DLUHC had been unwilling to make concessions.

·       It was noted that sonic equipment could detect leaks in pipes/sewers. It was suggested that Thames Water be asked if they were using this equipment.

·       In addition to sewer lining and manhole sealing, the need for major infrastructure was highlighted (e.g., London Road Pumping Station).

·       Although Thames Water had visited Hampstead Norreys on 12 April, they had not found evidence of pollution, despite ongoing sewage leaks from a manhole cover into the river.

·       The latest edition of the Newbury Weekly News had featured a story about a child falling into sewage and subsequently becoming unwell.

·       It was suggested that the Council’s ‘report a problem page’ could be used to log issues reported by residents. Officers confirmed that they always encouraged residents to report issues to Thames Water directly. Any issues reported through the website were referred onto the relevant organisation.

·       Apologies were given for officers not responding to Newbury Town Councillor Steve Masters’ request for West Berkshire Council to issue an abatement notice against Thames Water under Section 79e and section 80 of the Environmental Protection Act, 1990. This was being investigated.  ...  view the full minutes text for item 54.


Declarations of Interest pdf icon PDF 305 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.


There were no declarations of interest received.


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.


Environment Strategy Operational Review

Purpose: To review progress in implementing the Council's Environment Strategy Delivery Plan.

Additional documents:


Councillor Stuart Gourley (Executive Portfolio Holder: Climate Action, Recycling and Biodiversity), Jenny Graham (Environment Delivery Manager) and Kofi Adu-Gyamfi (Service Lead – Climate Change) presented the Environment Strategy Operational Review (Agenda Item 6).

The following points were raised in the debate:

·       It was noted that the Environment Advisory Group (EAG) Open Forum was improving transparency of decision making and the group was hearing from innovators and technology companies. This was helping to inspire local residents and businesses.

·       Members asked about the reprioritisation process for the next version of the Delivery Plan. It was explained that significant changes were proposed to the way it would be laid out to make it easier to navigate, with actions organised around the following themes:

o   Energy efficiency and renewables

o   The natural environment

o   Sustainable travel

o   Waste and recycling

Cross-cutting themes would be:

o   Focus on net zero

o   Health and wellbeing benefits

o   Communications

o   Partnership working

o   Education and community engagement

Business as usual activities were being stripped out.

Officers would seek to ensure that actions were of a similar scale.

·       Members suggested that the Council’s recently appointed Ecologists could work with town/parish councils who were looking to respond to the ecological emergency. Officers suggested that the Ecologists could attend a future Town and Parish Climate Forum and highlight areas that town/parish councils might wish to consider. It was confirmed that contact details had recently been updated for all town/parish, so this should help to improve attendance.

Action: Jenny Graham to arrange a Town and Parish Climate Forum focused on biodiversity.

·       It was noted that there were over 60 town/parish councils, who may lack knowledge, skills and experience, and who had land/buildings/assets that needed improvement.

·       It was suggested that a similar forum could be established for local environmental groups/stakeholders. Officers indicated that this was a key driver for the EAG Open Forum sessions. There were plans to tweak the Open Forum to provide more opportunities for collective brainstorming around key issues to inform policies and guide progress towards net zero and beyond.

·       Members asked about participation at EAG. It was confirmed that there was a full programme of talks. Although online attendance was good, attendance in person was limited. Attendees were there to hear what was going on and ask questions and learn about new initiatives. A recent presentation on plastic-free living had highlighted synergies between the work of the Council and Veolia and a waste company that was trying out new technology.

·       Officers were asked about flood defence schemes planned for the Rivers Lambourn and Kennet. It was confirmed that the Section 19 investigation and the Environment Agency’s Section 18 report would inform decisions around business cases and funding bids for schemes to mitigate flood risk. £6.3 million had been secured on the basis of previous Section 19 reports for Thatcham flood alleviation measures and studies in Newbury around the Northcroft ditch and surface water in Clay Hill, as well as property level protection.

·       There was discussion around the Big  ...  view the full minutes text for item 57.


Task and Finish Group Updates pdf icon PDF 309 KB

Purpose: To receive updates from the chairmen of task and finish groups appointed by the Scrutiny Commission.


The Chairman read out the following update on the work of the Covid and Recovery Task and Finish Group (Agenda Item 7), which had been provided by Councillor Paul Dick.

Since the last update in November, the Task Group has met four times, with each meeting having a particular focus.

December’s meeting looked at various Public Health and Community Support aspects. There were presentations on: communications, outbreak management, the vaccination programme, Covid testing, and the role of the Public Protection Partnership.

The focus of January’s meeting was on Public Health and Emergency Community Support, with presentations on the Community Support Hub, mental health and isolation, and supporting individuals with their recovery.

In February, the Task Group looked at how the Council had supported local businesses and the recovery of the local economy. The Task Group Members were keen to get the perspective of service users, so they surveyed local businesses and invited the Chair of Newbury Business Improvement District to attend and share his experiences.

The most recent meeting considered the support provided to the education sector in West Berkshire. There was a presentation from the Schools Emergency Planning Team. Again, the Task Group Members sought the perspectives of service users. They conducted a survey of local headteachers and invited two headteachers from local primary and secondary schools to give evidence.

The next session will focus on Support for the Care Sector, and a meeting is being arranged for May.

There remain some further lines of enquiry that the Task Group hopes to tie up at a further meeting. A survey has just gone out to town / parish councils and community groups, and additional information is being sought in relation to domestic abuse.

Throughout the process, the Task Group has sought to understand what elements of the Council’s response had worked well and what changes could be put in place now, so we are better prepared for the next event. A series of draft recommendations are starting to emerge and the Task Group is aiming to report back to the Scrutiny Commission in September.”

It was suggested that the Task Group be made aware of a local charity offering free legal aid for victims of domestic abuse.

Resolved to note the report.


Sports Hub Task and Finish Group Terms of Reference pdf icon PDF 150 KB

Purpose: To approve the terms of reference for the Sports Hub Task and Finish Group.


Members considered the draft Sports Hub Task and Finish Group Terms of Reference (Agenda Item 8) as drafted by the Scrutiny Commission Chairman.

Key points from the debate were as follows:

·       Additional witnesses were proposed, including Mr Alan Pearce, the Football Federation, the Football Association, Newbury Town Council, and Paul Martindill.

·       It was proposed to consider whether consistent advice (including external advice) had been given to officers and subsequently to Members.

·       It was felt that the review could be concluded in four meetings, but concern was expressed that it may take longer if the Task Group considered all aspects in detail.

·       Some Members felt that the review might become political and they suggested that it should not rake over previous decisions. The new administration had simply decided on a different course of action.

·       A suggestion was made to narrow the scope to consider: whether the project had been well-managed; whether reliable and consistent advice had been provided; and what lessons could be learned from the project. 

·       If the scope was narrowed, it was suggested that the list of witnesses could be reduced. It was felt unlikely that Sport England would attend and that there would be existing documentation that could be referred to instead. Also, it was suggested that the political witnesses would not be able to add much to the proceedings.

·       A reduced scope was felt to be a good compromise in terms of available resources and outcomes.

·       Others felt that Sport England were fundamental to the conversations that had taken place, so it would be necessary to have them as a witness and to review the evolution of the project from as far back as possible.

·       Learning lessons to inform future work was considered important.

·       It was suggested that the Task Group should focus on scrutinising the Executive’s decisions rather than fact-finding.

·       The administration should have nothing to fear from the decision making process being reviewed – any lessons could be applied to future decisions.

·       In terms of the outputs of the review, it was suggested that, rather than producing a long report, the Task Group should come up with concise points in a tabular form about what had gone well/badly and lessons that could be applied to a future project.

·       Members felt that it would be difficult to review the project without reference to the revised Playing Pitch Strategy document. Unfortunately, this would not be ready for some time.

·       The consistency of advice was considered to be one of the most important aspects to consider.

·       If the Council had used PRINCE2 for the project, then the documentation could be readily reviewed (e.g., initial idea, business case, gateway reviews and lessons learned report). If everything was in order, then subsequent interviews may be unnecessary.

·       The Chief Executive expressed concerns about staff capacity. The interviews would take time to organise. The organisation was under pressure from Adult Social Care and Children’s Services, which had much higher levels of spend and risk than this project and it was suggested that  ...  view the full minutes text for item 59.


Health Scrutiny Committee Update pdf icon PDF 407 KB

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


Members considered the Health Scrutiny Committee Update provided by Councillor Martha Vickers (Agenda Item 9).

It was noted that the Healthcare in New Developments Task Group was due to conclude by the end of April. This had proved to be an interesting topic. The Chairman thanked Vicky Phoenix and Elisabeth Gowens for their contributions. The Task Group had interviewed GPs and NHS Integrated Care Board representatives. It was a complicated topic and a great deal of work had been done by officers to consider health implications of major planning applications. This was a key concern for residents. The Task Group report would go to Health Scrutiny Committee in due course.

Resolved that the report be noted.


West Berkshire Council Forward Plan 1 May to 31 August 2024 pdf icon PDF 333 KB

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


The Commission considered the West Berkshire Executive’s Forward Plan for the period 1 May to 31 August 2024 (Agenda Item 10).

Reports previously highlighted for potential scrutiny included:

·       Bus Service Improvement Plan

·       Active Travel Plan

In addition, it was suggested that the Community Infrastructure Levy – Customer Journey Independent Review (CIL) be scrutinised.


·       Confirm why the CIL report was not due until May 2025.

·       Confirm Planning Advisory Group’s role in reviewing the CIL report.

·       Seek further details about the scope of the Market Failure Policy.

·       Seek further details about the scope of the Protected Characteristics report.

·       Raise concerns about missing/outdated information on the Forward Plan.

Resolved that the Forward Plan be noted.


Overview and Scrutiny Management Commission Work Programme pdf icon PDF 181 KB

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


The Commission considered its work programme (Agenda Item 11).

The Work Programme had been updated following discussions at recent meetings as well as subsequent discussions and the following aspects were discussed.

A private briefing on Adult Social Care High Cost Clients was proposed for May, in addition to an external training session on Adult Social Care Scrutiny.

Action: Gordon Oliver to liaise with Paul Coe on the ASC briefing.

It had previously been proposed that the Health Scrutiny Committee should take responsibility for scrutiny of Adult Social Care Services from May 2024. However, senior officers had since suggested a wider review of the Council’s Scrutiny function, which would be undertaken by the Constitution Task Force

Members agreed that the May meeting should be pushed back to 26 June, to allow the first SEND/High Needs Block report to come forward in a timelier manner, and to allow the end of year financial and performance reports to come to Scrutiny before going to Executive.  

Action: Gordon Oliver to rearrange the meeting and advise officers.

The Acting Leader of the Council had suggested that the Scrutiny Commission review IT Project Management. Members agreed that this was important but felt that IT should be dropped from the title of the review. It was noted that the recent car park issues had highlighted the importance of choosing the right delivery partners.

Members agreed to have a special meeting in October 2024 to consider the Section 19 report and Thames Water/Environment Agency activities.

Action: Gordon Oliver to invite Thames Water and Environment Agency.

Members agreed that the Commission should consider the Community Infrastructure Levy - Customer Journey Independent Review.

The Chairman highlighted a request from a resident to review the spend on Faraday Road Football Ground. This alleged that a fencing contract had been given to Volker Highways at a cost of £150,000, despite the Council having received a quote from another contractor for £54,000. It was noted that the Scrutiny Commission was already reviewing the Sports Hub. It was suggested that this matter could either be picked up as part of the wider review of Project Management, or it could be handled by a public question to a meeting of the Executive. It was agreed that the Project Management Review could include Care Director, iTrent and the Faraday Road Football Ground.

Resolved that the changes to the work programme be noted.