Venue: Council Chamber, County Hall, The Rhadyr USK. View directions
Election of Chair
Councillor Alistair Neill was appointed as Chair.
The Chair welcomed committee members. In his remarks he stressed the importance of the committee’s work, noting that effective scrutiny is important for a good council. He reminded members that the committee’s role is to make recommendations, not decisions, and that their work should be impartial and non-partisan, to improve services and – ideally – avoid problems before they happen. The most effective scrutiny is in pre-decision making, to help the Executive in shaping good policy. The committee can amplify the public’s voice in its work, and their concerns, as well as those of partners and stakeholders.
The committee will hold members to account for service delivery and risk management. Robust financial monitoring and holding the council to account on the corporate objectives outlined in its corporate plan will be fundamental. It will be important for the Chair and committee members to work effectively outside the meetings with officers, executive members, community groups and partners. The Chair will try to liaise with Cabinet members and supervise the work programme. The committee should ensure that the recommendations it reaches are balanced and accurate. Scrutiny needs to be focussed and consistent – it is better if fewer areas done well, which needs to be considered when shaping the Forward Work Programme.
Appointment of Vice-Chair
Nominations were received for Councillor Wright, Councillor Kear and Councillor Chandler.
Councillor Kear was appointed as Vice-Chair, following a vote.
Declarations of Interest
There were no declarations of interest.
Public Open Forum
No public submissions were received.
Matthew Gatehouse presented the report and answered the members’ questions.
Is staff training open to Councillors? Are there plans to return to in-person training?
Yes, it is open to members – we want to help as many people as possible, things like lunchtime conversation classes. In September, we will probably introduce in-person opportunities, and are happy to fund courses elsewhere as well – the key thing is to get as many people speaking as possible.
What will be put in place to deal with the overspend now and for future years?
We have a legal duty to translate things, so we can’t cut corners. There is the responsibility to operate within the budget set by Council for this area, so some effort has been made to make up for the overspend. For example, our Welsh Language Officer retired in an election year, leading to a gap in salary being paid for a period of time. Overall, the budget area will come in under budget, as demonstrated in the next agenda item.
How is the tendering commission for translation services done? Is it up for review? Is Cardiff helping us, given our partnership arrangement? Do we do any in-house translation ourselves? Do other authorities share any translation services i.e., collaborating with those with greater provision?
We looked at the overall commission 2.5-3 years ago – we do so regularly to ensure that our arrangements are cost-effective. We don’t have in-house translation but use a stable of 6-7 translators around Wales. Our intelligence is that the rates that we are charged are very competitive, compared to the alternatives. We looked at another authority providing our translation service, but it would have been £30-40k more expensive per year. We also asked Procurement colleagues whether there was value in going out to the market; given the size of the contract and the amount of potential savings, they felt that the contracts were not going to yield sufficient value to go out to the market. But we will keep it under constant review.
We considered bringing the service in-house partly because of the technology now available, but many of the individual businesses use software/learning tools, which enable them to keep their costs down. We don’t do much in-house but there are occasional things like proofreading. For the most part though, translators can turn things around within the hour when it’s urgent.
What’s the total number of staff in each service area – does it include those who haven’t started learning?
We don’t have those numbers to hand, but they can be given later, and included in future reports to make them more useful to members.
How much of the stated improvement in the last year is staff moving up in their fluency, and how much is recruitment of new staff?
Existing staff have gained new qualifications, but a big improvement has been in the recruitment of external staff. The way technology allows us to work means that we are recruiting people from north ... view the full minutes text for item 6.
Jonathan Davies presented the report and answered the members’ questions with Dave Loder, Peter Davies and Nicola Wellington.
Future challenges in service delivery are highlighted. Is there a more detailed set of assessments of likely risks? What about inflationary pressures and related issues?
Many of the risks will have been known at our budget-setting stage, when we did a full analysis of them. Some of the inflationary pressures might not have been apparent at that time; we have to respond to them quickly as they develop. Financial reporting for the following financial year will follow, with a formal Month 4 report coming to committee in September which will address some of the risks now presenting themselves. The main risks are highlighted in 3.28 and are those expected: we still see structural budget deficits related to demands on Social Care, Care Homes capacity is approaching 100%, so we are funding those placements, which we didn’t have to do during the pandemic. Staffing issues in Domiciliary Care are a key feature of the service, and the external help that is being brought in to support it. Homelessness is a key area of legacy impacts – there’s been a policy change from Welsh Government and there is a lot of detail still for us to work through in how to support that service.
Underspends are as much of a concern as overspends, as it suggests that services aren’t being delivered as hoped. Does ‘savings’ mean that we set out to save that money or are they underspends that we didn’t mean to incur e.g., staff cost savings in the School Psychology Service?
‘Savings’ or ‘mitigations’ primarily mean those that have been brought forward prior to the start of the financial year and which services have come forward with efficiencies or mitigations that can be made, shown in Table 2. The specific saving in the SPS was due to a staff vacancy. Underspends refer to what has happened during the year to the budget that was set, rather than savings or mitigations agreed at the start of the year, but the two are indeed sometimes conflated.
What is the explanation for the large Highways underspend?
It is comprised of two parts. The first is savings on staffing, as this area had a large number of vacancies. They are actively looking to fill those posts now. The second is the high levels of income last year, itself made up of two parts: we were able to recharge more staff costs to capital budgets and grants, and we had an increased road closure income, not communicated to Finance until later in the year. That income doubled from what it usually is, creating a large spike in our income. It is highly unlikely that there will be a similar underspend this year.
What does the surplus in Strategic Initiatives entail?
Strategic Initiatives is a corporate budget that we hold; the £1m underspend is a late grant that we received from Welsh Government to support our difficulty ... view the full minutes text for item 7.
Monmouthshire County Council Self-Assessment 2021-2022 - To scrutinise the Council's performance during 2021-2022 against the goals outlined in the Corporate Plan 2017-2022, agreeing any areas for future scrutiny PDF 536 KB
Richard Jones presented the report and answered the members’ questions with Matthew Gatehouse and Emma Davies.
In the work to reduce our carbon footprint and waste, is there scope for looking towards new behaviours, e.g., soaps instead of gels, emphasis on non-use rather than recycling, the understanding that plastics ultimately come from oil? Has that been considered?
We declared a Climate Emergency and put together a related Action Plan, but the report recognises that there is more to do; we are looking towards how to achieve more with our resources. The member has given some excellent suggestions for us to follow.
How are Area Committees doing, and what is their setup? Is there feedback from communities about how MCC is doing?
The key thing to recognise is that they haven’t been meeting recently. There have been a number of evaluations of them in recent years. Cabinet Member Fookes will commence a piece of work on public participation soon that will incorporate work with the area committees.
Is there a difference between this version 1.0 and the 2.0 circulated for G&A committee next week?
There haven’t been major changes between 1.0 and 2.0, it is more about reflecting that this report looks back on 21-22. Finalisation of some data and evidence has continued, and some performance indicators have been updated. One significant change is the addition of timescales to action plans. The vast majority of conclusions and detail are unchanged. We can set out the changes subsequently e.g., in the report that will go to council in September. For clarity, a ‘.0’ is used when something is in the public domain, and even a minor change can see something updated from Version 1.0 to 2.0.
Do we capture staff feedback to understand the nuances of the collaboration between local authority, Social Care departments and Health?
We are very proud of our record of joint working between Health and Social Care, which goes back to 2005-6. There are clearly huge challenges in this interface. Feedback is captured in the professional supervision that social workers and others have with their immediate managers, which then informs the conclusions that the Chief Officer for Social Care puts together in their annual report. There are sometimes sensitivities, and this is how we would see that information coming through. The Care Inspectorate Wales report, produced at the end of 2021, might be useful: a lot of work was done with staff and there was a lot of feedback from them noted in it.
Do we review the questions in the Social Services user questionnaire before it is issued to ensure that we’re asking the right things?
These are national questions. The design has been informed by involvement from service areas themselves, our performance team and customer relations team. It is a long-standing survey of Adult Social Care users, giving us a rich picture of trends and changes – in suggesting any changes we have to be mindful of how that would affect our ability to ... view the full minutes text for item 8.
The following topics were suggested by members:
The report is moved, and the Forward Work Programme is agreed in outline; it will be circulated following the meeting to enable members to add further suggestions. The committee agrees the agenda for its next meeting on 29th September will include Pre-decision Scrutiny of the Procurement Strategy, Scrutiny of the Chief Officer’s Social Care and Health Annual Report, Budget Monitoring Month 4 and the Strategic Risk Register. The committee recognises that this may not be achieved in a single meeting and therefore agrees that the Strategic Risk Register will be received at this meeting but tabled to a future scrutiny workshop to agree future areas they wish to scrutinise in greater detail.
Thursday 29th September 2022 at 10.00am.