Agenda and minutes

Stronger Council Select Committee
Tuesday, 14th July, 2020 7.00 pm

Venue: Virtual Meeting on Zoom. View directions

Contact: A Hendry Tel: 01992 564246  Email:


No. Item


Webcasting Introduction

This meeting is to be webcast. Members are reminded of the need to activate their microphones before speaking. The Chairman will read the following announcement:


“The Chairman would like to remind everyone present that this meeting will be broadcast live to the internet (or filmed) and will be capable of repeated viewing (or another use by such third parties).


If you are seated in the lower public seating area it is likely that the recording cameras will capture your image and this will result in the possibility that your image will become part of the broadcast.


This may infringe your human and data protection rights and if you wish to avoid this you should move to the upper public gallery.”

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The Chairman reminded everyone present that the meeting would be broadcast live to the Internet, and that the Council had adopted a protocol for the webcasting of its virtual meetings.




Appointment of Vice Chairman

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In the absence of the Vice Chairman, the Committee agreed to appoint Councillor Helen Kane as Vice Chairman for the duration of the meeting.




Subsitute Members (Council Minute 39 - 23.7.02)

To report the appointment of any substitute members for the meeting.

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The Committee noted that Councillor L Mead would substitute for Councillor M Owen for the duration of this meeting.




Notes of Previous Meeting pdf icon PDF 229 KB

To agree the notes of the meeting of the Select Committee held on 14 January2020.

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That the notes of the meeting held 14 January 2020 were agreed as a correct record.




Declarations of Interest

To declare interests in any item on the agenda.

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(a)        Pursuant to the Council’s Code of Member Conduct, Councillor S Murray declared a personal interest in item 9, Accommodation Review Update, by virtue of being a trustee of Citizen’s Advice. The Councillor had determined that his interest was non-pecuniary and he would remain in the meeting for the consideration of this item.




Terms of Reference & Work Programme pdf icon PDF 99 KB

(Chairman/Lead Officer) The Overview and Scrutiny Committee has agreed the terms of reference and work programme for the select committee. Members are invited at each meeting to review both documents. 



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The Select Committee noted their terms of reference and work programme.




People Strategy Update pdf icon PDF 402 KB

To receive a verbal update on the People’s Strategy.

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The Service Director for Business Services, Paula Maginnis, gave a short verbal update on the people’s strategy. The Committee noted that a new people’s strategy had been introduced and officers had run a workshop for members and senior managers to discuss this. This strategy aims to build a people team that could deliver the strategy and have the right people with the right skills who were highly motivated and high performing. The strategy was broken down into themes:

1.    Attracting and maintaining the best talent;

2.    Develop the Leadership;

3.    Support the Council to evolve and embrace this change;

4.    Create a culture of engagement and well being;

5.    Develop skill and behaviour to make EFDC a great place to work;

6.    Create a culture of collaboration and innovation; and

7.    We want employees to fulfil their potential and be high performing.


They will deliver this by finishing the peoples strategy in the next couple of years, transform the peoples team service, review their policies and procedures and put together leadership and management development programmes and provide skills development for our staff. They were also reviewing the recruitment processes and would continue the work around self-service for the employees, further develop the rewards and benefits package and would introduce individual performance management framework.


During Covid a lot of work went into providing  the employees with a range of resources to support their wellbeing and mental and emotional health (including their families). Work was continuing on the council’s pay role system (i-Trent).


At the next Overview and Scrutiny Committee there would be a discussion on the peoples strategy, following a video that had been circulated to the members of committee showing a candidate employee journey to bring to life the peoples strategy and how it affected employees. Members of this committee were invited to join this meeting and partake in the discussion. This video would be shared with members.


Councillor Bassett commented that it was difficult to scrutinise something that came as a verbal update. In the future he would prefer to have a written report.


Councillor Brookes asked, compared to 5 years ago, what was being offered in the next few months that would make life easier for the staff. She was told that they now had a resources hub on the intranet that covered a wide range of resources including learning and guidance for both managers and employees around mental health and wellbeing. They have also just introduced a mental health online training resource for all the managers. They were focusing on the ‘softer side’ of people’s wellbeing.


Councillor Brookes added that it was a different experience working from home and that only a limited number of people could work from the office. Some people did not like working from home. P Maginnis said that they had just finished a questionnaire based on Health and Safety and had tweaked it to ask how staff were coping with working from home. They were working through this data now.  ...  view the full minutes text for item 7.


Stronger Council Q1 update - ICT Strategy pdf icon PDF 219 KB

The ICT Strategy was agreed at Cabinet on 15th April, and although our focus has been on the technology response to Covid-19, progress on some of the key themes has been made.


A decision was taken by the Executive Management Team to pause all restructures across the Council for a period of three months; that pause recently came to an end and ringfenced employees have been invited to apply for Team Manager roles, as the first phase of the restructure.


The internal customer facing module of HOTH (our service desk software) recently went live, following positive feedback from our pilot group. Further development of the reporting tool and other modules that will be used within ICT will continue.


There is a separate plan for the ICT actions and milestones for the Accommodation Programme; which are currently on track. The main one being the procurement of the audio/visual equipment for the Civic Office post refurbishment. An organisation called Symity have won the tender bid from a scoring process point of view and once a final quotation is agreed a report will go to our PFH for the contract to hopefully be awarded.


Earlier in the year we identified the need to have an ICT disaster recovery solution off site. A contract was awarded to a supplier who is providing a cloud based solution and all of our agreed virtual machines/servers are now copied into that cloud solution, meaning as of 21st June we were in a position to fail over if we needed to. The final element of training for the restoration process and non-invasive testing is scheduled in for the last week of June.


The review and procurement of a new Housing and Asset Management ICT solution is being led by an external Consultant, who is working closely with Housing. Our ICT team are supporting on this as and where required.


Lastly, team are also working with an organisation called Methods, who have a background in ICT within the public sector, to develop our technology roadmap and the rest of the milestones for the key themes within the strategy.



Additional documents:


The Service Director for Business Services, P Maginnis, introduced the short update on the ICT Strategy. She noted that the main theme of the strategy at present was in improving the basics. This had a twelve theme structure, ranging from the restructure of the service to supporting the customer strategy, members and the accommodation programme. It was wide ranging in the areas it covered. Covid had an impact on the delivery of some of the work as they had focused on enabling the employees to work from home. The team were making progress on their own restructure.


Their reporting tool, HOTH, went live last week. They were also supporting the accommodation project particularly the procurement of the audio visual equipment, the disaster recovery system and the new housing system.


Councillor Bassett asked if the committee could see the new, revised project plan and budget. He was advised that officers could circulate that. (Budget Breakdown attached).


Councillor Bassett then asked who we had awarded the off site disaster recovery contract to, were we looking at an instantaneous switch over and what were our requirements for this or were we just looking to have our data held off site. He was told that the Council was going to have its data held off site and the aim was to bring back critical services first, which had been worked out as part of a business continuity exercise. The company we have given the disaster recovery contract to was Modern Networks.


Councillor Bassett continued that with Covid, the way we used IT had changed totally. Would our strategy have to be changed or be upgraded if something worse happens or there was a second wave. He was told that because of the accommodation programme officers had already identified that we needed to support people to work from home. This past few months has shown that our IT works as we now have up to 400 people working from home and the IT was holding up nicely. We were also making use of Zoom and making full use of Teams.


Councillor Bassett asked that as we now all use the internet so much more, security needed to be revamped to check all was running smoothly, also were we monitoring our internet usage and are we maxing out there. He was told that this had not been raised as an issue by IT.


Councillor Dorrell asked about the resumption plan for the disaster recovery plan. He was told that was part of the contract and specifications. This would be made available to members separately.


Following the meeting, the following answers to questions raised were obtained:


Have we maxed out at any time as we’re using the internet significantly more? During the seeding process for the DR solution the Infrastructure Team carried out regular checks on our bandwidth capacity, and with those virtual machines being copied over and 400+ users working remotely we did not max out at any point.


What’s the resumption plan?

Should the failover  ...  view the full minutes text for item 8.


Accommodation Review Update pdf icon PDF 43 KB

To consider the attached report.

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The Service Manager (Housing Management & Home Ownership), D Fenton introduced the report on the update of the accommodation project. She noted that the project work was going well, the council had awarded a contract to ISG Fit Out Ltd. to refurbish the office building and they were now on site starting their work. The project remained on time to be completed early next year. The contract for fixtures and fittings would be awarded soon.


The Accommodation Programme Board meets monthly to oversee the delivery of the programme and covered the following workstreams:


  1. Construction works
  2. ICT
  3. Travel Plan
  4. Furniture, fixtures and fittings
  5. Engagement
  6. Partners


The report on the agenda noted the progress made across the six project areas and the corporate plan provided key milestones for the full year 2020/21.


Councillor Brady commented on the travel plan referred to in the report. She noted that nowadays it would be difficult to get people to use public transport and noted that the use of cars had gone up compared to pre Covid times. This worried her if the number of parking spaces would be reduced. Had this been considered? D Fenton said that this was reviewed on an ongoing basis. There was now a lot of people working from home, and were comfortable working from home, so the desk to officer ratio had been reduced from 6 to 10, to 4 to 10, and there would be a lot less people driving in.


Councillor Brady went on to comment on the paragraph on furniture, fixtures and fittings and noted that collaborative workspaces were not a good idea now. D Fenton replied that there would still be room for social distancing in the new set up. Officers would carry out a risk assessment in January and there would be a lot of people still working from home.


Councillor Brady then asked about the air conditioning system spreading germs. D Fenton said that all fans and the air conditioning were not allowed to be switched on as they were seen to be a Health and Safety risk.


Councillor Neville asked when would the travel plan be put into practice, January or before? He was told that it would be January or February when officers moved back into the building.


Councillor Neville then asked what type of gas would be used in the air conditioning system. D Fenton did not have an answer with her and said she would put something in the minutes.


Councillor Jon Whitehouse asked which partners were we in discussion with? He was told that there were several potential partners such as Citizens Advice, libraries and Voluntary Action. They were still in the early stages in the discussions with them. A desk ratio of 4 to 10 would allow us to have more space for our partners. If it was helpful, she could provide a statistical update around this area at the next meeting


Councillor Whitehouse asked that for the commercially let space, was the intention to have lots of individual  ...  view the full minutes text for item 9.


Finance Update

To receive a verbal update on the financial position of the council.

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The Strategic Director, Andrew Small gave a short verbal report on the financial position of the council. He noted that things were moving quickly in terms of the cost of Covid at present. He was pleased to announce that the final accounts for 2018/19 had been signed off on 18 June 2020 and they were now finalising the accounts for 2019/20. The Government had recognised that because of the impact of the Covid outbreak there had been less capacity for local government to complete the normal end of year tasks and had given us an extended timetable for closing the end of year accounts. That was, until the end of July to get the accounts published and then until the end of October to get them signed. This reflected the fact that the council staff had been tied up with other emergency work such as administering the new grants.


There was a large range of potential costs to the council this year, most of it was lost income as opposed to additional cost to the council. The current estimates of lost income were between £4.6 million and £7.6 million, a huge financial impact. This was before any government support was taken into account. Thus far the government had provided us with £1.36 million in grant support and we had been told that more money would follow. This would be from three funding pots, money for the cost implications for councils; an income loss scheme, uncapped at present, with the councils having to pick up the first 5% of lost income; and beyond that the government would pay for 75% of lost income. And beyond this there was a scheme for loss of income from Council Tax and Business Rates; we used to have to recoup it over a year, the government now says that we have three years to recoup it.


We did not know what the net impact would be on the Council at present, but it would be significant. He was pleased to say that over a number of years the council had built up a healthy balance and should have around £7million pounds in reserve, which should cover the worst financial impacts of this event. But we needed to keep it under close scrutiny in the coming months, to understand how the actual cost of this event emerges and make sure we have enough financial resources to ensure the council was secure. We will then have to start thinking about financial planning for future years. Not least the onward impact brought upon us by Covid and some structural changes to local government finance that had been planned for 2021/22, around the governments distribution of grant support and changes to the business rate system as well.


Councillor Rackham was concerned about what would happen if we had a second wave, did we have a plan B? She was told that things were very fluid, and the council had to react to events. The government had said spend what  ...  view the full minutes text for item 10.


Unacceptable Customer Behaviour Policy pdf icon PDF 34 KB

To consider the attached report.


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The Service Manager (Customer), S Lewis introduced the report on unacceptable customer behaviour. This policy set out the Council’s approach to dealing with unacceptable behaviour by service users and members of the public and it was anticipated its application would be minimal.  The Council had a duty to safeguard its employees from unacceptable behaviour which may otherwise cause us to breach legislation unless we take appropriate action.  The policy was to protect our staff whilst dealing with unacceptable behaviour both internally and externally by our customers.


Councillor Neville welcomed the report but asked about the statement that the council ‘would not accept unimportant questions’. Who would decide this, the wording seemed a bit cold. S Lewis said that she would review the wording and amend.


Councillor Brookes also welcomed the report and noted the bit on vexatious callers, would this apply to what councillors would deem to be reasonable and could councillors be made aware of who these callers were. She was told that this would be checked out in regard to the Freedom of Information regulations and how it would affect the sharing of this information.


Following the meeting  officers were advised that they could not share the customers details without specific reason. If a councillor had a specific interest they should contact Nichola Gambrill.


Councillor Bassett was happy with most of the report and asked if it could be confirmed that a second member of staff would have to confirm that a caller was being abusive and that it was unacceptable to record calls. He was told that we should be made aware that the member of the public was recording a call. This was mentioned in the report and precluded secret recordings. Following on from this Councillor Bassett asked if we checked that a supposed annoying caller was not just a clash of personalities. S Lewis replied that the contact centre would be made aware of these customers and an investigation would be carried out.


After the meeting the following information was given on the recording of calls:

Most calls within the Council were recorded, there is an announcement at the beginning of the call telling customers we record their call for training purposes.


When an employee has evidence of a vexatious caller, managers go through the evidence with the employee and collate findings to ‘make the case’ to the customer that they are being vexatious. The customer doesn’t receive copies of their emails etc they are given a list within the letter detailing when they contacted us.


We can listen to most calls and quite often the vexatious caller leaves voicemails across service areas so we can listen to them anyway.






That the Unacceptable Customer Behaviour policy, subject to the above comments, was approved for launch to all staff.




Corporate Plan 2019-20 - Quarter 4 Performance pdf icon PDF 232 KB

To consider the attached report.

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The quarter 4 performance figures for the Corporate Plan 2019-20 was introduced by L Wade, Service Manager (People and Performance). The Corporate Plan Action Plan provided a mechanism for reporting to Members on the Council’s Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) and key programmes of work and highlighted the Councils overall performance against agreed Corporate Objectives.


She asked that the Committee acknowledges the impact that Covid has had on the corporate objectives. The council had moved on since this report and part of the planning cycle looked to establish the corporate priorities for 2020/21 by this point, but with the focus being on Covid response and recovery this had not been the case. What had been completed was a summary update for each of the areas and that is as part of the supplementary paper published for the agenda. This provided an overview of the capacity for each of the service areas. We will be reviewing the corporate programmes and the service objectives; but most importantly the Covid recovery activities and the financial impacts and the prioritisation around these and taking into account the capacity of resources available and the funding needed to deliver these. We will also be looking at the KPIs to see if they needed to be refreshed.


Councillor Bassett commented that the maths on the report did not seem to add up, such as the target on page 49 of the agenda ‘safeguarding and supporting people in vulnerable situations’  the target keeps going up but the actual suddenly drops in Q4 and also on page 51 when the Q1 figures were higher than the target. There seemed to be inconsistencies throughout on how things were reported. L Wade said that she would investigate this.


Councillor Neville noted that some of the swimming attendances in Ongar and Loughton, figures were below target but still marked as green. L Wade replied that it was probably related to the fall in direct debits. Councillor Neville went on to ask about (page 43) how many calls completed positively after feedback, figures only for one quarter but no other quarters. He would like to know how many people called us and how many people then completed the survey and how many were positive. L Wade noted that they would be refreshing the KPIs and would include this for next year.


Councillor Dorrell noted that the recycling targets had dropped due to a change in the recording system. Any details on what this was about and were we planning to change the target because of this. He was told that the officers involved in this would be asked to provide a response for the minutes.


Councillor Bassett commented that there had been comments made that we did not pick up green waste at certain times of the year. He was told that a report was being produced at present on this. Councillor Neville noted that the Waste Task and Finish Panel report would be going to the next O&S Committee.


Following the meeting  ...  view the full minutes text for item 12.


Qtr.1 Service Plan Objectives - Progress pdf icon PDF 135 KB

To consider the attached report.

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L Wade (Service Manager – people and performance), introduced the supplementary report on quarter 1 service plan objectives. This report referenced the capacity and Covid-19 restriction impact on each service, and the subsequent impact on the delivery of Q1 Service Plan Objectives. This provided an overview of the services areas, of the activities they had been involved in and also the impact that Covid had on the work that we would have otherwise completed, if we had not had to respond to this emergency.


Councillor Bassett noted that under the Housing Section, some people were still struggling to pay their rent, were we prepared for the possible need for emergency housing and possible homelessness. L Wade said that would be part of our recovery plan. A Small added that we were aware of this, lockdown had been a difficult time for a lot of families for many reasons and we did expect to see an increase in homelessness and the housing team were gearing up for this. This is also something that Councillor Patel was interested in and was being looked at by his portfolio advisory group.


Councillor Brookes asked if all homelessness case interviews were now done over the phone. A Small said that it varied. They did like to deal with the most difficult cases face to face if they could, but there were problems of health and safety over this. Officers were aware that they got better outcomes when talking face to face. S Lewis added that initial enquiries were done online but teams were available for face to face interviews in the Conder building.




(1)        That the Committee reviewed the impact to Q1 Service Plan objectives as a result of Covid-19 impact; and


(2)    That the committee acknowledged that the impact of Covid-19 and that the Covid-19 recovery plan would require that services review their priorities and objectives within their service plans and with their Portfolio Holders.





Dates of Future Meetings

To note the future meetings of this Committee:


13 October 2020;

19 January 2021; and

13 April 2021.

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The Committee noted their future meeting dates.