Agenda and draft minutes

Main meeting, Finance, Assets & Performance Scrutiny Committee
Thursday, 19th September, 2019 7.00 pm

Venue: Lancaster Buildings, - Lancaster Buildings. View directions

Contact: Jayne Briscoe 2250 

Items
No. Item

1.

APOLOGIES

Minutes:

There were no apologies

2.

MINUTES OF THE LAST MEETING - 27 JUNE 2019

Minutes:

Resolved:     That the minutes of the meeting held on 27 June 2019 be agreed as a correct record

3.

DECLARATIONS OF INTEREST

Minutes:

There were no declarations of interest

4.

UPDATE FROM CABINET

Minutes:

The Leader, Councillor S Tagg provided an update report in response to the recommendations made by the Scrutiny Committee on 27 June 2019.  Councillor Tagg explained how members were kept informed about issues affecting residents within their ward, although there was a need to respect confidentiality in some instances.  In respect of publicity for the Lyme Lottery the Communications team would prepare a media plan to include both social and traditional media.

5.

IMPACT OF UNIVERSAL CREDIT ROLLOUT IN NEWCASTLE UNDER LYME

Minutes:

Ms Hubbard representing the Citizens Advice Bureau and Mr Leese from the Department for Work and Pensions) joined the meeting to help address the issues raised by members.

 

The Benefits Manager provided information relating to the impact on both benefit claimants and Newcastle under Lyme Borough Council since the introduction of Universal Credit.

 

Impact on residents

 

At 11 July 2019 the number of people nationally receiving Universal Credit was 2.3 million. This is a 5% increase from 13 June 2019.  At this time the number of people receiving Universal credit in Newcastle was 2817 and for Kidsgrove 1275.

 

The major issues identified since the roll out of the benefit included:

 

·        Wrong advice about which benefit should be claimed

·        1 in 5 claimants do not receive their benefits on time (National Audit Office 2018)

·        Failure to pay housing costs because tenancy agreements are lost

·        Tenants without a standard tenancy agreement are being refused housing costs

·        Housing costs incorrectly calculated

·        Difficulties establishing and maintaining a claim due to no computer access or lack of digital skills

·        Issues with the award of disability related elements of UC

·        Communications with the DWP and processing of evidence

·        Housing benefit paid to claimant and not being paid over to Landlords to pay rent

·        UC assessment period not falling in line with four weekly paid salaries, meaning two salary payments could fall within one month’s assessment period.

·        Excessive deductions from UC for court orders etc., leaving a claimant with little money for that month

 

These issues, together with the impact on local residents, were being addressed by the DWP. The CAB received funding to support disability claimants.

 

Impact on NULBC

 

Following the introduction of UC the staff/work ratio had seen changes. The Housing Benefit caseload in April 2013 prior to the introduction of UC was 7945 claims.  In December 2018 the start of full service, the case load had fallen to 6894.  The caseload had further reduced to 6101 at 31 July 2019.

 

This reduction had resulted in an impact on the resources needed within the benefit team.  Staffing levels had reduced since 2013 by way of flexible retirement.  Since December 2018, following the substantial loss of new Housing Benefit claims, more resource had been put into the recovery of Housing Benefit overpayments.  The administration of Pensioner claims and Council Tax Reduction was still a significant part of the workload.  Staff had also been allocated additional work from within the Revenues and Benefit service.

 

Future resourcing needs and service delivery model for the benefit service are currently being addressed within the restructure of the Resource and Support Services directorate to implement more flexible and integrated ways of working that offer improved efficiency and resilience as well as providing a better customer experience.

 

 The reduction in new claims had also had an impact on the number of claimants contacting the Customer Services Team.

 

All benefit and customer services staff at NULBC are fully trained to provide the correct advice regarding claiming the correct benefit.  In this respect a  ...  view the full minutes text for item 5.

6.

ICT STRATEGY AND DEVELOPMENT PROGRAMME

Minutes:

The Head of Customer Services and Digital Services submitted a report which outlined the significant development programme within the Councils ICT Service.  The report described the current priorities, the relationship with the Councils Digital Programme and how the future strategy would be developed.

 

The ICT Team were responsible for the day to day operation and development of the Councils ICT services supporting approximately 400 active ICT users and working to ensure service delivery within:

 

Desktop & Service Desk

Applications Support

Infrastructure

Project Management

 

A full copy of the development plan and ICT Strategy was included as an Appendix to the report.

 

Members discussed the alternatives to Microsoft together with the costs and benefits.  Discussions also included the impact of the uncertainties surrounding Brexit and in this respect it was confirmed that with the exception of J2 all services were hosted in house and the hardware sourced from outside the UK.

 

Agreed: That the report be noted.

7.

DIGITAL STRATEGY OUTLINE BUSINESS CASE

Minutes:

The Head of Digital and Customer Services submitted a report which provided an overview of the rationale for change and potential costs and benefits of the proposed programme of work to deliver the digital strategy considered by 4 September Cabinet.

 

The Strategic section of the Outline Business Case set out how the strategy would support delivery of the Councils key priorities.  The Commercial Case outlined the financial rational for change and described how the strategy would contribute to the long term financial sustainability of the Council by enabling efficiency savings and income generation. The Economic Case set out the investment required to deliver the digital programme and its benefits.  The Financial Case set out the broad categories of financial benefit that the programme would provide.

 

It was anticipated that over the initial 3 years of the programme £919,800 was required to cover predominantly staff costs.  Whilst the majority of these costs could be met from existing budgets a contribution of £100,000 per year was required in each of the next 3 years to meet the costs of a dedicated Digital Business Manager and Business Process Engineer.  There would also be costs for technology, development and specialist external input.

 

Members asked for reassurance that a HR Strategy was in place to support any member of staff at risk. In response it was confirmed that a revised redeployment process had been drawn up which was subject to consultation with staff and trade unions and most recently a Mutually Agreed Resignation Scheme had been introduced.

 

A member was concerned that, as an organisation the Borough had a tendency to hand over technology to an expert which was often difficult to interpret within a social context.  In response the Officer stated that the Digital Delivery Strategy engaged at an early stage with excluded residents.  In addition a partnership arrangement with other agencies to ensure accessibility of services was sought.

 

Agreed:         That, subject to feedback to Cabinet on the issues raised by Members the report be noted.

 

 

 

 

8.

DATE OF NEXT MEETING - 16 DECEMBER 2019

9.

WORK PROGRAMME

Minutes:

It was noted that both the 16 December and 9 January meeting of this Committee would offer scrutiny members a pre-Cabinet opportunity to examine the Councils proposed budget, including the MTFS.

10.

PUBLIC QUESTION TIME

Any member of the public wishing to submit a question must serve two clear days’ notice, in writing, of any such question to the Borough Council

Minutes:

There were no members of the public present at the meeting

11.

URGENT BUSINESS

To consider any business which is urgent within the meaning of Section 100B (4) of the Local Government Act 1972

Minutes:

There were no items of urgent business