Agenda item

Year End Service Performance Report


That the comments/observations of the Committee are fed back to the Policy, Performance & Partnerships Team who are responsible for the overview and monitoring of improvement targets, for inclusion in the report to Cabinet.


The Committee received a report to note and consider the 2013/14 year end service performance report produced under the adopted business model of the Council, covering the period January to March 2014.  The responsible officers each gave a short presentation on performance, outlining work which had been undertaken to improve performance and areas where improvement was needed, as outlined within the report.




The Chair offered her congratulations to the Revenues & Benefits team for their excellent work in providing assistance.


Councillor Paul Shotton welcomed the news that the Council was the joint highest performer in Wales for the collection of Council Tax and the second highest in collecting Non Domestic Rates (NDR).  He stressed the importance of residents being able to seek assistance from the Flintshire Connects offices and asked for an update on footfall at the offices.  The Chief Executive said that monthly statistics would be shared with the Committee.


In response to a question from Councillor Clive Carver on Court action taken by the Council for two outstanding amounts of NDR, the Revenues & Benefits Manager explained that the two companies had exposed a legal loophole in changes to NDR charges on empty properties.  He said that the Council had paid a proportion of the legal costs which could not be recovered beyond £70, as set out by the Welsh Government (WG), however an administration grant from WG was used to cover partial costs such as legal action.  When asked for the approximate cost to the Council of the Court action, the Revenues & Benefits Manager estimated this to be around £9K but would confirm the actual figure after the meeting.  The Leader and Cabinet Member for Finance said that the loophole was of national significance and was proud that Flintshire had been at the forefront of instigating legal action to stop this practice.


Councillor Robin Guest felt that the Council should be offered a contribution from the WG or central Government in recognition of the positive outcome from the legal action.  On the success in Council Tax collection rates, the Revenues & Benefits Manager said that the emphasis of work had changed to debt management to proactively assist customers and resolve future payments which was supported by the Citizens’ Advice Bureau and the Fair Debt Policy which was in place to assist households.


Councillor Mike Peers remarked on the need to improve sickness absence figures in the Council and asked that commentary in the report reflect the current position rather than stating that the target had not been met but had improved from the previous year.  When asked about the amount of uncollected Council Tax, the Revenues & Benefits Manager said that this was in the region of £180K per annum.


The Chief Officer (People & Resources) commented on the need for a consistent approach to reporting attendance management and benchmarking within the new portfolio area to give a better understanding.  Proactive actions were taken to address absences, with reports reflecting long and short-term absences.


The Chief Executive said that attendance figures for the Finance section were better than the corporate average.  Whilst some long-term cases were justifiable, others may be a cause for concern, however there had been examples of successful negotiations in the organisation with some leading to mutual agreement on voluntary redundancy.


In response to a comment from Councillor Ron Hampson, the Chief Executive said that Flintshire’s absence rates were average but that further improvements could and should be made.


Following a comment from Councillor Ian Dunbar on appraisals, the Chief Executive said that any less than 100% completion was unacceptable and that work was in hand on an improved appraisal model.  He reminded the Committee that an annual appraisal was only one of the methods for supervision and management and should not be taken as a single measure of the quality of supervision within the organisation.


Human Resources & Organisational Development


The Chief Officer (People & Resources) explained that the unusually low percentage of appraisals undertaken within the section had arisen due to necessary resources dedicated to the implementation of Single Status and Equal Pay.  As an update, she was pleased to report that 85% of appraisals had been completed to date, with 100% due for completion by the end of August.


The Chief Executive gave assurance that the report delivered on the Improvement Priorities with a careful, efficient and risk managed approach taken on the senior management structure, involving Trade Union colleagues and based on research from experience in English Authorities.  He spoke of swift progress on Organisational Change, together with the significant task of Single Status implementation and appeals process.


Councillor Carver asked for clarification on various acronyms and asked that the full explanation be given when first used in reports.


On Data Protection, Councillor Paul Shotton commented on the need for robust procedures to combat cybercrime.  When asked for the percentage of Single Status appeals and maintenance results which were favourable to employees, the Chief Officer (People & Resources) said that this would be shared with the Committee in September, following notification to employees.  The completion of 300+ appeals submitted (less than the 500 estimated in the model) meant that work was now underway to check consistency of results prior to advising the workforce.  The Chief Executive said that the general trend with other Councils was for 50% of appeals to be upheld.


Councillor Guest expressed disappointment in the number of Freedom of Information (FOI) requests responded to within the deadline and asked for detail on the Internal Audit report on the Disciplinary Policy.  The Chief Officer (People & Resources) said that an improvement in performance was expected, following the diversion of resources, but pointed out that some FOI requests were complex and detailed which presented a challenge in meeting the 20 day response deadline.  She explained that the types of issue identified as part of the audit on the Disciplinary Policy related to training/coaching of officers, but would provide the Committee with more detail on the ‘high’ recommendations.


The importance of managers undertaking appraisals was highlighted by Councillor Peers, who suggested that May/June was a more appropriate starting point.  The Chief Executive reiterated plans to improve the appraisal model and spoke of a strong culture of ‘1-1’ communication and supervision in place at Human Resources and in Corporate Services generally.  The Chief Officer (People & Resources) made reference to the current focus on Single Status but gave assurance that robust project management arrangements remained in place to deliver on the Council’s Priorities.


Councillor Arnold Woolley spoke about the importance of the Council’s workforce and urged caution in progressing Organisational Change to avoid any potential impact of stress on individuals.  He went on to refer to the importance of the new appraisal model in dealing with the allocation of workload resulting from workforce reduction.  When asked if the target had been met for all employees in the section to complete Data Protection training, the Chief Officer (People & Resources) agreed to provide a response before the next meeting.


In response to queries from the Chair, the Chief Executive provided an update on the senior management structure and transitional arrangements where work was due to commence on separating the Organisational Change portfolios.  A report would be submitted to Council in September 2014 with the options for the Monitoring Officer role.


On flexible/agile working, the Chair raised concerns about difficulties in contacting officers from some sections, particularly at certain times of the day and summer holidays.  She felt that this was especially important in view of the approach to the budget consultation period.  The Leader and Cabinet Member for Finance explained that some sections of the Council had piloted agile working and suggested that a presentation previously given at Cabinet to address queries from Members could be shared with the Committee at a future meeting.


The Chief Executive said that cover within departments was expected and that flexible working should benefit both the employee and employer.  He spoke of work carried out with Trade Union colleagues on the Flexible Working Policy to reduce the amount of flexi leave to discourage unnecessary build-up of time.  A special Group Leaders’ meeting had been arranged over the summer to give more detail on the approach to the budget setting process.


In response to concerns raised by Councillor Carver about difficulties in contacting some officers working from home, the Chief Executive reinforced the expectation that officers should be accessible when working flexibly and asked that Members refer any specific cases of repeated difficulty in making contact to him for follow-up.  The Head of ICT & Customer Services agreed to look into a query regarding the use of an ‘0845’ out of hours telephone number displayed on the Council’s website.  On flexible working, he advised that facilities such as voicemail and hunt groups could be used to transfer calls to another location.


ICT and Customer Services


During an update on the issuing of electronic tablet devices to Members, it was reported that 50% of Members had been issued with iPads, with 18 Members yet to indicate their preference.  Councillor Mike Peers suggested that a training session would benefit Members to incorporate useful knowledge such as how to annotate documents.  He welcomed the support provided by Andrew Peers in ICT but raised concerns at the lack of backup support when Andrew was unavailable.  The Head of ICT & Customer Services said that full support was expected from the ICT Helpdesk, however agency workers had recently been engaged in this area who may not have been aware of the backup arrangements.


The Chair felt that it would be helpful for committee officers to provide ICT support on iPads at committee meetings.  She was advised that a request had been made to the Democracy & Governance Manager for this to be an option.


Various Members spoke in support of all-Member training on iPads, including the Chair who also suggested that Members who were more IT literate could assist others.  The Head of ICT & Customer Services agreed to look at what training could be arranged and encouraged all Members to use the iPads at meetings.  The Head of Legal & Democratic Services referred to the significant savings achieved from the use of iPads as opposed to despatching paper agendas.


Councillor Carver praised officers in main reception and Customer Services for their prompt answering of telephone calls.


The Head of ICT & Customer Services explained that the target for call response times in the Contact Centre had not been met, despite an improvement from last year, and that discussions were underway to reconsider the target of 15 seconds which he believed was unrealistic.  Councillor Guest supported this view and felt that 20 seconds would be a more realistic target.


Legal & Democratic Services


During an update on all Wales benchmarking statistics, the Head of Legal & Democratic Services was pleased to report that Flintshire was currently placed 5th lowest in relation to cost per head of population and was now 9th in terms of the number of fee earners compared to other officers.


Councillor Paul Shotton asked whether the move to Individual Elector Registration (IER) would increase public engagement in the voting process.  The Head of Legal & Democratic Services explained the background to this change which would help increase security on registration.  A new website developed by the Government would provide information and enable individuals to register online.


In response to a comment from Councillor Guest on Flintshire’s current position on income generation for the Legal service, the Head of Legal & Democratic Services explained that whilst a collaborative approach could help to share good practice, protect services and increase specialist areas, there was scope for further work around income to reduce the cost of the service that was borne by the Council.  When asked about cost implications from IER, he said that savings were achievable this year due to work focussing on the 11.4% of households whose data had not matched with Department of Work & Pensions records.  Work on the full canvass due in October 2015 may generate additional cost, but it was hoped that increased promotion of the Government website would encourage users to register online.  It was the intention to publicise a link to that website on the Council’s website and on correspondence.


Following a request from the Chair, the Head of Legal & Democratic Services agreed to reissue the information leaflet prepared by the Electoral Commission on IER to the Committee.  He went on to provide explanation to Councillor Carver on the results of the Internal Audit reports which indicated a good level of assurance overall.




That the comments/observations of the Committee are fed back to the Policy, Performance & Partnerships Team who are responsible for the overview and monitoring of improvement targets, for inclusion in the report to Cabinet.

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