Agenda item

Organisation Portfolio Holder Updates

To receive an update from the Organisation Portfolio Holders for Corporate Policy & Resources, Finance & Governance and Investment & Companies and make any observations to Executive Members.


Members received briefings from the three Organisation Executive Members overseeing three areas of the Council’s work: Corporate Policy & Resources, Finance & Governance and Investment & Companies.

The presentations from each of the Executive Members/Portfolio Holders were published on the Council’s website as part of the Committee’s agenda pack.

Councillor Lewanski, Portfolio Holder for Corporate Policy & Resources, gave an overview of the Council’s work. This included: rapid implementation of IT systems to enable staff and Members to work remotely and securely, revision of ICT strategy in line with future ways of working; scoping improvements required for data centre and telephony systems, updates to delivery of online automated transactions, corporate policy development, project management updated framework and reporting, communications to support emergency COVID-19 response and use of data and insight to deliver services more efficiently.

Organisational Development and HR had been reviewing different ways of working to benefit residents post the pandemic, including hybrid working to enable remote working with future physical workspaces, as well as workforce planning and resourcing.

Members made observations and asked questions on the following areas. This included supplementary questions arising from Written Answers to Members’ Advance Questions:

·       Customer relations – approximately 60 plus online transactions with the public were handled through the Customer Relationship Management (CRM) system currently. Work was ongoing to review the work done to date to move processes online which had been facilitated by the CRM platform. The Head of IT confirmed that around 30,000 people had signed up to request Council services in this way. Over 50,000 transactions a year were carried out using the digital platform. Members asked for further information as a follow-up written answer.

·       Cyber-attacks – Members highlighted the increase in cyber-attacks on IT systems of companies and organisations more generally, following the increase in online working. The Head of IT confirmed on the cyber front that IT monitors all systems and blocks around 2000 attempts a month. There was secure access to systems via Council-issued laptops and the organisation had to meet public sector network accreditation each year set by the Cabinet Office.

·       Fraud and identity fraud – how did the Council ensure it was protecting residents against fraud with the decrease in face-to-face contact and remote working? This included dealing with potential identity fraud, such as criminals purporting to be calling from the Council.  It was confirmed that the Revenues, Benefits and Fraud team dealt with any reported cases of fraud. Members requested more information in a follow-up written answer.

·       Telephony – it was confirmed that plans to replace the entire telephony and remote access systems in 2022 were underway. There had been some problems with external calls going direct to a staff extension number due to remote access systems. This had not affected the Borough Council’s main phone line or internal calls.

·       Hybrid working HR was working through the detail on hybrid working with staff and the impact this might have on working conditions before communicating more widely the future planned approach. All staff could book a desk to work in the offices. 

Councillor Schofield, Portfolio Holder for Finance & Governance, gave an overview to the Committee. This included supplementary questions arising from Written Answers to Members’ Advance Questions.

Regular updates had been given to Executive on COVID-19 budget impacts during 2020/21, an updated Medium-Term Financial Plan and business grants. Service & Financial Planning for 2022/23 was on schedule with reports to 18 November Executive and Budget Scrutiny Panel on 1 December.

The Legal team had been strengthened with the recruitment of an experienced Planning solicitor and Property solicitor with very little work outsourced. A review of land charges services had been undertaken to increase the quality of land charges information. Further work had been carried out to strengthen the centralised procurement service to seek best value for money when procuring goods and services.

Council Tax collection had increased slightly for the same period in 2020/21 but still not back to pre-Covid level. Counter Fraud cumulative figures had identified savings from counter fraud work of £1.3m including housing fraud, Council Tax, business rates and benefits. The fraud team had received a national award for excellence in partnership work with Oxford City Council. A total of 7,640 payments had been made to local businesses from April 2020 under various criteria totalling £42.391m.

Members made observations and asked questions on the following areas:

·       Counter fraud – Members asked about the savings relating to counter fraud work which related to savings on the cost of temporary accommodation and social housing tenancies as well as additional council tax over time following Cabinet Office measurements.

·       Parking income – parking revenues and reduced income from parking season tickets for businesses, for example, was under review following the pandemic and increased remote working.

Councillor Archer, Portfolio Holder for Investment & Companies, gave an overview of the Council’s work. The focus was on overall strategy, Council owned or part-owned companies and assets. The bulk of the work related to managing existing investments. Work was underway to develop Commercial Strategy Part 2 with Part 1 agreed in December 2020. (An update on existing companies was provided in Minute 39). The income-generating portfolio included properties in Redhill, Reigate, Merstham and Horley. During the pandemic, 94% of rent was collected, with only a 6% shortfall (resulting from two Company Voluntary Arrangements - CVAs) which was a strong performance. Programmes included good progress on Marketfield Way in Redhill and development feasibility work underway for Horley Car Park site. Following planning permission refusal of the Woodhatch Crematorium proposal, next steps were under consideration.

Supplementary questions arising from Written Answers to Members’ Advance Questions included questions on Horley Business Park future development plans.

Members commented and asked questions on the following areas:

·       Woodhatch Crematorium – Following refusal of planning permission at Planning Committee at the end of September, the project and next steps were being considered.

·       Affordability of market rent apartments owned by Kooky Ltd (part of the Delph Group) – Members asked for more information on the rental apartments being developed on the Council-owned site on Marketfield Way site, Redhill. A written answer was requested on 1) service management charges 2) ground rents and to confirm best practice was being followed with regard to leasehold property management.

·       Horley Car Park scheme ­– Members asked about the development feasibility work underway. This was at an early stage to identify if it is a viable scheme to meet housing and commercial objectives for regeneration of Horley town centre. However, recent steep increases in building costs were an issue.

·       Marketfield Way, Redhill – it was confirmed that an agreement with a future cinema provider was being finalised and other lease agreements with tenants were being negotiated.

·       55-63 Victoria Road, Horley property – Members asked about this property asset which had been boarded up for some time. The Property Services Manager reported that plans for a temporary shop front and a new marketing campaign were underway.

RESOLVED – that the Committee:

1)    Note the Executive Portfolio Holder updates on the activities and work undertaken within the Organisation portfolio service and policy areas;

2)    Provide observations and comments for consideration by Executive Members as set out in the Minutes.


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