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Central directorates quarterly service report - where we are now

Place, Planning and Regeneration

During this quarter, the Executive agreed to consult on a draft local plan with a revised growth strategy for the borough. This strategy includes a mixed-use development including large-scale business and housing development at the Jealotts Hill site.

Significant progress has been made on the Downshire Way dual carriageway scheme with widening works complete on the southern side and construction now underway on the northern side. The scheme remains on programme with disruption to road users being kept to a minimum.

Work has continued with the development of enhancements for Horseshoe Lake. However the project is in a period of review following user surveys which identified potential impacts on the nearby Thames Basin Heaths Special Protection Area, a designation protecting rare ground nesting birds.

Work to compile a list of locally listed buildings has been completed with the Executive agreeing a list of 50 properties in the borough. This listing will be a consideration in decision making on planning applications.

The council defended 2 large planning appeals over the period: one at Tilehurst Lane, Binfield and one at Westwood House, North Ascot. The Tilehurst Lane appeal has since been approved. This has implications on how planning applications for housing in the countryside are judged with parts of the adopted Local Plan now considered to be out of date.

The Bracknell Business Improvement District (BID) was launched in the quarter, supported by the council. This now moves to a formal ballot to see if the businesses in this area would like to see this initiative introduced.

Six of the borough’s parks have been assessed and have retained their Green Flag status, meeting the “Keep Britain Tidy” criteria.

Finance

Attention during the quarter has focused on monitoring the current year’s budget and starting to prepare for the 2020 to 2021 budget.

Early monitoring indicated that a higher level of pressures were being experienced than previously by services, most notably in Children’s and Adult Social Care. There has consequently been a more detailed review of the council’s overall financial position during the year than has normally been required, to help make sure that expenditure doesn’t exceed the approved budget. CMT is currently considering a range of actions to be implemented in the autumn.

The medium-term financial planning assumptions were updated following the government’s spending review announcement on 4 September 2019. This signalled more generous funding for local authorities than had been expected, with some details for individual authorities having been announced already and others to be confirmed in the Local Government Finance Settlement in December.

Work is underway to develop detailed budget proposals for 2020 to 2021. Despite an increase in government funding, it is set to be a challenging year given the likely ongoing impact of pressures being experienced in the current year, most notably in services for vulnerable people.

Work has started to tender for Public Liability insurance, with the current arrangements expiring next March. The insurance market has hardened since the last tender process was run and it is expected that premia will increase, even with an increase in the excess level. As part of assessing prices received through the tender process consideration will be given to self-insuring, weighing up the costs against historic claims.

There continues to be a focus on improving the internal control environment across the council following weakness identified in the Head of Internal Audit’s annual assurance report for 2018 to 2019. This has included sessions with senior leaders and managers to discuss the role of internal audit and how to engage constructively with auditors in relation to their reported findings, including challenging any recommendations that cannot be implemented as suggested.

The Property Joint Venture procurement process is continuing to go well, with 5 organisations having submitted outline proposals. The assessment process to reduce the number of participants to 3 for the next stage in underway.

Human Resources, Organisation Development and Transformation

During the quarter it was agreed that the Director of Organisational Development, Transformation and HR would leave the organisation. The Chief Executive has taken direct management responsibility for the department, initially until March 2020 to provide space in which to consider future arrangements.

Work continues towards the implementation of the Workforce and Organisational Strategy Framework 2017 to 2020. The focus this quarter has been on maintaining the current service delivery across the council and each team continuing to make progress towards developing their services to meet the needs of the organisation.

During the quarter we have also been listening to feedback about the HR and Organisational Development services and work is underway redesigning the offer based on this feedback. We have been making sure we have the right skills within the service to increase the functions accessibility, by offering workshops, ASK HR open sessions and making remote contact simpler and more effective.

The overall objective at a time of significant change is to support managers in considering their current and future workforce needs, encouraging them to strategically plan initiatives to make sure they have the right resources, right workforce, with the right skills and diversity to deliver services.

The schools HR Team have been populating the ‘Can Do’ website to make sure all HR resources are available for those schools purchasing the service level agreement. This will be a key to marketing tool for the future development of the service.

The Transformation Team have successfully closed 3 projects this quarter with another 7 projects being moved to business as usual. The portfolio methodology is being actively used to support evidence-based decision making about which projects to start, progress and stop to make sure maximum benefit for residents and impact on closing the budget gap. Following a review in July, we now have a smaller, more focused portfolio, with resources allocated to those projects that offer a significant financial contribution or are assessed as being key enablers or strategically important.

The Policy and Engagement Team have been working with CMT and DMTs to finalise the new 4-year Council Plan. The Executive have agreed the Plan’s Strategic Themes and Key Objectives and full council will formally sign off the plan in November. The team are working with Directorates to develop new service plans to be in place by February 2020.

The Bracknell Forest Civilian Military Partnership continues to meet biennially and has an active action plan. Work has also started on creating a Berkshire Civilian Military Partnership and the engagement team are liaising with the Strategic Director of Public Health and representatives from the 6 unitary authorities to move this forward.

The Communications and Marketing Team has appointed to a new post to support Bracknell town centre events and marketing, primarily focusing on community and grass roots events. The post holder is due to take up the role in November.

Highlights and remedial action

Good performance

Economic Development

Employment continues to be very high with low unemployment.

The business liaison work is continuing to work very well. A shift in focus on Small and Medium Enterprises (SME’s) has been successful and a number of SME’s were supported and signposted to partner organisations to provide further assistance and advice.

The Bracknell Business Improvement District (BID) initiative is progressing well. The business plan was launched on 17 September and pre-notifications have gone out to all businesses in the BID area. The ballot will take place in October with a result due on 1 November 2019.

The Smart City Challenge Project is undergoing the second challenge round now focusing on the impact of energy and climate change associated with our schools. The challenge has been published as part of a procurement process. The first challenge project under the topic “Supporting vulnerable citizens” is currently in development and should conclude in September.

Brexit support for businesses is being offered via the Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP) and the Thames Valley Berkshire Growth Hub who are the central point in Berkshire for businesses to receive information, advice and guidance on Brexit

Highways and Transport

The A322 Downshire Way dual carriageway scheme continues at a pace with the majority of works on the southern kerb-line now complete. Widening works are now underway on the northern side and the subway extension is being completed. These works are on programme and disruption to road users has been minimal.

The A3095 (south) highway improvement scheme is now subject to final detailed design and a further public awareness exercise will take place in November. Construction is due to start in 2020.

Extra external funding has been secured from the Berkshire Local Transport Body for 2 further improvements to the A329/A322 corridor at Vigar Way and Sports Centre Roundabout.

A pedestrian improvement scheme incorporating a new zebra crossing in Rectory Road is complete.

The London Road (Binfield) footway and cycleway scheme has been incorporated within the Shoulder of Mutton junction improvement project and will start on site in October.

A flood alleviation scheme is in progress at Brock Hill in partnership with the Environment Agency in order to alleviate highway and residential flooding.

Refurbishment of the South Hill footbridge will start in late autumn of this year.

Plans to infill the Bay Road subway are progressing with the council’s appointed structural engineering consultants undertaking the design and also resolving the underlying flooding issue.

The borough’s underpasses and subways are currently undergoing a lighting upgrade to reduce energy consumption and improve existing lighting levels.

The summer programme of resurfacing and road treatments has been completed and analysis is commencing to inform next year’s programme.

The latest Disabled Parking Bay proposals (various roads) have been compiled and are currently out to consultation.

Work continues on implementing highway infrastructure associated with strategic housing sites across the Borough. Works to construct a new footway and cycleway on the western side of Old Wokingham Road are nearing completion. Multiple smaller development sites are ongoing, delivering infrastructure across the borough.

The 2019 Travel in Bracknell report was completed and is now online. The report is an annual analysis of the changes in travel in and around the borough.

The Borough’s road safety record continues its improving trend.

Building Control and Land Charges

The first batch of residents affected by the failure of several private sector building control providers following the loss of their insurance policies have been contacted to inform them of the need to revert their project to the council's building control service. A number of these applications have now been lodged, some have been easy to administer but some have resulted in the necessary exposure of building works on site, or remedial action where issues have been missed or agreed in error by the previous building control provider.

Building Control continues to watch the decision process by the Ministry of Housing, Communities, and Local Government for future intentions to regulate the safety of high-risk residential buildings following the Grenfell incident and the review by Dame Judith Hackitt. Currently, the intention appears to be the development of a new independent national regulator based at a central location.

Land Charges continues to monitor progress of the Land Registry take-over of the Local Land Charges Register.

Planning

The Executive agreed the consultation on the Revised Growth Strategy for the Local Plan. This will start on Friday 25 October 2019 and run until Friday 6 December 2019. It will include an online consultation and manned exhibitions. This is in line with the council’s Local Development Scheme programme to produce the Local Plan.

Community Infrastructure Levy (CIL) income for the quarter has continued at a high rate with £1.31 million secured (an increase from £1.23 million in quarter one). Liability notices were issued for a further £5.12 million in the quarter.

Income from Section 106 Agreements was £3.82 million for the second quarter (an increase from £1.51 million in quarter one). S106 agreements completed over the second quarter will secure £1.19 million.

Planning appeals at Tilehurst Lane and Westwood House were defended over the quarter.

Parks and Countryside

Suitable Alternative Natural Greenspaces (SANGs) projects include improvements to path accessibility around the Bullbrook Countryside Corridor and Whitegrove Copse, provision of new noticeboards at Lily Hill Park and an attractive new carved archway is being built over the rear entrance to Pope’s Meadow.

Drone footage captured at Frost Folly, Horseshoe Lake and Pope’s Meadow has been turned into a new promotional video, which is to be publicised on this website.

Projects are being drawn up to deliver improvements to rights of way and biodiversity using s106 development funding. One of these is a project to improve accessibility along Warfield Footpath 23.

Reptile surveys have been carried out at Wildmoor Heath, Englemere Pond and Caesar’s Camp.

Emergency fish rescue and relocation has been completed at Savernake Pond.

Woodland restructuring is underway at the woodland along Crowthorne Road. Non-native ground vegetation has already been removed and older pine trees are being felled in preparation for the planting of new native trees. This will make a better habitat for wildlife, a place more enjoyable for recreation and a sustainable timber source. Corsican pine trees are also due to be removed from Big Wood in Bracknell and replaced with native varieties.

The rangers have delivered another successful year of hay-making on the council grassland sites, resulting in an increased profit from last year.

All 6 parks retained their Green Flag Awards, which is a scheme run by charity Keep Britain Tidy.

It was estimated that at least 3,000 people attended Paws in the Park, which is an event aimed at promoting responsible dog ownership and which is organised by local charities with support from the council.

Work has begun to upgrade the resin path network at South Hill Park, which should provide a more durable and safer surface for the long-term.

Volunteers contributed over 846 hours towards activities such as wildlife surveys, litter picking and practical conservation volunteering.

Work continues to enhance the facilities at Horseshoe Lake, with the aim of creating income and improving customer experience.

Finance

The Payroll team has successfully implemented an extra payroll for an academy trust, despite long-term sickness absence in senior staff.

The Bracknell Forest Lottery was launched to good causes on 24 September 2019, with tickets for the first draw going on sale on 22 November 2019.

Organisational Development has continued to deliver a range of learning opportunities and has enhanced the offer to leaders and managers in terms of enabling them to see the impact of their personality on those around them and the outcomes that they are hoping to achieve.

As part of our talent management, we have 2 more National Management Trainees have joined us in this quarter bringing our total to 4 working on high priority projects with a range of teams across the council.

The Schools HR team have managed over 1800 contractual changes for schools for the beginning of the new academic year as well as refreshing the school HR procedures.

Work has been undertaken with an architect and the Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) to draw up plans and costings (RIBA stage 2) for the co-located Blue Mountain community hub facility. The CCG submitted their Outline Business Case (OBC). Crowthorne Community Centre (CH) is waiting on the planning decision. Warfield CH, the neighbourhood centre feasibility study was signed off.

Work is ongoing across the council to produce annual equalities monitoring reports that fulfil the Public Sector Equality Duty. The issues raised in the reports will feed into a new ‘All of Us’ Equalities Scheme from 2020.

Areas for improvement

The highways and transport service areas were merged on 1 April 2019 to form the new ‘Highways and Transport’ division. Work is currently underway to identify any further structural changes or working practices needed to take the service forward in the medium to long term.

Work continues about streamlining and simplifying HR policy and procedures in line with feedback from staff, managers and an independent review. Extra support is being planned to support managers in the roll out of the updated policies and procedures through a combination of Smart Hours (developments from Organisational Development), team-based development or on an individual basis.

Work continues on iWorks and well-being in collecting feedback from staff and managers in order to fully appreciate what the workforce and the organisation needs are so that we can then channel our responses appropriately.

The current transformation portfolio is unlikely to deliver the transformation savings required for this financial year. The portfolio was reviewed and refocused in July and September, new opportunities have been identified for transformation savings and resources to deliver the programme have been reprioritised.

Audits and risks

A follow-up audit was carried out of S106 and CIL during the quarter. The final report is awaited.

During quarter 2, audit reports were issued with a partial assurance audit opinion on the Agresso IT system and council wide officer’s expenses.

The Central Directorates risk register was distributed to the individual Departmental Management Teams (DMTs) for review at the end of September 2019.