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Central directorates quarterly service report - where we are now

Place, Planning and Regeneration

During this quarter £4.5 million income has been secured from Community Infrastructure Levy (CIL) (an increase of £1.2 million from the last quarter), however, income from S106 agreements reduced from £3.8 million to £3.1 million. Planning performance on minor and other applications exceeded the 90% target and over 700 individuals and groups responded to the consultation carried out on the Revised Growth Strategy for the Local Plan.

The Bracknell Business Improvement District (BID) has secured a “Yes” vote and will officially launch in April 2020 investing over £3 million over the next 5 years in the Southern and Western business areas.

Within Parks and Countryside during 2019 our volunteers have donated a total of 5,894 hours, with an additional 1,244 hours from the probation team.

Within Highways and Transport the A322 Downshire Way dual carriageway scheme continues to make good progress with a vast majority of the widening works complete the Greening works are also well underway. The Highways and Transport service areas were merged on 1 April to form the new ‘Highways and Transport’ division. Work has been undertaken to identify further structural changes and working practices needed to take the service forward in the medium to long term. A formal staff consultation on detailed proposals is now underway.

In terms of the town centre the council has been supporting the refurbishment of Princess Square, successfully enabled the second year of the Christmas market and has continued to work collaboratively with The Lexicon on town tentre management issues.

Finance

Attention during the quarter was focused on identifying and finalising draft budget proposals for 2020/21 for approval by the Executive at its December meeting. This has been one of the most challenging budgets the council has faced, due to the scale of demand pressures being faced in both children’s and adult social care. This has been further exacerbated by uncertainty over the local government finance settlement as a consequence of the December 2020 General Election, which has made budget planning particularly difficult.

Alongside this, efforts are continuing to identify and implement opportunities to help make sure that the current year’s budget is not overspent by the end of the year. This remains a finely balanced situation since the council needs to continue to function effectively to deliver services to residents.

Arrangements are progressing well in preparation for the Business Improvement District coming in to being on 1 April 2020. This has necessitated a new software module being purchased and added to the Northgate business rates billing system.

The process of re-tendering the council’s insurances has started and will conclude early in the new year, with the insurance section working to a target of saving £60,000 as approved in the draft budget proposals. An initial analysis of tenders received indicates that this is likely to be achieved, despite hardening market conditions, and reflects the quality of our internal team and the relationships they hold with insurers and brokers.

A restructure of the exchequer and finance support teams has started with positive engagement from staff, who are helping shape the detailed proposals. The outcome will be determined early in 2020 and be implemented following the 2019/20 accounts closure.

The procurement process for the Property Joint Venture, which is being led by the Director of Finance with support from service areas across the council, is progressing well. A large number of detailed dialogue sessions are being held with the bidders which is absorbing a significant amount of time but is necessary to make sure final proposals are well developed and reflect the council’s agreed objectives. The project remains on track to propose a preferred bidder to the Executive in June 2020.

The Director of Finance is also leading a cross-council team to deliver a new EMI health and nursing care home at Heathlands, in partnership with the East Berkshire CCG and Frimley Health Foundation Trust. It is believed that this is the only proposal in the country at the moment that represents a fully joined up facility that combines both sectors, attracting a £3 million capital contribution from the NHS. Planning proposals have been submitted and are expected to be determined by early February 2020, at which point the Executive will be asked to confirm letting of the construction contract for the facility.

Human Resources, Organisation Development and Transformation

During this quarter, the Acting Head of HR and Organisational Development has progressed a service and systems review across the HR, OD and Schools HR teams. The review is a transformation project and will aim to redesign the services into a more efficient structure that will deliver effective central services to support staff across the council.

The review is on schedule to complete in April with a full embedment of any structure changes by summer 2020. Early interventions have seen the alignment of HR advisers to specific directorates to make sure there is consistency and momentum in supporting employee relations casework and organisational change processes. There has also been a focus on recruitment and retention, specifically in terms of identifying high agency spend areas and roles which with support could be converted to council contacted resources to reduce costs and strengthen service establishments.

Schools HR have seen a busy return from the summer in this quarter. High levels of recruitment have been supported administratively to make sure appropriate staffing levels are achieved across the schools and academies. The service level agreements will be reviewed and renegotiated over the next quarter.

During the quarter, Organisational Development has continued to support the organisation offering team building interventions utilising the Lumina Spark tool, induction support and development of an induction programme for managers. Organisational Development has also reported back to CMT on the outcomes of the Pulse Survey and CMT are currently working with staff to respond to the results of the survey.

In addition, Organisational Development has worked with Public Health to support staff wellbeing by providing staff with opportunities to take a moment to really consider their mental and physical health. Staff have completed a wellbeing questionnaire and received a confidential response with some thoughts on where further support can be obtained if appropriate. In addition, we have had a health kiosk situated in Times Square and the Commercial Centre to provide health data to individuals and practical information on positive changes that can be made to help improve wellbeing. Staff have not only had the opportunity to gain an insight into their personal wellbeing, they have also provided data which will help HR and Organisational Development to work with the organisation to develop a workforce wellbeing strategy.

The Transformation Team have successfully closed 3 projects and started 3 new projects over the last quarter. Our current portfolio has 17 live projects with an average health of 74%. The portfolio methodology is being actively used to support evidence-based decision making regarding which projects to start, progress and stop to make sure of maximum benefit for residents and impact on closing the budget gap.

The current priority for the team is supporting the conversations model and children's placements projects which aim to make significant long-term changes and savings. ​

The Policy and Engagement Team have been working with CMT and DMTs to finalise the new 4-year Council Plan. The full council formally signed off the plan in November. The team are working with Directorates to develop new service plans to be in place by February 2020.

The Communications and Marketing Team’s new Town Centre Events and Marketing Coordinator joined in November – this new role will primarily focus on community and grass roots events. An event plan for the coming year is in development.

A new social media policy and guidance for staff have been launched.

Highlights and remedial action

Good performance

Planning

Consultation was carried out on the Revised Growth Strategy for the Local Plan. This started on Friday 25 October and ran until 6 December. It included an online consultation and manned exhibitions, including additional exhibitions at Crowthorne and Westmorland Park. Over 700 individuals and groups responded to the consultation and of these over 500 were commenting on the proposed development at Jealott’s Hill.

CIL income for the quarter has continued at a high rate with £4.5 million secured (an increase from £1.2 million in quarter two). Liability notices were issued for a further £5.7 million in the quarter.

Income from Section 106 Agreements was £3.1 million for the third quarter This is a reduction from £3.8 million in quarter two but still represents a high level of income. S106 agreements completed over the third quarter will secure £1.8 million.

Planning performance on minor and other applications exceeded the 90% target with 98% and 96% being achieved respectively. The 85% target for major applications was also exceeded with 89% being achieved.

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 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 BID went to ballot in Autumn 2019 and has secured a “Yes” vote. The BID will officially launch in April 2020 investing over £3 million over the next 5 years in the Southern and Western business areas.

The Smart City Challenge Projects are progressing well with a new project focusing on the impact of energy and climate change associated with our schools having started recently.

Parks and Countryside

The Heritage Parks team have been working in partnership with architecture students from Reading University to create a new outdoor shelter at Lily Hill Park which it is hoped that will provide an opportunity for outdoor education. Capital enhancement work has continued at Lily Hill Park with the installation of 3 new entrance signs and 3 new noticeboards.

Capital funding was secured last year to restore the majority of the resin footpath network at South Hill Park and work has now been completed.

During 2019 our volunteers have donated a total of 5,894 hours volunteers to the Parks and Countryside service, with an additional 1,244 hours from the probation team.

One of the Parks and Countryside vehicles has been replaced with an electric van and is being well used as part of a clean, green, growing and sustainable place initiative.

The ‘carbon off-set’ project, with a London based company, where they have planted over 500 small trees into the bankside parallel to Harvest Ride at Longhill Park.

SANG - a new viewing and pond dipping platform has been installed at Popes Meadow and the large-scale felling/harvesting project at Big Wood is nearly complete with many new trees re-stocking the woodland area and the front hedge (along Peacock Lane) having been ‘laid’.

Highways and Transport

The A322 Downshire Way dual carriageway scheme continues to make good progress with a vast majority of the widening works complete. Work is now focussing on construction of the central reservation. The Greening works are also well underway with trees, ferns and woodland plants being introduced throughout the area.

The A3095 (south) highway improvement scheme is now subject to final detailed design and a further public awareness exercise will take place in January 2020. Site compound clearance and set up is due to start in February 2020 with the main construction work commencing in July 2020.

The London Road ‘Shoulder of Mutton’ junction refurbishment scheme has been constructed and completed. Initial observations indicate that the traffic signal modifications are working well but the site will continue to be monitored.

The London Road (Binfield) footway/cycleway scheme has started construction and will continue until April 2020.

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

Refurbishment of South Hill footbridge was completed in November with some positive comments received.

Plans to infill the Bay Road subway are progressing well and work will be programmed for the spring when weather conditions improve.

The council has submitted a formal response to the Transport for the South East (TfSE) consultation on their draft transport strategy.

The Local Cycling and Walking Infrastructure Plan has been submitted to the Department for Transport and seeks to attract additional funding for infrastructure.

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

Officers continue to work with Highways England to manage additional traffic flows on the borough network during the on-going M4 weekend closures associated with their Smart motorway project.

The National Highway and Transport (NHT) survey results have been delivered for 2019. The results show a good and sustained overall performance by the council against a challenging national picture.

Finance

Good progress is being made to systematically review outstanding debts raised by all areas of the council to make sure they are collected promptly. Recovery action is being pursued for outstanding sums or they are being written off if no longer economic to pursue.

The level of query and error rates in payroll has reached an all-time low, with no additional or late payments being made in December. This is unprecedented and exceeds the performance level that would be expected when dealing with such complex pay and pension arrangements as exist in local government.

Collection rates for council tax and business rates remain strong. When coupled with the increase in housing completions and the impact of the business rates pilot, a healthy surplus is expected on the Collection Fund at the year end.

HR and Organisational Development

A manager’s induction programme has been developed by Organisational Development and HR over the quarter and will be piloted over the next quarter to new and established managers. The induction will include face to face training, elearning, knowledge and awareness raising on the essential responsibilities of being a manager within the council. Elements will include staff management policies and procedures, budgets and finance, business continuity planning, governance and leading team compliance regarding GDPR and Health and Safety.

Targeted support has been aligned to recruitment campaigns for roles that have historically been difficult to recruit to or where there has been a reliance on agency staff.

HR Advisers have been aligned to directorates to support managers with employee relations case work and organisational change. This is proving successful in allowing for improved communications and consistency.

Areas for improvement

It is extremely disappointing that the council’s 2018/19 accounts have still not been signed off by our external auditor, despite them being comfortable with the accuracy of the draft accounts in July 2019.

The delay is out of our hands, due to the auditor of the Berkshire Pension Fund not being prepared to certify its accounts which are relied upon by our council’s auditors Ernst & Young in certifying the accounts of the Berkshire local authorities. A review will be undertaken with RBWM in advance of the current year’s final accounts to determine what can be done to make sure the same position is not repeated.

Audits and risks

The central risk register was reviewed during early quarter 3 and the business continuity risk was increased bringing this into line with the business continuity risk in the Council Strategic Risk Register

During quarter 3, an assurance opinion of inadequate was give on a council wide audit of purchase cards. Despite some improvements to the overall timeliness of authorisations and 3 of the recommendations having been fully implemented, this repeated the opinion level given in 2018/19.

This was due to inconsistencies in providing supporting information for transactions, some authorisations taking longer than the guidance suggests and changes to cards not reflecting staff turnover in schools. The follow up of CIL/S106 identified that key recommendations to be addressed by finance had still not been completed, although they are being worked on.

In December, external auditors confirmed that all actions from the social media audit had been implemented successfully.