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Council plan overview report - Chief Executive’s commentary

This report sets out an overview of the council’s performance for the first quarter of 2019 to 2020 (April to June 2019). The purpose is to formally provide the Executive with a high-level summary of key achievements, and to highlight areas where performance was not matching targets or expectations, along with any remedial action that is being taken. It complements the detailed quarterly service reports, and is based upon the performance data that is available to all Members online.

Overall, good progress was made against the actions in the departmental service plans. At the end of the fourth quarter progress showed:

  • 83 actions (81%) are green (1 complete, 82 in progress)
  • 20 actions (19%) are amber (1 complete, 19 in progress)

This report contains information on the performance indicators across the council for each of the strategic themes. Again, the picture was positive, showing that the status for the key indicators in the council plan in the fourth quarter is:

  • 32 (82.0%) green
  • 1 (2.6%) amber
  • 6 (15.4%) red

31 further indicators have no set target.

Overview of quarter 1 and what went especially well

Teams have continued to deliver services to a high standard during the period. I have highlighted here a small selection of examples from across the organisation.

Democratic and Registration Services has successfully delivered 3 elections and implemented a successful programme of new Member inductions. It has also piloted a number of different models for scrutiny reviews and reports, to make these more engaging and make the output more accessible.

The council contained spending within the approved budget for the twenty-first consecutive year in 2018 to 2019. The planned use of £2.5 million of general reserves to support the budget will not be required, most notably due to the significant one-off receipt of a VAT refund from HMRC related to the tax treatment of leisure income in previous years, following the council lodging a successful claim. 66% of the approved capital budget was spent during the year. Most of the budget remaining will be carried forward for schemes to be completed in 2019/20, although £8 million is being reported as underspent, most notably relating to the Commercial Property Investment Strategy and King’s Academy Binfield.

The Transformation team have successfully closed 4 projects this quarter. The portfolio methodology is embedding well and is being actively used to support evidence-based decision making about which projects to start, progress and stop to make sure of the maximum benefit for residents and impact on closing the budget gap. Nonetheless, the current transformation portfolio is unlikely to deliver the savings planned for this financial year. An action plan is in place to review the current portfolio and identify new opportunities for transformation savings.

One of the new projects is the “One Council Approach to Customers” project, which seeks to embed within the organisation, the key tools and approaches that will make the engagement with the council, easier for the customer and more effective for the organisation. This project builds on the programme to roll out Open+ library self-service to our network of library branches.

Planning application performance has been good and exceeded the performance targets for the quarter. Appeals performance for the quarter was 80% dismissed which is above the target of 66%. For the Community Infrastructure Levy (CIL), £1,231,000 was collected in the first quarter.

A formal Invitation to Tender has been issued for the Heathlands development. The procurement of a design and build contractor is being progressed in parallel with discussions with Health partners around the provider model for the facility, as approved by the Executive in March. The provider discussions are not yet concluded but a progress report is also on the agenda seeking authority to progress further.

The council is receiving more filming enquiries since the establishment of Berkshire Film Office in early 2018, particularly for premier venues such as Lily Hill Park and South Hill Park.

In Parks and Countryside, volunteers contributed 1,587 valuable hours last quarter towards maintaining local parks, open spaces and rights of way. Horseshoe Lake Country Park procurement plan was agreed by the Executive which enables the next stages in the development of this project.

In Housing and Welfare, the focus on the journey of a resident through our services has resulted in an improved time to process a change in circumstances for housing benefit. DWP publish the time taken for each local authority to process housing benefit new claims and change in circumstances on their website. The new claims national average was 19 days and Bracknell Forest’s published figure is 12 days. For change in circumstances the national average is 4 days and Bracknell Forest’s published figure is 2 days. This means we are equal second fastest in the South East for new claims and equal first for change in circumstances. Only 39 authorities throughout the UK processed new claims faster than Bracknell Forest, which is something to be proud of.

What we are doing about things going not quite so well

The key focus for Finance in quarter 1 is inevitably the closing of the previous year’s accounts and preparing the statutory statement of accounts for audit. This year has been more difficult than most, with external auditors raising queries in areas where they have previously taken a more light-touch approach and the McCloud court case casting doubt on the level of liabilities in pension funds for all public sector pension schemes.

This necessitated further work being commissioned from the pension fund actuaries and late changes to the accounts. While the council presented its accounts for audit and they were agreed by our external auditors as “sound” by the deadline of 31 July, on-going delays to the audit of the Berkshire Pension Fund accounts mean that ours cannot yet be formally signed off by Ernst and Young. Over one third of all local authority accounts were not signed off by the 31 July this year, which has prompted the Local Government Association to formally write to the Government to express its concerns about the practicality of all local authority audits being completed by this date.

iWorks system development is progressing slowly due to resourcing constraints. Ongoing development required of self-service elements to increase management autonomy. Revision of duties have been undertaken to increase time available for development and priority development actions incorporated into wider review action plan in order to track progression.

Work is continuing to further develop effective step-up/down processes and further improve collaborative working between Early Help and Children’s Social Care. The Front Door development is supporting this work and will continue to progress over the coming months.

The number of complaints received by the council has increased compared to last year. This year, a target has been set to maintain complaints to last year's levels. In the first quarter, we have received 58 complaints which is 9 more than this time last year. It’s important to note however that this is the total number of complaints received and only 14 of these have been upheld or partially upheld so far. A full break down of complaints is given on our corporate health page.

A related feature of complaints is that the Local Government Ombudsman (LGO) is taking a more rigorous approach than in the past and is likely to find “fault” on the most minor issues. Bracknell Forest Council has a very positive record when it comes to LGO findings of fault. However, with the increasingly stringent approach, unless the LGO finds that the council has caused injustice, we are not disputing findings, even when we have a very strong case. This simply reflects the disproportionate resources needed to respond to the LGO on minor points. There have been no findings of injustice in the current year.

Forward look

A new council plan for 2019 to 2023 is being produced by directorates following the May elections and will be published in the autumn. This will form the council’s high level strategy for the next 4 years. Service plans for each directorate will be produced subsequently and refreshed annually.