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Delivery directorate quarterly service report - where we are now

Director’s overview

This quarter had the promise of a return to a “new normal” with all services open and operating in a COVID secure way. However, the rapidly changing COVID infection landscape altered plans considerably. The end of the quarter very much mirrored the start of quarter 1, rather than a steppingstone to a pre-COVID position.

That said, in the small window where service development was able to be accommodated, a number of projects roared forward. This created new pressures in the formal decision-making processes and unexpectedly, left managers in a trickier position than in quarter one. Managers were having to balance the policy, project, and service development, with the need for immediate response needed for initially the November 2020 lockdown, then the borough moving into Tier 3, then Tier 4.

Leisure and culture were the most affected services this quarter. Both had shown good signs of recovery at the end of the summer and the Everyone Active contract cash flows to the council were positive, even in the reduced capacity and COVID secure mode that the sites were allowed to operate under.

The policy areas of climate change, covert and overt surveillance, plus the IT and Digital  and Customer Experience strategies were all completed in this quarter, ready for formal decision making in January 2021.

The climate change strategy was again considered by the Overview and Scrutiny Commission in December, with a lively and thorough investigation of the strategy and the context that the strategy sits within.

Staff have continued to work incredibly hard in this quarter. Unlike quarter 1, where we were able to reduce other activities to deal with COVID and the immediate changes that COVID required, this quarter the team have had a difficult balancing act, which although achieved, cannot be underestimated or overpraised.

COVID-19 performance

Contract Services

During the November COVID-19 restrictions all leisure sites were closed with the exception of Downshire Golf Club which performed well with a 2-ball option and takeaway service. All leisure sites will be closed under the implementation of tier 5 lockdown which came into effect at the beginning of January 2021.

The Young People in Sports programme provided limited coaching input to certain schools throughout the quarter. Unfortunately, there were no events possible.

The 2021 Lexicon Bracknell Half Marathon has been pushed back (from its usual May date) to September 2021 in response to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

Six town centre COVID ambassadors were recruited during December under the NSL Services contract. Their role has been to provide guidance and public reassurance. They have worked positively with the Lexicon team and their role has been well received. Looking forward, the existing team of COVID Ambassadors will be supplemented with an additional 6 recruits to support the open space areas across the borough. The contractual arrangements have been extended until end of April 2021.

Volunteering at the cemetery and crematorium has remained on hold for a second period as a direct consequence of COVID-19. The team were beginning to make contact with all previous volunteers to discuss their potential return during the quarter but the escalation in COVID tiers towards the quarter end has led to a further postponement.

Customer Experience, Digital and IT Services

The council’s response to the COVID emergency has been to follow government advice and, in this respect, we have looked at our library network as falling into the category of non-essential retail.

Therefore, in the initial emergency (quarter 1), the network was closed with a comprehensive home library service put in place. In quarter 2, as the infection rates dropped, more sites were opened. At the beginning of quarter 3 (October), government guidance was changed, and this allowed the library service to reopen all sites in the network.

Although plans were paused during the national lockdown in November 2020, the reopening programme was scheduled for December 2020. Sites were planned to be operating in a COVID secure model, as permitted in tier 3 restricted areas. However, as local infection rates increased, resulting in the council moving to tier 4 restrictions, the council has again had to pause this programme and revert back to our summer service offer.

Five libraries were open, providing a select and collect service, limited browsing and access to PCs. The Home Library Service continued to operate, although with reduced numbers of customers as a majority have opted to move to select and collect.

The Transport and Support Team continue to offer an enhanced digital mailroom service. In addition, members of the team have been involved in the coordination and management of PPE distribution.

IT continues to supply equipment to staff working from home as well as providing COVID secure face to face appointments to deal with hardware issues.

Digital Services continue to create and publish COVID specific content to the website and intranet.

Democratic and Registration Services

Focus on the delivery of the municipal calendar was a focus of the team. The pausing of some meeting activity in quarter 1, was restarted in quarter 2 and was back on schedule and caught up, in this quarter.

Virtual meetings take 4 times more staff time than an in-person meetings does. This is the main staff pressure. Further, a number of other meetings have been added to the list of meetings serviced by the team. For example, to accommodate our new responsibilities for COVID infection control, the Bracknell Forest Outbreak Engagement Board, has been added to the municipal calendar, requiring additional staff time and resources.

To mitigate this pressure the whole of Democratic and Registration Services staff group have been trained and are undertaking the support of meetings. In addition, a mix of technology has been used to broadcast meetings. So, in addition to Microsoft Teams – live events, we have also used Zoom, and live streaming to YouTube.

Although innovative and exciting to use these new technologies to give greater access to council meetings, this additional work needs to be balanced with the normal work of the team in terms of supporting scrutiny reviews, meeting and agenda planning and the general administration that the council relies on for good decision making.

Legal Services

The service has had a focus on supporting the authority, in its role of making sure that public events within the borough are appropriate and compliant with the new legal framework for COVID events.

Legal advice was provided to colleagues in Public Health and the Public Protection Partnership (PPP) as to the interpretation of government regulations and guidance regarding local authority enforcement powers as pertaining to premises, events and public outdoor spaces, following the introduction of the tiered system.

A large amount of senior legal officer time has been required to address these issues and given the number of large and medium size events being proposed to have taken place in the borough over the period and events that did take place with high footfalls, this was additional work that needed to be accommodated without additional resources.

Support continued to be provided to the Education Welfare Service on school attendance enforcement during this quarter having regard to rules introduced during the pandemic.

Property Services

The number of commercial properties that are vacant as a result of COVID and the economic climate has increased to 12, with a total rental of approximately £142,000 per annum equating £11,800 per month.

The team are prioritising marketing the vacant units and have currently instructed solicitors on 7 new lettings.

The total projected loss due for the year is in the region of £300,000.

To date, there are no issues with regards to rent collection and COVID for the investment portfolio.

Normal performance reporting (non-COVID)

Contract Services

An internal audit of the financial elements of the parking management and enforcement contract was undertaken during this quarter.

Three of the cemetery and crematorium boilers have been successfully replaced. Groundwater surveying has commenced on the Downshire Pitch and Putt course – this is a prelude to potentially changing the land use for future cemetery purposes. The bungalow adjacent to the cemetery and crematorium has been handed over to the People directorate for their own housing needs.

The cemetery and crematorium delivered 524 cremations (full services and direct cremations combined) this quarter, compared to 526 in the same quarter last year. There was a further reduction in the death rate in October and November before a rise (probably COVID-19 related) in December.

Cemetery and crematorium income was approximately £23.6 thousand below the budget target for the quarter despite a busier than expected December (COVID-19 related).

Climate change web pages have been created and published. The draft climate change strategy is complete and commenced its journey towards council sign off next quarter.

Communications for the introduction of food waste collections alongside the change in refuse frequency begun in quarter 3. Face to face roadshows on the waste service changes and increasing recycling held at The Lexicon in the autumn were very well received by the public. Town & Country had a double page spread on waste and recycling which covered Christmas and the 1 March changes.

Extensive clearance of vegetation has been carried out along the Bull Brook from Forest Park shops up to Savernake Park – this is supporting the work being done to the area by Parks and Countryside and Highways.

Looking forward to quarter 4 the food waste service will begin on 1 March and the refuse frequency will change to 3 weekly. In advance of this much promotion of the changes is scheduled. The food caddies will be delivered from 25 January through to 26 February.

Customer Experience, Digital and IT Services

Work has completed on the Education Transport policy. The new post contract has been tendered. The team has been dealing with 2 formal complaints about Transport Services and is using the learning from these to inform future policy and operations.

Digital Services continue working on the redevelopment of the public website, implementation of the Freedom of Information management module and automation of administrative processes. The number of customers with an online account continues to grow, with approximately 43,000 customers signed up for an account. The number of customers subscribing for email updates has increased to over 74,000.

In ICT the project to create a corporate EDRMS using SharePoint is nearing completion. The Cloud Migration Programme is progressing, with a first backup completed, and a prioritised programme for migration in development.

The Service Desk has dealt with approximately 2,000 tickets per month.

Democratic and Registration Services

The final recommendations of the Local Government Boundary Commission’s review were published on the 8 December. This was a challenging piece of work, which was made more challenging in a virtual review process. That said, the management of the process was excellent and feedback from Members was complementary, with a vote of thanks from full council to the staff involved.

Planning for the 2021 national census was taken on by the team. Intensive work was required to catch the borough up on this area of work, due to the other priorities that the council faced over the summer. Although started later, the team’s experience with doing the election canvas and undertaking the boundary review, has allowed the council to be on track with this work at the end of the quarter.

Legal Services

Fourteen Section 106 agreements completed with legal fees of £32,006 recovered. £36,235.66 of non S106 fee income recovered mostly on property related activity.

The Senior Litigation lawyer has recovered £461,827 in debt areas mostly on outstanding Community Infrastructure Levy fees.

Eight successful prosecutions for non-school attendance leading to fines totalling £1230.00. Legal fees of £1634.50 recovered.

Four councillor code of conduct complaints responded to, 3 of which necessitated formal investigations.

One Asset of Community Value listing (currently subject to an appeal before the First Tier Tribunal.

Two employment dispute settlements by legal agreements.

Conveyancing on Sale of Unit B Waterside Park concluded.

Legal sign off of Property Joint venture incorporation documents.

Legal support on migration of Warfield School to single site.

Property Services

Sale of unit B Waterside Park – Contracts have now been exchanged for the sale of the property to BICS. Completion will take place in approximately 7 weeks after planning permission is granted which is imminent.

The contract for sale of Winkfield Manor has been exchanged with completion on 10 December 2021. This is not conditional on planning permission. Based on a 30/70 split of the sale price of £310,000 the council’s total capital receipt will be £930,000.

All construction projects within the planned works programme have now either been completed or are currently on site, it is expected that all funds will be spent by the end of the financial year. Works to complete the new youth centre at Braccan Walk and create a new youth at Market Street were completed at the end of 2020 to budget and programme.

An unexpected roof failure occurred to one of our maintained schools in this quarter, property services assisted the education team by providing temporary accommodation which resulted in limited to no loss of service for the school, further works are being planned this year and into the new financial year.

Budget and savings delivered for 2020 to 2021

The approved Delivery cash budget for 2020 to 2021 was £15.550 million which included economies of £-0.429 million, pressures of £0.453 million and commitments of £-0.160 million.

Work was undertaken during the summer to identify efficiency savings for the 2020 to 2021 budget to ensure a balanced budget position. Work is underway to prepare for the loading of the 2021 to 2022 budgets into the General Ledger at the end of January.

Other areas of note and significant activity to come in the next quarter

Property

The project to move Forestcare and EDS services from the Depot into the new offices at Waterside Park will be completing in late January and early February.

Harmans water Community Centre – conclude the long lease sale.

Audit and risk

Whilst no audits with a partial or inadequate opinion were finalised during quarter 3, an assessment of data maturity was undertaken which raised recommendations to be taken forward to make sure the organisation meets its data maturity aspirations.

The risk register was reported to DMT and updated in November 2020. The key changes made were to reduce the staffing, finance and economic, contracted out services and Public Protection Partnerships risks.