To consider and provide a recommendation to Cabinet on the proposals set out in the attached report.
Councillor Ben Chapelard, Leader of the Council introduced the report set out in the agenda.
Discussion and questions from Members included the following:
- The Plan, whether the 5-year plan or an Interim Plan was the purview of the Council, not the administration. This had been raised at Overview and Scrutiny and would be taken back to Cabinet Members and considered before going forward to Cabinet.
- The version of the plan was a final version for the purposes of presenting it to the Cabinet Advisory Boards. The document was a live document and would be updated as projects were started/taken forward.
- A draft Strategic Plan would be available by spring 2024.
- The Plan should read towns not town and this would be rectified for the next version.
- It was hoped that staff would be comfortable approaching Members to discuss and share their roles. A number of days had already been spent back on the ‘shop floor’ to gain a better understanding of what officers did.
- The Council was hoping to recruit a new Head of Human Resources that would look at how to better recruit, support and develop staff.
- How the Council handled enquiries etc. was currently done in person by Call Centre staff. Consideration would be given as to whether this was the most effective way of handling calls or whether the Council should consider giving higher permissions to the Call Centre staff to see whether this would make the system more efficient.
- An example of where cost efficiencies had been achieved was the de-carbonisation of the Weald Sports Centre.
- Following the submission of the draft Local Plan, the Council had now received an initial findings letter from the Inspector. The letter included a number of modifications which the Inspector had suggested either needed to be adopted or considered by the Council. The Council now had time to consider the modifications before submitting a revised draft Plan. Due to the complex nature of this work there was currently no timescale, but work was ongoing.
- The Community Safety Unit (CSU) was not included as a specific priority but would continue ‘business as usual’.
- Reference was made to the Budget Report (Agenda Item 7) and in particular paragraphs 2.65 and 2.66. Paragraph 2.65 gave details of three improvement recommendations made by the external auditors:
o A new corporate plan be brough forward, this will provide the focus required to help meet the challenges ahead.
o In line with the new corporate plan, the Council should develop a long-term savings plan, failure to do so could lead to an unsustainable financial position developing; and
o A Human Resources Strategy should be prepared, formally approved; and circulated to appropriate officers.
- Paragraph 2.66 stated that the recommendations were welcomed and would address the issues faced by the Council without a Corporate Plan.
- It was suggested that the auditors would want the Council to produce an Interim Plan, pending the creation of a new 5-Year Plan. It was further suggested the Interim Plan should show continuity with matters that had been included in the budget for 2022/23. Items included co-working, Local Plan, Neighbourhood Development Plans, Town Centre Area Plan Carbon Reduction Plan and Social Housing.
- The report should look to address the financial challenges ahead, addressing the inflationary pressures, how to increase income and reduce costs. It also needed to ensure resources were sufficient to match the needs for delivery.
- It was suggested the Report in its current form was not what was envisaged by the auditors. The Report should come from the Council, not the administration.
- The Report should be redrafted along the lines of what the auditors would expect.
- A request was made for an alternative recommendation to be put forward, that the report should be redrafted so that it delivered the three recommendations that the auditors had proposed (as detailed in Paragraph 2.65 and 2.66 of the Budget Report at Agenda Item 7).
- It was made clear that the comments raised at the meeting could be taken forward and considered prior to the final version being submitted.
- On the basis that the comments and concerns raised would be addressed, the suggested amended recommendation was withdrawn.
A Recorded Vote was requested:
For: Cllrs Brice, Dawlings, Fairweather, Goodship, Hickey, Knight, Morton, Pound, Sankey and Hall - 10
RESOLVED: That the recommendations to Cabinet be supported subject to the issues it has identified being taken into account by the Cabinet. Those issues related to the need to redraft the Plan so that it delivered the three improvement recommendations as detailed by the auditors:
- A new corporate plan be brought forward, this will provide the focus required to help meet the challenges ahead.
- In line with the new corporate plan, the Council should develop a long-term savings plan, failure to do so could lead to an unsustainable financial position developing: and
- A Human Resources Strategy should be prepared, formally approved, and circulated to appropriate officers.