To receive questions from Members of the Council to the relevant Portfolio Holders for this Scrutiny Committee. The Portfolio Holders reporting to this Scrutiny Committee are:-
Councillor Bialyk - Leader
Councillor Morse - Portfolio Holder City Development
Councillor Parkhouse Portfolio Holder Leisure & Physical Activity
Councillor Wood - Portfolio Holder Climate Change
Councillor Wright - Portfolio Holder Culture, Corporate & Democratic Services
Advance questions from Members relating to the Portfolio Holders above should be notified to the Corporate Manager Democratic and Civic Support.
In accordance with Standing Order No. 20, the following questions were submitted by Councillor Oliver in relation to the Portfolio of Councillor Parkhouse and also from Councillor Diana Moore in relation to the Portfolios for Councillors Wood, Wright and Morse. The questions were circulated in advance to Members of the Committee. The responses of the Portfolio Holders are set out in italics below: –
Question to the Portfolio Holder for Leisure Services & Physical Activity – Councillor Parkhouse
1. Having noted with concern that Cornwall and other Councils have closed popular local swimming pools, please can the Portfolio Holder tell me if closures of swimming pools have been considered in Exeter?
Councils across the UK have been considering cost saving measures such as higher prices and even closing pools with the energy price rise heating pools has increased by 150% since 2019. However, Exeter City Council remains committed to swimming pool provision in the city. The Council brought 170 members of staff in house and offered local government terms and conditions and a minimum of a living wage. Through Covid and also post pandemic the leisure market has seen unprecedented turbulence. Energy costs are further restricting operators ability to run services, whether they be in private hands, Council run or in a trust.
In Exeter we have invested over £52m in our leisure estate, including the new St Sidwell’s Point flagship centre which has just opened, and a refurbished Riverside Leisure Centre. As we speak, £1.5million of additional improvements are taking place to the roof at Riverside so it can host solar Photovoltaic panel (PV) and reduce operating costs. A further £750,000 was recently agreed by Council to enable pre development work to take place at Wonford. We are dedicated to trying to provide the best facilities in our most deprived communities.
The Council will continue to work with Sport England to develop a future leisure strategy that safeguards our current leisure provision whilst looking to invest further. Senior Sport England officers are visiting in late July to outline the process and formal partnership approach to investing in the leisure portfolio.
Questions to Portfolio Holder for City Development - Councillor Morse (The Leader, Councillor Bialyk offered the prepared responses as Councillor Morse was unable to attend the meeting)
Please can the Portfolio Holder report on the following:--
1. Turnover of staff in the planning team over the past 2 years?
The retention rate (direct employees only) was 85% based on date range of 1 June 2020 – 1 June 2022.
He added that-
· ONS reports Public Sector 1 year retention rate at 84% (2019)
· Leading people management sources cite employee retention rates during 2022 at 15 – 17% (CIPD/Ceridian/Monster Jobs)
2. The proportion (both the number of roles (1) and the proportion of the staff budget (2) in the planning team that are employed on a consultancy basis, and for how long these contracts are expected to continue for ?
(1) (the number of roles)
· 39.2 Full Time Equivalent(FTE) on agreed structure
· 28.2 FTE direct employees
· 5 FTE Current Agency/Consultants
· 11 FTE vacant posts (direct employed) compared to structure (recruitment in progress)
Agency/Consultant contract end dates range from 31 July 2022, January 2023 or until such time as the direct employed posts are appointed into
(2) Proportion of agency staff/consultants cost VS directly employed salary costs
· 17% spend on Agency/Consultants
· 83% spend on directly employed (+ on costs)
The Leader advised that the following additional information would be included in the minutes:-
Table 1.offers a breakdown
% Actual Costs
Total Staff Pay including on-costs
3. The number, if any, of planning officers seconded or allocated from the planning team to work to the Liveable Place Board or any other bodies ? (E.g. Exeter City Futures).
· There are no planning officers seconded or allocated to the Place Board of Exeter City Futures.
· City Development provides a secretariat for the Liveable Exeter Place Board.
· The Director of City Development supports the Chair of the Place Board.
· One Project Manager is seconded to Exeter City Living.
4. What measures are being taken to recruit, retain and support officers in the planning team?
· The Director City Development has taken steps to implement the approved City Development structure, ensuring that all four teams have the right skills and capacity to do their jobs effectively and efficiently, maintain morale and ensure a healthy working environment.
· A new Assistant Service lead (Major Projects) has recently been appointed.
· A resourcing and recruitment plan, has been formulated, which will be implemented in phases.
· Phase 1 will see the launch of a national advertising campaign, later this month, aimed at recruiting permanent roles to fill all vacant posts. This includes the Service Lead role (previously filled on a temporary agency basis)
· A new Planning Enforcement role has been created (replacing the existing temporary agency role) and will be recruited.
· City Development is delivering all of its statutory functions, but there are significant gaps in the structure as detailed.
· There is a dearth of qualified planners nationally and recruitment to fill vacant posts has become increasingly competitive in recent years.
The Leader also referred to a recent discussion with representatives of the South West Employers Panel who confirmed that recruitment and retention was proving to be a major concern for many employers in the South West, and Councils were not alone in finding issues in recruiting staff at this time.
Councillor Moore asked a supplementary question in relation to the support and follow up offered to planning staff, bearing in mind the high levels of work. The Leader advised that he was aware that support was offered through the Council’s Management teams, along with the HR Department. He was not aware that any Director or Managers had indicated there was a support issue amongst the staff.
The Chair suggested that a written request outlining the Council’s well-being support structure, including any buddying or mentoring offered be made to staff generally but also in the Planning Department. Councillor Moore thanked the Chair for making that request.
Questions from Councillor Diana Moore to Portfolio Holder Climate Change - Councillor Wood
1. Would the Portfolio Holder consider and introduce carbon literacy training for officers and councillors, such as that provided free (unless certification is required) by the Carbon Literacy project for Local Authorities?. (www.carbonliteracy.com)
The majority of the Net Zero team have been through Carbon Literacy training, with two members of the team currently going through train the trainer for carbon literacy. This will enable the Net Zero team to deliver carbon literacy training in-house for officers and Elected Members. Councillor Wood said that he had carbon literacy training booked in through the Association of Public Service Excellence (APSE) very soon.
2. Please can the Portfolio Holder provide an update on the structure, roles, and a summary of remit of the ECC Net Zero team and progress towards the recruitment to this team?
The Net Zero Team are not directly linked to the report coming before the Committee today which relates to city wide challenge of getting Exeter to Net Zero Carbon by 2030 and is a collaborative area of work led by Exeter City Futures. The focus of the ECC Net Zero team’s work is towards reducing carbon emissions produced through services delivered by the City Council – such as museums, waste collection, our housing stock, leisure and our back office services. The City Council’s Carbon Reduction Action Plan will be coming to Committee later this year, which will be the work programme of the team.
Two new members of the Net Zero team were recruited this spring, those are the Sustainability Officer and the Net Zero Data & Support Officer.
Victoria Hatfield – is the Service Lead for ECC Net Zero & Business
There are four staff members in the ECC Net Zero team and Jo Pearce is the Net Zero Project Manager.
Councillor Moore welcomed news of the carbon literacy training and asked if some training could be offered to officers to ensure a consistent approach to completing the Carbon implications section in the Council’s reports to Committee.
The Portfolio Holder thanked the Member for the suggestion and he confirmed that he would liaise with the Net Zero & Business Team Lead.
Questions from Councillor Diana Moore to Portfolio Holder Culture, Corporate and Democratic Services – Councillor Wright
Please can the Portfolio Holder provide an update on the following:-
1. The numbers of organisations that have signed up to the SWAN Charter (Safety of Women at Night)?
20 organisations have signed up so far.
2. Will the Portfolio Holder be recommending that the Council itself sign up this Charter?
The Portfolio Holder said that she would have recommended signing up to the SWAN Charter, but the Leader had ensured that the City Council had signed up on line, as soon as the Charter was produced. The Charter is a University of Exeter led initiative and have developed this as part of their Safety of Women and Girls at Night work.
Councillor Moore added that she could not see that the City Council was listed on the web site as one of the organisations that had signed up to the Charter and enquired if there was an error on the web site.
The Portfolio Holder advised that she had just checked the web site and the Council was now listed.
3. What monitoring is being undertaken to assess the impact of the Charter on improving the safety for women?
In November 2021, a partnership led by the University of Exeter, was awarded funding to tackle crimes against women at night by the Home Office’s Safety of Women at Night Fund. Over the five month project period and by working collaboratively with partners across the city, the project successfully delivered a number of initiatives one of which included the Charter. The timescale for both submitting the bid and spending the money was extremely short and the final monitoring criteria is still being worked on and forms part of an additional Safer Streets 4 Bid.
The longer term aspirations are a reduction in offences and that is what they are hoping to see and an increase in reporting but these may not be seen straight away. The Strategic Partnership Analyst for Devon and Cornwall Police already provides quarterly crime trend reports to the Community Safety Partnership and this will continue during 2022 and beyond. The report includes police data and analysis on a number of areas which will help the Community Safety Partnership evaluate the success of the project and where further work is needed.
Councillor Moore thanked the Portfolio Holder for the information which was very helpful and asked if the Council had signed up for training of the CCTV operatives, particularly in terms of identifying and handling situations involving vulnerable women at night.
The Portfolio Holder responded that training for the CCTV operatives was already under way including for recent recruits in the CCTV Control Centre, many of whom were former members of the police force.
The Portfolio Holder also responded to a question from the Chair and confirmed that she sat on the Community Safety Partnership with Councillor Pearce, Portfolio Holder for Communities & Homeless Prevention and Councillor Ghusain Portfolio Holder for City Management and Environmental Services, and collectively they will discuss how they will share any pertinent information with Members.