Cllr Foulkes moved the meeting on to the Policy Unit report. Jim Wilkie said he had been critical of the formation of a policy unit, but it would have to be at the heart of the decision making process. It would initially agree policies to be implemented. He was aware of the changes in circumstances, the corporate pan, the work on child poverty and the discussion at the Employment and Appointments Committee which had referred it back to this committee. It would be established by seconding existing staff and somebody would be needed to head it up. He wanted feedback of views on its precise role which he would take into account. If people were seconded it would have an impact on the departments they were seconded from.
Cllr Green said he was not altogether clear on the policy unit as theoretically councillors should decide policy. He said there used to be a policy unit. He said people develop policy all over the place and if there was a central unit which everything went to it would just get bigger and bigger. This would then only look at what everybody ese was doing. He said was not clear and wanted to see how it would fit into overall governance. He asked “Why invent the wheel without clarity?” and how they had “let Carolyn go”.
Cllr Phil Davies said the benefit of a unit would be horizon scanning, which would give them the ability and capability to see what was coming down the track whether this be legislation or key issues. He said at the moment this was a struggle as people were busy operating services, but there were “big challenges on the way”.
Cllr Harney said he agreed with all that, but he’d appreciate a flowchart with the key dates. He said the approach with reviews and milestones would be helpful as each stage was reached, this way he would know they were “all singing from the same hymn sheet”.
Jim Wilkie agreed and said that in the report perhaps he had not expressed himself clearly enough. Cllr Phil Davies said he agreed a dedicated budget, councillor involvement and prioritisation but he asked what the priorities are? He said it has “to be given time and space”. Cllr Foulkes mentioned the drafting in of external resource. Cllr Green said it would be subject to appropriate procurement. Jim Wilkie said it would have to do, they would revisit the prioritisation but as an organisation they needed to think where they wanted to be in six months or so.
Cllr Foulkes said that councillors needed to have discipline, be calm and that they couldn’t have Notices of Motion to Council instructing the Chief Executive to take on new work as this would be consuming lots of people’s time. The democracy issue and the budget reminded me of a quote from the Goon Show “quickly surround Africa”.
Jim Wilkie said the comments useful and that the fund would be open to the group under the new committee structure. Cllr Foulkes said he was anxious not to confuse the two. He talked about the perception of councillors and the Democracy Working Group. He was anxious to keep two strands and not to do that at this point of time. He needed to look at the consensus of the new system of governance and asked councillors if they were happy with what was decided?
Cllr Foulkes said they had additional recommendations so that all councillors and all political parties were involved. He said they needed more work as part of a wider program specifically around councillor involvement at every stage. The Budget was serious and they would be putting resources in. The Cabinet committee agreed in principle to a specific budget, with further reports on how and where the money would be identified. He asked if they agree to delegate to the Chief Executive over the staffing?
Jim Wilkie said it would be helpful.
Cllr Foulkes said there would be a basic structure initially. Jim Wilkie said there would be the three statutory officers plus David [Smith] and Rob Beresford. He said one other officer was on holiday so he couldn’t mention the name, but they would allocate considerable resources to support the work which would include procurement and Internal Audit.
Cllr Foulkes asked if they could add at 2.6 to delegate to Jim and the initial team?
Cllr Green said with the program and portfolio there was a need for discipline and project management. He wanted to know how much it would cost and where they were getting to which would require targets and analysis. He said it would be useful to have clarity as a way for councillors and officers to identify costs.
Jim Wilkie said the work would be directed through the committee, but they needed to recognise it was currently not working.
Cllr Foulkes said they needed the team to sit down and create a project, so he was happy to delay. Cllr Phil Davies agreed.
Cllr Davies continued by asking why the PACSPE (project 24) was only realising £200,000/year of savings?
Mr. Green said that was very unfair. Cllr Davies said the EVR had happened with the privatisation. Ian Coleman said there had been a reduction in the saving being of the EVR. Also certain areas had been taken out of the project’s scope reducing the saving.
Cllr Davies asked if the numbers relate to the outsourcing only? Mr. Green said they were making the savings now. Cllr Davies said what about the services not affected by outsourcing?
Cllr Gilchrist said that they welcome the progress report. He said the confidence in the office in delivering the projects is to be noted. He thanked the Cabinet Member for his attendance. Cllr Green said in a humourous way “God bless you, guv’nor” followed by saying he had a choice of attending either this or his daughter’s birthday.
The Council Excellence committee then went on to consider a report on performance management by the Interim Head of Corporate Planning, Engagement and Communications. Cllr Gilchrist said (in reference to Eric Pickles) that he was shocked when the saw the detail of which targets had been removed on the Department for Communities and Local Government website.
Cllr Green continued with saying that any ideas that staff on higher education courses had got through their studies or wanted them to evaluate was part of the change programme. He said they were keen to reward people, but there had to be a balance between control and creativity. The creativity had to be to a purpose which was to drive forward and reduce costs. Whether officers challenge other officers was a question for them to answer.
The Strategic Change Board had looked into capacity and challenged projects that had no firm benefits. The gate system was in place with projects signed off by the Director of Finance, Chief Officers and programme officers who had done a first-rate job. Cllr Green said they had brought rigour to the system and support in areas that lack capacity. He then asked Mr. Green “Do we challenge you enough?”
Mr. Green said the analysts analyse all ideas and there were some emerging ideas. Some projects had been stretched to take on board staff. Young people and graduates had suggested nine potential projects. The most favourable one being a change in the approach to non-fixed assets such as bikes, tables, chairs etc. This had been though of by those studying and would come to the meeting on Friday. He said they mustn’t have a scattergun approach, much must give each idea careful consideration.