The Chief Executive was in attendance and provided an update to the Board in respect of the following:-
· COVID-19 update
· Executive update
· Performance Summary
· Staff Survey: engagement
In terms of the latest local COVID-19 data, as at 8 November 2021 the rolling seven-day rate of cases per 100k of the Middlesbrough population was as follows:
Reference was made to the COVID case rate by age group and it was advised that the highest number of cases were amongst young people aged 0-19. In terms of vaccination rates it was advised that 62.7 per cent of the populated had been vaccinated. In terms of booster uptake amongst the eligible population to date 64.4 per cent had received their booster vaccination.
In relation to the Executive decisions taken recently it was noted that a number of reports had been considered. These included; a report on the Medium Term Financial Plan; Strategic Town Centre Acquisition; Middlehaven Outwood Riverside development; Ambition for Children; Peer Review of Virtual School and Highways Infrastructure.
Reference was made to the feedback received from the recent staff survey and it was noted that close to 800 responses had been received. Feedback was broken down by department and in respect of being well informed approximately 70 per cent of staff had agreed with this statement. In terms of having the opportunity to influence how the Council works over 65 per cent of staff had expressed this view. In terms of feeling valued over 80 per cent of staff felt valued by their Manager, however less than 40 per cent of staff felt valued by their Director. It was advised that a new corporate tool box was being developed for use by Managers, Heads of Service and Directors to improve how senior Managers within the organisation engaged and communicated with staff.
In terms of corporate performance by discipline it was noted that at the end of October 73 per cent of Executive Actions had been achieved against an expected standard of 90 per cent; 45 per cent of Strategic Plan outcomes had been achieved against an expected standard of 90 per cent. It was of concern that despite 99 per cent of Strategic Workplan actions having been achieved at the end of October the expected level of desired outcomes had not been delivered.
In respect of corporate performance by Directorate, Regeneration and Culture and Adult Social Care / Health, were the two directorates that had failed to achieve the expected standard by end of October 2021. Reference was made to the three strategic plan outcomes that were furthest away from target and these were focused on crime and antisocial behaviour, town centre vacancies and household waste recycling.
Following the update, Members were afforded the opportunity to ask questions.
A Member of the Board queried whether the staff survey had been undertaken anonymously and the Chief Executive confirmed that had been the case.
Reference was made to Middlehaven Outwood Riverside Development and it was queried whether progress was being made, as it had been so long in development. The Chief Executive acknowledged that work with the Department for Education (DfE) in respect of the Development had been protracted. However, the report presented to Executive provided certainty, the details of the land, remediation of the land, all of the finance elements have been finalised. It was a seminal moment in the project.
In terms of the Town Hall it was queried whether any work could be undertaken with the Heritage Lottery Fund to enable refurbishment work to take place in the Town Hall. It was acknowledged that some fairly substantial works were required in the Town Hall, particularly in relation to the roof, which currently leaked and created damage to individual rooms. Efforts were being made to draw down Heritage Funding and options would continue to be explored.
With regard to the appreciation of staff the point was made that it was often people such as the cleaners that were forgotten about, people who went about their work day-to-day and there was a need to show our appreciation to all staff throughout the organisation. The Chief Executive acknowledged that staff including cleaners were often the first point of contact when people arrived at the Town Hall or the Civic Centre and they regularly helped people to get where they needed to be. Efforts had been made recently at LMT to emphasise the importance of appreciating all staff and the important role they played in helping the Council achieve its goals.
Reference was made to the percentages of the strategic plan being red and whether more information could be provided in respect of the areas of concern. The Chief Executive advised that it was not the delivery of the actions that were off target it was the impact of those actions. It was emphasised that these were not simply Council issues but town wide issues. For example, with respect to crime and anti-social behaviour although the Council had a part to play equally the Police, Thirteen, the Fire Brigade and other organisations across the town had key responsibilities in respect of these issues. It was advised that in the refresh of the strategic plan consideration would be given to what else the Council could do to impact on these issues. As referenced in the presentation to the two main issues remained crime and anti-social behaviour and town centre vacancies.
In terms of Police presence it was queried whether there was any indication that in the future more resources, which were badly needed, would be deployed. The Chief Executive advised that the commitment from Cleveland Police was certainly there but Police resources had been hit by COVID in the same way as many others. As officers returned and the number of people required to isolate reduced there would be more resources to respond to the increased demand for Police support that had been seen the emergence from lock down.
A member of the Board expressed the view that he was delighted to see that the COVID figures were reducing and the 100k figure had reduced. Concern was expressed in respect of those people who had not taken the risks posed by COVID seriously and the 4,500 eligible residents in Middlesbrough who had yet to be vaccinated. The Chief Executive advised that all efforts were being made to encourage as many people as possible to have their vaccines and these efforts would continue. In respect of reoccupation of the Town Hall plans were in place and the Director of Legal and Governance would send out communication to all Members in respect of any proposals to resume in person meetings at an appropriate time.
The point was made that there had been a 24 per cent uptake on the survey and there was need to return to grassroots and better engage the workforce. The Chief Executive confirmed that there had been approximately 800 respondents to the staff survey, which equated to approximately 24 per cent of staff. Statistically that meant it was a valid survey but ideally it would have been better had the response rate been higher. It was emphasised that of those 800 people 70 per cent of people had advised that there were well informed. However, it was concerning that many respondents had advised that they had more engagement with the Chief Executive than they did with their Director or Head of Service. In order to address this issue it was advised that work was currently being undertaken with LMT to develop a toolbox for Managers, Heads of Service and Directors, setting out minimum standards in terms of what was required with regard to communication and staff engagement. For example; weekly meetings, monthly briefings, use of the Facebook employee group and Director video briefings.
A Member of the Board queried about the current staff working from home arrangements and whether there would flexibility for when staff returned to the office. The Chief Executive advised that a blended working offer had been provided to approximately 1700 staff, who would have the choice to sign up to a change in their contract so that their time would be split between working at home and working in the office. The vast majority of those staff had taken up that offer. It was advised that in Foundations Court, where the Council would be moving to next year, collaboration zones were being established to enable staff to come together to engage and interact with others around their workload.
Reference was made to the Street Wardens and their current shift patterns and it was advised that Street Wardens were on duty, over different shifts, from 8.30am to 10.00pm daily.
The Chair made reference to the Budget proposals and emphasised that it was extremely good news that there would be no Budget reductions for 2022/2023. Although it was acknowledged that everyone wanted the Council Tax increase to be zero (the proposal was 2.99 per cent) it was felt that this was appropriate given the challenges presented over the last year. The Chair thanked everyone involved for pulling together the Budget proposals.
Finally the Chair thanked the Chief Executive for his excellent briefing and contribution to the meeting.