The Executive Member for Environment, Finance and Governance, Cllr Barrie Cooper, was in attendance to update the Board on his aims and aspirations, progress made to date and to highlight any emerging issues relating to his portfolio. The Director of Legal and Governance Services and Head of Financial Planning and Support were also in attendance.
The Executive Member advised that when he previously attended the Board he had focused on the Environmental aspects of his portfolio. At today’s meeting the focus would be on the Finance and Governance elements.
The Board was advised that as the Executive Member for Finance and Governance he had responsibility for ensuring that the Council operates efficiently, openly and fairly. The main areas covered in his portfolio were detailed in Appendix 1 of the report and in addition a number of outside body appointments fell to the portfolio holder including Chair of the Pension Board. It was highlighted that it would not be possible to talk in detail about all aspects but a flavour of the work undertaken would be provided.
In terms of Human Resources it was advised that regular meetings were held with the Head of HR and his aim as Executive Member was to make Middlesbrough a smarter, faster and safer place to be employed. It was highlighted that Middlesbrough Council had been awarded the Better Health at Work award and been accredited with maintaining excellence alongside a recommendation from assessors that ambassador status be obtained. In February 2022 a matter was put forward for consideration and the subject was for special leave provision to allow parents who suffer a miscarriage to be provided with up to three days paid leave. The loss of a pregnancy could be extremely distressing and the Council wanted to support its staff through that difficult time. It was noted that this would eventually be enshrined in law as a first reading of a new bill had taken place in Parliament on 10 December 2021 and the second reading on 18 March 2022. Middlesbrough Council had shown its support early and enhanced our reputation as an employer of choice.
Reference was made to legal services and it was highlighted that Middlesbrough Council had many legal obligations, for instance ensuring that the Council delivered a balanced budget, ensuring that activities such as CCTV surveillance was lawful and that due regard was given to human rights and data protection rights. As Executive Member it was advised that his aim was to do the best he could for Middlesbrough residents, as long as it was legal, reasonable and possible. In consultation with the Monitoring Officer and agreement with full Council he had responsibility for ensuring the constitution was kept up to date, the last update being January 2022.
With regard to ICT services it was advised that the team were extremely helpful in ensuring digital services were delivered and the Council’s digital strategy also fell within his portfolio. In terms of procurement it was noted that there was a duty for the Council to ensure value for money and this was achieved through diligent procurement practices including being an active member of the North East Procurement Organisation (NEPO).
In terms of finance, regular meetings were held with the Director of Finance to discuss issues including the revenue budget (currently sitting at £118,328,845), council tax, the medium term financial plan and capital strategy to ensure the strategic plan was delivered effectively.
The Board was advised that Covid had been a very challenging time for Middlesbrough Council but staff had gone above and beyond to ensure that children had been provided with computers, food parcels and home visits. In addition a huge amount of support had been provided to local businesses including the administration of the Covid Additional Relief Fund and the Omicron Hospitality and Leisure Grant Scheme. Reference was made to a number of joint reports produced alongside the Executive for Member for Regeneration; namely, Middlesbrough Development Company the Nunthorpe Grange Farm House Yard and Barns Disposal.
Following the update, Members were afforded the opportunity to ask questions.
A Member of the Board queried the amount of future additional investment that was proposed for Teessaurus Park. In response it was advised that £250,000 had been approved and it was anticipated that the works would hopefully be completed by Easter and would include a zip wire, new play equipment, light installations and an augmented reality trail.
Reference was made to the recently issued Council papers and the non-inclusion of Executive Member reports. It was queried as to the reason as to why these had not been included with the full Council papers since November 2021. In response it was advised that there were a number of reasons as to why these had not been included. The first inevitably related to the fact that there had been a number of changes to the Executive portfolios especially fairly recently and the constitution was permissive around the question of Executive Member reports. The constitution did not mandate that Executive Member reports had to be submitted to full Council. Discussions were ongoing with the Mayor and Executive about how best to ensure that this information was provided to full Council to enable Members to ask questions. Information would be brought to the Council’s AGM meeting in May 2022 to inform the wider membership of these proposals.
In response to a query regarding the notional amount of hours dedicated to the role of an Executive Member and information provided at full Council directly linked to each individual it was advised that the role of an Executive Member was 24/7 and Executive Members could always be contacted. In terms of the information provided to Council professional advice was always fully taken on board and efforts were made to ensure the best possible outcome for Middlesbrough residents.
The Chair thanked the Executive Member for Environment, Governance and Finance, the Director of Legal and Governance Services and the Head of Financial Planning and Support for their attendance and contributions to the meeting.
AGREED that the information provided be noted.