The Scrutiny Support Officer reminded Members that the Assistant Director, Environment had attended the Panel on 9 February 2012 to provide Members with an update on the potential impact of the Councils budget reductions on environmental services. At that meeting reference was made to the need to review the departments Environment Service Standards as a result of the impending and possible future budget reductions.
In accordance with the above the Environment Services Manager was in attendance at the meeting to discuss existing service standards and the timescales associated with those service standards.
The Chair reminded Members that the Mayor had outlined the severity of the budget cuts and the requirement for Members to look for large budget reductions at the Council meeting held on 4 July 2012. The Chair suggested that Members of the Panel examine the current service standards and promises and consider whether they were still relevant, whether they should be retained or if they should be revised in light of the current budget situation.
The Environment Services Manager advised Members that the current service standards and promises had been introduced over 10 years ago as part of the review of street cleansing services. Previously the Environment Department did not have any meaningful service standards which were accountable. Following a consultation process involving Members and officers the current service standards and aspirations had been established.
A Performance Management System had been established to monitor progress with the service standards to ensure that the department was meeting the specified targets. Members were advised that currently Environment Services were meeting most of the standards included in the departmental service standards document.
It was highlighted that street cleanliness a service standard which was important to both Members and members of the public was not actually listed within the service standards document. Initially street cleanliness was measured through BPI 119 as part of Tidy Britain - How clean are your streets. The audit was based on a specific inspection regime of three times a year and the original BPI target was 43%.
A new BPI 195 had subsequently been introduced and Members were advised that the department had achieved 96% in the previous year in terms of the street cleanliness standard. It was noted however that as part of the budget reductions from the preceding year, the department had lost twenty one staff and had also lost funding as a result of the abolition of Neighbourhood Fund Renewal grants.
The target set for the current year for the standard of street cleanliness was 93% and it was anticipated that the department would meet that target. It was suggested that the department could consider reducing the service standard for street cleanliness target to 88% as a possible budget reduction.
The other service standard that members of the public were particularly concerned about was the level of grass cutting. The service standard specified that grass cutting would be carried out in all park areas, open spaces and grass verges on average 13 times a year (weather permitting) and it was confirmed that the department were currently exceeding that target by carrying out grass cutting on average 18 times a year.
Members queried whether for ecological and financial reasons the grass could be left to grow longer in some areas of open space. The Environment Services Manager advised that even if the grass was allowed to grow longer, it would still have to be cut and baled.
Members were advised that Environment Services would where possible adhere to the current service standards and promises however if the standards became unachievable, the targets would be amended and the public would be advised and informed of the reason for the change in the service standard.
In terms of the service standard for the removal of graffiti, Members queried whether all graffiti should be removed within one working day of the Council being notified. It was understandable if the graffiti was racist or personal that the target for removal was one working day, but it was suggested that the department could consider a reduction in the service standard to a target of one week for removal of other non offensive or none descript graffiti. A Member suggested that where the graffiti was particularly offensive or potentially slanderous then the graffiti should be removed within the hour.
In response to a query by a Member, the Panel was advised that the department still utilised Community Payback to assist with the removal of graffiti. The department also employed a considerable number of apprentices however it was highlighted that the Government were introducing annual apprenticeships and the local authority would be required to fund the cost. The approximate cost of employing a new apprentice was £11k per annum compared to £15k for a fully trained full time employee and as a consequence it was anticipated that the number of apprentices employed by the Council would fall.
A Member raised the issue of the costs to the Council of the planting of the bedding displays around the town. It was suggested that the Council might want to reconsider the types of shrubs that were planted and reducing the number of flower beds to save on costs and maintenance work. The Environment Services Manager advised Members that the main costs to the department were in terms of labour and vehicles. It was suggested that the department could consider as part of budget reductions refraining from the planting of bedding displays or grassing over the area where bedding displays were currently located.
A Member queried whether the number of junk jobs had reduced and fly tipping increased following the introduction of the £10 fee. The Environment Services Manager advised that the figure for fly tipping was 185 for the previous year compared to 192 up to May this year which was not a significant increase in the number of fly tipping incidents. It was highlighted that more people appeared to be taking refuse to the Council tip or making use of rag and bone men to dispose of unwanted junk. Following the reduction in the number of junk jobs the number of crews responsible for this function had been cut to one.
It was highlighted that the Council could consider transferring to fortnightly refuse collections or ceasing to carry out the green collections. In this context a Member raised an issue with the green bins located at Natures World and the difficulty in accessing the bins. The Chair advised that the issue be raised through the Environment Services department.
A Member advised that some people were placing articles that would previously been collected through the junk job collection beside their wheelie bins for the refuse wagon to collect and these were sometimes left by the refuse collectors.
A Member raised a query regarding the issue of gully cleaning in light of the recent severe weather conditions. The Environment Services Manager advised that the highways department received regular flood reports. As soon as a flood report was received, the department carried out an inspection of all the main flood points that the department were aware of with a view to clearing all the culverts and gully grills.
A query was raised regarding the arrangements in place for the repair of street lights. Members were advised that the authority employed a contractor to carry out repairs to street lights. The Councils Contact Centre logged receipt of the request for street lighting repairs on the Councils Siebel computer system and the request was monitored from start to finish through the computerised system to ensure the specified timescales for repairs were met. A Member commented that the street light repair system appeared to be working well.
The Chair suggested that an invitation be extended to the Assistant Director Environment Services to attend the next meeting of the Panel on 30 July 2012 to discuss performance reports in respect of service standards and promises. The Panel was advised that the Council intended to maintain standards as much as possible but Members needed to examine what the public might consider to be the most important issues in respect of Environment Services service provision. Officers also needed to examine alternatives and look at other ways of doing things including partnership working.
AGREED that an invitation be extended to the Assistant Director Environment Services to attend the next meeting of the Panel to discuss performance reports in respect of Environment Services promises and service standards.