Environment Scrutiny Panel Minutes

Environment Scrutiny Panel Minutes

Monday 30 July 2012
1:30 p.m.
Spencer Room, Town Hall, Middlesbrough

Attendance Details

Councillor R Kerr (Chair), Councillor G B Clark (Vice-Chair); Councillor R Brady, Councillor C Hobson, Councillor M Saunders and Councillor P Sharrocks.
Councillor J Brunton - Chair, Overview and Scrutiny Board.
Councillor N J Walker - Executive Member, Streetscene Services and Transport.
A Crawford, J Dixon, G Field and K Garland.
Apologies for absence:
Councillor D Davison, Councillor J McPartland.
Declarations of interest:

There were no declarations of interest made by Members at this point in the meeting.

Item Number Item/Resolution

The Minutes of the Environment Scrutiny Panel meeting held on 9 July 2012 were submitted and approved as a correct record.


The Scrutiny Support Officer submitted a covering report relating to further information regarding Environment Service Standards.


At the Panel’s previous meeting on 9 July 2012, background information in relation to this topic was presented to the Panel by the Council’s Environment Services Manager. At that meeting, Members requested information in relation to performance information against service standards and a subsequent report from the Environment Services Manager had been circulated to the Panel prior to the meeting.


G Field, Environment Services Manager and K Garland, Streetscene Manager, were in attendance at the meeting to provide further information in relation to Environment Service Promises and current performance information.


The Environment Services Manager advised that performance in relation to Service Promises was monitored on a monthly basis.


Background information in relation to NI 195 for street cleanliness was provided and the table at page 3 of the report showed the scores achieved for the third survey in 2011/12. It highlighted a score of 5% for litter, 1% for detritus and a combined score of 3%. It was noted that the land uses returning the highest level of uncleanliness were industry/warehouse and other highways. The figures compared with returns of around 43% when NI 195 was first introduced which equated to approximately one out of every two streets being of an unacceptable cleanliness standard. The introduction of Area Care and flexible/multi skilled working had assisted in lowering the figures and improving service standards. The Panel was advised that the results of the most recent inspection were awaited and it was highlighted that they were unlikely to reflect the extent of the current cuts due to the poor whether conditions which had enabled employees who would normally be grass cutting, etc to assist with litter removal.


The table at page 4 showed the original Area Care areas established when NI 195 was introduced. There were considerable differences between the four areas, with south and west Middlesbrough generally being cleaner. Working Neighbourhoods Funding was used to close the gap across the town and that had been achieved. However, it was acknowledged that this would require close monitoring now that WNF funding had been withdrawn. The introduction of a single Area Care service had managed current savings through creative group leadership with only a slight reduction in service delivery so far.


In response to a query from a Panel Member, the Streetscene Manager advised that a total of 21 Area Care staff had been lost this financial year, with approximately half leaving through ER/VR and half through compulsory redundancy. Additional staff had been lost the previous financial year through ER/VR and replaced with seasonal employees. Staffing levels had reduced from approximately 228 to 168. It was highlighted that the number of employees within the service fluctuated due to seasonal workers being employed during summer months for horticultural tasks.


The Panel was advised that the Service also had statutory responsibilities including burials, maintenance of graves and maintenance of playgrounds. With significant income targets to be met it was difficult to reduce the revenue budget without affecting other areas of the Service.


The Panel highlighted that, in terms of the future of the Service, discussions would need to take place to prioritise service delivery and in terms of quantifying service promises. It was acknowledged that service standards may have to be lowered and staff were praised for continuing to provide the best service possible in such difficult circumstances.


Page five of the report provided details of reports received through the Contact Centre, by service area, including requests for services. Figures for junk job and bin replacement charges were also included, together with average response times to requests received. It was noted that requests for junk job collections had significantly reduced since a £10.00 charge had been introduced. In March 2,206 requests were received compared with just 532 requests in April. There had not been a significant increase in fly tipping. It was believed that residents were making better use of the civic amenity site and local rag and bone men. Members were advised that the Service had assumed there would be a reduction in junk job requests of approximately one-third, based on information from other authorities. The income from junk job charges and replacement bin charges was less than half of the projected figure.


Reports of missing or stolen bins had also reduced since the introduction of charging for replacement bins. Discussion ensued in relation to residents living in rented properties and ensuring that landlords and Housing Associations were made aware that it was their responsibility to ensure that bins were secured at their properties for each tenant as tenants would be expected to pay £25.00 for a new bin to be provided.


The submitted report also provided details in relation to tonnage levels collected per month for green waste, plastic recycling and kerbside recycling. It was highlighted that green waste tonnages for April 2012 were significantly lower than the previous April and it was planned to start green waste collections later in the following year but to extend collections by several weeks.


A Panel Member commented that it would be helpful to be able to compare the information provided with similar local authorities of a similar size and to see whether targets were being met. The Environment Services Manager agreed to provide the Panel with comparative information.


In terms of identifying pressure points within the Service, it was acknowledged that there came a point where certain cuts in service provision would result in a negative economy, for example, if the number of grass cuts per year was reduced then grass would become too long to be cut by the usual cutters and it would cost more to cut using a flail mower. Meadow land was cut twice yearly using a flail and one cut with the flail equated to approximately two cuts of amenity grass. It was highlighted that wild flower areas would be encouraged rather than long meadow grass. The Streetscene Manager advised the Panel that in Middlesbrough there could be up to one million cubic metres of grass cuttings following grass cuts, there were approximately 13 miles of fence line edges to be strimmed, in Linthorpe Cemetery alone there was approximately half a mile of obstacles/edges to be strimmed. The Service was responsible for ten million square metres of soft landscape and 40 miles of hedges. It was acknowledged that if the budget cuts were to continue as anticipated, it was inevitable that there would be an impact on service standards and/or service delivery.


Panel Members commented that Ward Councillors should encourage residents to be pro-active in keeping their own areas clean and that residents should be advised with regard to the potential impact of budget cuts on service standards in the future.


The Chair thanked the officers for their attendance and the information provided.


AGREED as follows:-

1. That the submitted information in relation to Environment Service standards be considered in the context of the current scrutiny topic and be taken into account when compiling the conclusions and recommendations for the Panel’s Draft Final Report.


2.  That a Draft Final Report on this topic be considered at the next meeting of the Panel.

3. That comparative information from other similar local authorities be provided by the Environment Service Manager in relation to tonnages of green waste and other recyclable materials collected per month and whether targets were being met.


The Chair requested that the Panel note the contents of the submitted report which provided an update on business conducted at the Overview and Scrutiny Board meetings held on 3 July 2012, namely:-


  • Executive Forward Work Programme.
  • Revenue Outturn 2011-12.
  • Strategic Plan 2012-13.
  • Council Performance 2011-12.
  • Final Report of the Environment Scrutiny Panel: Maintenance of Highway Trees and Natural Woodland.
  • Final Report of the Social Care and Adult Services Scrutiny Panel: Experience of Vulnerable Older People in Care Settings.
  • Scrutiny Panel Work Programmes - 2012/13.

 AGREED that the information contained within the report be noted.


The next meeting of the Environment Scrutiny Panel was scheduled for Wednesday, 29 August 2012 at 1.30pm.


Work Programme 2012-13

An update was provided in relation to the Panel’s next scrutiny topic, Environmental Awareness of other Public Bodies. The Scrutiny Support Officer advised that he had corresponded to various bodies including Police, University, NHS and Magistrates Court, in relation to energy reduction and was awaiting responses.


Reference was made to steps that had been taken by Erimus Housing in relation to energy reduction and it was suggested that the appropriate officer from Erimus Housing be invited to a future meeting of the Panel.


AGREED that the appropriate officer from Erimus Housing be invited to attend a future Panel meeting to provide information on the steps taken by the organisation in relation to energy reduction.

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