Environment Scrutiny Panel Minutes

Environment Scrutiny Panel Minutes

Date:
Monday 21 October 2013
Time:
1:45 p.m.
Place:
Spencer Room, Town Hall, Middlesbrough
 

Attendance Details

Present:
Councillor R Kerr (Chair), Councillor G B Clark (Vice Chair); Councillor R Brady, Councillor D Davison, Councillor C Hobson.
Observers:
L Henman - Political Assistant.
Invitees:
Councillor J Brunton - Chair of Overview and Scrutiny Board.
Officers:
A Crawford and J Dixon.
Apologies for absence:
Councillor J G Cole, Councillor M Saunders and Councillor P Sharrocks.
Declarations of interest:

There were no Declarations of Interest made by Members at this point in the meeting.

Item Number Item/Resolution
PUBLIC
13/22 MINUTES OF THE PREVIOUS MEETING OF THE ENVIRONMENT SCRUTINY PANEL HELD ON 16 SEPTEMBER 2013.

The Minutes of the Environment Scrutiny Panel meeting held on 16 September 2013 were submitted and approved as a correct record.

13/23 DRAFT FINAL REPORT - BEREAVEMENT SERVICES.

Members were asked to consider the Panel’s Draft Final Report on its findings resulting from its scrutiny into Middlesbrough Council’s Bereavement Services. It was confirmed that, following the Panel’s approval, the Final Report would be submitted to the Overview and Scrutiny Board for consideration.

 

The Panel’s investigation was undertaken as a short topic over the course of one meeting held on 27 August 2013, when information was presented by an Officer from the Council’s Neighbourhoods and Communities Department.

 

The Draft Final Report provided details of the Panel’s findings in relation to:-

  • Burial and cremation services.
  • Headstone safety.
  • Yearby crematorium.
  • Medical examiner.
  • Impact of central government budget cuts on grounds maintenance.
  • Visual/photographic display screens and DVD recording facilities in the crematorium chapels.
  • Mercury abatement.
  • Future provision of burial land.
  • Grave maintenance.

The Scrutiny Support Officer circulated information received from Durham County Council in relation to its Bereavement Service, which was to be incorporated into the Final Report. The information showed that 2,302 cremations were carried out during 2012 at Durham and 580 cremations were carried out during the same period at Bishop Auckland (private crematorium). The cremation cost at Durham was £550 including the current medical referee fee and the cost of cremation at Bishop Auckland was £580, excluding the current medical referee fee.

 

The Scrutiny Support Officer circulated a list of possible conclusions and recommendations, drawn up prior to the meeting in conjunction with the Chair and Vice Chair, for consideration and comment.

 

During the course of discussion, the following issues were raised:-

  • Reference was made to paragraphs 14) and 15) of the draft final report in relation to funding for headstone repairs. It stated that cemetery and cremation fees had been increased to create a £16,000 annual budget to repair headstones where the owner could not be traced. There was a requirement to test headstone safety on a five-yearly basis and it was queried whether the £16,000 accrued as an annual surplus over a five year period and whether it could be used to make the service more competitive.
  • The Scrutiny Support Officer confirmed that a request could be made for the issues highlighted to be covered within the Service response.
  • The Panel also requested that the Service response include the exploration of the potential impact upon Teesside Crematorium once the new crematorium at Yearby became operational, for example, what impact it would have on Middlesbrough’s service if it lost 10% of its business, 20% of its business, etc.
  • Reference was made to recommendation 1) and it was suggested that the wording be amended to include reference to the implications of the Council's change programme and the possibility of further reducing service standards in other areas .

Panel Members supported the proposed conclusions and recommendations with the wording to the recommendations to be amended, as discussed, by the Scrutiny Support Officer and to be circulated to the Panel.

 

AGREED as follows:-

  1. That the amended recommendations be circulated to all Panel Members, with an opportunity to submit final comments.
  2. That the Scrutiny Support Officer, in conjunction with the Chair, be given authority to finalise the Final Report and that the report be submitted to the next available meeting of the Overview and Scrutiny Board.
  3. That the conclusions, as circulated at the meeting, be incorporated into the report.
  4. That the following recommendations be incorporated into the report:-


1. That, while recognising the Council’s difficult financial position, due to the sensitive nature of this service area, the current approach of maintaining high standards of maintenance at the Council’s cemeteries and crematorium is continued as far as possible in order to respect the sensitivity of this issue.  Whilst this may involve increasing fees and charges, account should be taken of the Council's change programme and the need to examine issues such as more efficient ways of working, or further reducing service standards in other areas. 

 

2. That, in respect of headstone safety: -

a)  The current approach is continued, with costs being met from cemetery and cremation fees and charges.

b)  That the position is examined in respect of the £16,000 budget that was created each year from fees and charges to deal with this issue, in particular, whether this resulted in a budget surplus that could be used to offset or reduce potential increases in fees and charges.

 

3.  That, once the private crematorium in Redcar and Cleveland becomes operational, its impact on the level of cremations at Middlesbrough Council’s crematorium is closely monitored. The Council’s fees should be competitive, services should continue to be provided at the highest possible standard, including further use of technological innovations and improvements, as appropriate.  Work should also be undertaken to reveiw service provision to mitigate any future loss of income and to determine the possible implications of this. 

 

4.  That the position is noted in respect of:-

a) Increased burial and cremation fees due to the necessity of providing a Medical Examiner’s Certificate.
b) Work to reduce mercury emissions from the Council’s crematorium.
c) The availability of future burial land.
 

13/24 DRAFT FINAL REPORT - MIDDLESBROUGH ENVIRONMENT CITY.

Members were asked to consider the Panel’s Draft Final Report on its findings resulting from its scrutiny into Middlesbrough Environment City. It was confirmed that, following the Panel’s approval, the Final Report would be submitted to the Overview and Scrutiny Board for consideration.

 

The Panel’s investigation was undertaken as a short topic over the course of one meeting held on 16 September 2013, when information was provided by the Director of Middlesbrough Environment City.

 

The Draft Final Report provided details of the Panel’s findings in relation to:-

  1. History of Middlesbrough Environment City and use of the One Planet Living approach.
  2. MEC Projects.Finance, budget and governance arrangements.
  3. The Panel was asked to discuss possible conclusions and recommendations to be included within the final report.

The Panel highlighted that Middlesbrough Environment City had a commendable programme of activities but, in the current economic climate, expressed some concerns in relation to the potential lack of availability of future funding and the impact this could have on the organisation.
 

The Panel suggested that a recommendation be made requesting that the Board of Middlesbrough Environment City considers an alternative plan in relation to future funding/grants and the potential implications this might have on the organisation.

 

In relation to the organisation’s budget, it was highlighted that the Council’s contribution was an ‘in kind’ contribution of 2.5 members of staff that were seconded to MEC. The Scrutiny Support Officer agreed to set this out within the final report and to circulate the recommendations to the Panel for comment.

 

AGREED as follows:-

  1. That the Scrutiny Support Officer, in conjunction with the Chair, be given authority to finalise the Final Report in relation to Middlesbrough Environment City, with the inclusion of reference to the organisation’s staffing and budget, and that the report be submitted to the next available meeting of the Overview and Scrutiny Board.
  2. That the possible conclusions and recommendations be circulated to Panel Members for comment and included within the Final Report.
  3. That a recommendation be made in relation to MEC exploring the impact that the potential loss of future funding/grants would have on the organisation and how this could be addressed.
     
13/25 DATE AND TIME OF NEXT MEETING - MONDAY 11 NOVEMBER 2013 AT 1.45PM.

The next meeting of the Environment Scrutiny Panel was scheduled for Monday, 11 November 2013 at 1.45pm.

13/26 ANY OTHER BUSINESS

ANY OTHER BUSINESS


Future Topics
 

A discussion took place in relation to the remaining scrutiny topics from the Panel’s Work Programme as identified at the start of the Municipal Year. It was subsequently agreed that the Panel should investigate the following topics over the course of the next few meetings:-

  • Municipal Waste.
  • Income generation/fees and charges.
  • Open spaces and the impact of budget reductions.

AGREED that the Panel examines the topics as identified above over the course of the next few meetings.
 

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