Environment Scrutiny Panel Minutes

Environment Scrutiny Panel Minutes

Monday 2 December 2013
1:45 p.m.
Spencer Room, Town Hall, Middlesbrough

Attendance Details

Councillor R Kerr (Chair), Councillor G B Clark (Vice Chair), Councillor R Brady, Councillor J G Cole and Councillor D Davison.
D Donaldson, Members Office.
Councillor N J Walker - Executive Member for Environment.
A Crawford, J Dixon, G Field, K Garland and A Humble.
Apologies for absence:
Councillor C Hobson, Councillor M Saunders, Councillor P Sharrocks.
Declarations of interest:

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

Item Number Item/Resolution

The Minutes of the Environment Scrutiny Panel meeting held on 11 November 2013 were submitted and approved as a correct record.


The Scrutiny Support Officer submitted a covering report to provide Members with information in respect of the new scrutiny topic regarding fees, charges and income generation in relation to environmental services.

Paragraph 4 of the submitted report highlighted possible areas for discussion and Officers from the Council’s Neighbourhoods and Communities Department were in attendance at the meeting to present information on the subject.


G Field, Environment Services Manager, K Garland, Streetscene Services Manager and A Humble, Accounts Team Leader, were welcomed to the meeting. The Panel was advised that fees and charges across Environmental Services equated to approximately £21 million - ranging from the Transporter Bridge, energy income, Area Care and highways maintenance. The biggest source of income to the Council was building cleaning - approximately £2.3 million - and the smallest was street lighting. An itemised list could be provided to Members should they so wish.


The Panel was advised that some areas relied on fees and charges to assist in subsidising the service but it was important to consider the ‘net’ effect of all the income to the Council in relation to the services it carried out. In terms of external income, there were two main principles - fees and charges and sales and income. Several areas that had previously been provided to the public free of charge, were now being charged for, such as junk job collections and replacement wheeled bins.


The Streetscene Services Manager explained that his area had a relatively flexible income as seasonal staff were employed which allowed a reduction in staff should income targets not be achieved. It was highlighted that there were several areas where associated costs were borne by Area Care but any income generated was allocated to the department that the services was being carried out for - eg grounds maintenance of football pitches, bowling greens, burials, etc. In such instances Area Care was effectively acting as a sub-contractor.


In terms of raising fees and charges by inflation or more/less than inflation, it was explained that certain services could be increased by inflation by statute. Each external income activity had its own external income target and these needed to be monitored and reviewed as necessary. For example, when charging for junk jobs and replacement bins was introduced, the income target was set too high and was not achieved and now needed to be adjusted.


It was queried what was being done within environment services to maximise the total income to the Council. The Environment Services Manager informed the Panel that discussions were on-going in relation to what other services could be undertaken and whether it would be feasible to compete with the external market whilst complying with Government Regulations. Currently, levels of building maintenance to schools and building cleaning to schools including academies had been increased.


It was noted that certain budgets could fluctuate due to swings in demand, such as car parking. Parking tended to have an annual surplus but this had reduced due to the economic downturn. This was an area that needed to be looked at on an annual basis rather than applying the medium term financial plan criteria. A subsidised Christmas parking promotion was currently on offer in selected long stay Council car parks and two hours free parking had also been introduced to encourage people to visit the town centre. Figures in relation to this would be available in February 2014. It was acknowledged that the wider picture needed to be considered as whilst the subsidised parking promotions may have reduced the car parking budget surplus, the economic benefits of attracting visitors to the town, and in turn boosting the local economy in terms of spending and jobs might outweigh this. Feedback from local businesses had been very positive.


In addition, there were some services that were self-financing, therefore, their budgets were ring-fenced - the Licensing Section was one example.


Reference was made to the Area Care team providing additional street cleaning in the town centre at weekends and it was queried whether a charge could be made in relation to cleaning in connection with late-night opening premises such as pubs and takeaways or whether there was a potential to consider including a charge within the licence fee. The Panel requested that this be explored. The Panel was advised that Area Care had recently started to charge for cleaning outside of shop frontages that were situated on private land and that this was carried out under a Service Level Agreement.


The Panel asked whether the tonnages of rubbish collected on a Saturday and Sunday morning (following the busiest nights for late night opening premises in the town centre) could be compared with collections made on a week-day morning in order to identify whether there was a significant difference. The Panel was advised that it was difficult for the Council to decide which services to charge for as many environmental services were currently provided free of charge or at a subsidised rate. Once charging was introduced for a particular service, a drop in demand could sometimes be experienced. Another consideration when introducing charging for a particular service was the likelihood of bad debts. The Accounts Team Leader advised that there had not been any significant problems with ‘bad debts’ and that charging ‘up front’ for services was now a preferred option.

In response to a query, the Panel was advised that that the cost of recovering a debt was approximately £70 - £80 and there was currently a total of around £150,000 outstanding debt - predominantly due to outstanding rents/business rates.


Some of the services provided, such as highway schemes, were funded from the capital budget. It was highlighted that around £1 million had been allocated from the LTP this year and £500,000 from the capital programme for resurfacing works on roads, footpaths and cycleways. There would be an impact on the workforce should this capital funding be taken away. Generating external income could be a real bonus to the Council but it was a calculated risk. Certain areas, such as repairs and maintenance works, were more suited to raising external income. Joint working arrangements with other local authorities were also being explored.


The Chair thanked the Officers for attending and for the information provided.

AGREED as follows:-


1. That the information provided be noted.


2. That the Scrutiny Support Officer make enquiries as to whether there was currently a charge attributed to the licence fee in respect of street cleansing in relation to late night opening premises and, if not, that this issue be explored.


3. That the Executive Member for Environment be invited to the next meeting of the Panel to further discuss the issue of income generation relating to environmental services.


Members were asked to consider the Panel’s Draft Final Report on its findings resulting from its scrutiny into household waste management arrangements in Middlesbrough. 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 11 November 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:-


• Additional Government funding.
• Changes to Middlesbrough’s refuse and recycling collection arrangements.
• Impact of the revised arrangements.
• Processing of recycled materials.
• Further information.


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.


It was requested that the following wording be added at the end of conclusion number 7) “…and the increase noted in terms of recycling tonnages.”


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 - with the agreed additional wording to conclusion number 7) as identified above.


4. That the following recommendations be incorporated into the report:-


1. That refuse and recycling arrangements be reviewed in future to ensure that collection schemes continue to operate at maximum efficiency - in particular to examine the possibility of moving to weekly collections of recycling and fortnightly collections of refuse.

2. That, in order to further encourage recycling across the Borough, the information contained on the Council’s website in respect of waste and recycling arrangements be reviewed/updated as necessary to ensure that:-


a) The Recycling Directory, that lists all items that can be recycled, is kept accurate and up to date.
b) Information, updated at regular intervals, be included on tonnages of recycling and green waste collected and information on how recycled materials are dealt with/processed.


3. That the Council’s website also be updated to advise that the Council’s waste/ recycling collection schemes were operated as flexibly as possible and that, in areas where plastic sacks are used for refuse and recycling collections, wheeled bins can be provided on request.


4. That all Elected Members be contacted in writing and invited to submit feedback on operation of the new waste and recycling collection arrangements. This should be with a view to identifying problems associated with the new arrangements, such as areas where further publicity for the collection schemes might be required; highlighting areas of misuse of communal recycling bins and identifying areas where enforcement action could assist in addressing problems.


5. That, subject to it being possible to do so at a minimal cost, the re-introduction of free, local, public compost collections be examined and considered.


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 meeting held on 12 November 2013, namely:-


• Bereavement Services - Final Report of the Environment Scrutiny Panel.
• Middlesbrough Environment City - Final Report of the Environment Scrutiny Panel.
• Attendance of Executive Members - Executive Member for Children’s Services.
• Request for Scrutiny Review - Employment and Housing Land Allocations.
• Voluntary Sector and Middlesbrough Voluntary Development Agency - Final Report of the Economic Regeneration and Transport Scrutiny Panel.
• Emergency Access to James Cook Hospital.
• Scrutiny Panel Progress Reports.


AGREED that the information contained within the report be noted.


The next meeting of the Environment Scrutiny Panel was scheduled for Monday, 13 January 2014
at 1.45pm.

Powered by E-GENDA from Associated Knowledge Systems Ltd