Agenda and draft minutes

Prosperous Staffordshire Select Committee - Thursday 17th September 2020 10.00 am

Venue: Oak Room, County Buildings, Stafford. View directions

Contact: Mandy Pattinson  Email: mandy.pattinson@staffordshire.gov.uk

Media

Items
No. Item

93.

Declarations of Interest

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Minutes:

There were no declarations made at the meeting.

94.

Minutes of the Prosperous Staffordshire Select Committee held on 24 July 2020 pdf icon PDF 250 KB

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Minutes:

RESOLVED: That the minutes of the meeting held on 24 July 2020 were confirmed and signed by the Chairman

95.

Economic Recovery, Renewal and Transformation - Quarterly Update pdf icon PDF 247 KB

Report of the Deputy Leader, Cabinet Member for Economy and Skills.

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Minutes:

The Select Committee had requested regular updates from the Cabinet Member for Economy and Skills on the economic health of the county and progress against the Staffordshire Economic Recovery, Renewal and Transformation Strategy. The unprecedented nature of the Covid-19 crisis had meant that the County Council had had to react quickly to support businesses and residents. The Strategy was flexible enough to respond appropriately to a range of scenarios. The successful delivery of the Strategy in achieving the vision and aims that it set out would be dependant on many factors. A range of interventions had already been made by the County Council, Stoke on Trent and Staffordshire LEP (SSLEP), the Government and other partners to respond to the immediate crisis whilst the development of the supporting delivery plans for the Strategy was ongoing. Existing activities would continue to be refreshed and reviewed against Strategy priorities and new programmes developed where there are gaps.

The Select Committee had identified an important role in scrutinising delivery and performance of the Strategy.

By way of introduction, the Chairman suggested that the August performance figures showed Staffordshire to have one of the highest level of furloughed staff – 25% of working age people compared to neighbouring authorities.

The Cabinet Member believed that the next quarter monitoring report would be defining in terms of the impact of Covid-19 on the Staffordshire economy. He acknowledged that the county had a high level of furloughed staff due to the economic profile of the county and many remained furloughed also the unemployment rate (5.1%) which had crept up, remained lower than the regional and national average.  It was too early to identify whether the rise was due to seasonal variations or the start of a trend. It was inevitable that there would be an increase in unemployment as the furlough scheme wound down. The Cabinet Member said that what mattered was the County Councils response – what action was taken to minimise the impact and ensure the county builds back stronger.

The Cabinet Member drew to members attention various interventions which were ongoing or completed as part of the response. The county wide Redundancy Task Group established to support businesses and individuals facing redundancy was now active around the county and had significant capacity. £0.500m emergency grants scheme had been made available and had helped over 200 micro-businesses to survive the crisis by providing a grant to help pay outstanding supplier bills in the short term. Funds had been identified to support new business start ups in priority sectors – currently there were 300 participants on the scheme and 200 new businesses established in a year. The Cabinet Member believed that times of economic hardship – post recession - often prove to be a good time to set up a new business.

In addition to local interventions, an enhanced communications campaign ‘Staffordshire Means Back to Business’ and further measures had been put in place by partner organisations and Government. The SSLEP were allocated £23.7m from the Government’s  ...  view the full minutes text for item 95.

96.

Infrastructure+ and Lighting for Staffordshire Performance Review pdf icon PDF 551 KB

Report of the Cabinet Member for Highways and Transport.

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Minutes:

The Cabinet Member for Highways and Transport provided operational performance information on two long-term highway service delivery contracts: Infrastructure+ and Streetlighting Private Finance Initiative (PFI); and invited direction on future or additional performance measures necessary to demonstrate these contracts are achieving their required aims.

 

By way of background, members were reminded that Infrastructure+ is an overarching agreement between the County Council and Amey LG providing an outcome focused approach to the delivery of highway and non-property infrastructure services across Staffordshire. A core element of the Infrastructure+ partnership is a Term Service Contract (TSC) for the maintenance, management and improvement of over 6,300kms of highway network.

 

Infrastructure+ operational performance is managed through a balanced scorecard process. At the last meeting of the Strategic Partnership Board in July 2020, operational performance was scored as +23 on a range of +/-58 and accepted as satisfactory taking into consideration the funding constraints particularly around highway maintenance.

 

As part of the 2020-21 Infrastructure+ Business Plan the Strategic Partnership Board agreed some improvement plan priorities which were accompanied by an Extra Investment Strategy. The local road network is the council’s single largest physical asset with a gross replacement value of over £7billion. The Government’s own endorsed Asset Management approach to highway maintenance recognised that a highway network the size of Staffordshire’s required a one-off investment of around £75m to bring it up to target condition followed by £42m/year ongoing to achieve ‘steady-state’ condition in carriageway condition alone.

 

The £26m available revenue budget (approximately 5% of the Councils total annual revenue budget) services commitments including the streetlighting PFI, school crossing patrols and a range of statutory functions. Approximately £10m (2% of the Council’s annual revenue budget) remains for highway maintenance operations. The extra £20m investment strategy approved by Cabinet in 2017 provided an additional £5m/year over 4-years to reduce the backlog and associated reputational and financial liability of long standing pothole defects. Levels of public satisfaction measured through the NHT survey have started to see improvement in some aspects of highway maintenance associated with this extra investment.

 

In May 2003 Lighting for Staffordshire Ltd commenced delivery of the street lighting Private Finance Initiative (PFI) contract which would operate for a period of 25 years. The value of the contract at its commencement was £250m and the Council has received revenue support grant of £1.54m per annum to support delivery of the contract.  The primary reason for the PFI had been to redress a continued lack of investment in street lighting assets. The Staffordshire contract constituted a continuous programme of asset renewal throughout the contract period.

 

Since the contract commenced back in 2003 the number of street lighting assets on the highway network has risen from 99,343 to 108,626 (June 2020), a growth of 9.3%. Following the credit crunch high value contracts such as the Street Lighting PFI contract were re-assessed for their value and to ascertain if costs could be reduced. Officers entered into negotiations with the PFI contractor with a view to achieving increased value against  ...  view the full minutes text for item 96.

97.

Flood Management

To consider the verbal report of the Cabinet Member.

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Minutes:

The Cabinet Member for Environment Infrastructure and Climate Change introduced the county Flood Risk Manager who delivered a presentation to the select committee on the council’s statutory functions and responsibilities.

 

The Cabinet Member explained that due to climate change rainfall events that overwhelm drainage systems is becoming more frequent and that this is no longer just a winter issue.  She acknowledged that a significant challenge is run-off from private land leading to localised flooding of highways and when highway gullies are also damaged or full of silt this can exacerbate the problem. 

 

The Flood Managers presentation addressed the efficacy of existing highway gully maintenance policy and persistent blockages; the Councils response to emergency flooding; the Councils role and responsibility under the Flood and Water Management Act 2010; poor land drainage management; the Council’s infrastructure management and forward strategy in a period of housing growth and collaboration on flood management. 

 

The County Council is a Lead Local Flood Authority. A duty is to produce a Strategy setting out their direction. We have various duties and powers . The authority works closely with key partners – the Environment Agency and District and Borough Councils, drainage boards, water companies and the County Councils own Highways services.  He explained roadside ditch responsibilities and that the local landowner (sometimes different to the person farming the land) had responsibility for hedges and ditches. He explained that gullies will often connect into sewers or ditches and that the problem may be a blockage further in a drainage system (rather than the gully).

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The Chairman acknowledged that grip cuts were sometimes used by farmers to alleviate run off from fields but this was not their purpose and poor land maintenance was a significant contributor to flooding. The Flood Manager suggested that heavy traffic loading was also a contributory factor – increasingly large vehicles regularly passing through country lane, impact on the verges.  He agreed with the Chairman in general and suggested there were many contributing factors and to acknowledge that there are many considerations when farming land.

 

The authority did have enforcement powers but the Flood Manager said that they would only take action where there was a clear risk of house flooding as the legalities were onerous.

 

The Assistant Director explained that the highways service had moved away from a blanket approach of emptying all gullies annually to collating an inventory of gullies which could then be managed on a risk based approach. GPS data was used to create a better understanding of for example, silt build up, and enable the operational resource to be better managed. This approach provides an optimum routine maintenance solution for approximately 95% of the councils highway gullies, but that around 5% of gullies had historic and continuing problems and there was a backlog of gully and wider highway drainage repairs (representing about £20m) which was being addressed by a progressive repairs and renewal programme.

 

Members agreed that flooding issues were often the cause of concern at parish councils and a  ...  view the full minutes text for item 97.

98.

Work Programme pdf icon PDF 256 KB

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Minutes:

The Committee agreed to defer the ‘Delivery of Housing’ and the ‘Return to schools’ reports to future meetings to priorities other reports at the meeting to be held on 12 November.

Members were informed that information on the Entrust contract had also been requested by the Corporate Review Select Committee,  It was agreed that Corporate Review should consider this item.

RESOLVED: That the Select Committee note changes to their work programme for 2020-21 and should plan to meet in county buildings for their next meeting.