Notes from Poole Residents’ Themed Meeting Dec 2015

Notes from Poole Residents’ Themed Meeting
Wednesday 9th December 2015, Cattistock Suite, Civic Centre


Sue Bellamy (SB) Poole Quays Forum
Vickie Campbell (VC) Secretary, Canford Heath Neighbourhood Watch
David Gillard (DG) Society of Poole Men Christopher Jackson (CJ) Uniting the Conurbation Allen Lewis (AL) Resident, Broadstone
Monique Munroe (MM) Canford Heath Neighbourhood Watch / Ideas2Actions / Poole CVS Ken Sanson (KS) Chairman, Sandbanks Association
Bob Smith (BS) Bourne Valley Action Group
Jackie Smith (JaS) Bourne Valley Action Group
John Sprackling (JS) Chairman, Branksome Park & Canford Cliffs District Residents
Graham Tuffin (GT) Chairman, Talbot Village Residents Association

Cllr Janet Walton, Leader of the Council (JW)
Cllr May Haines, Deputy Leader of Council (MH) Cllr Karen Rampton
Cllr Drew Mellor
Cllr Mohan Iyengar

The meeting started at 10:38

1. Welcome and introductions

MH introduced the meeting, reminding attendees that the agenda had been circulated beforehand and that notes would be circulated afterwards.

All attendees introduced themselves.

2. Combined Authority

JW confirmed that:

2.1 The term ‘combined authority’ was used to describe a formal governance structure to strengthen councils’ collective approach to strategic decisions on transport, economic development and regeneration
2.2 Leaders of the 9 councils in Dorset had proposed so far to include only transport and economic development in the functions of a combined authority for the county
2.3 Borough of Poole (BoP) would retain its sovereignty and its own teams for economic development and transport
2.4 There would be a benefit in having a single point of contact between Dorset and central government on strategic matters.
2.5 The greater benefit would be in the ability to bid for larger opportunities and attract new sources of funding

Residents made the following observations:

2.6 There could be an advantage of a strategic view being taken across Dorset and from having a single point of contact for discussions across the councils rather than the many-to-many arrangement now.
2.7 The function would need to have a legal status and an overview/scrutiny mechanism in place.
2.8 The voting mechanism in the cross-county function needed to ensure equitable outcomes. (For instance, issues at a ward or district level should not be at risk of being voted down by members who were remote from the issue).
2.9 The central function had to be empowered to make decisions for the good of Dorset, recognising that each council would be inclined to argue for its own interests

2.10 Equally, a central function could be against the principle of ‘local solutions to local problems’. As such, its design was important to ensure it had residents’ support.
2.11 The new function would have a challenge to be effective with only a remit for transport and economic development when there would be dependencies to/from many other functions which remained under local control. (JW agreed that this was a risk to manage in the set-up of any function).
2.12 There was the possibility for all external contracting to be done pan-Dorset by the
new function, in the context of the business of a combined authority. (However, JW responded on this point that this wasn’t the current intention)
2.13 A combination with Bournemouth could be useful if such things as roads-planning and maintenance could be aligned
2.14 The proposed new function would be a combined administration across Dorset to serve strategic purposes

3. Business Case for Unitary Authority

JW confirmed that:

3.1 The discussions for a possible South-East Dorset single unitary authority were in response to central government’s wish for local authorities to become more ambitious and innovative. The discussions were also supported by the Local Government Association (LGA).
3.2 The intention was to explore the possibility of a single unitary authority for south-east Dorset.
The leaders and chief executives of those councils had met in October 2015, resulting in an agreement to explore three alternative ways forward, namely:
a. a Dorset-wide unitary authority covering the territory represented by the current 9 councils;
b. a south-east Dorset unitary authority covering the territories of Poole, Bournemouth, Christchurch and East Dorset councils; or
c. a continuation of the current arrangement of councils
3.3 Council’s approval would be sought in December 2015 to draw up business cases for these options.
3.4 Once business cases had been developed – over approximately 3-4 months – the discussion would come back into council to debate the way forward.
3.5 There was a strong feeling across the leader and cabinet to protect Poole’s identity and sovereignty, incl. heritage and mayoralty.

Residents made the following observations:

3.6 The 5 councils outside the south-east could in theory form their own unitary. (Though JW confirmed that the only idea so far in this regard had been raised by Dorset County Council for a Dorset-wide unitary).
3.7 External expertise should be used to look objectively across all options and to challenge robustly for efficiencies and benefits. (JW responded that this would happen and that the Local Government Association would support the development of business cases, but not their evaluation).
3.8 If council tax increases were capped by central government, the main benefits from any join- ups had to be from cost savings. (JW added that Borough of Poole had achieved £60m in efficiencies since 2010 and would be finding another £20 by 2020. But the emphasis would be on fostering economic growth and improving the value-for-money of services, not just cuts per se).
3.9 There was a wish to keep Poole’s identity. A unitary could have more influence with central government and would offer economies of scale. But the defence of Poole’s heritage would be important in fostering residents’ support. (JW concurred with this point).
3.10 It was important for councillors to know residents’ views. Would there be a referendum? (JW replied that public consultation – as well as face-to-face meetings – would include digital communication to reach people and canvass opinion. For example, the ‘Email Me’ newsletter now had 35,000 subscribers in the Borough. So while face-to-face would remain important, the intention was to use a range of options to reach across the community.

First of all it was important to develop the cost-benefit analyses for the options and then to identify the key questions for debate.
3.11 Support was expressed for the approach to develop business cases first. It was important to take the time to develop complete scenarios and describe their benefits to residents. This would be more meaningful than asking for public opinion before knowing the facts and evidence in those business cases.

4. Current position on Council budget for 2016/17

MH confirmed that:

4.1 Poole council had a challenge to reduce expenditure by £18-20 million over the next 4 years.
The target was deliberately quoted in a range rather than a point figure to give room to manoeuvre where new requirements from central government carried the risk of bringing further challenges.
4.2 At the start of the fiscal year beginning 1st April 2016, the forecast challenge was £5.8m for that year – taking a view of the central government funding settlement. At the time of the October’15 forecast, that gap had been revised down to £3.9m and most recently revised to
4.3 The gap-reduction had been achieved by taking difficult decisions. The more straight-forward savings in support areas had been made – such as non-replacement of staff leaving, part- time working and rationalisation of services. (An example given was Streetscene – now a
one-stop-shop for street maintenance rather than the complex multi-team arrangement it replaced). Other changes included:
a. Adjustments to the green-bin collection and charges b. Reduced grants to voluntary organisations
c. Rationalised office space – such as the vacation of St John’s House and the incorporation of the transport team into Civic Centre
d. Reduction in the square-meterage of a workspace in the office
4.4 There was a £13.7m target for cost-reduction to 2020. As the opportunities in Poole-unitary became harder to find, there was a need to collaborate with partners outside Poole for further improvements – hence, the explorations into combined authority and ‘quads’.
4.5 Unless arrangements were to change, Poole Council remained legally responsible for the provision of council services to the Borough.
4.6 Two types of reserves were defined:
a. Earmarked (held for a specific purpose) reserves b. Unearmarked (general) reserves

Following a review, a request would be put to council in December 2015 for a further £1.5m to be taken from earmarked reserves to help support the MTFP over 3 years from 2016/17.

5. Proposal for change to waste collection

MH confirmed that:

5.1 Poole’s current practice of weekly black-bin collections was in a minority, as 70% of other councils across the UK collected bi-weekly.
5.2 A working group had explored waste-collection in depth over more than a year. In phase 1
they had examined whether food-waste could be a separate collection, taking the experiences from the Isle of Wight, but concluded this wasn’t yet viable for Poole. In phase 2, the examination was whether bi-weekly collections brought undesirable effects such as overflowing bins and vermin. The experience from other councils was that it did not.
5.3 The potential move to bi-weekly collection in Poole would, however, offer exceptions to residents with a demonstrably greater need for waste collection, such as larger families with young children and those with medical conditions.

Residents made the following observations:

5.4 Would there be staff reductions if collections were halved? (MH replied that some staff reductions were likely)
5.5 Poole and Bournemouth used different colour-schemes for bins. To align them could be an item for the ‘quads’ discussions.
5.6 Food waste could be recycled as fuel pellets. (MH replied that food waste was already recovered. A proportion of that waste was sent to New Earth Solutions where a mechanical recovery was done, allowing minimal divert to landfill).
5.7 The website was mentioned as helpful in regard to recycling.

6. Questions and Answers / Open Forum

Residents made the following points

6.1 Other cost savings could be pursued such as outsourcing and pension management, dog- wardens and tree-wardens. (MH replied that some outsourcing had already been achieved, such as with Tricuro in adult social care, and that all options would be explored. For example, another potential opportunity was to take over the management of Bournemouth’s refuse site for a fee)
6.2 Residents could be asked to pay a little more council tax to protect services.
6.3 External expertise should be sought by the council to drive opportunities in commercialism. A resident felt that someone with the skills and appropriate incentive could bring more urgency and transparency to the commercial area. (MH suggested that more general details could be shared, but not items which were commercially sensitive – and this point was accepted).
6.4 The Transparency pages on the Borough of Poole website needed to be updated.
6.5 In response to a question on business rates and the Chancellor’s statement, MH reminded everyone that the current “50/50” scheme still left Poole only 25 pence in the Pound. The new statement that local councils could retain 100% of business rates from 2020 was promising but in her view was likely to come with extra responsibilities as a quid-pro-quo. Those responsibilities could become clearer in consultations with central government in 2016 but for now the mood was cautious.
6.6 In response to another question MH mentioned that the annual meeting on council budget would be held on 22nd January 2016 and that any anyone who wished to attend was asked to let her or Fiona Fryer ( know in advance.

7. Feedback
7.1 Forms were circulated, completed and returned by attendees.
7.2 In the spirit of respecting the confidentiality of peoples’ feedback, a general summary was that the meeting was well received and that the limited attendance allowed a high level of quality discussion. A challenge going forward would be to retain this value while reaching out to
larger groups.

The meeting closed at 12:20.

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