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Council plan overview report - Chief Executive’s commentary

This report sets out an overview of the council’s performance for the third quarter of 2020 to 2021 (October to December 2020).

The purpose is to formally provide the Executive with a high-level summary of key achievements, and to highlight areas where performance was not matching targets or expectations, along with any remedial action that is being taken. It complements the detailed quarterly service reports (QSRs) and is based upon the performance data that is available to all members online.

As everyone will know the council continues to function in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic and many members and staff have been focused on leading our community response.

Some actions in the departmental service plans have been put on hold, deferred, or modified.

Nevertheless, at the end of the third quarter progress showed:

  • 99 actions (92%) are green (18 complete, 81 in progress, 5 not started or parked)
  • 8 actions (7%) are amber (8 in progress)
  • 1 action (1%) is red (in progress)

This report contains information on the performance indicators across the council for each of the strategic themes. Again, the picture was positive particularly in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic. Of course, in a number of the 'red' cases, the indicator is meaningless in relation to performance. Obvious examples include attendances at libraries and sport and leisure facilities which were open at reduced capacity. The status for the key indicators in the Council Plan in the third quarter is:

  • 22 (73%) green
  • 1 (3%) amber
  • 7 (23%) red

23 further indicators have no set target or data is currently unavailable.

Overview of quarter 3 and what went especially well

Putting these obvious challenges to one side, teams delivered services to a high standard during the period, especially in response to COVID-19. I have highlighted here a small selection of examples from across the organisation.

The national lockdown in March fundamentally changed the delivery of services within Bracknell Forest. Service areas implemented business continuity plans with the vast majority operating as closely as possible to business as usual. It is inevitable that COVID-19 has had a significant impact on our whole population, and this has been reflective in the council’s activities over the past 9 months.

Staff have continued to work effectively almost exclusively from home as their base. In service areas such as social work, environmental health, waste collection and disposal, highways, landscape and many others which are not exclusively office based the impact on services has been contained and, in many cases, will not have been noticed by residents. A small number of staff continue to work from Time Square, although most activities are now being undertaken mainly digitally.

The council’s community response for clinically extremely vulnerable people (CEV) and those shielding in partnership with The Ark and other council teams, notably customer services was particularly noteworthy during the quarter. Over 1500 shopping tasks and 800 prescription collections were completed by The Ark’s volunteers. The council made over 1300 phone calls and volunteers 200 doorstep welfare checks for CEV people.

The quarter also saw a review and reshaping the council’s transformation programme. The new comprehensive change programme brings together COVID-19 recovery priorities and the existing service transformation work. Programmes include the assets, ways of working, and community hub, which are all council wide programmes, with significant transformation of adults and children’s social care and joint working with health.

Administration of the government’s various business grant schemes has been a key focus for the Revenues team, with help from the Finance and Business Support team. As at the end of January 2021, 1,600 claims had been paid to eligible businesses, amounting to £13 million. Good progress has been made on most of the schemes, with the exception being the discretionary Additional Restrictions Grant, where applications have been much lower than expected. In January we made the application process simpler to help attract more applicants.

A key milestone was reached in the Joint Venture process just before Christmas when the legal agreements with our partner Countryside were signed and the Bracknell Forest Cambium Partnership was formally constituted. The outline site development plan for Coopers Hill also received council approval and plans are being finalised with a planning submission shortly to follow. In the following quarter, plans have also been developed relating to the Market Street site.

With construction of the new Heathlands care facility now well underway, the planned tendering for a service provider for the hotel and care services during quarter 3 was paused, recognising that providers were focused on managing the current difficult situation in existing care homes. It is planned, subject to the situation around COVID-19 levels, that this will re-commence in quarter 4.

Within Parks and Countryside, as expected, visitor use of all sites continues to be extremely high, particularly the heritage parks and other key destination sites including the Look Out and the new SANGS at Cabbage Hill, Frost Folly and Bucklers Park. Pandemic restrictions have highlighted the continued importance of accessible and high-quality open spaces maintained for public benefit.

Public Health continue to be that the forefront of the council’s response to the COVID-19 Pandemic, leading work on Outbreak Management, Community testing, and data analysis which is informing the council’s approach to restrictions and changes in service delivery across the council. Over this quarter there was also a substantial workload to make sure Christmas events (such as Lapland UK) were able to operate in a COVID-19 safe way and in compliance with the government's tier guidance.

Schools fully reopened in September 2020 in line with DfE guidance for all children and stayed open throughout the autumn term. Much emphasis was placed on ensuring children were given opportunities to catch up on any learning lost during the March lockdown. Schools also provided blended learning which included face to face and remote learning for those who needed to self-isolate due to COVID-19.

In picking out these highlights there is a real danger of overlooking the special efforts of teams who are not mentioned. The simple fact is that the whole organisation has responded magnificently and continues to deliver effective services.

What we are doing about things not going so well

Uncertainty around the on-going impact of COVID-19-related financial pressures and government funding in 2021 to 2022 made the budget process even more complicated than normal.

The draft budget proposals were approved by the Executive for consultation in December, before the details of the local government finance settlement were published.

In the event, the continuation of the New Homes Bonus grant for a further year in 2021 to 2022 together with some additional COVID-19 funding continuing into next year has provided one-off flexibility for the final budget proposals, even allowing members to put together a £1.5 million COVID response and stimulus package.

Forward look

Going forward, the council’s strategic objectives will continue to progress in the coming weeks albeit within the constraints of the COVID-19 restrictions and in the context of the council’s community response to COVID-19.

Service Plans for the next financial year are being finalised with many of the COVID-19 response elements being incorporated into the council’s strategic objectives.