HERTSMERE BOROUGH COUNCIL PROPERTY, COMMUNITY & SUPPORT SERVICES SCRUTINY COMMITTEE

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1 - PCSS 18 - HERTSMERE BOROUGH COUNCIL PROPERTY, COMMUNITY & SUPPORT SERVICES SCRUTINY COMMITTEE Minutes of the meeting held in Committee Rooms A and B, Civic Offices, Elstree Way, Borehamwood Present: 29 August 2007 Councillors Hoeksma (Chairman), Boughton, R Calcutt, Gray, Hodgson-Jones and Solomons Officers: P Cousins K Sinnott J Hazlewood Corporate Performance and Community Services Officer / Review Support Officer Community Partnerships Officer Democratic Services Officer 250. MEMBERSHIP Noted that no changes had been made to the membership of the Committee COMMUNICATIONS AND APOLOGIES The Chairman welcomed the following people, who were present in relation to item 5 on the agenda (Review of Grants): Robin Charnley - Chief Officer of Hertsmere Community Voluntary Service; Councillor Batten Portfolio Holder for Culture and Health (with responsibility for Grants); Councillor Legate Former Portfolio Holder for Housing (with responsibility for Grants); and Kate Sinnott Community Partnerships Officer. The Chairman noted that the following items had been tabled in relation to Item 5: List of questions for Mr Charnley;

2 - PCSS 19 - Draft questionnaire for grant applicants; and Outline of draft final report for the review. Apologies for absence had been received from Councillors Cohen, Donne and Strack DECLARATIONS OF INTERESTS No Members had any interests to declare in relation to items on the agenda MINUTES The minutes of the meeting of the Committee held on 12 July 2007 were approved and signed as a true record REVIEW OF GRANTS (a) Questions to Robin Charnley At the Chairman s invitation, Mr Charnley responded to the questions which had been tabled, as follows: 1. Please could you give a brief summary of the work of your organisation? Mr Charnley explained that Hertsmere Community Voluntary Service (CVS) was a support agency for the local community voluntary sector, providing an infrastructure for around 100 affiliated local voluntary groups. The organisation acted as a starting point for new projects and organisations, and a focus for existing bodies, specifically those providing services directly to the public. Hertsmere CVS provided a range of services for its affiliated organisations, including the following: Volunteer Centre a process whereby volunteers were matched with suitable organisations. Funding advice this comprised help on finding sources of funding, and practical advice regarding application processes. Training programme Hertsmere CVS held a contract with Hertfordshire County Council to provide training for volunteers and paid staff from community/voluntary groups. Information sharing in its role as the main point of contact for voluntary sector organisations.

3 - PCSS 20 - Mr Charnley added that there was a network of CVS agencies across Hertfordshire and other counties, and that the organisation was a member of the Local Strategic Partnership. Responding to further questions, Mr Charnley explained that Hertsmere CVS had received Lottery funding for the first six years of its existence. It now received an annual revenue grant of 5K from Hertsmere Borough Council, in addition to some other grants. However, the majority of its income was generated by work undertaken for the Hertfordshire CVS network and other agencies. 2. Please could you inform the Committee of your opinion of the state of Hertsmere s voluntary sector? Mr Charnley explained that many of Hertsmere CVS member organisations were small, volunteer-run bodies with minimal income. These groups faced the same issues and difficulties as were present throughout the community voluntary sector, namely the need for volunteers, premises and revenue funding. In response to a comment from a Member, Mr Charnley explained that recent legislation had placed additional requirements on some smaller organisations, such as the need to undertake Criminal Records Bureau (CRB) checks, and to provide training in food hygiene and first aid. Meeting these requirements often required access to additional resources. It was also acknowledged that there was an age issue in relation to recruiting volunteers, whereby many organisations were largely run by older volunteers. There was currently a national initiative to encourage younger people to volunteer, and it was considered that groups needed to be open to change and new ideas in order to attract younger volunteers. 3. What do you feel is the value of Hertsmere s Grants to the Voluntary Sector? In relation to the Council s Capital Grants, Mr Charnley considered this to be a valuable scheme, although it was acknowledged that there was scope for expanding the flexibility of the programme. The requirements of the eligibility criteria were often misunderstood by organisations who were not interested in whether funding was classed as capital or revenue, but who were seeking funding to address needs which they had identified. Referring to Revenue Grants, Mr Charnley identified several areas of concern. Although Hertsmere CVS was one of the organisations which benefited from the core funding programme, he was not aware of a

4 - PCSS 21 - process for discussing any changes to the level of funding, nor of any indication that inflation was considered when setting the grants each year. In addition, there appeared to be no mechanism for new organisations to apply for revenue funding. There was also scope for improving the timing of grants, as groups would be better placed for long-term planning and budget setting if funding were agreed for a longer period of around three years. This could be matched by a three year commitment from the organisation in the form of a Service Level Agreement (SLA), as was currently used for annual revenue grants. A Member suggested that there may be some scope for efficiencies if similar groups based in Hertsmere s four main towns were to merge into Borough-wide organisations. In response, Mr Charnley commented that the local connection was often one of the main strengths of an organisation, and that the specific requirements of various localities were often different, or at least were perceived as such. However, it was acknowledged that there were some benefits in groups joining forces, such as economies of scale. Mr Charnley also suggested that the Council, as a grant provider, may be in a position to require organisations to collaborate more effectively, as a condition on a grant. 4. Has the scheme benefited your organisation? Mr Charnley reiterated that Hertsmere CVS received 5K annually as part of the revenue funding programme. 5. In your opinion, do you think that Hertsmere s grants scheme meets the needs of Hertsmere s community/voluntary groups? Mr Charnley replied that most grant schemes were hugely oversubscribed. Many of Hertsmere s voluntary groups had sourced funding from schemes other than that run by the Council. Watford and St Albans Councils had expanded this by helping their CVS bodies to provide a Funding Advisor post, to help groups find external funding to complement that provided by the Council. It was considered that bringing in additional funding in this way effectively increased the valued of the Local Authority s support. 6. Do you think that the Grants application process for Capital grants is user friendly for new applicants? Mr Charnley considered that few grant application processes were user friendly, a problem which was exacerbated by many volunteers lack of experience in applying for funding. However, it was unlikely that the process could be simplified, due to the requirements to ensure the correct use of funding.

5 - PCSS 22 - One of the services currently offered by Hertsmere CVS was assistance to groups in producing funding bids. Mr Charnley suggested that it might be appropriate for groups to be directed to Hertsmere CVS for help in completing the application process. 7. Have you any ideas as to why there has been a low number of applications for capital grants this year? Mr Charnley suggested that the low number of applications may be due to a perception among potential applicants that there was little chance of success. He emphasised that the decrease in the number of applications should not be viewed as an indication that there was a decreasing need for grants. 8. Do you think the grants application process for revenue funding is clearly understood by applicants? Referring to the response he gave to question 3, Mr Charnley reiterated that he was not aware of an application process for organisations to receive core funding. 9. Have you any examples of voluntary groups who have failed to obtain either capital or revenue funding and who have felt that they have not had sufficient feedback as to why this is so? Mr Charnley reported that he was not aware of groups who had received insufficient feedback. In general, the feedback received by unsuccessful organisations was fair and clearly explained. He added that the CVS encouraged organisations to seek feedback, wherever possible, as this often helped in the preparation of future applications. The Community Partnerships Officer commented that all rejected applications were given a reason and a brief explanation of why the application had been refused. Applicants were also offered further explanation if they required it. A Member suggested that Hertsmere CVS could charge organisations for giving detailed assistance in preparing grant applications. In response, Mr Charnley expressed concern that such a charge would lead to unsuccessful groups making a net loss on the grants process. Similarly, if Hertsmere CVS were to offer a no win, no fee service, they would effectively be taking a cut of successful grants, which would not be a legitimate use of the limited grant funding. 10. Do you feel that the criteria used for awarding grants is clear and transparent to applicants?

6 - PCSS 23 - Mr Charnley considered that the criteria were relatively clear and user-friendly. However, the difficulty was a matter of communicating the criteria and the reasons behind them to organisations, some of whom viewed the criteria as bureaucratic and unnecessary. 11. In previous years there has been a lack of application from hard to reach / ethnic groups. Have you any suggestions on how to improve this? Mr Charnley suggested that the Council could look at developing a strategic approach to grants, considering how the authority viewed the role of the local voluntary sector as a whole. The funding process could then be used as a mechanism to address gaps in service provision. The Community Partnerships Officer commented that Dacorum Borough Council had a successful funding strategy in place. Responding to a Member s comment, Mr Charnley explained that some CVS bodies in other areas provided advice to local authorities on the process of awarding grants. Although Hertsmere CVS would be happy to contribute to the process in the Borough, it was considered important to maintain a certain level of independence and impartiality. Mr Charnley concluded by referring to a document as background information produced by the National Association for Voluntary Community Action (NAVCA). Officers undertook to circulate copies to all those present. (b) Questions to Past and Present Portfolio Holders The Chairman sought comments and suggestions from the previous and current portfolio holders with responsibility for grants; Councillors Legate and Batten, respectively. Councillor Legate considered that the process for providing Revenue Grants required some further development. It had never been made clear who was responsible for deciding any changes to the list of core funded organisations nor how the level of funding was reached. In addition, the organisations needed to have more notice of the future level of funding they were likely to receive. In relation to capital grants, Councillor Legate suggested that some consideration was needed to clarify what precisely came under capital projects, as many organisations were unclear and possibly unaware of the distinction. For example, should maintenance to Scout Hut roofs be considered as a capital funding project, or as routine maintenance (i.e. revenue)?

7 - PCSS 24 - Councillor Legate supported Mr Charnley s comments in relation to an overall policy detailing what the Council s grants were intended to achieve. The individual SLAs could then feed into the policy, and outcomes could be measured and assessed. Councillor Batten also considered that the revenue funding process required attention, specifically in the areas of eligibility criteria and establishing a process for reviewing the list. She added that the distinction between capital funding and revenue funding should be made clearer to applicants. Councillor Batten also supported Mr Charnley s suggestion that revenue funding could be agreed for a longer period of around three years, in return for an extended and more specific SLA from the organisations in question. Responding to questions in relation to the process for revenue funding, the Community Partnerships Officer explained that the figures for each year s budget were set in relation to the previous year s grant, as opposed to being assessed on its own merits. There was no clear process for adding or removing organisations from the list or adjusting levels of funding from one year to the next. However, the introduction of SLAs had been a step towards improving the monitoring of the revenue grants. Increased use of SLAs might be a mechanism for monitoring the effectiveness of grants, but the requirements on the organisations should not be too onerous and had to reflect the size of the grants. The Committee thanked all four witnesses for their attendance and their useful contribution to the review. The witnesses then left the meeting. Note: At this point in the meeting, at 9.05pm, the Chairman called a short adjournment. The meeting recommenced at 9.10pm. (c) Questionnaire In line with the project plan for the review, the Review Support Officer had drafted a questionnaire for distribution to organisations who had applied for grants. Following consideration, it had been proposed to produce separate questionnaires in relation to capital grants and revenue grants, as there were different issues relating to each scheme. The draft questionnaire for capital grants applicants was tabled for Members comments. A draft questionnaire relating to revenue funding would be sent out via . Members were asked to send any comments or suggestions to the Review Support Officer by Tuesday 4 September, so that the questionnaires could be sent out and the results included within the draft final report, due for submission to the next meeting of the Committee.

8 - PCSS 25 - The Review Support Officer explained that the questionnaires were being produced within the Snap survey software, which allowed the questions to be sent out, completed and returned electronically. In addition to saving paper, this would encourage a higher response rate to the questionnaire. (d) Consideration of outline report The draft final report was due to be considered at the next meeting of the Committee. As such, Officers had tabled an outline of the report, to which Members comments were sought, including any initial draft recommendations. The Review Support Officer explained that the approved project plan for the review would be included as an appendix to the report. This would establish such areas as the reasons for the review, the terms of reference, and the targeted outcomes. Some examples of best practice at other Local Authorities would be included within the draft final report. In relation to revenue funding, the Committee considered that this should not be an automatic right, and that the list of core funded organisations should be re-evaluated. In addition, there should be a process for monitoring the annual accounts of core funded organisations, along with the agreed SLA. Consideration should also be given to a procedure to be followed if the terms of the SLA were not met. To facilitate this, the SLAs needed to be quantifiable. Referring to a comment made by Mr Charnley, a Member suggested that increasing Officer capacity in the grants area would be effective in not only in allowing detailed monitoring and review of grants awarded, but also to assist Hertsmere s voluntary sector in seeking external funding. The Committee considered that there was potential to involve the Hertsmere CVS more closely in the grants process, either by advising the Council during the decision making process, or through assisting organisations in applying for grants. It was agreed that there would be a conflict of interest in fulfilling both of these roles and that the current role (i.e. helping helping organisations apply for grants) was a more appropriate use of the CVS s knowledge and position. Following discussion, the following initial areas of recommendations were proposed: Re-evaluation of the list of revenue-funded organisations and establish a mechanism for review;

9 - PCSS 26 - Requirement for quantifiable SLAs and annual accounts, in return for revenue funding; Development of procedure for enforcing and monitoring compliance with the SLAs; and Increasing capacity in relation to grants with a view to bringing increased external funding in the Borough. AGREED that Officers be authorised to draft recommendations in accordance with the Committee s views, as set out in the preamble to this minute, and that the draft recommendations be approved by the Chairman and Review Lead Member, prior to submission to the next meeting of the Committee. (Action: Review Support Officer; Democratic Services Officer) 255. UPDATE ON POLICE COMMUNITY SUPPORT OFFICERS Inspector Rankin of Hertfordshire Constabulary had submitted a written report to provide the Committee with the regular six-monthly update on the work of Police Community Support Officers (PCSOs) in the Borough. Members raised several issues in relation to policing in the Borough. The Chairman explained that any specific questions or areas of concern should be raised at the relevant Crime Reduction Group (CRG) meeting. The Committee noted the report CULTURAL INSPECTION - CONSIDERATION OF INSPECTOR'S REPORT The Inspector s report from the recent Cultural Inspection was to have been tabled, if available. However, the report was due to be released on 30 August, so it was not available for consideration at the meeting. It was announced that the document would be available on the Council s website from 31 August The Chairman reported that consideration would thus be deferred until the following meeting on 16 October 2007, when the Committee was due to receive a presentation on the Cultural Inspection and the Improvement Action Plan REVIEW OF GARAGES At the previous meeting of the Committee, Members had suggested that the relevant Officers could attend this meeting to give a preliminary

10 - PCSS 27 - presentation on garages, in advance of the review scheduled to be undertaken in January However, Officers had indicated that it was not possible to give a presentation at this meeting. It was therefore requested that the presentation be postponed until nearer the start of the review FUTURE WORK PROGRAMME Members were asked to consider the Future Work Programme as set out in Report of Officers PCSS/07/12 in the agenda. In view of the length of the proposed agenda at the next meeting of the Committee on 16 October, it was agreed that the presentation on the Cultural Inspection and the Improvement Action Plan be deferred to the following meeting on 4 December, and combined with the item Matters Arising from the Cultural Review. It was also requested that consideration be given to draft timings for the next meeting of the Committee to ensure that sufficient time was given to each item of business. AGREED that the Future Work Programme, as set out in Report of Officers PCSS/07/12 be approved subject to the amendment detailed above. (Action: Democratic Services Officer) 259. DATE OF NEXT MEETING Noted that the next meeting of the Committee was due to be held on Tuesday 16 October 2007 at 7.30 in the Civic Offices, Elstree Way, Borehamwood. CLOSURE: 9.52 pm CHAIRMAN

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