The Board considered a report which detailed the Worcestershire Regulatory Services (WRS) Annual Report 2019/2020. The report covered the performance from 1st April 2019 to 31st March 2020.
The Head of Regulatory Services informed the Board that under the Shared Services Partnership Service Level Agreement (SLA) the Board was required to receive the annual report at its annual meeting.
The Annual Report highlighted that most premises were well regulated, which enabled the service to focus their resources on those premises which were more problematic.
The Head of Regulatory Services further informed Members that the report covered the performance of the service for that period, both in terms of Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) and highlights of activity, with a short summary activity report, as detailed at Appendix 5 to the report. Appendix 5 to the report had been reduced since the Board now received a separate Activity and Performance Data report which provided more detail. Some detail of the performance indicators were also covered in the Activity and Performance Data report.
Generally performance had remained good. Food business compliance rates remained high. Taxi license renewals were dealt with in a reasonable time in the main. The taxi fleet appeared to be generally in good order, although the results from enforcement exercises suggested that some drivers / operators needed to improve in terms of maintaining vehicles.
Complaints against the service were significantly exceeded by compliments. It was understood that the main issue for complaints were related to either paying for the cost of stray dog recovery or the fact that WRS could not resolve an issue that was causing annoyance to a resident due to the law on nuisances.
The Head of Regulatory Services commented that he was pleased to report that non-business customer satisfaction had gone up from a low of 62% to just under 70%, WRS would continue to try and push this figure forward and improve.
The indicators for licensed premises and noise complaints had been in place long enough now in order to establish good base-lines.
The Annual Report also provided a summary of the financial position, the key achievements and covered issues with regard to human resources. There were also sections on risk management and equalities. .
In response to Members questions with regard to potential incentives in order to increase the number of electric vehicles on taxi fleets; the Head of Regulatory Services informed the Board that officers were currently looking at this with a number of partner authorities, in particular with Worcester City Council, National Task and Finish Group on Taxi and Private Hire Vehicle Licensing. The Task and Finish Group were working with elected Members, looking at how to progress with changes in the taxi fleet.
Moving towards a free vehicle licence for electric vehicles might be a step too far for some authorities, who would need to consider their finances to see if this, was an option that could be taken forward. There were a number of other incentives that could be scoped and WRS were considering these with colleagues and Worcester City Council Members. These options may be options that other authorities could consider.
Nottingham City Council had purchased a number of electric vehicles to be used or hired by the trade, effectively as a test vehicle, to see the advantages they could bring; however, Nottingham City Council had the advantage of receiving government funding for to achieve this, district councils do not have that advantage.
The Head of Regulatory Services summarised and stated that there were a number of options that could be considered, trying to incentivise the trade, to move from diesel to electric vehicles; so he would advise Members to consider a range of options rather than jumping in immediately with free licences.
The (acting) Licensing Manager, WRS, further informed that Board that officers were working on a number of things in terms of looking at potential incentives, which had included looking at what other authorities had done. One option was to reduce licensing fees, some local authorities had pool vehicles that drivers could try, rent or part purchase. WRS licensing officers were working with Worcester City Council, Task and Finish Group looking at actual incentives and compiling an options appraisal.
The Chairman asked if the Board could be kept informed of the outcome of Worcester City Council Task and Finish Group. The Head of Regulatory Services agreed to liaise with the Leader, Worcester City Council and colleagues to see if they would be happy to share the findings of the Task and Finish Group.
Members discussed the various discrepancies with regard to the tariffs charged across the six districts and if a county tariff was possible.
The Head of Regulatory Services explained that this was something that he had been working on since the inception of WRS in 2010. Any significant changes / increases had to evidence led. There was a significant difference across the six partner authorities, but that was accounted for, in the level of differences in each partner authority’s scheme of delegations. Some partner authorities delegated more decision making to officers than others did.
It was a piece of work that WRS had looked at and officers had worked closely with colleagues and Members at Wychavon District Council to gradually move forward with their fees and charges to get a fee structure that worked for them and was closer to the average for the county and other partner authorities to achieve something that was more level, however, this was not something to be done as a ‘one off’ to put the same tariff for every partner authority. Partner authorities remained six sovereign district councils and that created a potential risk of judicial review of such decisions made.
WRS would continue to work towards a more uniformed tariff across the county.
Councillor A. Kent, BDC, stated that there were a number of positive results within the report, but for clarity, he would suggest that the figures detailed (on pages 21 to 25 of the main agenda report), also detailed the relevant years.
The Head of Regulatory Services also responded to a number of questions from Councillor Kent, BDC, in respect of the ‘Accommodation’ information as detailed on page 33 on the main agenda report and in doing so explained that:
· The contract was renewed on a 12 month rolling basis, although WRS had tentatively agreed with Wyre Forest District Council that they would be there for a period of three years.
· It was agreed that WRS would always operate from a local authority base, thereby keeping accommodation in the local authority family. There was relatively a small amount of accommodation choice across the county that could provide enough seating space for officers who worked at relatively flexible levels.
· A small number of additional desks had been provided at a very low price, so for now WRS would retain those desks.
· There was an increase in the charge, but only an inflationary increase.
· Wyre Forest house provided excellent office accommodation and their IT support was brilliant, really responsive and supportive.
· The key thing was the amount of space required, even to go down to 2/3 of the desk space that they currently used, as far as he was aware, there was only potential space at County Hall or a further location in Wychavon. However, as mentioned earlier, he would prefer to keep the funding used by WRS for accommodation in the local government family.
· Going forward he would look again to ensure that WRS was getting the best deal and if fewer desk spaces could be workable. He would reiterate though, that the use of flexible and mobile working had been taken into account. It was generally now the norm for the service, with staff frequently using home as their start and finish point for work in the field.
· Covid-19 has shown them that maybe they can manage with fewer desks.
Councillor H. Jones, BDC, referred to page 22 and page of the main agenda report and suggested that if would be useful if officers could include the following information:-
· Number 3 (page 22) – include with the figures, the relevant years.
· Number 4 – (page 22) – where those businesses were located within the Bromsgrove District.
· Number 6 (page 23 – The number of vehicles found to be defective, were these found from the recent enforcement exercise carried out in Bromsgrove?
Officers agreed to respond and to provide Councillor Jones with specific details.
The Democratic Services Officer noted the small typo, on page 25 of the main agenda report, picked up by Councillor J. Raine, Malvern Hills District Council. The report to be amended before being forwarded to the Chief Executive, Managing Director and Members of the six partner authorities.
The Chairman thanked the Head of Regulatory Services for the detailed Annual Report.
(a) that the Worcestershire Regulatory Services Annual Report 2019/ 2020 be noted; and
(b) that a copy of the (amended) Worcestershire Regulatory Services Annual Report 2019/2020 be forwarded to the Chief Executive, Managing Director and Members of the six partner authorities.