Agenda and minutes

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Contact: Democratic Services  01242 264246


No. Item


Chair's introduction


The new Chair introduced herself, putting on record her thanks to the former Chair, Councillor Payne, and also to all Members who supported her nomination  - she will try to be a credit to them all.  She also welcomed the newly-elected member for Prestbury ward, Councillor Stan Smith, who has joined Overview and Scrutiny Committee.


She said Members were made aware of the call-in of the Cabinet decision of 17 October in relation to Cheltenham Borough Homes and the proposed change to the published agenda as a result.  The call-in would be considered under urgent business, and the scheduled Minster Exchange item and tour would be considered at the next meeting instead.  Questions already received concerning the MX would be addressed then.





Apologies were received from Councillor Fifield.  Councillor Harman was present as his substitute.


Declarations of interest


There were none.


Minutes of the last meeting pdf icon PDF 317 KB

Minutes of meeting held on 4 September 2023.


The minutes of the meeting held on 04 September were approved by those who had been present, and signed accordingly as a true record.


Public and Member questions, calls for actions and petitions


There were none on this occasion.


Cabinet Briefing

Briefing from Councillor Hay, Leader (if she has an update, or if O&S Members have questions for her)


Objective: An update from the Cabinet on key issues for Cabinet Members which may be of interest to Overview and Scrutiny and may inform the work plan


The Leader suggested that, in light of the imminent changes to the service provided by Publica, Members of Overview and Scrutiny might like to be involved in the discussion.  Although CBC does not share as many services with Publica as other authorities, it will still have an impact on the council. She felt that any discussion would be better informed when it is more clear what other authorities are doing.  The Chair agreed, and said this could be worked into the work programme and included on the agenda for the next meeting.


Matters referred to committee

There are no matters referred to O&S on this occasion.


To clarify, the Chair confirmed that the call-in of the Cabinet’s decision on Cheltenham Borough Homes, taken on 17 October, would be dealt with as urgent business.


Publica Annual Report 2022/23 pdf icon PDF 217 KB

Objective : Consider annual report 2022/23: where is performance good/requires improvement


Frank Wilson, Executive Director Finance, Publica

Sally Walker, Chair, Publica


To be preceded by an update to the committee by Claire Hughes, Corporate Director and Monitoring Officer, on services transferred to Cheltenham Borough Council


Additional documents:


Ahead of the report from Publica, the Monitoring Officer gave a brief update on the changes currently underway, following the decision early in 2023 to bring HR services (other than payroll) back in house.  The new HR team has been operating well for over a month now, and the new digital recruitment system has received positive feedback from staff and Members.  She was happy to take any Member questions on this.


The Chair welcomed Frank Wilson and Sally Walker from Publica, and invited Mr Wilson to address Members.  He thanked Members for inviting him, and said he would be happy to support any scrutiny of the changes currently in progress. He highlighted the following:

-       the final version of Publica’s Annual Report will be shared once the shareholders’ forum has taken place, but all the main elements are covered in the text-only version presented with the agenda;

-       a section on Future Publica is the result of work with the shareholder forum to consider ways of delivering further £2m saving for partner councils, having now delivered what was set out in the original business case.  The service-specific metrics are appended for information, as CBC takes a smaller set of services from Publica than other partners;

-       last year, to March 2023, and following the consolidation of previous savings plans, Publica delivered more than £2.9m savings, 50% more than what was set out in the original business case;

-       Publica recognises that partner councils are moving in different directions and taking strategic decisions, as CBC has done with its HR provision, and is happy to flex its model to work with them in this;

-       another key element in the last year was a further £450k one-off saving returned to councils, and work continues on the Future Publica programme of additional savings.  Publica recognises the challenges partner councils are facing over the next few years, and are looking at a number of ways to respond;

-       key non-financial achievements include Investors in People status and bronze position for carbon literacy training, plus investment, with the councils’ support, in cyber security to further secure our systems – this was recognised as a critical area over a year ago, and is now paying dividends;

-       Publica has also sought to secure external funding for partners in a number of different programmes, including the local authority housing fund;

-       Publica continues to focus on identifying and reflecting on where it can deliver more over the next 2-3 years, but is mindful of the decisions of the last week and those being made over the weeks.


He concluded by saying that the services provided for Cheltenham were limited but critical, the most important being ICT, which underpins the work of the council and its partners, including Ubico, CBH and the Cheltenham Trust.  The report shows strong performance data in terms of work done in responding to requests.  He said Publica recognises that the model needs to flex and is happy to work with the management  ...  view the full minutes text for item 8.


Christmas in Cheltenham 2023 pdf icon PDF 424 KB

Objective : Understand what the plans are, what remains to be done and where the risks are. To include an update on the ice rink.


Helen Mole, Head of Place Marketing and Inward Investment

Hannah Ward, Events Manager


Additional documents:


Helen Mole (HM), Head of Place Marketing and Inward Investment, introduced her report, saying that Christmas is critical to the local economy, and it is important that the council supports local businesses, promoting all that is happening in the town and encouraging visitors and residents to choose Cheltenham as a destination.  She highlighted the following points:

-       stakeholders were engaged to coordinate key Christmas dates and ensure no clashes, and her team continues to work with stakeholders, partners and businesses across the town with a comprehensive ‘Christmas in Cheltenham’ marketing campaign.  This is reaching many thousands of people and includes a dedicated website, PR campaign, leaflet drop, radio campaign, and sponsored social media campaign;

-       the ice rink will operate 17 November – 01 January.  In 2021, 43k tickets were sold, bringing £3m to the local economy. This year, there is a strong focus on accessibility for pricing, with significant discounts for families, schools and large groups, plus full accessibility for wheelchair users, free tickets for carers, and SEND and pre-school sessions;

-       it will provide opportunities for local businesses via catering concessions;

-       the environmental impact is also  under scrutiny, with measures to use hydro-treated vegetable oil (HVO) instead of diesel, the most modern generator, and a mobile battery overnight to restrict generator use.  This is a significant innovation in event management and Members will receive a full report after the event about its impact;

-       residents’ concerns are at the heart of all the planning; her team has met with them locally, and letters have been sent to all local residents and businesses, setting out plans and providing 24/7 contact details. There will be an onsite manager and security throughout, and every effort will be made to minimise disruption;

-       the Christmas lights (16 November – 02 January) are outsourced to BID:  CBC has provided £47k, matched by BID’s £50k, and the launch event is scheduled for 16 November, with several hours of events and entertainments to spread out the enjoyment and keep people in town for longer;

-       a comprehensive marketing campaign is encouraging all businesses and event organisers in Cheltenham to share information about what they are doing this year, all events being included free of charge on


The Cabinet Member for Economic Development, Culture, Tourism and Wellbeing added that HVO with an overnight battery was used at the recent Cheltenham Festival and praised by Planet Cheltenham, a reassuring endorsement which confirms that CBC is on the right track and way ahead of similar events around the country.  It is good to discuss this and report back to O&S, as residents will be holding CBC to account. 


Members’ written questions had been answered in advance, and the Chair invited further questions.  In response, HM confirmed that:

-       a comprehensive review of possible sites for the ice rink was carried out last year, including Montpellier Gardens, parts of the High Street, and car parks.  The decision was made the use Imperial Gardens again, largely due  ...  view the full minutes text for item 9.


End of year performance review and current performance pdf icon PDF 217 KB

Objective : Consider a summary of end of year performance: have we achieved what we set out to, and if not, why?

What assurances can you provide for current performance ?


Ann Wolstencroft, Head of Performance, Projects & Risk

Additional documents:


Ann Wolstencroft (AW), Head of Performance, Projects and Risk, introduced her report, the third she has presented to O & S. It has been produced by working with service managers, who report improvements each year with indicators to measure the success of their business areas, and reviews ongoing from year to year.


She confirmed that the information and data is validated in a number of ways – by service managers working with teams, directors working with and having conversations with managers, and SWAP audit reviews of performance indicators.  It is interesting that a number of items discussed tonight feature in her review, including bringing HR services back in house, which it is hoped will have an improved impact on exit interviews, and the return of the ice rink, which will have a positive effect on Marketing Cheltenham’s performance. 


A Member congratulated her on the report, but asked for the many acronyms to be explained or spelt out next year.


In response to a Member question, AW hoped that bringing HR services back to Cheltenham would result in a greater uptake of exit interviews, offering a closer approach, more discussion with managers, and a face-to-face option.  She didn’t feel that the turnover of staff was particularly high or staff morale and motivation particularly low, but hoped that having HR in-house would mean any issues were picked up and dealt with quickly, giving staff the opportunity to speak directly with the HR team.  A Member suggested a proforma with a box where people can share their reason for leaving, though realised that they cannot be compelled to do this.  AW said reasons for leaving are monitored, and are usually for retirement or better opportunities.  She will report back on this.


The Chief Executive added that the job market is particularly tough at present, and this is one of the reasons why HR has been brought back in house – to have a more direct relationship with employees, ensure they feel happy and valued, and reduce the churn.  CBC is doing quite well compared with other local authorities, but there is a huge national shortage of planners, qualified licensing officers, HGV drivers and more, and people circulating between different local authorities isn’t the answer.  CBC is keen to focus on this area, and considers retention of staff to be critical.


A Member asked about the number of and time taken by FOI requests.  AW said she was aware the number is high and these requests take a lot of time, but would get back to the Member with some actual figures.   





Feedback from other scrutiny meetings attended pdf icon PDF 451 KB

Gloucestershire Health O&S Committee (October 2023) – update from Councillor Bamford


Gloucestershire Economic Growth O&S Committee (21 September 2023) – update from Councillor McCloskey


Gloucestershire Police and Crime Panel (meeting date) – update from Councillor Clucas to follow

Additional documents:


The following reports had been circulated with the agenda and were taken as read:

Gloucestershire Health O&S Committee (October 2023) – update from Councillor Bamford

Gloucestershire Economic Growth O&S Committee (21 September 2023) – update from Councillor McCloskey

Gloucestershire Police and Crime Panel (meeting date) – update from Councillor Clucas to follow



Updates from scrutiny task groups pdf icon PDF 113 KB

Members of the Committee are asked to consider the attached draft one-page strategy containing the terms of reference for a Scrutiny Task Group on Cheltenham Borough Homes transition


A proposed Scrutiny Task Group would be considered as part of the call-in under urgent business.


Review of scrutiny workplan pdf icon PDF 527 KB


There were no comments on this item, but the Chair said Members’ suggestions for the work programme were always welcome and she encouraged them to submit any ideas.


Any other item(s) that the Chair determines to be urgent


The Chair introduced the item - a call-in of the Cabinet’s decision on 17 October to bring Cheltenham Borough Homes (CBH) services back in house – saying that although call-ins are rare, it is the intention that Cabinet and Overview and Scrutiny work in partnership to explore all options and keep what really matters at the heart of all decision-making.  She thanked the Chief Executive, Leader, and Cabinet Member for Housing for attending the meeting.  All responses to questions from the call-in group had now been published and would be taken as read, but Members can ask further questions if they wish.  She invited those Members of the call-in group who were present to set out their reasons for the call-in.

Comments from the call-in group

Councillor Harman began by thanking Bev Thomas and Democratic Services for their help with this rare event, and made the following points:

-       all agree that the housing service touches many lives in Cheltenham, and it is important to make the right decision.  He is not saying that bringing CBH back in house is wrong, but there are some issues about the process – the suddenness of the decision, the rushed timescale, and what could be viewed as apparent pre-determination.  It is important to expose this important issue to maximum scrutiny, and he hoped for a good and honest discussion; 

-       while the process is important, the people are even more important, and tenants may feel unsettled by this decision.  Some may not remember the position before CBH was created 20 years ago, and the general opinion is that CBH has provided excellent service and saved CBC a lot of money.  The report states that Members were briefed – this was not a formal session, and not much detail was shared, but he recollects asking whether the tenants had been consulted.

He looked forward to hearing from other Members.

Councillor Flynn also thanked Democratic Services, and commented as follows:

-       the 80-page 2020 Campbell Tickell Strategic Housing Review considered the option of bringing housing management back in house or continuing with the ALMO.  It included extensive consultation with a wide range of tenants, stakeholders and partners, discussed the pros and cons in a balanced way and, while leaving the final decision open, leant heavily towards retaining the ALMO;

-       the 30-page 2023 report was biased in favour of CBC taking CBH housing management back in house, and was mostly concerned with a target operating model.  There was no consultation with stakeholders who might have a view about retaining the ALMO, and it is noted that both employees and CBH board members have not been allowed to share their views publicly.  The only stakeholders consulted were CBC Cabinet Members and senior officers;

-       the 2021 report to Cabinet agreed from the outset that any review of the housing service would be jointly commissioned by CBH and CBC, who would develop the scope and brief together and, to complete a meaningful and rounded review, stakeholder engagement  ...  view the full minutes text for item 14.


Minster Exchange

Objective : What is the strategy and action plan in relation to the letting of the building ?


Andrew Roughan, (Managing Director, Plexal)

Gareth Edmundson (Chief Executive)

Paul Jones (Executive Director Finance and Assets),

Andy Taylor (Commercial Accountant)

(O&S Members are reminded to register for the short tour of the MX in the afternoon).

Additional documents:


Consideration of this item was postponed until the next meeting.


Date of next meeting

20 November 2023


20 November 2023.