The Chairman, Councillor Dr Walsh, will present the Minutes from the meeting of Cabinet held on 19 October 2020. There is a recommendation at:
o Minute 257 – [Engineering Services Annual Review] – to view the Officer’s report and Appendices, please click on this link – Report and Appendix 1 and
o Minute 260 -Supplementary Estimate for the Procurement and Award of a New Housing Management IT System] – to view the Officer’s report, please click on this link - Report
The Chairman, Councillor Dr Walsh, presented the Minutes from the meeting of Cabinet held on 19 October 2020.
Councillor Dr Walsh drew Members’ attention to the first of a series of recommendations at Minute 257[Engineering Services Annual Review] which he duly proposed. The recommendation was then seconded by Councillor Stanley.
That a supplementary estimate for a sum of £30,000 be approved (which equates to a Band D Council Tax equivalent of £0.48) with underspends carried forward to future financial years to investigate the introduction of a Coastal Change Management Plan.
The Chairman then alerted Councillors to the next recommendation at Minute 260 [Supplementary Estimate for the Procurement and Award of a New Housing Management IT System] which he said was crucial for the successful running of the Council’s housing revenue account and services to tenants. It was explained that the current system was way out of date and needed to be replaced and so approval was sought for a supplementary estimate to allow the procurement of the project to proceed. Councillor Dr Walsh urged Councillors to support the recommendation as to not do so would mean that the Council would not have a fit for purpose IT system in place to serve its tenants. The recommendation was then seconded by Councillor Mrs Gregory.
Firstly, Councillors spoke in support of the recommendation stating that the old system had been purchased in 2011/12 and as IT systems generally lasted for around 5 years, this system was overdue for an upgrade which would provide housing staff with a wealth of tools to continue the Council’s excellent work to improve efficiency and the customer experience in general. It was also explained that the system would be utilised by other service areas within the Council such as the Property and Estates section to manage the maintenance of Arun’s estates.
Those speaking against the recommendation expressed concern about the level of expenditure at a time when the District’s residents were struggling and when the Council was also proposing to raise its Council Tax. It was felt that the current economic struggles in the District should not be ignored. The other major concern was around employment in the Council and that the new system could force efficiency savings within the Housing Department that could then lead to staff being made redundant and so this was why many Councillors felt that they could not support the recommendation. Those Councillors expressing these views asked for an assurance to be provided confirming that Housing positions would be protected and that the installation of such a system would not result in efficiencies leading to redundancies being made and at a time of great uncertainty.
The Chief Executive was asked if he could provide a ‘cast iron’ guarantee that there would be no job losses as a result of this new system. The Chief Executive confirmed that although the new system would make the Housing Department more efficient, there was no intention, at this point, to make staff efficiencies
The importance for the Council to use systems that were effective; efficient; and value for money and would provide the best tools for staff to do the job was acknowledged. However, given the concerns over potential job losses in terms of these efficiencies and savings and given that this was right at the beginning of this project, if the recommendation was approved, the Cabinet Member for Housing was asked if she would be able to update Councillors at every step of the project in terms of efficiencies and if there was the potential for any job losses as it was vital for staff to be feel safe and secure in their employment.
Councillor Mrs Gregory, as seconder to the recommendation, thanked those Councillors who had shown their support to this project but stated that she would respond to the varying questions that had been asked.
Councillor Mrs Gregory outlined that it was imperative that the Council supported this innovative purchase. Although it might appear costly, it was explained that the Council was not buying an ‘off the shelf system’. Housing systems were built to the customer’s specific requirements to ensure that they met fully all needs. The cost for this project, included purchase, support/maintenance and project support. The system would also be cloud based, unlike the current system, and would give an improved customer experience, enabling further self-service by tenants seven days a week and twenty-four hours a day and would make achieving multiple tasks quicker and more straightforward for staff.
The expected benefits included reduced printing and postage costs, increased customer take-up of online services, savings in officer time and an integrated electronic document management system. To enable the Council to provide this more efficient service to existing customers, in the region of 3,400 tenants and around 450 leaseholders, those applying to the housing register and homeless households seeking the Council’s assistance, it was necessary to have an up to date Housing Management System in place. The current system was no longer fit for purpose and the contract was due to expire in November 2021.
In relation to the concerns that had been expressed by staff and potential job losses, Councillor Mrs Gregory confirmed that she had been advised on several occasions, by senior management, there would be no job losses just efficiencies as previously detailed. Councillor Mrs Gregory commended the recommendation and hoped that Council would support it.
A request had been made that the voting on the recommendation be recorded.
Those voting for the recommendations were Councillors Batley, Bennett, Blanchard-Cooper, Brooks, Buckland, Mrs Catterson, Coster, Dixon, Mrs Erskine, Goodheart, Mrs Gregory, Mrs Hamilton, Mrs Haywood, Huntley, Lury, Miss Needs, Northeast, Oppler, Miss Seex, Smith, Mrs Staniforth, Stanley, Tilbrook, Ms Thurston, Dr Walsh, Mrs Warr and Mrs Yeates (27). Those voting against were Councillors Bicknell, Bower, Mrs Caffyn, Chapman, Charles, Clayden, Mrs Cooper, Cooper, Mrs Daniells, Dendle, Edwards, Elkins, English, Gunner, Hughes, Kelly, Mrs Madeley, Oliver-Redgate, Mrs Pendleton, Miss Rhodes and Roberts (21). Councillor Mrs Worne abstained from voting.
That a Housing Revenue Account (HRA) supplementary estimate of £160k [which equates to a weekly rent of 92p per dwelling] be approved for the costs associated with the procurement and implementation of a new integrated management IT system.