To receive a presentation from Josie Wragg, Head of Community Services and Pete Baveystock, Service Manager Cleaner and Greener Services on:
· Issues addressed since the last meeting;
· Successes since the last briefing;
· Procurement of the new Contract;
· Future Considerations.
Councillor Angus Ross, Executive Member for Environment has also been invited to attend.
The Committee had requested an update on the contract specification at its meeting on 24 March 2015.
The Committee received a presentation and update on the Borough’s open spaces from Josie Wragg, Head of Community Services, Pete Baveystock, Services Manager, Cleaner and Greener Services and Councillor Angus Ross, Executive Member for Environment. A copy of the slides used during the presentation was set out in the Agenda on pages 13 to 22. The presentation followed a series of previous updates to the Committee following an investigation by the Committee into the Council’s grass cutting arrangements in June 2014 following concerns expressed by residents at that time.
In introducing the presentation, Josie Wragg referred back to suggestions made by Members of the Committee relating to changes to the future specification of the Council’s grass cutting contracts. She commented that these had been very helpful in the drafting of the next grass cutting contract arrangements and had also assisted in the management of the Council’s incumbent contractor.
A summary of the key points arising from the presentation is set out below:
· The current grass cutting contract specified a total of eight cuts per annum, but the Council had worked with the incumbent contractor to increase flexibility as much as possible within the terms of the present contract. The incumbent contractor had displayed a willingness to redirect their resources in response to different circumstances;
· The current grass cutting contract expired at the end of March 2016;
· Where variable cutting regimes had been trialled consultation had been undertaken first and every effort made to reflect the outcome of the consultation in the final cutting regime;
· A partnership approach to the management of public open spaces would be developed as part of the new contract through a ‘Friends of Scheme’ for particular areas which would build on the existing ‘Adopt a Street’ litter picking scheme. There were some issues around insurance that needed to be worked through, but work was continuing. The concept of facilitating residents to be able to assist in looking after areas of public open space had been included within the future contract arrangements;
· Grass collection would form part of the new contract arrangement in some areas to prevent unsightly accumulations of grass and the blocking of drains, but it was not felt that it would be appropriate to seek to require specific contract machinery within the contract arrangements given the expense of this equipment. This was also consistent with the overall approach taken in drafting the new contract arrangements that the contract should not be prescriptive and instead focus on outcomes based measures;
· In March 2015 the Cleaner and Greener Team had been created under the management of Pete Baveystock. This team comprised Officers with experience of the management of open spaces and waste collection. The new team had proved to be very successful with a key improvement being an increase in the overall resilience of the team;
· The Council was working in partnership with sports pitch users to develop a better working relationship and ensure the quality of the surface did not affect usage and therefore income;
· Particular successes since the last update had been the variable cutting regime, an increased focus by the incumbent contractor on sports pitches, and the bio-diversity of wild flower meadows;
· The procurement of the future contract arrangements had been developed around an outcome based approach and the contractor in place at that time would be judged on the outcome of 21 key tasks. Direct resident feedback, surveys and independent inspection would be used as part of the monitoring of the contract and performance management would be split into three geographical areas overseen by Council Officers from the Cleaner and Greener Team;
· The new contractual arrangements would be pro-active in the management of low level vegetation;
· There would be closer work with Town and Parish Council’s , residents groups, tenants and Property Services
· A joint competitive tendering and procurement process with the Royal Borough of Windsor and Maidenhead, (RBWM) was being followed with an upper price cap, but there would remain two separate contracts, (it was not a combined contract);
· The new contract was due to start on 1 April 2016 and run for a period of 10.5 years so that at its expiry any potentially new contractor would not be taking over at the start of the growing season;
· The day to day operation and management of the new contract would use the Microsoft Dynamic customer management software system which would allow for customer enquiries to be sent direct to the contractor and responses given to the customer from the contractor automatically;
· Future challenges included managing possible devolution of open space management to other organisations such as Town and Parish Councils, partnership working and management of resources.
A summary of the Committee’s discussion following the presentation is set out below:
· Members queried whether the new contract would contain any penalty clauses. It was indicated that rather than penalties, the approach had been to build in incentives to deliver the desired outcomes. The Council would monitor the contract using a variety of approaches as outlined in the presentation including customer feedback. Members’ assistance was requested in identifying residents who could act as champions for their areas and it was anticipated that an approach similar to that used as part of the ‘Adopt a Street’ scheme would be used;
· Members commented that they were very pleased with the success of wildflower meadows planted on a number of verges and open spaces;
· It was confirmed that although grass collection following cutting could not be undertaken in all areas, areas would be prioritised where there was a particular need, such as where there was a risk of flooding or paths were slippery;
· Members noted that the period of the contract was 10.5 years and it sought reassurance that the new contract arrangements would contain appropriate break clauses. The Committee was informed that standard break clauses would be included;
· Members reiterated the point that if sports pitches could be maintained to a higher quality, the amount of use would be higher generating more income for the Council. Officers responded that this was fully recognised and effort had been put into maintenance of sports pitches, particularly in preparation for autumn and winter. However, it needed to be understood that there were not sufficient resources to undertake all the measures that might otherwise be desirable;
· Members questioned whether other local authorities had been approached to establish if they wished to take part in the joint procurement exercise in addition to the RBWM. It was confirmed that this was depended on the expiry date of those Council’s grass cutting contracts. Within Berkshire only the RBWM had a contract expiry date compatible with the Council;
· Members queried the scale by which other organisations might take on the delivery of grass cutting and open public space management in the future. The Committee was informed that currently it was felt likely that relatively small areas would be devolved and this change would enhance or complement the Council’s activities rather than take over from it. Residents would play an important role in being ‘eyes and ears’ of the Council on the ground;
· The Committee was informed that robust arrangements for the management of the new contract and the delivery of the 21 contract outcomes would remain within the Council. This represented an advantage over those Councils who had decided to completely outsource their contracts which could cause monitoring problems;
· Members of the Committee suggested that the Committee should receive a report on the implementation of the new contract a reasonable period after it had commences so that it could assure itself that the expected outcomes were being delivered. Councillor Ross and the Officers indicated that they would be comfortable with this;
· It was explained to the Committee that because every growing season was different there had to be flexibility around priority outcomes. Success could not be assessed on the basis of simple measures such as the number of contractors hours spent in a particular area or Ward alone because the conditions and therefore need might be very different, for example rural vs urban areas, areas with more a higher proportion of highways verges etc. The example was given that if an area had a relatively high number of complaints despite a high number of contractor hours it might trigger further investigation, but each circumstance would be different;
· Members expressed concern that in some instances following development it was unclear who had responsibility for the maintenance of fragments of open space. The Committee was informed that every effort was taken to avoid such circumstances occurring and this issue was under particular scrutiny as part of the planning and delivery of the Strategic Development Locations, (SDLs);
· The Committee was informed that other potential areas of focus within the new contract as a result of common complaints from residents would include more proactive maintenance of shrubs on open space near properties so that there was less encroachment of growth, trees blocking light and knee high fences;
· The Committee was reminded that the Council was at the start of what would be a new era in the management of open public spaces. There were potentially many positive opportunities from this, but it also needed to be taken into consideration that the Council’s resources were limited by the budget available;
· The decision to undertaken a joint procurement exercise had already produced some economies of scale and reduced costs.
Following the discussion, Members of the Committee unanimously commented that they felt that the maintenance of public open space had significantly improved over the last year and especially since the creation of the Cleaner and Greener Team. Member wished to place on record their congratulations and thanks to Pete Baveystock for his management of the service. An update report to the Committee on the introduction of the new contract in November 2016 was supported.
1) the presentation and key points arising from its discussion be noted;
2) the Executive Member for Environment and relevant Officers be requested to provide an update in the introduction and operation of the new grass cutting contract in November 2016.