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Joint Scrutiny Economy and Communities 6th February 2024

10:55 am, Thursday, 29th February 2024 - 2 months ago


Councillors Aisthorpe, Batson, Boyd (substitute for K Swinburn), Brasted (substitute for Sandford), Cairns, Farren, Freeston, Holland, Hudson, Shutt, Westcott, Wheatley and Wilson.

Officers in attendance:

  • Carolina Borgstrom (Director of Economy, Environment and Infrastructure)
  • Anne Campbell (Scrutiny and Committee Advisor)
  • Simon Jones (Assistant Director Law and Governance)
  • Stephen McGrath (Strategic Special Projects Lead – Communities)

Also in attendance:

  • Councillor Harness, Portfolio Holder for Finance, Resources and Assets
  • Councillor Jackson, Leader and Portfolio Holder for Economy, Net Zero, Skills and Housing
  • Councillor Shepherd, Portfolio Holder for Safer and Stronger Communities
  • Councillor S Swinburn, Portfolio Holder for Environment and Transport
  • Councillor Patrick

There were no members of the press or public present.


RESOLVED – That Councillor Wescott be appointed Chair for this special joint scrutiny panel meeting.



Apologies for absence from this meeting were received from Councillors Sandford and K. Swinburn.


  There were no declarations of interest received in respect of any item on the agenda for this meeting.


The panel received a report from the Leader of the Council and Portfolio Holder for Economy, Net Zero, Skills and Housing on the above.

Members noted this report would be considered by a special meeting of Council to be held on 13th February 2024 prior to consideration by Cabinet at its meeting to be held on 14th February 2024.  The report was brought to this special joint scrutiny panel to allow pre-decision scrutiny and comment.

After a short introduction from the Leader, Members raised the following issues:

Regarding the summary financial considerations, the Leader acknowledged the comments about oversimplification and agreed to look to amend the paragraph. He reassured the joint panel that all known financial considerations had been considered to reach the proposal for the hybrid model. For example, the authority knew the cost of the contract and the costs of those services which had already been brought back in-house. However, there remained an element of uncertainty until Equans released the necessary information which was due 28 days before the termination of the contract. Reasonable speculation around enhanced pensions and Transfer of Undertakings (Protection of Employment) Regulations 2006 (TUPE) could be made but the council was not able to know the exact final cost.

The Leader countered comments that this matter was being dealt with ‘in a rush’; it was common knowledge within the authority, Equans and the wider community that the contract would end on 1st July, 2025 following the permitted extensions of five years. The rationale for undertaking the review was because there was no other option. The contract would end on the given date and a new delivery model needed to be put in place for services to continue.

In response to a question about whether Equans had expressed an interest in talks or negotiations regarding a renewed offer, Ms Borgstrom advised that Equans may be interested in continuing with a similar contract to the one in place now or a joint venture. Commercially Public had reviewed all options available.  They concluded that the market available for a full-scale outsourcing exercise was limited.  Hence the proposal for a hybrid model of delivery.

Members applauded officers for the work undertaken on the Equans review and devolution project. These were massive undertakings, and the efforts of those involved were acknowledged.

Referring to Equans’ ‘Ward sponsor’ initiative, ward councillors had greatly appreciated this point of contact and hoped something very similar could remain in place. The Chair supported this stating that the current arrangements worked very well.

In response to comments, the Leader advised that in 2010 it was indeed the first time such a large value contract/partnership had been undertaken by the council. This was in a climate of real difficulties in attracting and appointing professionals and specialists to council vacancies, with consequential poor performance in some of the services involved. This made the commitment of Balfour Beatty to use its national network of expertise to support the contract very attractive. To his knowledge, the Leader had not seen evidence of national expertise being used at a local level.  Again, this was a reason to look for an alternative delivery model. The hybrid model would offer some protection to the authority should there be any difficulties in recruitment, especially in specialist areas.

On the topic of redundancies, Ms Borgstrom explained that this was not an oversight or omission from the review report. Legally, TUPE would apply with all employees being transferred. At that point, small scale service reviews would necessarily and ordinarily take place but these would need to be in line with TUPE provisions. In terms of the transfer, no redundancies would or could be made as a direct result of the TUPE transfer.

The joint panels were in support of the review. It was thought that the public would also welcome the review in light of perceived public opinion of services being operated by Equans.

RESOLVED – That the report and joint panel’s comments be noted.


With the permission of the Chair, and due to her impending retirement, Members took an opportunity to convey their good wishes to Ms Campbell who would soon be leaving the authority. To a spontaneous and rapturous applause Ms Campbell blushed and said “Fanks”.


RESOLVED – That the press and public be requested to leave on the grounds that discussion of the following business was likely to disclose exempt information as specified within paragraphs 3 and 4 of Schedule 12A of the Local Government Act 1972 (as amended).


The panel received the closed appendix referred to at JSPCE.4.

Members raised the following issues; costs for change management, costs for TUPE, service reviews, Top Town Market, sub-contracts, obligations and time frame for Equans to release information, staff welfare, the contrast in recruitment and selection between 2010 and 2024/5, the potential to share technical expertise with neighbouring authorities, the future enhanced role of scrutiny, engagement with Trades Unions, potential areas that could remain in Equans operation, and play areas.

RESOLVED – That the report be received.


  1. That the joint panel’s comments be noted.
  • That it  be noted that the joint panel broadly welcomed the approach and proposals in the report.
  • That the Financial Considerations section of the report now submitted be amended to provide more background detail.

4.   That the Executive and Scrutiny Liaison Board, in consultation with the Statutory Scrutiny Officer, consider the establishment of temporary scrutiny arrangements to enable the overview and scrutiny of the transition to the new delivery model.

There being no further business, the Chair declared the meeting closed at 7.59 p.m.