To receive and consider the report of the Deputy Chief Executive.
Executive Leader and Executive Member for Economic Development and Public service Reform Councillor Alistair Bradley, Executive Member for Homes and Housing Councillor Terry Howarth and Director of Commercial Services Mark Lester presented the report.
There were considerable challenges within the director due to the increase in the cost of living, staffing cost and construction costs, in addition to untimely delays. There were five red projects, four amber and thirty-five green.
The financial position was a concern due to the overspend of 165%, the greatest spend was staffing, with an increased cost in staffing and increased use of temporary and agency staff to fill positions. This issue was not unique to Chorley Council. Two new surveyors were in post and it was hoped that the Shared Services arrangement with South Ribble will assist in recruitment and appeal to prospective applicants, and help to ease the difficulty in retaining staff due to the larger entity, and more attractive benefits.
In relation to staff and the issues, it was summarised that the council filed to keep the core staff numbers in line with the building numbers which resulted in the requirement of temporary posts, and due to the competitive nature of the shortage of jobs, agencies have been able to increase the costs . It was hoped that with shared services, and with concentration on estates and staff capacity the Council aimed to be in a position to create permanent posts and fill the shortfall with full time staff.
Chorley and South Ribble within the Shared Service agreement had informal agreements of sharing workforce for estate and property, but from the new year the agreement will be formalised. It was also noted that the Council was in a position where there was a risk of succession issues due to the extremes of a considerable number of staff at the start of their careers and a number at the ends of their careers.
The shortage of surveyors and inspectors caused the focus to be on completing projects and is the explanation behind the low figures of ‘reactive repair jobs inspected post work completion. The underperformance of ‘returning land ownership enquiries was another symptom of staff shortage, but the service was an add on and not business critical.
A major loss of income was from the delay with Tatton Gardens following the fire and the fungal contamination that followed. It was decided to resolve the problem earlier than later. The opening would be in phases, which would take place in October and Christmas/new year, with residents moving in following the completion of the construction work. Members were reassured that the finishing touches were prioritised, and corners would not be cut.
The income from the car parks were down due to the continuation of the Covid charges. A new car park strategy to be introduced at the end of the year. In response to a query relating to contactless payments, there was uncertainty due to the legislation in place.
The market refurbishment had been paused at the risk of the traders to prevent disruption following Covid, the work estimated to resume between Christmas and Easter.
Market footfall had accumulated to 1.75 million and indicated that normality was returning to the town centre. It was noted that the town centre vacancy rates were beyond the control of the council, however the town centre was recovering better than other town centres across the county. It was noted that there were increasingly popular developments out of the town centre. When questioned about specialised, or one-off stores, the council was open to accommodate, but it had to be the right trader with quality goods.
The voids on the covered market was at operation target, and space allowed movement from within. Voids on market walk was better than expected. The lack of space was a symptom of success.
The percentage of rent collected was a concern, but actions in place to collect outstanding rent.
The targets for the community centres and office voids at the Digital Office Park were both better than the target. The staff shortage impacted the recovery of debts, but flexibility following Covid-19 came to an end, and repayments being sought. The community centres were impacted by Covid-19, and some community groups that included the elderly and those at higher risk were more cautious in returning. It was highlighted that 100% capacity was not ideal as it would prevent further bookings taking place.
Visiting coaches dropped to nothing due to Covid – 19 and were retuning quicker than expected. It was highlighted that the coaches did not include visiting football fans, only shoppers. This was explained that the coaches were booked in advance, and there were active steps taken to actively promote the coaches into the town centre. When enquired why only coaches were recorded instead of the retail services, it was explained that the method was favoured by traders. It was noted that there was software that tracked mobile pones and provided information indicating where the shopper had come from, how long they were in the town centre and where they went in the town. The information was shared with traders and was used to track the success of tourist and communication’s campaigns. Members offered a suggestion of distributing Chorley logoed, or slogan tote bags with advertisement literature inside.
In relation to accommodation, the report was positive, and credit was given to the staff that enabled the positive results. There were clear signs that there was a need for accommodation. Rents collected, the void percentage, rent collected at Primrose Gardens, and voids at Primrose gardens were all on target.
For the targets that were red, it was explained that the Cotswold conference facility due to Covid was used to house rough sleepers and it never fulfilled its initial function.
The Primrose Conference facilities were also affected by Covid, the facility was more community focused, and the café was able to cater to larger events. The percentage of voids at Primrose Gardens in 14 das was again due to Covid, but due to the need of the residents, the accommodation was not cheap and was reasonable to go over the 14 days.
Percentage of voids in rented accommodation was 0% which showed no one moved, but also highlighted the need and demand for quality rented accommodation provided by a good landlord.
It was confirmed that generally, money was not sought after from occupants for damage, in Primrose Gardens and Tatton Garden the potential costs were built into the costs. The turnover was usually the result of death, and with Cotswold, the resident was not usually in a position to pay, but payment plans may be set up but not too successful and not usually worth chasing.
It was summarised that there were a lot of spiralling costs and uncertainty, but Chorley Council was in a fortunate position that most projects were nearing towards an end. It was not to say that the council were deterred to complete further developments to bring further income to the council, as the council have been able to prevent taking from the reserves due to the streams of income, but would not take needless or unnecessary risks.