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HOMES AND SAFE COMMUNITIES SCRUTINY COMMITTEE

 

Minutes of a meeting held on 11th October, 2017.

 

Present:  Councillor Mrs. M.R. Wilkinson (Chairman); Councillor M.R. Wilson (Vice-Chairman); Councillors Ms. B.E. Brooks, Mrs. C.A. Cave, Ms. A.M. Collins, B.T. Gray, K.F. McCaffer, M.J.G. Morgan and Mrs. R. Nugent-Finn.

 

Also present:  Councillor Dr. I.J. Johnson and Mrs. G. Doyle, Mr. D. Dutch, Mr. A. Raybould and Ms. H. Smith (Tenant Working Group Representatives).

 

 

367            APOLOGY FOR ABSENCE -

 

This was received from Councillor Mrs. S.M. Hanks.

 

 

368            MINUTES -

 

RECOMMENDED - T H A T the minutes of the meeting held on 6th September, 2017 be approved as a correct record.

 

 

369            DECLARATIONS OF INTEREST -

 

No declarations were received.

 

 

370            TENANT ENGAGEMENT STRATEGY (REF) -

 

At its meeting on 9th October, 2017, Cabinet had been provided with a draft Tenant Engagement Strategy for Public Housing.  The purpose of the Strategy was to ensure that tenant engagement was at the heart of decision-making processes and that a broad range of tenants had the opportunity to take part in a variety of different ways.  This would allow the wider tenant population an opportunity to comment and suggest changes to the draft Strategy. 

 

Cabinet had subsequently referred the matter to the Scrutiny Committee for consultation purposes.

 

In 2007 the Welsh Government set out a requirement for all social landlords to develop their own Local Tenant Participation Strategies.  The first Vale Strategy was published in 2008 and led to an improvement in tenant participation; albeit from a fairly low base.  Two years later, the Council published a further Strategy with more ambitious objectives; designed to drive further improvements that also included outcome focussed objectives for the first time. 

 

It had been seven years since the last Strategy was published and the current draft version aimed to pick up any gaps which had come to light and also incorporated feedback from more recent tenant consultation.  A number of priority areas were identified: 

  • a need to involve a broader cross-section of tenants;
  • the need to develop the range of methods used to engage tenants (beyond the traditional tenants association type approach);
  • the need to develop the capacity of tenants groups to play a bigger role;
  • to ensure tenant views fed into the strategic decision making process; for example shaping new services,      developing new policies and deciding spending priorities. 

The above priorities informed the new draft Strategy and retained the ‘outcome focussed’ approach to maximise the impact of the actions and initiatives which had been formulated.

 

The Head of Housing and Building Services advised that the draft Strategy attached at Appendix 1 to the report was a working document and could be amended following Member comments.  The Strategy was one of the most important Strategy’s for the Council as it allowed officers to manage and recognise customer expectations.  The Council had made significant progress in terms of engaging with its tenants over the last three years and the officer advised that this was largely due to the growing awareness of Housing Officers on their responsibility for promoting tenant engagement. 

 

The officer apprised the committee of the recurring themes, following consultation with tenants, which were used to inform the four objectives and their subsequent outcomes within the Strategy.  

  • Communication/keeping people informed: the results from the STAR survey showed that only 70% of tenants felt the Council was good at keeping them informed.   General needs tenants were less impressed (69%) compared to tenants in sheltered accommodation (78%).
  • Listening to views and acting on them: 69% of tenants agreed that the Council took views of tenants on board and acted on them, this was just below the medium point for social landlords (70%) and gave scope for      improvement.  A significant number of tenants were indifferent to this question (16%).
  • Creating opportunities for more tenants to get involved: Membership of the existing tenants groups may include a significant portion of older people; in addition, the groups tended to be established groups located on some of the larger estates.  This highlighted the potential for involving tenants from different demographic groups and for new groups in areas where there may currently be less representation.
  • There was interest from tenants in contributing in a number of ways, including reviewing policies and procedures, mystery shopping, sounding boards/consultation panels, and decisions about budget etc. 
  • Tenants being aware of opportunities for them to participate with suggestions: including expanding use of social media and community notice boards being seen as positive ways to share information.
  • Some tenants may lack the confidence or perceive they have a lack of skills to take part. 

A Member asked how the Council would be tackling the distinct high level of apathy amongst young people evidenced amongst the young people in her own local area. 

 

The Head of Housing and Building Services advised that the Council currently operated a Community Investment Strategy which had been brought to the Committee previously; which included various training activities which had been provided for young people.  For example, driving lessons which would in turn help to build the young person’s employability and skill set.  The officer also advised that the particular housing area that the Member referred to was under the control of the Newydd Housing Association and suggested that it may be of benefit to the Committee if the Association were invited to present on their current work.  The Committee agreed that this would be a useful presentation to receive and requested that the recommendation be made.

 

A Member highlighted the fact that young people have a very different set of needs and interests and the Council therefore needed to be aware of these to have effective engagement with them.  With this in mind, the Member asked officers whether they had been in contact with the Youth Forum and how the Council intended to start engaging with young people generally.

 

The Head of Housing and Building Services advised that Digital Inclusion courses had already been offered to young people and that the Housing and Building Services Department were getting involved with community investment events as part of the Community Investment Strategy.  However, there needed to be further emphasis put on the use of social media to build an extra communications platform to engage with young people. 

 

A Tenant Working Group representative provided the Committee with an example of engagement work currently undertaken with young people in her local area.  A leaflet was distributed to homes by the Tenant Group which requested young people to feedback on the information that they wished to know and/or activities they wished to get involved in within their local area.  From this, a “ground force” project was created and an information only Facebook page was set up for local area residents to subscribe to.  The representative then updated the Committee on the fact that the young people involved wished to continue the project independently and had thoroughly enjoyed the experience.

 

Officers and Members congratulated the Tenant Working Group representative on her work and the success of the “ground force” project and also their hopes that other resident groups would take the success as a positive example for future engagement work. 

 

Having considered the draft Strategy and all the outcomes and objectives contained therein the Committee summarised their comments for consideration.

 

RECOMMENDED -

 

(1)       T H A T the draft Tenant Engagement Strategy be endorsed as a working document with further consideration given to the following Member comments: 

  • That Members be encouraged to attend their local Tenant Working Groups to enhance communication between      tenants and local councillors and to provide feedback to the Tenant Working Groups on matters that have been considered by the Council.
  • That innovative technology/software such as Hwb and Office 365 (on the Cloud) be considered by officers to      engage with young people at a much younger age which would ease engagement opportunities and increase results in the long term future.
  • That partnership working is established with the Youth Forum, the new apprentice within the Housing Services Department and individual school councils to create stronger links with young people and to combat apathy amongst young people.
  • That greater consideration is given to communication methods between tenants, Members and officers so more      effective lines of communication can be established and that any staff changes are brought to the attention of Members to maintain a more accurate source of support. 

(2)       T H A T the Newydd Housing Association be invited to a future Committee meeting to share their engagement practices for young people.

 

Reasons for recommendations

 

(1)       Scrutiny Member comments are considered by Cabinet as part of the draft Tenant Engagement Strategy consultation period.

 

(2)       Members are informed of the works undertaken by the Newydd Housing Association within the Vale of Glamorgan area.

  

 

371            REVENUE AND CAPITAL MONITORING FOR THE PERIOD 1ST APRIL TO 31ST AUGUST, 2017 (DEH) -

 

The Finance Support Manager presented the report, the purpose of which was to advise Members of the position in respect of revenue and capital expenditure for the period 1st April to 31st August, 2017 regarding those revenue and capital budgets which formed the Committee’s remit. 

 

In terms of revenue, the Committee was advised that the current forecast was for a balanced budget.  A graph and table setting out the variance between the profiled budget and actual expenditure to date was attached at Appendix 1 to the report. 

 

For the Public Sector Housing (HRA) budget, it was expected that this would outturn on target with any underspends in year being off-set by additional contributions to capital expenditure, therefore reducing reliance on unsupported borrowing. 

 

With regard to the Council Fund Housing Budget, it was currently anticipated that this budget would outturn on target, however, this was after a planned transfer from reserves of £56,000 to fund specific posts and issues arising as a result of the introduction of the Housing Act. 

 

For the Private Housing Budget, there was currently a small favourable variance due to staff vacancies within the Division.  However, income on the new renewal area was anticipated to be lower than budget at year end because work was needed to research, agree and establish the new renewal area (recently approved as Windsor Road, Penarth) which had meant that regeneration works had not yet started.  As such it was anticipated that the service would outturn on target overall by year end. 

 

For the Regulatory Services Budget the report advised that the allocation of £2.1666 million represented the Vale of Glamorgan’s budget for its share of the Shared Regulatory Service (SRS).  A separate set of accounts was maintained for the SRS and periodically reported to the Shared Regulatory Service Joint Committee.  At this stage in the year it was anticipated that the SRS would outturn on target. 

 

It was currently anticipated that the Youth Offending Services’ budget would outturn on target by year end. 

 

In relation to capital expenditure, Appendix 2 to the report detailed financial progress on the capital programme as at 31st August, 2017. 

 

The Committee was asked to note that the lowest compliant quotation for the 91 Salisbury Road boiler renewal was at a cost of £41,000.  This cost plus asbestos survey costs, building regulation costs and project management fees would require an overall budget of £48,000.  It had been requested that the budget was increased by £3,000 which would be funded from a revenue contribution from the Youth Offending Services budget.

 

An emergency power was approved with regards to ENABLE Funding to include a new budget of £149,000 in the 2017/18 Capital Programme, to be funded from a Welsh Government grant.  This funding would be used for capital costs in relation to the delivery of adaptations under the Enhanced Adaptions Service, ENABLE - Support for Independent Living.

 

An emergency power was also approved for the Castleland Renewal Area to vire £65,000 to the Tackling Poverty Scheme.  The Renewal Scheme was underspent by £65,000 due to contractor costs being lower than anticipated at the outset and provisional sums which were included within the contracts, to cover unforeseen works not being required.  £43,000 would be used to cover costs at Main Street as additional properties had been included in the scheme to allow the whole street to be completed and £22,000 would be used to fund the Holton Road Commercial Grants Programme to improve the commercial shop fronts in Holton Road. 

 

In referring to Appendix 2, a Member queried the use of the terms ‘common parts’ and WHQS ‘Environmental Improvements’ and noted that both of the items incurred some of the largest sums within the appendix table.  The Operational Manager for Building Services advised that the term common parts referred to communal areas and facilities in flat style accommodation and referred to works undertaken to those areas such as repainting.  The term Environmental Improvements referred to works that had taken place externally to enhance the overall use for local residents for example the recent works on the Buttrills Estate. 

 

RECOMMENDED - T H A T the position with regard to the 2017/18 Revenue and Capital budget be noted.

 

Reason for recommendation

 

Members are aware of the position with regard to the 2017/18 Revenue and Capital budgets.

 

 

372            UPDATE ON HOUSING IMPROVEMENT PROGRAMME (DEH) -

 

The Operational Manager for Building Services presented the report, the purpose of which was to provide Scrutiny Members with performance information relating to the Welsh Housing Quality Standard (WHQS) improvement works.  A regular update report was provided to the Committee to ensure appropriate monitoring of the financial risk on such a high profile works programme. 

 

The WHQS Improvement Programme had been operational since September 2012.  Work initially commenced on the internal upgrades to properties with new kitchens, bathrooms, heating and re-wiring works being undertaken and to meet the standards set by Welsh Government.  These internal works had now been completed to all identified properties with the exception of those where work had been declined by the tenant (this was recorded as an acceptable fail under the WHQS guidance and therefore still counted as a pass in terms of the Councils reporting process).  Those tenants declining the initial offer of internal works had been approached again to check if they now wished to receive the work and, if so, the works had been subsequently delivered.  Any property which had not received the internal works was upgraded as part of the void process for the new tenant.

 

The final accounts for the internal works had now been settled and work to repair and improve the external fabric of the buildings, including new roofs, windows and doors, brickwork and rendering repairs, external painting and external wall insulation, was now well progressed. 

 

It had been possible to successfully re-negotiate the terms of an extended framework with three of the four framework contractors to enable completion of the external works.  The number of roofing contractors operating in the Vale had also been reduced from three to two since the work in one of the allocated areas had been completed. 

 

As mentioned in the previous report presented to the Committee in November 2016, contractors had found it difficult to recruit and engage suitably experienced staff to resource the contract and the Project Management Team had requested the removal of a number of operatives from site.  Additionally, it was necessary to complete an ecology survey to safeguard wildlife nesting or roosting in the property during the works.  A number of roof surveys had found nesting birds and bats and it had been necessary to delay some properties to protect these species. 

 

From the performance information attached at Appendix A of the report, satisfaction scores remained below the target of 90%.  Whilst efforts had been made to improve the scores and the results had been discussed with individual contractors, the length of time taken to complete the works continued to have a detrimental impact on satisfaction.  The number of properties contractors could work on at any one time had been reduced to lessen the time taken at each property.  However, this appeared to have had limited effect.

 

The officer also highlighted that the mechanism used to collate the satisfaction figures also had an impact on the overall scores.  Tenants were requested to provide a score from 1 to 10; therefore, whilst the overall average figure failed to achieve the required target of 90 individual scores above 6 would have been seen as a satisfied tenant result.

 

The Operational Manager advised that the Council was scheduled to achieve WHQS standard by December 2017.  The data included at Appendix A was extensive and further research, now that the programme was drawing to an end, had subsequently taken place which revealed that 600 properties required a re-survey with further works to take place into the new calendar year.  The work identified during the re-survey was currently being assesses and was due to be issued to framework contactors shortly.  However, the cost for these repairs would be met in this financial year.  The officer also confirmed that the Council no longer worked in partnership with United Living and Keepmoat. 

 

A Member expressed her interest in the amount of void properties referred to in the report and asked the officer for further information on how many residents actually refused the improvement works and the reasons for this.  The Member also highlighted the fact that the report stated the difficulty in finding suitable contractors to carry out the works and suggested that the Council give greater consideration on the quality of contractors before work was allocated. 

 

The Operational Manager for Building Services advised the Committee that categorising a refusal was difficult because some refusals were partial and some were not.  As an example, some tenants had agreed to have a bathroom replacement but not the kitchen because they had installed their own.  Other reasons for refusals were that the tenant was elderly and were not able to cope with the disruption, there was illness in the household, or it was not a good time due to personal circumstances of the tenant.  The officer confirmed that the WHQS Framework Agreement was to take place over five years and that the contractors were validated and in a position to deliver the works at the start of the WHQS programme.  Most of the contractors currently contracted operated on a management workforce so they would outsource the trade persons to deliver the work.  However, development changes such as new build projects being built in the local area had created greater competition for the workforce available. 

 

The Chairman highlighted the fact that the current workforce/contractors being used were also being sought after by other local authorities.  Therefore, the Council would need to be mindful of this when striving to maintain work standards in the future. 

 

The Chairman informed Committee that Councillor Dr. I.J. Johnson had requested permission to question officers, to which the Committee gave their approval.

 

Councillor Dr. Johnson (with permission to speak) referred to 200 additional properties scheduled for WHQS works in the near future and queried, as a local Member to some of the properties; what would be the best course of action to enquire about the works taking place as they developed.  As a supplementary question Councillor Dr. Johnson also asked if the 200 properties were Vale wide or within specific areas. 

 

The Operational Manager for Building Services confirmed that the 200 properties related to properties Vale wide and advised he was able to provide specific address details on request and would be able to answer any specific questions if the Member were to email him following the Committee meeting.  The Operational Manager also confirmed that Keepmoat was the contractor in the Member’s local area.  However, the work was now being shared between the remaining three contractors on contract.

 

A Member highlighted the steep learning curve for both the Council and contractors during the life of the WHQS programme since its beginnings in 2012.  The Member also highlighted that there was now a need to ensure that funds were available to maintain repairs and not neglect the excellent improvement works.  The Member commended the Housing Liaison Officers who have undertaken a huge amount of work to make the WHQS programme a success.  The Chairman seconded the Member’s commendation.

 

Dr. Johnson thanked the Officers and Committee for the opportunity to speak and withdrew from the table.

 

A Member drew the officer’s attention to an administrative error on page 7 of the Appendix document in that the Community Support hours stated 3000 rather than the expected 30.  The Member asked if the data could be checked ahead of being brought to a future Committee to which the officer thanked the Member for highlighting the error and confirmed that the data would be checked ahead of it being brought to any future Committee meetings. 

 

A Member asked officers for an update on the relationships between the Council and Private Owner/Leaseholders prior to improvement work bills being issued.

 

The Operational Manager for Building Services advised that to date, Leaseholders had been charged very little for the works undertaken.  Unlike Freeholders who can invest at any time they wish, in the property they own, Leaseholders were subject to the Council specifying the timeframe for improvements made to their property.  A report was presented to Cabinet two years previously about the various payment methods for leaseholds following a large amount of negotiations around the matter.  The Council were still working on the final accounts for Leaseholders and therefore the bills would not be presented to Leaseholders until the works were completed.  A Leasehold Officer was in post who would be in contact with the Leaseholders when bills were presented.  This would be a busy time for the Leasehold Officer as the Council were expecting a large amount of appeals given the large sums the investment programme had generated. 

 

The Head of Housing and Building Services also advised that when bills were delivered to Leaseholders this would be by hand, by the Leaseholder Officer, who would endeavour to provide advice and guidance at the same time.  The Council would strive to minimise any distress caused by the bills and also during subsequent appeal hearings.  Leaseholders were made aware at the time of signing contracts that the cost of maintenance would be incurred and due to the nature of the works taking place over a short period of time this would result in large bills over a short period of time. 

 

A Member queried the current average turnaround period for void properties, to which, the Operational Manager for Building Services advised that the current turnaround period was 18 calendar days. 

 

RECOMMENDED - T H A T Members note the current performance position with regards to the WHQS Housing Improvement Programme.

 

Reason for recommendation

 

To ensure Members are furnished with the necessary performance information pertaining to WHQS (attached as Appendix A).

 

 

373            SITE INSPECTION (MD)

 

RECOMMENDED - T H A T the attendance of the following Members at the site indicated below on 29th September, 2017 be noted:

 

Apologies were received from Councillors Miss. A.M. Collins, Mrs. S.M. Hanks, K.F. McCaffer, Mrs. R. Nugent-Finn and M.R. Wilson.

 

Long   Meadow Court, Druids Green, Cowbridge

Councillor   Mrs. M.R. Wilkinson (Chairman), Councillors Ms. B.E. Brooks, Mrs.   C.A. Cave, B.T. Gray and M.J.G. Morgan.

 

Also   present: Councillors Ms. J. Aviet, S.T. Edwards, A.C. Parker and   N.C. Thomas.

 

  

 

 

374            ACCOMMODATION SOLUTIONS PROJECT - LONGMEADOW COURT, COWBRIDGE (DEH) -

 

The Head of Housing and Building Services presented the report to update Members on the Accommodation Solutions Project at Longmeadow Court following the Committee site visit on 29th September and specifically, the grant funded improvements carried out.

 

The officer thanked the Members of the Committee for attending the Longmeadow Court facility and passed on thanks from the Longmeadow Court staffs whom were very pleased with the turnout of Members on the day.

 

The construction works at Longmeadow Court were carried out over a period of just over two years as part of the Accommodation Solutions Project which was an innovative partnership project between the Vale of Glamorgan Council, City of Cardiff Council, Cardiff and Vale University Health Board, Care and Repair Cymru and Age Connect Cymru. 

 

The project was designed to help those patients who were ready for discharge from hospital but could not return to their homes due to housing issues, such as the need for adaptations.  The five organisations worked together to fast-track low level adaptations to patient’s houses so that they could return home as quickly as possible.  Where this was not possible the team would arrange a stay in specifically designed properties known as ‘step-down’ units, in order to aid recovery. 

 

The ‘step-down’ accommodation helped avoid a significant number of hospital bed days (based on patients discharged from hospital who would have likely stayed in hospital) as well as proving an effective resource for housing people whose discharge arrangements may have been complex or lengthy and prevented hospital re-admissions.  Over the course of one year, three units in the Vale were used by 16 people, avoiding 297 hospital bed days. 

 

In 2016/17 an opportunity arose to apply for Council grant funding which would support the improvements already made and address the shortage of older persons accommodation issues being experienced in the western Vale.  A grant application was made to develop a new provision of ‘step-down’ accommodation and a £212,000 capital grant was secured from the Intermediate Care Fund. 

 

The funding was used to carry out extensive construction works at Longmeadow Court including; a new two storey extension, providing two units of step-down accommodation, office space for staff, additional storage and laundry facilities.  In addition, upgrade works were completed to the communal areas including the provision of accessible toilets to allow frail people living in the surrounding area to come into the scheme; join in with activities and receive services. 

 

A Member congratulated the officers on the works carried out to date and referred to the note in the report that stated there was a general lack of accommodation for elderly people in the Vale.  Given this fact, the Member asked how the Council was going to address this in the future and in particular within rural communities.

 

The Head of Housing and Building Services confirmed that the Intermediate Care Fund (ICF) funding programme would be in operation for four years.  This would allow the Council to bid for larger grant amounts in the future to support future improvement works.

 

An Older Persons Housing Market Assessment had recently been commissioned which would identify the key points for improvement and provide a focus for works required.  The Council recognised the growing age population and the fact that people wished to stay in their own homes.

 

With regard to rural areas in the Vale there would be a greater need to consider home adaptations rather than new building works for elderly constituents due to it being more difficult to build in rural areas; especially due to higher land purchase costs.  The Council would need to gather statistics from the Older Persons Housing Market Assessment before decisions were made on how to support the older population’s housing needs.

 

RECOMMENDED -

 

(1)       T H A T the contents of the report be noted.

 

(2)       T H A T the Director of Social Services be invited to a future Committee to provide an update on the demand for sheltered housing schemes within the Vale of Glamorgan.

 

Reason for recommendation

 

(1)       To provide Members with the background to the work carried out at Longmeadow Court.

 

(2)       Members are aware of the schemes available and the current factors impacting residents using sheltered housing schemes with the Vale of Glamorgan.

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