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SCRUTINY COMMITTEE (HOUSING AND PUBLIC PROTECTION)

 

Minutes of a meeting held on 5th September, 2012.

 

Present:  Councillor Mrs. M.R. Wilkinson (Chairman); Councillor Mrs. C.L. Curtis (Vice-Chairman); Councillors: R.J. Bertin, J. Drysdale, Ms. R.F. Probert, A.C. Williams and E. Williams.

 

Also present: Messrs. G. Amos, J. Farrington and B. Fisher (Tenant Working Group).

 

 

289     APOLOGIES FOR ABSENCE -

 

These were received from Councillor R.P. Thomas and Mrs. W. Davies (Vale Housing Federation).

 

 

290     MINUTES -

 

RECOMMENDED - T H A T the minutes of the meeting held on 18th July 2012 be approved as a correct record.

 

 

291     DECLARATIONS OF INTEREST -

 

No declarations were received.

 

 

292     IMPROVEMENT PLAN 2012/13 (MD) –

 

The above Plan had been previously circulated to all Members of the Council under separate letter on 22nd August 2012. 

 

The draft Improvement Plan for 2012/13 contained performance and improvement information for all Directorates and the Council’s Corporate Plan priorities.

 

Part 1 of the Improvement Plan had previously been agreed by the Cabinet at its meeting held on 18th April 2012 as required by the Local Government (Wales) Measure 2009.  The Plan in itself looked forward and set improvement objectives for the financial year 2012/13.  In regard to Part 2 of the Improvement Plan, this document primarily looked back over the previous financial year 2011/12.  The improvement objectives contained within the document were agreed in May 2011 with the information contained within the Plan being based on departmental service plans which were discussed by the Council’s Scrutiny Committees during the period January to March 2012.  The document also contained key performance measures along with targets and actions for 2012/13 as agreed by the Scrutiny Committees in July 2012. 

 

In commenting on the Plan in itself, the Operational Manager for Corporate Policy and Communications indicated that where available the document contained Welsh average performance for bench-marking purposes and updated the Committee in regard to performance indicator reference PSR004 – The percentage of private sector dwellings that had been vacant for more than six months at 1st April that were returned to occupation during the year through direct action by the local authority confirming that the Welsh average for this indicator was 4.62%.  The Operational Manager also indicated that the Plan was for consideration by the Scrutiny Committee with a view to the Committee endorsing the contents which would allow the draft Improvement Plan to be submitted to Full Council for approval prior to the Plan being published in October 2012. 

 

In conclusion, the Operational Manager indicated that the Plan was substantially complete although further minor amendments would be required following changes to performance information provided by the Local Government Data Unit and from proof reading.  This exercise would be completed prior to the final draft being submitted to the Council for approval.

 

In commenting on the contents of the draft Plan Councillor Drysdale indicated that he felt that the document as a whole was not sufficiently outcome based and referred to specific aspects of the Plan e.g. Equality Improvement Objective and considered this objective was more to do with activity as opposed to outcome based findings.  He felt that this issue could be applied generally to the whole of the draft Plan.  In the same vein he also referred to a number of other examples.

 

In response the Operational Manager for Corporate Policy and Communication indicated that the revised format would reflect future arrangements for Improvement Plans as agreed by the Wales Audit Office.  In addition, in future there would be eight Improvement Objectives for 2012/13 which represented a change from past Improvement Plans.  She also acknowledged that past Improvement Plans had not necessarily contained outcome based objectives.  She alluded to a number of measures contained within the draft Plan which were a mix of process, activity and outcome information and referred to performance indicator PSR004.  The Head of Public Protection also referred to the difficulties in developing objectives that were outcome based and acknowledged that further work to develop performance indicator descriptions needed to be developed within a national context to allow for consistency and to allow for the comparison of consistent information.  The Operational Manager for Public Housing also referred to work currently underway with stakeholder organisations to identify outcome based objectives for future consideration within Improvement Plans. 

 

Having regard to the above and related discussions, it was

 

RECOMMENDED – T H A T the draft Improvement Plan for 2012/13 be endorsed.

 

Reason for recommendation

 

To allow the implementation of action to improve the performance of the Council.

 

 

293     REVENUE AND CAPITAL MONITORING FOR THE PERIOD 1ST APRIL 2012 TO 31ST JULY 2012 (DDS AND DVSH) –

 

The Public Sector Housing (HRA) was predicted to outturn on target with a current favourable variance of £123,000 against the profiled budget.  The variance was made up on an adverse variance on housing repairs of £76,000 which had been offset by favourable variances on Salaries (£63,000), Income (£23,000), Premises Costs (£24,000), Transport (£6,000) and other Supplies and Services (£83,000). 

 

In regard to the Private Sector / General Fun Housing and Community Safety, this was predicted to outturn on target. 

 

Appendix 2 detailed financial progress on the Capital Programme as at 31st July 2012.  Members were asked to note that Appendix 2 now included requests for unspent committed expenditure slipped from 2011/12 into 2012/13 as approved via the Council’s Urgency Decision Procedure.

 

Appendix 3 provided non-financial information on capital construction schemes with a budget of over £100,000. 

 

RECOMMENDED – T H A T the position with regard to the Revenue and Capital budget for the period 1st April to 31st July 2012 be noted.

 

Reason for recommendation

 

In acknowledgement of progress made to date.

 

 

294     PUBLIC PROTECTION SERVICE PLAN 2012/13 (DDS) –

 

The service plan as tabled for the Committee’s consideration represented a revised format for service plans which had been prepared in response to the Council’s 2011 Improvement Assessment.

 

The Auditor General for Wales had identified the development of outcome focused measures as an area for improvement in most Welsh Councils with this matter previously reported to this Scrutiny Committee on 9th February 2012.  As a consequence the Council had commissioned the Local Government Data Unit to work with three service areas which included the Public Protection service to develop outcome focused performance measures as a pilot.  This work would inform a Council wide approach which would thereafter be rolled out to all service plan areas during 2012/13.  In addition, the Wales Audit Office would be involved in the process to inform the corporate approach.  The service plan represented the culmination of work undertaken by Council officers in consultation with the Local Government Data Unit and the Wales Audit Office with the content of the same containing key objectives and activities of the Public Protection service across the breadth of its various responsibilities.

 

In commenting on the document Councillor Bertin referred to the reduction of funding as a result of the UK government’s reduction in overall funding to the Welsh Government and enquired of the extent of the impact this had on the service’s capability to plan and deliver its service objectives.  In response the Head of Public Protection indicated that the service already had a lean staffing structure however he acknowledged that there had been over the years staff reductions, service delivery had been maintained and there had been some funding implications in terms of the provision of training to staff as a result of funding reductions.  Councillor Bertin’s attention then turned to the collaborative opportunities that were available to the service and the Head of Public Protection responded by indicating that the Welsh Government’s view regarding the collaborative agenda and this issue was subject to ongoing discussions at a national level amongst officer working groups to agree the way forward.  To this end data was being captured to provide a business case to the Welsh Government and obvious areas such as joint commissioning of services on a regional basis was also seen as a way forward in reducing funding pressures.

 

Councillor Bertin also made reference to promotional activities undertaken by the Public Protection service and issues relating to the sustainability of PACTs in the future.  In response the Head of Public Protection indicated that specific one off publicity events were not undertaken by the service and he referred to the Council’s Corporate Plan which linked the promotion of the service via work programmes undertaken by Council officers on a day to day basis.  In regard to the sustainability of PACTs, the success of these was very much largely due to how well these were run and engaged within the specific communities to address their specific concerns.

 

Councillor Drysdale referred to the contents of the draft Service Plan and reiterated his comments which he had expressed in regard to the draft Improvement Plan and considered that as a strategy document it needed to be improved as it was not sufficiently outcome based and lacked detail in regard to risk analysis.  He also referred to specific aspects of the Service Plan which he queried and the Head of Public Protection provided an appropriate response to these queries.

 

Councillor Ms. Probert then referred to the health impacts as contained within the Service Plan and referred to light pollution and enquired as to why this aspect was not specifically referred to in the Plan.  In response the Head of Public Protection indicated that the Council dealt with such complaints on a case by case basis and were dealt with in the wider context of service priorities and service resources.  He indicated that if Members had specific issues of concern regarding this matter that these could be raised directly with himself on a case by case basis.

 

Councillor E. Williams referred to the House Condition Survey and enquired when the last of the same had been carried out by the Council.  In response the Head of Public Protection indicated that the last survey had been undertaken in 2008/09 with the next being undertaken dependant upon service priorities and available resources. 

 

Councillor E. Williams’ attention then turned to enforcement action taken by the service and enquired as to the degree of the Council’s costs being recovered as a consequence of taking action.  The Head of Public Protection indicated that the recovery of costs was regulated and indeed the Council did recover specific costs, in particular prosecution costs and in certain instances from the proceeds of crime. 

 

Brief discussion also took place on food safety and high risk premises with the Head of Public Protection referring to the Food Hygiene Rating System initiative. 

 

Having regard to the above and related discussions, it was

 

RECOMMENDED – T H A T the contents of the Public Protection Service Plan for 2012/13 be noted.

 

Reason for recommendation

 

In acknowledgement of the various objectives and activities of the Public Protection service.

 

 

295     1ST QUARTER PERFORMANCE MONITORING REPORT – BUILDING SERVICES (DVSH) –

 

RECOMMENDED – T H A T the contents of the report be noted.

 

Reason for recommendation

 

In acknowledgement of action taken in the first quarter of the relevant service plan.

 

 

296     1ST QUARTER PERFORMANCE MONITORING REPORT – PUBLIC HOUSING (DVSH) –

 

In referring to the report Councillor Drysdale enquired as to what action the Council was taking to flag up the increase in homelessness presentation with the Welsh Government as a consequence of UK Government’s policies.  In response the Operational Manager (Public Housing) indicated that the picture across Wales was seeing an increase in the level of homelessness presentation and he referred to an all Wales homelessness steering group which was attended by Welsh Government representatives to look at measures to address this issue.  He also referred to the Council’s response to the recent WG paper in regard to this very matter.  However, he reminded the Committee that no additional resources to address this challenging agenda had been provided and as a small authority with a small housing stock it was difficult to tackle the problem with limited resources.  Coupled with this, the Vale of Glamorgan had a relatively immature private rented housing stock and affordable housing had been difficult to deliver.  The expectation was that there would be an increasing crisis within the Vale of Glamorgan.  Indeed, funding issues had directly been raised with Welsh Government representatives. 

 

The Operational Manager’s attention then turned to the Welfare Reform Agenda and the related Welfare Reform Act which took effect in March this year and was likely to see from April 2013 significant implications for homelessness levels in the Vale of Glamorgan.  He referred to the need in the future for flexible accommodation to meet future demands of clients, however it would be difficult to deliver such accommodation with affordable rents due to the existing funding criteria.  He also referred to a recent Local Service Board meeting which he had attended with the Council’s Chief Finance Officer to brief them on the implications of the Welfare Reform Agenda.  He also alluded to a recent meeting with the Cardiff and Vale Credit Union to ascertain the level of assistance that could be made available to support tenants and clients through these changes. 

 

Following a question from Councillor Bertin regarding void properties and the Council’s performance compared to the performance of Registered Social Landlords, the Operational Manager indicated that some Registered Social Landlords managed their void properties within a week.  This however had to be seen within the context of client satisfaction.  He then referred to the Council’s performance as detailed within the report and indicated that three properties had contributed towards 30% of the headline figure and generally 60% of void properties were managed within four weeks.  The average number of working days per property was 18.75 days.  Reference was made to the differing methodology for collecting void property data when compared to Building Services.  In an attempt to harmonise arrangements he requested the Committee’s permission to change the performance indicator descriptor L822Q (HLS014Q) to reflect a uniform approach and refer to working days.  The Operational Manager also reminded the Committee that from 3rd September all void properties would be brought forward with each property being upgraded to the Wales Housing Quality Standard but, in doing so, this was likely to have an adverse impact on the void property performance but this had to be assessed against the overall satisfaction of tenants on accepting a tenancy for such a property.

 

RECOMMENDED –

 

(1)       T H A T the 1st Quarter Performance Monitoring Report for Public Housing, including the comments against each performance indicator, be noted.

 

(2)       T H A T the Performance Indicator descriptor for L822Q(HLS014Q) – the average number of calendar days taken to let lettable units of permanent accommodation during the financial year – be amended to reflect the average number of working days.

 

Reasons for recommendations

 

(1)       In acknowledgement of action taken to date in regard to the 1st Quarter monitoring.

 

(2)               To regularise performance indicator descriptors as contained in the Public Protection Service Plan and the Building Services Service Plan.

 

           

297     1ST QUARTER PERFORMANCE MONITORING – PUBLIC PROTECTION (DDS) –

 

The Head of Public Protection referred to those indicators identified as red within the report and to the comments against the same. 

 

In addition to the above matters, he also referred to the information relating to the local Disabled Facilities Grants (DFG) process which provided information in relation to the previous grants for the year 2011/12 and the performance against the first quarter of 2012/13 to allow comparisons to be made on DFG performance.  He indicated that delays had resulted as a consequence of contractor suitability to undertake related work following the intervention of the Health and Safety Executive.  Mr. Amos referred to the possible use of contractors undertaking work on behalf of the Council in relation to the Wales Housing Quality Standard and whether there was an opportunity to utilise such in undertaking DFG work.  The Head of Public Protection thanked Mr. Amos for his suggestion and he would investigate this opportunity. 

 

Discussion then turned to the issue of agents with Councillor Ms. Probert indicating that she was aware of particular problems with agents which had subsequently impacted on work undertaken on behalf of clients.  The Head of Public Protection indicated that the Council Grants agency provided appropriate information to residents and he hoped that residents used the Council’s grant agency as the quality of work carried out by contractors was guaranteed by the Council.  However, he acknowledged that ultimately the decision rested with the individual applicant as to which agent they preferred. 

 

Councillor Drysdale referred to the difference of the average grant claimed between the Council’s agency and external agents, and enquired as to the reason why.  The Head of Public Protection indicated that this was related to the fact that external agencies undertook larger DFG schemes such as building extensions. 

 

RECOMMENDED – T H A T the contents of the 1st Quarter Performance Monitoring Report in respect of Public Protection be noted.

 

Reason for recommendation

 

In acknowledgement of progress made to date.

 

 

298     1ST QUARTER PERFORMANCE MONITORING – SICKNESS AND LEAVERS (NEW CORPORATE STRUCTURE) – BUILDING SERVICES, PUBLIC HOUSING AND PUBLIC PROTECTION (DDS AND DVSH) –

 

RECOMMENDED – T H A T the details of the 1st Quarter performance monitoring in respect of the above be noted.

 

Reason for recommendation

 

In acknowledgement of performance to date.