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 SCRUTINY COMMITTEE (HOUSING AND PUBLIC PROTECTION)

 

Minutes of a meeting held on 6th November, 2013.

 

Present:  Councillor J.C. Bird (Chairman); Councillors R.J. Bertin, Mrs. C.L. Curtis, Mrs. V.M. Hartrey, Mrs. A.J. Moore, Ms. R.F. Probert, R.P. Thomas and E. Williams.

 

Also present:  Messrs., B. Fisher, A. Raybould and Mrs. A. Evans (Tenant Working Group).

 

559     APOLOGIES FOR ABSENCE –  

 

These were received from Councillors J. Drysdale, Mrs. M.R. Wilkinson and Mr. G. Amos (Tenants Working Group).

 

 

560     MINUTES –

 

RECOMMENDED – T H A T the minutes of the meeting held on 9th October, 2013 be approved as a correct record.

 

 

561     DECLARATIONS OF INTEREST –

 

No declarations were received.

 

 

562     SOCIAL HOUSING GRANT PROGRAMME 2013 – 2016 (REF) –

 

Cabinet, at its meeting held on 21st October, 2013 had been informed of the Social Housing Grant Allocation for the Council made by the Welsh Government for the provision of affordable housing in 2013/2014 including, the forward indicative allocation for 2014/15 and 2015/16 and the related schemes being supported. 

 

The Welsh Government’s Social Housing Grant (SHG) was a capital grant made available to Registered Social Landlords to provide new, affordable housing for rent or for low cost home ownership.  The SHG Programme in Wales for 2013/14 was an allocated budget of £52.4 million however, this budget had been 'top sliced’ to fund other housing commitments e.g. Physical Adaptation Grant and Welsh Housing Partnership funding, leaving £35 million available to develop new affordable housing schemes across Wales.  The Welsh Government had also made an extra £20 million SHG available to fund the development of one and two bedroomed properties to allow current social housing tenants affected by the Welfare Reform changes to downsize to smaller accommodation. 

 

The Council’s allocation (3.1% of the overall budget and the sixth lowest allocation in Wales) awarded over the next three years it was therefore imperative that the Council ensured that schemes were prioritised appropriately to meet identified housing need and other funding streams e.g. Section 106 Agreements and Recycle Capital Grant (held by RSLs from the sale of land or housing to tenants through the right to acquire) were maximised. 

 

The Council's three year allocation was as follows:

 

·                2013/14 - £1,105,635 and £633,238 (from the additional funding to develop one and two bedroomed properties)

·                2014/15 - £1,105,635

·                2015/16 - £1,105,635.

 

The failure on the part of any Council to ensure that their allocation was spent in each year would potentially result in that underspend being re-distributed to other authorities by the Welsh Government.

 

In addition to the above matters the Scrutiny Committee was also reminded that the previous decision of Cabinet made on 4th February, 2013 (C1997) had seen work recently commence on an Options Appraisal for land currently in the ownership of Public Sector Housing, which could assist the authority to meet the critical demand for affordable housing in the Vale of Glamorgan in the future. 

 

As regard to the three year SHG allocation, it was indicated that two new schemes had been brought forward and prioritised by officers based on the criteria including strategic importance, housing need, deliverability, value for money and community benefits.  Negotiations were currently underway between the RSLs and landowners on a future nine sites.  The total funding required for these schemes exceeded the funding allocated to the Council, however, the Council was required by Welsh Government to ensure that it over-programmed its spending in order to have replacement developments should any scheme fail or if additional SHG became available within that financial year.

 

The Scrutiny Committee was also informed that many sites did not progress to the development stage for a number of reasons e.g. the landowner having an unrealistic expectation of the land value or planning considerations which made the scheme unviable.

 

Over the next two years RSLs would continue to pursue reserve schemes and any new schemes that met the Council's requirements and were considered bridging funding these schemes in order to ensure that affordable housing developments would continue in the Vale of Glamorgan despite a lack of funding immediately available.  The sites identified including funding requirements and stages of development were set out in Appendix A to the original Cabinet report of 21st October, 2013.

 

RECOMMENDED – T H A T the Social Housing Grant Programme expenditure be noted.

 

Reason for recommendation

 

In acknowledgement of the Welsh Government's allocation to the Council in regard to Social Housing Grant Programme for the period 2013-2016.

 

 

563     CONSULTATION ON DRAFT ANTI-SOCIAL BEHAVIOUR POLICY (REF) –  

 

The Cabinet, at its meeting held on 21st October, 2013 had considered the above matter whereupon at that time they had been advised of problems with the current Anti-Social Behaviour Policy for Council tenants and of progress on the development of a more suitable policy for dealing with anti-social behaviour in the future.  The Cabinet at that time had resolved the following:

 

"(1)     T H A T the progress to date of the policy review and the principles of the proposed new approach for dealing with incidences of anti-social behaviour involving Council tenants be noted.

 

(2)       T H A T the draft Anti-Social Behaviour Policy, as attached at Appendix 2 to the report, be endorsed and the consultation process as outlined in Paragraph 17 of the report be agreed.

 

(3)       T H A T the report be referred to Scrutiny Committee (Housing and Public Protection) for consideration.

 

(4)       T H A T a further report on the final draft policy should be submitted to a future Cabinet meeting advising of the full results of the stakeholder consultation.

 

Reasons for decisions

 

(1)       To ensure Cabinet was aware of the progress with the policy development process.

 

(2)       To endorse the Policy and agree the consultation process.

 

(3)       To ensure that Cabinet was aware of the consultation process associated with the policy.

 

(4)       To ensure Cabinet received the final policy for their agreement featuring the consultation responses."

 

Earlier this year a senior officer working group recognised that the current methods of dealing with anti-social behaviour were unwieldy and hampered efforts to resolve matters.  Consequently the officers recommended a peer review and a new draft policy.

 

The government was working on a draft Anti-social Behaviour Bill that was intended to streamline the range of measures available to landlords to combat the problem.  While the bill was not expected to become law until 2015, the new Vale of Glamorgan approach would take account of the spirit of the change, which set out to provide an opportunity to address the underlying causes of ASB, improving the likelihood of achieving a long term sustainable positive outcome for the community.

 

The Operation Manager for Housing indicated that the existing policy was adopted by Cabinet on 16 March, 2011 (Minute No.C1254) and was created in response to criticism from the Local Authority Ombudsman which included a decision of maladministration against the Council. He alluded to the existing policy and procedure which had proved cumbersome and difficult to implement.  It had been shown to be too onerous when dealing with routine matters and lacked flexibility. A copy of the current policy and procedure was attached at Appendix 1 to the report

 

To this end, Wales and West Housing Association who were a sector leading organisation in this field, had been commissioned to undertake the review of the Council’s existing policy and associated arrangements.

 

The new policy prepared following the above commissioning exercise was set out in Appendix 2 to the report and would adopt the standard definition of anti-social behaviour as set out in the Crime and Disorder Act: 'Any conduct that causes or is likely to cause harassment, alarm or distress to one or more persons not in the same household.'  There would be a parallel policy for dealing with estate management issues (Appendix 3).

 

The proposed new policy also took account of the 'Wales Housing Management Standard for Tackling Anti-social Behaviour.'

 

The Council was embarking on a consultation process that included consultation with the Housing Services Review Group, a tenant consultative body, formal consultation with significant partners such as Safer Vale, a staff working group and written consultation with other interested groups.  Further consultation would be undertaken with all tenants in line with statute.  The consultation exercise would close at the end of December 2013, with the draft policy to be formally adopted from 1st April, 2014. The Operational Manager had indicated that consultation had commenced with the Tenants Panel Sub Group of which Mrs. Evans was a member.  Mrs. Evans intimated that the Group welcomed the proposals but were concerned at the potential for problems arsing due to available resources and competing responsibilities for housing officers.  She also made reference to the policy which currently made no reference to timescales for officers to deal with complaints or targets.  Without such, tenants would be unclear.  In response the Operational Manager indicated that resource commitments were currently being assessed.  Consideration was also being given to staff restructuring which may align itself to WHQS structure.

 

A short question an answer session took place in respect of the following matters raised by the Committee:

 

·                Appropriate confidentiality arrangements to be included in the new policy.

·                The use of complaints diaries and when it was appropriate to use the same.

·                The role of the police and the use of the 101 service and how this linked with the role and responsibilities of the Safer Vale Partnership and the Housing Service.

·                Prevention arrangements in regard to youth annoyance and the importance of estate design in the future.

 

In considering the above matter the Scrutiny Committee subsequently

 

RECOMMENDED – T H A T the report be noted and that should any Member or Tenant representative have any comments on the draft policy that they submit these in writing to the Operational Manager (Housing) by the consultation deadline.

 

 

564     DISABLED FACILITIES GRANT PERFORMANCE 2013/14 – QUARTER 1 (REF) –  

 

The report considered by the Cabinet at its meeting held on 21st October, 2013 outlined the overall DFG performance which was within agreed targets.  Cabinet at that time had also noted that the time taken between a client's first point of contact with the Council and the Occupational Therapist (OT) recommendation was behind target.  However, when comparing performance on a quarterly basis there had been an improvement in this stage from the previous quarter.  This underperformance was being addressed through additional staffing and an additional Occupational Therapist had been employed who would commence work with the Council from the beginning of November 2013 and would replace an existing agency Occupational Therapist who had been engaged up until this time.  Appendix 2 to the report also provided an update on the implementation of the agreed Action Plan delivering further service improvements.

 

The Cabinet had also been informed that the adaptations detailed within the report related to private sector residents that either owned their properties or were renting from private landlords.  Adaptations required by Council tenants were delivered through the Council's Housing Service while adaptations for Housing Association tenants were delivered by the Housing Association supported by Property Adaptation Grants funded directly be the Welsh Government.

 

The Cabinet had subsequently resolved –

 

(1)       That the report on performance for delivering Disabled Facilities Grants in Quarter 1 of 2013/14 be noted.

 

(2)       That the report be referred to the Scrutiny Committees (Housing and Public Protection, Health and Social Care and Corporate Resources) for information.

 

The Scrutiny Committee received a comprehensive presentation on the Council’s private sector housing disabled facilities grants service which was presented by the Principal Housing and Pollution Officer.  The presentation covered the following topics:

 

·                who could apply

·                what happens if the disabled resident has to move out for health reasons or passes away

·                in the Vale who to contact

·                what works would a DFG fund

·                does the Council have to give a DFG

·                how will the grant be calculated

·                what are the stages of a DFG

·                DFG performance indicator

·                issues in assessment stage

·                application stage – means test

·                application stage – survey

·                application stage – scheduling and plans

·                application stage – asbestos survey

·                application stage – tendering

·                completing works.

 

In making reference to the information presented, the Principal Officer indicated that it was important to note that each stage had been broken down into steps.  In addition, times as indicated were based on averages with the current times being based on grants completed in the last six months.  In conclusion the Principal Officer indicated that the Disabled Facilities Grants Team and the Occupational Therapy Team had worked together to reduce the number of days taken to provide an adaptation to service users’ homes.  This reflected the improvements taken place to date.  Work was also continuing to reduce delivery time, with processes amended and additional staff employed to reduce the time taken further.  In addition, engaging with the disabled residents and their families / carers was an important aspect of the service.  Many of the cases were complex, requiring multi-agency involvement and this was shown with the different times taken for the process.

 

Following the presentation a short question and answer session took place on the undermentioned items:

 

·                How would an applicant know the amount of their contribution without an assessment being undertaken to identify the cost of work to be carried out? In response it was indicated that the purpose of the means testing exercise was to indentify the applicant’s financial ability to make a contribution in the first instance before a grant was agreed.

·                Who was responsible for making available the 'Priorities and Guidance' document at the first point of contact by a potential applicant?  In response it was indicated that this responsibility rest with the Council’s Customer Contact Centre.

·                What was the overall satisfaction rate for the service?  In response reference was made to Appendix 1 to the report which reflected satisfaction levels of the client group who utilised the Council’s agency service.  This was 100% based on 22 returns.  Satisfaction rates in respect of those applicants not opting to use the Council’s agency were not currently collected.

·                Did the commencement of the application process take account of a person being in hospital?  In response it was indicated that it did.

 

In summing up the Committee thanked the officer for the comprehensive presentation and generally thanked officers for their efforts in delivering service improvements in relation to the number of days taken to complete a DFG.

 

RECOMMENDED – T H A T the Council's performance for delivering Disabled Facilities Grant in Quarter 1 of 2013/14 be noted.

 

Reason for recommendation

 

In acknowledgement of the Council's performance to date.

 

 

565     PUBLIC PROTECTION: REGULATORY SERVICES COLLABORATIVE PROJECT (DDS) -

 

The Scrutiny Committee received a presentation from the Head of Public Protection on proposals to fully integrate Regulatory Services functions across Bridgend, Cardiff and the Vale of Glamorgan. 

 

Each Council had received reports on potential collaborative working projects and bids to the Welsh Government's Regional Collaboration Funds.  This included proposals to create a regional regulatory service. 

 

At their July Cabinet meetings, each Council agreed the following recommendations which were now being implemented:

 

·                The Chief Executive from Bridgend Council is undertaking the role of Chief Executive Project Sponsor.

·                The Head of Regulatory Services from Cardiff Council had assumed responsibility as the Interim Project Manager for the initial development phase of the project.

·                During the preparation of the detailed Business Case the Heads of Regulatory Services from each Council be authorised to continue to work together to support preparations for the proposed collaborative service whilst ensuring continuity of service.

·                A Shadow Joint Committee had been established to provide overall direction for the project pending decisions by each Authority as to the way forward and that the Shadow Committee should comprise two Members from each Authority.

·                The Shadow Joint Committee considers a range of collaborative models, including a Joint Committee, to provide governance to the proposed Regional Regulatory Service and collectively make a recommendation to each Council's Cabinet.

·                Should the Shadow Joint Committee recommend a governance model that required a host (employing) Authority, that a Business Case subsequently be developed on the basis that the Vale of Glamorgan Council would be the host (employing) Authority.

·                The governance arrangements be a matter for the Authorities to finally determine when reporting back to Cabinets.

·                The proposals would be the subject of detailed consultation with the staff affected by the proposals and their Trade Unions during the development of the detailed Business Case.

·                That Cabinet delegate authority to the Head of Paid Service, in consultation with the Leader, to enter into an interim collaborative working agreement to facilitate the further development of the Regional Regulatory Services proposals.

 

Committee were advised that the drivers for the change included:

 

·                financial pressures for savings and efficiencies within the service (at least £400,000 over three years within the Vale of Glamorgan)

·                the Welsh Government Collaboration Agenda following the publication of the Simpson Report

·                need to ensure future service resilience / long term sustainability

·                opportunity to 're-model' Regulatory Services

·                the Welsh Government Regional Collaboration Fund opportunity.

 

It was the intention of the Collaborative Project to create a full integrated Regulatory Services function working across Bridgend, Cardiff and the Vale of Glamorgan operating within one Management Structure. 

 

By way of explanation, the phrase 'Regulatory Services' included:

 

·                Trading Standards

·                Environmental Health

·                Licensing.

 

The existing services:

 

·                employ over 200 people

·                have a controllable budget of approximately £8m

·                would serve approximately 615,000 people

·                would possibly include other areas of service at a later date.

 

A shared Regulatory Service should mean that all Councils would benefit operationally and financially from the project i.e.

 

·                customer services could be maintained via a more integrated and co-ordinated approach

·                savings in excess of £1m by 2016, comprising efficiency savings and budget reductions

·                increased service resilience across the region

·                enhanced technical capability of staff teams

·                dynamic operating model.

 

To date, progress on the project had included:

 

·                a bid for funding from the Regional Collaboration Fund had been approved – £250,000 for the next three years

·                an officer project team had been formed

·                reports had been made to all three Council's Cabinets in July 2013

·                consultants had been engaged in accordance with the Cabinet's decisions which required outputs to be provided within ten weeks

·                senior stakeholder, trade union and project work stream lead meetings had taken place

·                a 'Health Check' review of collaborative model had been presented to Shadow Joint Committee, staff and manager workshops in each Authority

·                activity based costings had been undertaken.

 

Key staff issues to be considered included:

 

·                job losses / terms and conditions of staff

·                location

·                service offerings

·                communication

·                management structure

·                training and development

·                organisational structure.

 

Members were offered an opportunity to ask questions.

 

Questions ensued as to whether the proposed service would represent a compromise, resulting in a reduced level of service provision.  In reply, Committee were advised that the collaborative service would result in greater specialisation which could be 'sold’ to other organisations, thus giving the shared service and income.

 

Members enquired as to where the staff would be based and were advised that the Consultants were investigating the availability of property and also different ways of working but it was likely that services would be required in outlying areas. 

 

The Committee was advised that the final recommendations concerning the shared service would be brought before the Committee.

 

RECOMMENDED – T H A T the proposal to prepare a detailed Business Case for a regionalised Regulatory Service comprising Environmental Health, Trading Standards and Licensing which would be reported back to each Authority for approval be noted.

 

Reason for recommendation

 

To apprise Members of the proposed changes. 

 

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