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 SCRUTINY COMMITTEE (HOUSING AND PUBLIC PROTECTION)

 

Minutes of a meeting held on 2nd April, 2014.

 

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

 

 

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

 

 

996     APOLOGIES FOR ABSENCE –

 

These were received from Mr. G. Amos and Mrs. A. Evans (Tenant Working Group).

 

 

997     MINUTES –

 

RECOMMENDED – T H A T the minutes of the meeting held on 12th March, 2014 be approved as a correct record.

 

 

998     DECLARATIONS OF INTEREST –  

 

No declarations were received.

 

 

999     PUBLIC PROTECTION – PROPOSED FEES AND CHARGES 2014 (REF) –

 

At its meeting on 24th March 2014 Cabinet had approved proposals to increase fees and charges in respect of those functions managed by Public Protection. 

 

The report was referred to Scrutiny Committee for consideration to allow the Committee the opportunity to consider the increases.  The Head of Public Protection, in presenting the report, informed Members that the fees set by the Local Authority for Public Protection Services, set out in Appendix 1, were to be increased by 1.9% in line with the published Consumer Price Indices (CPI) in February 2014.  Increased costs had been rounded to the nearest pound or 50 pence to assist with administration.

 

Whilst charges for the Council’s Pest Control needed to cover the cost of the service, they also needed to be competitive within the market.  It was not proposed to increase the majority of the costs for the service as demand had dropped in the last six months and increasing the fees from April would have a negative impact on the income generated, which supports the revenue costs of the service.  The demand for the service would be reviewed over the next six months to ascertain whether the recent reduction was a temporary or more permanent change. 

 

In alluding to the treatment of rats outside a tenant’s property it was proposed to increase the fee for non-benefit claimants from £34.00 to £40.00 and for benefit claimants from a free service to £20.  Fees for Pest Control were set out in Appendix 2 to the report.

 

Trading Standards charges under the Weights and Measures Act 1985 were set regionally and had been increased by 2.7% in line with the Retail Price Index (RPI) in September 2013.  These fees were set out in Appendix 3 to the report.

 

A Member queried how the Vale of Glamorgan compared on price for Pest Control services to other local authorities in Wales.  In response the Head of Public Protection informed Members that a neighbouring authority did not currently charge for rodent control services and was one of few authorities in Wales to do so.  Some authorities did not provide a Pest Control service at all as this is not a statutory obligation.

 

In relation to a query regarding rats and problems with Council communal flats refuse areas the Committee was advised that a service level agreement was in place with Public Housing Services which covered baiting of these areas.

 

Having regard to the report it was

 

RECOMMENDED – T H A T the schedule of fees and charges approved by Cabinet on 24th March 2014, be noted.

 

Reason for recommendation

 

To allow the Scrutiny Committee (Housing and Public Protection) the opportunity to consider the increases.

 

 

1000   UPDATE ON THE IMPLEMENTATION OF THE EMPTY HOMES STRATEGY 2012-2013 (DDS) –

 

The Committee was updated on the progress made in respect of the implementation of the Empty Home Strategy as approved by Cabinet in April 2012. Attached at Appendix 2 of the report was The Empty Homes Action Plan which detailed progress against each action.

 

Members were informed that the aim of the Empty Homes Strategy was to monitor empty homes, provide advice, assistance and guidance to empty property owners, to reduce the negative effect of empty homes on communities, to reduce the number of empty homes, return empty homes back to use and to promote the empty homes initiative.

 

Through the Strategy, the Council would target problematic empty homes that were inactive in the housing market, that were unlikely to return to use without intervention from the Council and those that were likely to be the subject of valid complaints from the public, partners and Councillors. 

 

The Strategy would be achieved through a co-ordinated, proactive approach with the relevant Council departments and stakeholders working in partnership to utilise a range of services to assist property owners to bring empty properties back into use. 

 

The empty property database was being continually updated as new information became available.  Long term empty properties details as of 1st September 2013, provided by Council Tax, had been incorporated into the database.  All properties identified as occupied had been closed on the database.  Procedures to ensure the ongoing development and maintenance of the database were in place and being implemented.

 

All long term empty properties as of 1st September 2013 were in the process of being risk assessed, with 77% of newly identified properties completed.  It was anticipated that the remaining assessments would be completed by the end of February 2014.  Between April and December 2013 a total of 54 empty properties had been returned to use.

 

The inter-departmental Empty Homes Working Group had decided to increase the number of empty homes being targeting for ongoing action / enforcement action.  In view of this the top 20 were prioritised for action.

 

Of the 20 properties prioritised, 2 were now occupied; 2 have been sold and the new owners were engaging; 1 would shortly be renovated and leased by United Welsh; 1 would be subject to a Compulsory Purchase Order; 4 were under renovation; 7 were receiving ongoing persuasion; 3 were awaiting enforcement action.

 

During July 2013, the Welsh Government confirmed additional funding for the Houses into Homes Scheme which enabled the Cardiff and Vale region to draw down £1.4m towards these loans.  Work to promote and support the scheme was ongoing which was to ensure that the region and residents would benefit.

 

A Committee Member sought an update regarding progress made on the Victorian Villas within Penarth.  In response the Head of Public Protection advised that this will need to be looked into and that an update would be provided to the Committee. 

 

In response to a query from a Member on how much enforcement action was taken by the Council, the Committee was advised that depending on the risk assessment the full range of enforcement powers could be used from the service of Improvement Notices to enforcement of Compulsory Purchase Orders. The Authority, where applicable, could also use planning enforcement legislation to improve properties.

 

Following a query regarding the authorities working with Empty Homes Charities, the Committee was advised that this was undertaken indirectly by sharing of good practice through the officer technical group consisting of other local authorities that collaborated with charities.

 

A Committee Member queried the level of funding provided by the Welsh Government and whether it would be possible for the Welsh Government to directly fund the post of a dedicated Empty Homes Officer, as in the case of Scotland where such positions were fully funded by the Scottish Government. The Head of Public Protection indicated that as funding only covered capital costs associated with the initiative and given the funding of staff fell under revenue costs, clearly this was outside the scope of the funding criteria. However, the Head of Housing and Building Services saw no reason why the suggestion could not be raised with the relevant Welsh Government Minister especially as the amount of housing supply was a key component to this initiative. The Committee were happy to recommend to Cabinet for a letter to be written to the Assembly Member with ministerial responsibilities for housing and regeneration to consider the Vale’s request. 

 

RECOMMENDED –

 

(1)       T H A T the report on progress made in implementing the Empty Homes Strategy Action Plan be noted.

 

(2)       T H A T the Cabinet be requested to write to the relevant Welsh Government Minister requesting that the funding of the revenue costs of dedicated Empty Homes Officer posts across Wales be funded by the Welsh Government.

 

Reasons for recommendations

 

(1)       To monitor progress made in relation to the Empty Homes Strategy.

 

(2)       To consider all appropriate funding arrangements in order to reduce the level of empty homes within the Vale of Glamorgan and pan Wales.

 

 

1001   UPDATE ON HOUSING IMPROVEMENT PROGRAMME (DVSH) –

 

The Head of Housing and Building Services updated the Committee on progress Scrutiny Members in the performance relating to the Welsh Housing Quality Standards (WHQS) improvement works to Council houses within the Vale of Glamorgan.

 

Attached at Appendix A to the report was an overall summary of customer satisfaction responses received between October – December 2013.

 

The Committee were advised that it was evident that, overall, operational performance continued to improve in both terms of delivery times and customer satisfaction.  The Committee noted the improved overall satisfaction rates for the quality of work carried out, the service provided by the contractor and the standard of care and cleanliness achieved by contractors.  Improved performance was also noted in the rate of satisfaction in relation to the percentage of properties completed on time and also the number of properties where the work was completed right the first time.  The number of complaints received had fallen down from 10 in Quarter 3 2012/13 to 4 in Quarter 3 2013/14.  The Committee were pleased to note the increase in the number of apprenticeships created and also the percentage of waste recycled. 

 

A Member informed Committee that on a number of occasions they had been advised by tenants of issues of damp being present within properties where renovation work had taken place.  In reply the Committee were advised that the Authority’s initial priority had been to address internal improvements to properties. Many tenants may have experienced internal damp issues because of a reluctance to use their central heating system or to properly ventilate their homes. As significant work on internal upgrades had progressed at a more substantial rate than originally envisioned, the external improvement works had been brought forward a year ahead of schedule.  Further to this point the Committee were advised that some of these problems had been addressed via the emergency building works which had identified those houses requiring the most urgent need for improvements. 

 

In reflecting on the customer satisfaction report the Committee were pleased with progress made to date and thanked the relevant officers and contractors for their efforts

 

RECOMMENDED – T H A T Members note the current performance and the improved delivery times and customer satisfaction be noted.

 

Reason for recommendation

 

To ensure that the necessary performance information pertaining to WHQS was appropriately monitored and reviewed.

 

 

1002   SCRUTINY DECISION TRACKING OF RECOMMENDATIONS (DR) –

 

The appendices to the report provided Members with progress in relation to the Scrutiny Committee’s recommendations for

 

·         Financial year 2011/12 (Appendix A)

·         Financial year 2012/13 (Appendix B)

·         3rd Quarter October to December 2013 (Appendix C)

·         4th Quarter January to March 2014 (Appendix D).

 

It was subsequently

 

RECOMMENDED – T H A T the following progress be accepted and recommendations confirmed as completed:

 

09 October 2013

Min. No. 481 – Youth Offending Service – Service Plan (DSS) – Recommended

(2)   That the Director of Social Services submits a further report in six months’ time on progress made against the actions contained within the Action Plan. 

 

  

Progress report presented to the Committee on 12th February, 2014.  (Min. No. 827 refers)

Completed

Min. No. 483 – Update on the Implementation of the Empty Homes Strategy 2013-2017 – Recommended

(2)   That a further report be presented to the Scrutiny Committee in six months’ time.

 

 

 

Progress report presented to the Committee earlier in the meeting on 2nd April 2014.

Completed

15 January 2014

Min. No. 760 – Safer Vale Partnership Progress Report 2012/13 (DDS) – Recommended

(2)   That the Safer Vale Manager be requested to prepare a summary of the Annual Report for circulation to PACT meetings at the earliest opportunity.

 

 

 

Summary of the Safer Vale Annual Report circulated to all Elected Members and front line support officers for the Police in order that it be shared at PACT meetings.

Completed

 

Reason for recommendation

 

To maintain effective tracking of the Committee’s recommendations.

 

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