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SCRUTINY COMMITTEE (HOUSING AND PUBLIC PROTECTION)

 

Minutes of a meeting held on 18th June, 2014.

 

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

 

 

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

 

 

88            APOLOGIES FOR ABSENCE –

 

These were received from Councillor Mrs. V.M. Hartrey and Mr. G. Amos (Tenant Working Group).

 

 

89            APPOINTMENT OF VICE-CHAIRMAN –

 

RECOMMENDED – T H A T Councillor J. Drysdale be elected Vice-Chairman for the current Municipal year.

 

 

90            MINUTES –

 

RECOMMENDED – T H A T the minutes of the meeting held on 2nd April, 2014 be approved as a correct record.

 

 

91            DECLARATIONS OF INTEREST – 

 

No declarations were received.

 

 

92            REVENUE AND CAPITAL MONITORING FOR THE PERIOD 1ST APRIL TO 30TH APRIL 2014 (DDS AND DVSH) –

 

Committee were advised of the position in respect of revenue and capital expenditure for the period 1st April to 30th April 2014 regarding those revenue and capital budgets which formed the Committee’s remit.

 

The current forecast for the Revenue Budget was for a balanced budget. 

 

Public Sector Housing (HRA) – the HRA was expected to outturn on target.

 

At present there was a small variance on the General Fund Housing budget which was expected to outturn on target.

 

An internal restructure had been undertaken within Regulatory Services and an element of the Private Housing budget (relating to Environmental Health, Housing) had been transferred into Public Protection.  Cabinet would therefore be requested to vire this element of the budget from Private Housing into Public Protection.  The total virement required for this transfer was £400k.  The amended budget of £2.631m for Public Protection was shown in the report.  At this stage, it was anticipated that the service would outturn on target.

 

Private Housing – in rationalising the budgets as set out below, the amended budget for Private Housing was £11.344m.  At this stage, it was anticipated that the service would outturn on target.

 

Other services were anticipated to outturn on target by year end.

 

Appendix 2 to the report detailed financial progress on the Capital Programme as at 30th April 2014. 

 

The monitoring report showed actual expenditure for the month of April 2014 and showed no variances.  Profiled expenditure had been requested from Project Managers and would be updated in the report to the next meeting of the Committee.

 

RECOMMENDED – T H A T the position with regard to the 2014/15 Revenue and Capital Budgets be noted.

 

Reason for recommendation

 

That Scrutiny Committee note the position with regard to the 2014/15 revenue and capital monitoring.

 

 

93            DISABLED FACILITY GRANT PERFORMANCE 2013-14 QUARTERS 2 AND 3 (REF) –

 

Cabinet, on 7th April 2014, was advised on the Council's performance delivering Disabled Facilities Grant (DFG) in quarters 2 and 3 of 2013-14. 

 

Since 2008, the Council had acknowledged the time to deliver a DFG, from the first point of contact when clients requested an adaptation through to the delivery of the works, had to be improved.  Officer time and financial resources had been invested in the service to secure improvements and this had been reflected in the Council’s subsequent improvement in performance.

 

On 15 July, 2013, Cabinet was presented with a further report on delivery improvements for DFGs to improve the grant delivery time. Cabinet resolved that a detailed report on Disabled Facilities Grants be brought to Cabinet on a quarterly basis (Minute No C1415). 

 

The quarterly report for the  DFG service performance for quarter 2, 2013-14 was attached at Appendix 1 to the report, and the quarterly report for the DFG service performance for Quarter 3 2013-14 was provided in Appendix 2 attached to the report.

 

Cabinet had

 

RESOLVED –

 

(1)       That the report on performance for delivering Disabled Facilities Grant in quarters 2 and 3 of 2013-14 be noted.

 

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

 

Reasons for decisions

 

(1)       To note the Council's performance in delivering Disabled Facilities Grant in quarter 2 and 3 of 2013-14.

 

(2)       To inform Members of the Scrutiny Committees (Housing and Public Protection), (Health and Social Care) and (Corporate Resources) of the Council's performance in delivering Disabled Facilities Grant in quarter 2 and 3 of 2013-14.

 

In considering the report, a Member expressed the view that the references of the Council’s Website to Disabled Facilities Grants were difficult to find.  The suggestion was made that the provision on the Website be reviewed to see if it could be made easier for members of the public to find. 

 

In noting that the Council now employed an Occupational Therapist, the question was asked as to how this post was funded and Committee was informed that the post was funded through the Social Services budget.

 

Having considered the report and the decision of Cabinet, it was

 

RECOMMENDED – T H A T the decision of Cabinet be noted.

 

Reason for recommendation

 

Having regard to the decision of Cabinet.

 

 

94            PROGRESS MADE ON THE ALCOHOL STRATEGY FOR THE VALE OF GLAMORGAN 2013/14 (DDS) –

 

Mr. Conrad Eydmann, Head of Substance Misuse Strategy and Development, Cardiff and Vale University Health Board was present for this item.

 

Committee received a report on progress against the Alcohol Strategy for the Vale of Glamorgan. 

 

The Alcohol Strategy was aimed at reducing the harms associated with alcohol, in relation to both health related harms and those that affect the community as a whole via anti social behaviour and crime.

 

The current Cardiff and Vale Area Planning Board Alcohol Strategy attached at Appendix 1 to the report included the following main themes, as well as the mechanisms that would aid delivery:

 

·         Education and prevention

·         Harm to the individual

·         Harm to the community

·         Criminal justice.

 

The Strategy looked to work across partnerships to tackle and prevent alcohol related harm. 

 

The Area Planning Board (APB) Alcohol Group consisted of partners from South Wales Police, Cardiff and Vale University Health Board, Public Health Wales, Cardiff and Vale Local Authority staff linked to licensing, trading standards, substance misuse and family support. 

 

As a result of this partnership approach to addressing the needs outlined in the Action Plan, community was improved, and duplication avoided thus giving partners the opportunity to share learning and experience via a quarterly forum.

 

During the past 12 months a research project had been commissioned to inform the APB of alcohol use amongst those aged over 60 in the Vale. 

 

Test Purchasing Operations had continued across Cardiff and the Vale during 2013/14.  For the Vale of Glamorgan, failure rates had been reduced.  132 test purchases were attempted, of which there were five failures.  Operations were spread throughout the year at key times e.g. GCSE results day.  This would include a check to ensure retailers were aware of the Challenge 25 scheme.

 

The Tier 2 service for young people affected by substance misuse, Up2U had linked in with the Anti Social Behaviour Team in the Vale offering opportunities for early intervention and signposting. 

 

Information on substance misuse services were sent out with Anti Social Behaviour letters, encouraging people to refer themselves into treatment where alcohol or other drugs had been linked to the occurrence.

 

The Up2U team had worked closely with the Vale Youth Service to deliver street outreach linked to substance misuse and alcohol, again offering a preventative approach to escalated nuisance linked to alcohol.

 

The staff at Cardiff Alcohol Treatment Centre had started collecting "last drink" data to inform licensing decisions and to take a proactive approach to work with the licensing trade at promoting the responsible retail of alcohol.  Last drink data highlights where an individual was last served an alcoholic drink and uses this to work with the trade and identify good and bad practice. 

 

Public Health Wales currently ran alcohol brief intervention training sessions for free.  In 2013/14 over 700 individuals were trained from 65 agencies across Cardiff and the Vale.

 

Two new generic substance misuse services had been developed and were due to be fully operational by July 2014.  The Open Access and Engagement service would support substance users, including alcohol users, at a low level who were reticent to change, preparing them for more structured treatment.  The Throughcare, After and Recovery service would support service users who had left structured treatment, but required ongoing low level support to reintegrate into the community.

 

South Wales Police had run successful operations in relation to the night time economy.  These operations had been aimed at increasing police presence in the night time economy and improving public reassurance.  Operations took place during the rugby six nations, preliminary findings suggesting that violent crime had reduced on the previous year’s figures.

 

Mr. Eydmann provided an overview of the issues surrounding the Cardiff and Vale of Glamorgan Alcohol Working Group, i.e.

 

-         40% of all closures were as a result of "DNA" (Do Not Attends). To try to reduce this figure, everybody with an appointment receives a text message reminding them of their appointments.  This has improved the attendance rate significantly.

-         A new service involving walk-ins / drop-ins has been started which involves a less formal atmosphere.  Furthermore, if help is required, it can be offered on the spot.

-         An after care service was to be provided from 1st July 2014.  Unless some structural support was provided, there was a danger that the clients would relapse. 

-         In order to provide additional resources for one area, there may well be a need for less well-performing areas of service being de-commissioned.

-         Mr. Eydmann provided a quick overview of a number of new services and mergers at Strategic level.

-         The organisation "Recovery Cymru" provided long term support for people with substance misuse issues.  The organisation had premises on Holton Road, Barry and was active in social reintegration.

-         There were problems with access to rural areas and an outreach service was being considered.

-         Online access to support substance misusers was being piloted.  Additionally, face to face counselling was taking place using Skype.

 

A Member enquired as to Mr. Eydmann’s views about extending opening hours during the night and was informed that attempts were being made to promote sensible attitudes.  An Alcohol treatment centre was piloted in Cardiff town centre.  Through the Open-Access Service, attempts were being made at brief interventions.

 

There were multiple strands to the question.

 

A Member enquired if there was a report available that provided more information on the briefing that Mr. Eydmann had given to the Committee and was advised that the Cardiff and Vale of Glamorgan Alcohol Working Group had just published its Annual Report.

 

A Member noted that paragraph 2.4 of the Action Plan included data that had been collected over a 12 month period and the Member enquired if this would be more beneficial if collected on a monthly basis.

 

Mr. Eydmann replied that annual figures were more useful in targeting people going through the system repeatedly.  Relapses could happen within days or months of treatment having ended. 

 

There being no further questions, the Committee extended their thanks to Mr. Eydmann and his team.  It was appreciated that the targeting of resources was carried out in a more holistic manner than had been the case previously and Committee expressed the view that they were pleased with the work that was being carried out.

 

RECOMMENDED – T H A T the progress made against the Alcohol Strategy within the Vale of Glamorgan be noted.

 

Reason for recommendation

 

To apprise Members of work underway in the Vale of Glamorgan in relation to alcohol and how this fits into local, regional and national work streams.

 

 

95            MATTER WHICH THE CHAIRMAN HAD DECIDED WAS URGENT -

 

RESOLVED - T H A T the following matter which the Chairman had decided was urgent for the reason given beneath the minute heading be considered.

 

 

96            EXIT FROM HOUSING REVENUE ACCOUNT SUBSIDY SYSTEM (REF) –

Urgent by reason of the need to advise the meeting of the Council to be held on 25th June 2014 of the views of this Committee

 

Cabinet on 16th June, 2014 was updated on the proposed arrangements for exiting the Housing Revenue Account Subsidy system.

 

The Welsh Government had been in discussions with HM Treasury since 2010 with a view to agreeing a financial settlement that would enable the eleven stock retaining Councils to exit from the Housing Revenue Account Subsidy (HRAS) system.

 

The principle for Local Authorities buying themselves out the system were that "every stock retaining authority should be better off than the current position". This included not only the financial benefits from exiting HRAS but also the benefits of becoming self-financing.

 

Welsh Government announced in June 2013 that an agreement had been reached with HM Treasury, which together with the introduction of new self-financing arrangements was expected to generate revenue savings for the eleven Councils each year. This would allow Councils to increase their investment in their existing stock and, where possible, support the delivery of additional housing supply.

 

A consultation paper, on the Self Financing of Council Housing in Wales was distributed to the 11 stock retaining local authorities prior to a meeting that was held on the 16th of May 2014.  Officer and Member representatives were asked to consider a number of questions posed by Welsh Government relating to the exit from the HRAS. In attendance for the Vale of Glamorgan Council were the Cabinet Member for Housing, Building Services and Community Safety, the Head of Housing and Building Services and the Housing Accountant

 

Each stock retaining local authority had now been asked by Welsh Government to formally respond by 19th July, 2014 to the 6 questions set out within this report (a) - (f) above confirming if the Council accepts the WLGA Coordinating Committee's recommendations. 

 

The following detailed the Vale of Glamorgan Council's proposed response in respect of the 6 questions posed by Welsh Government.

 

(a)       Do you agree with the proposal to distribute the settlement value based on negative subsidy amounts?  (Option 1 - attached as appendix 1)

 

This is acceptable.

(b)       Do you agree with the proposal to distribute the borrowing cap based upon option 3 (see appendix 2) to allow for new build commitments whilst also providing potential headroom for new build to every local authority?

 

The preferred option for the Vale of Glamorgan Council was option 2 as this gave additional borrowing capacity in terms of new build.  However, all 11 local authorities were compromising in order that the overall borrowing cap was not exceeded, tight timescales were met and that new build requests were in some part acceded to, therefore, option 3 was acceptable to the Vale of Glamorgan Council in terms of this.

 

(c)        Do you agree that the Welsh Government should retain a small proportion of the borrowing headroom as a contingency? (Proposed at £5M)

 

This was rejected as the borrowing cap was a local authority borrowing cap and should be used as such.

 

(d)       What are your views on how Welsh Government allocate any unallocated borrowing headroom now or in the future?

 

Unallocated borrowing headroom should be distributed between the 7 local authorities that had not initially included new build within their business plans.

 

(e)       Do you agree that the borrowing cap should be reviewed every three years with the 1st review in 2018/19?

 

It should be recognised that major capital projects were complex in terms of delivery. Business plans were long term planning documents.  The rational in reviewing borrowing cap usage in such a short period of time may lead to uncertainty in relation to long term strategic planning.

 

(f)        What action should the Welsh Government take on a Council who has not delivered on their ability to utilise their borrowing cap?

 

It was not felt that employing sanctions in terms of not using the allocated cap would be of any benefit in this process.  Experience tells us from delivering Social Housing Grant schemes that a myriad of things can impact on an organisation’s ability to always deliver.  Flexibility in the borrowing cap allocation should only be sought between Councils through trading arrangements.

 

The Welsh Government considered that Borrowing Cap Option 3 was the preferred option. Option 3 in terms of the Vale of Glamorgan's Housing Business Plan would give the Authority headroom to consider new build council housing (see Appendix 2 attached to the report). Based on existing financial assumptions the additional borrowing had been modelled and was affordable.

 

The final decision on the borrowing cap distribution would be subject to agreement by the Minister for Housing and Regeneration. Option 3 would be supported by the following process:

 

Each Council would be allocated an "indicative allocation" of the borrowing headroom as set out in option 3. 

 

Each Council would need to advise the Welsh Government by end of October 2014 on whether they would take up their “indicative allocation†for new build by March 2018.

 

If a Council wished to take up their "indicative allocation", the Council would need to submit proposals to the Welsh Government by end of October 2014 that set out how and when they could utilise this for new build and whether this together with their allocation for WHQS and % share for new build was "affordable" within the business plan.

 

At this time the Council had no information on whether the additional borrowing headroom could be used for regeneration projects on council estates.

 

Committee were advised that the wording of the paragraph beneath (d) (in bold type) above should read:

 

"Unallocated borrowing headroom should be distributed between the local authorities using the formula explicit within Option 2 (Appendix 2) which is based on need and affordability."

 

This was a matter for Council decision.

 

RESOLVED –

 

T H A T the report and the attached appendices be endorsed and Cabinet’s views on the process proposed and the responses to the questions posed by Welsh Government contained within paragraph 12 (a) to (f) be referred to Full Council.

 

T H A T the Head of Housing and Building Services submit regular reports to Cabinet and Council as necessary on the progress in exiting the Housing Revenue Account Subsidy system.

 

T H A T the urgent decision procedure be used if necessary as set out in article 13.09 of the Council's Constitution in view of the need to submit a response to Welsh Government by 19 July, 2014.

 

T H A T the report be submitted as an urgent reference to Scrutiny Committee (Housing and Public Protection) on 18 June, 2014. The report and any comments from Scrutiny Committee (Housing and Public Protection) then be referred to Scrutiny Committee (Corporate Resources) on 24 June, 2014. The report and any further comments from Scrutiny Committee (Corporate Resources) then be submitted to Full Council on 25 June, 2014.

 

Reasons for decisions

 

In order for the exit from the subsidy system to be achieved by March 2015 all eleven stock retaining local authorities need to come to an agreement on the Treasury settlement 'offer' and the mechanisms by which the borrowing cap would be distributed.  The changes in how the Housing Revenue Account operates have implications for the Housing Business Plan, this is outside the current policy framework, therefore the decision associated with these changes must be agreed at Full Council.

 

In terms of progress Cabinet will need to be informed.  Full Council would need to agree the voluntary agreement to allow the Vale of Glamorgan Council to exit from the Housing Revenue Account Subsidy system by March 2015.

 

The urgent decision procedure was invoked due to the timescales set down by Welsh Government and the availability of a Council meeting prior to this date

 

To allow Members to fully consider the report, before being submitted to Full Council.

 

Having considered the resolution of Cabinet, Scrutiny Committee (Housing and Public Protection)

 

RECOMMENDED – T H A T the Council do not lose sight of its own existing stock, including the upgrades that are overdue and that the development of new-builds should not distract from that.

 

Reason for recommendation

 

Having regard to the resolutions of Cabinet.

 

 

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