Venue: Anglia Room, The Conference Suite, Elizabeth House, Walpole Loke, Dereham
Contact: Committee Services 01362 656870
To confirm the minutes of the meeting held on 5 January 2012.
The Minutes of the meeting held on 5 January 2012 were confirmed as a correct record and signed by the Chairman.
Apologies and Substitutes (Agenda Item 2)
To receive apologies for absence and to note substitute Members in attendance.
Apologies for absence had been received from Mr Gilbert and Mr Kybird.
Urgent Business (Agenda Item 3)
To note whether the Chairman proposes to accept any item as urgent business pursuant to Section 100(B)(4)(b) of the Local Government Act 1972.
The Chairman gave a verbal update on Shared Service which the Exec Board had asked to be put on the Commission agenda. It would be discussed at Cabinet on 14 February 2012. The Chairman read from a note provided by the Chief Executive which included the following:
‘Key elements of the proposal were:
· further savings for Breckland of about £100,000
· additional support to the shared management structure with an additional director, additional finance manager and customer services manager
· it would further cement the Council’s political position as a member-led Conservative authority
· it would open up many new opportunities for savings through increased procurement ‘clout’ and shared services.
The expansion would continue to enshrine the principles of the way the current partnership with South Holland worked, which:
· built on a trusting relationship
· shared costs equally
· was based on the same staff structure
· where all shared managers worked equalled for all three authorities
· managers were required to have core competencies
· relied on new ways of working with staff and Members
· each party stayed as a separate organisation with its own governance and there was no requirement to sign up to all shared services, only as it suited
· each party was free to have other partnerships when these made sense.
There would continue to be an informal joint executive but with no decision making powers. All decisions would pass through the decision making process of each authority.
Implementation could be achieved without major disruption to the existent joint managers and the structure, through a process of slotting in (redundancies would be small in number).
All three Councils would hold meetings in March to approve the expansion in principle with final sign off being sought at Special Council meetings which all three Councils would hold at the same time on 24 May 2012.’
Having read out the update the Chairman urged Members to attend the Cabinet meeting on 14 February to raise any issues they had with regard to the challenges ahead for Senior Managers.
Declaration of Interest (Agenda Item 4)
Members are asked at this stage to declare any interests that they may have in any of the following items on the agenda. The Members’ Code of Conduct requires that declarations include the nature of the interest and whether it is a personal or prejudicial interest.
Mr R Richmond and Mr W Richmond declared a personal interest in Agenda Item 7 by virtue of owning property in Breckland with tenants receiving Housing Benefit.
Non-Members wishing to address the Meeting (Agenda Item 5)
To note the names of any non-members or public speakers wishing to address the meeting.
Mr Bambridge, Mr Kiddle-Morris and Mr W Richmond were in attendance.
To receive a report and presentation.
The Economic Development Manager introduced two members of his team, Dan Cox - Economic Development Officer and Lindy Warmer - Senior Economic Development Officer.
Members were handed a copy of the latest Economic Development Bulletin which provided an up-to-date comparison of unemployment trends and causes and the steps taken to address them, along with local media items.
The Economic Development Officer explained that the most accurate economic indicator was the level of unemployment. Members were given a PowerPoint presentation including a graphical comparison of the impact of recession on the economy. Breckland’s figures had shown a slight recovery and had then stabilised whereas other areas locally, regionally and nationally had continued to decline.
The claimant count (for Job Seeker’s Allowance) had not increased and Breckland was doing better than other areas by comparison. The UK average was 4% and Breckland’s average was 2.8%.
There was no doubt that the recession had had a negative effect on the area causing a number of closures and significant redundancies. However, some companies had experienced growth and taken on extra staff and a number of businesses had moved into the area, bringing jobs. As Breckland had relatively few registered large companies, the closure impact had not been as great as in some areas.
The Economic Development Manager explained that they were running a number of projects to help provide a platform for future growth. These included REV Active which advised companies on how to reduce costs by energy saving methods and the BELA scheme which provided up to £500 to support small businesses.
The team were also involved in the Moving Thetford Forward project which included a new bus interchange, town centre development, a skate park, the Riverside regeneration project and the sustainable urban extension.
The Snetterton Utilities and Snetterton Heath would provide significant employment growth in the future. A planning application for a biomass plant was currently under consideration and if successful could provide enough power for around 65,000 homes and businesses.
The team were also working closely with education providers to facilitate apprenticeships.
With the impending improvements and dualling of the All there were many businesses planning to grow and investing in the future. The team were being very pro-active to focus limited resources on supporting businesses.
The Economic Development Officer concluded by saying that it was very difficult to forecast the economic future but the team would continue to seek funding to develop projects.
Mr W Richmond asked for clarification of the percentage of claimants for Job Seeker’s Allowance aged 16-24 and the Economic Development Officer agreed to provide him with those figures.<1>
With regard to the dualling of the All, Mr Joel asked what was being done to encourage businesses into Breckland. The Economic Development Officer advised that there were a number of employment sites earmarked for development and they had a Task & Finish Group which met regularly. They were speaking to developers about a marketing strategy. Once building work began more work would be done to promote ... view the full minutes text for item 21.
Report of the Director of Commissioning.
The Principal Officer – Housing Options presented the report which had been written in response to a question raised at the last meeting of the Commission.
He advised Members that in 2011 there had been a 13% increase in homelessness across the country, but in Breckland the increase had been 25%.
In writing the report a number of questions had been generated and he outlined the responses to those as follows:
Has recession had an impact on Homelessness in the District?
There had been an extra 500 enquiries regarding Housing in the past year and there was obviously a link between that and the recession. Loss of employment led to loss of housing.
What is the status of Rough Sleeping in the District?
There were actually only about eight rough sleepers in Breckland but the resources needed to deal with them were quite high as they tended to have other issues as well. The Government had recognised this and provided additional funding. The Housing Team was working with the UK Border Agency to offer repatriation to those willing to be returned home.
What is the status of Mortgage rescue in the District?
This was a very important part of the Team’s work. It could cost the Council up to £15,000 a month to place a family in temporary accommodation, so where possible, every effort was made to keep families in their homes.
What is the Housing Team doing to prevent Homelessness?
The report listed the many ways in which the Team worked to reduce/prevent homelessness. This involved close links with Housing Associations and other agencies.
The Principal Officer – Housing Options concluded by advising Members that the Housing Review was looking at ways to improve the customer experience, ensuring that only one visit to the Council was required. By reducing inefficiencies they were finding savings for the Council, in spite of the rising demand. The Team was working hard to provide value for money.
Mrs Irving was interested in the Team’s work with Julian Housing regarding mental health. She asked if additional time was allowed in such cases.
This was confirmed. The team put pressure on Housing Associations to allow them time to make referrals for clients, etc, to avoid evictions.
Mr Byrne asked how much homelessness was due to divorce or separation and was advised that relationship breakdown was probably responsible for 15-20% of the enquiries received.
Mr W Richmond asked if the Team worked with the various Homeless Charities in the UK. The Principal Officer – Housing Options said that they did. Shelter offered legal advice and the Salvation Army had previously helped with rough sleepers, but not in the last year. The Citizens’ Advice Bureau also helped as did the SOLO Housing Association and Leeway helped with cases of domestic violence. However the charity organisations required funding and some clients needed a lot of support.
The Chairman thanked the Principal Officer for his report.
Task and Finish Groups (Agenda Item 8)
To consider reports (if any) from Task & Finish Group Chairmen.
Housing Task & Finish Group
Verbal update by the Chairman on the Workshop held on 20 January 2012.
Mrs Matthews, Chairman of the Task & Finish Group, informed Members that the Group had received training in December and their work would cover the three strands of Tenancy, Allocation and Homelessness.
Their first meeting of the Group had taken place on 1 February and representatives from three Housing Associations had been in attendance. Discussions had covered:
The changes brought in by the Localism Bill affecting tenancy duration. The Group had been informed that the average tenancy lasted only seven years, this had been surprising. Following discussions with the Housing Associations it had been decided to set a five year tenancy with a one-year introductory period, totalling six years. Two Housing Associations had not signed up to flexible tenure.
Concerns that there were not enough smaller properties available to meet need. This would be compounded if people were encouraged to move out of larger properties. Developers were not building smaller properties.
The Commission Chairman noted that the Housing Needs Register identified a need for apartments, flats and one and two bedroom units. A way had to be found to provide for that need. He was also concerned that Flagship had not signed up to the tenancy strategy as they were one of the Council’s biggest providers.
Mr Carter asked what was being done to bring vacant properties into use. There were many around and it was a waste.
It was noted that the Council was running the ‘Restore’ scheme which offered up to £5,000 to bring properties that had been vacant for longer than six months, up to rentable standard, in return for them being let to someone on the Choice Based Letting scheme, for a minimum of one year.
The Chairman suggested that the scheme should be advertised to all Parish Clerks as they were closest to residents and could provide information on empty properties.
Mr Carter asked if the figures included people who had moved back in with their parents as they were also technically homeless.
The Principal Officer – Housing Options advised that their figures were based on direct approaches. He mentioned that social housing was not the only route to accommodation and there was a need to change people’s mindsets. Other schemes were available, such as shared ownership.
Mr Bambridge was shocked that Housing Associations were not prepared to build the size/style of houses needed.
With regard to tenancy length the Vice-Chairman was concerned that if people knew they would only be in a property for five years they would not invest in it. He thought it would create transient communities and said that it was not the way to deal with bad tenants.
Mrs Matthews explained that if the tenancy was still appropriate and there were no problems then the tenure could be extended after five years, but the Vice-Chairman still thought that psychologically people would not feel secure
Mrs Irving pointed out that the Task & Finish Group had suggested a ten year tenancy, but after listening to the Housing Association representatives and all the facts, ... view the full minutes text for item 23a
Health & Scrutiny (Standing Item) (Agenda Item 9)
To receive an update on the Norfolk Health Scrutiny Committee.
Lady Fisher had provided the Chairman with a report. Members would receive an update at the next meeting.
Scrutiny Call-ins (Standing Item) (Agenda Item 10)
To note whether any decisions have been called-in for scrutiny.
Councillor Call for Action (Standing Item) (Agenda Item 11)
To consider any references.
(a) A copy of the Commission’s work programme is attached. The Commission is asked to agree any additions, deletions or amendments to the programme as appropriate.
(b) Member Issues: In accordance with the Commission’s protocol for member leadership, which states that members of the Commission will take the lead in selecting topics for overview and scrutiny and in the questioning of witnesses, members are invited to put forward items for selection for future review.
The Chairman noted that the Executive Member for Planning & Environmental Services had asked the Commission to scrutinise the Environmental Services Contract which was under review and make appropriate recommendations. This would be added to the work programme.
The Scrutiny Officer briefed Members on the items due on the March agenda. She suggested that an item on the car parking review should be added to the work programme and the Executive Member for Assets & Strategic Development advised that information would not be available for a couple of months.
The Chairman agreed with that and thought that Shared Services should be brought forward on the programme. Committee Chairmen had requested more information with regard to the proposals to widen the shared service agenda. An update was requested from the Training Manager.
Mrs Irving asked what had happened about the Utilities Review and the Scrutiny Officer advised that she was still trying to arrange that.
Finally it was noted that the Planning Contract Monitoring should be added to the programme for the April meeting.
Next Meeting (Agenda Item 13)
To note the arrangements for the next meeting to be held on 15 March 2012.
The arrangements for the next meeting on 15 March 2012 were noted.
Executive Member Portfolio Update (Agenda Item 14)
Mr M Kiddle-Morris, Executive Member for Assets and Strategic Development, has been invited to attend the meeting to update Members on key ongoing issues and policies within his portfolio and to answer any questions.
If the Commission wish to ask questions of the Executive Member concerning the item discussed at the Special Cabinet meeting to be held on the morning of 9 February 2012, it will be necessary to pass a resolution to exclude the press and public.
The Executive Member for Assets & Strategic Development presented a brief overview of his portfolio.
He noted that the Economic Development presentation to the Commission had been very good and it would be a great shame if the Council did not have that team. However, they were a discretionary service and were therefore at risk. He had asked the Economic Development Manager to concentrate on making the service cost-neutral and to that end they were working on rolling out the REV Active project to other authorities. Both Luton and Great Yarmouth had expressed an interest.
With regard to Strategic Planning, the policies would be reviewed once the National Planning Framework details were known.
The Thetford Area Action Plan would be examined in public on 6 and 7 March. Six public speakers were expected. If approved the Council would achieve its five year land supply, in fact it would provide a twelve year supply.
The Attleborough & Snetterton Heath Area Action Plan had been held up for more work on highways and the travelling infrastructure. A link road proposal was still under review and it was hoped that this would be ready for consultation in April. Attleborough Town Council was doing work in parallel to the Council and an Officer group had been set up to talk to all stakeholders.
Work had been done on the Community Infrastructure Levy (CIL) and four separate charging areas had been identified. There was concern that land and house prices in Thetford had been skewed and extra work was being done on that area and would be presented to Cabinet.
The Brecks Special Protection Area (SPA) Forum had been looking at the issue of Stone Curlews and the consensus of opinion was that some agricultural buildings could be built within the buffer zone.
The Asset Management team had granted access to Council owned land in Swaffham for Tesco’s, and it was hoped this would address the current problem of people travelling out of Swaffham to shop.
The Thetford Skate Park was going ahead.
With regard to investments, the Council had divested itself of £1.3million of property which had been in poor condition/unlettable, etc. £680,000 had been reinvested to provide a better return and the team were looking for further opportunities to invest.
On a note of caution, changes to the treasury financing rules meant that there was a risk that negative leases might lose revenue.
Although the property market was poor, retail property transactions were doing well. The commercial property portfolio was 92% let. The two Business Centres in Dereham and Thetford had just above 80% occupancy.
The Council had about 6,000 pieces of land to dispose of and had raised half a million pounds through land disposal in the last year.
With regard to affordable housing, the Council had some large pieces of land which if granted planning permission, could provide the money for the Council to build two bedroom properties itself.
Finally the Executive Member referred to car parking charges and said that ... view the full minutes text for item 29.