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Minutes of a meeting held at the Town Hall, Lowestoft

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Minutes of a meeting held at the Town Hall, Lowestoft

    OVERVIEW & SCRUTINY COMMITTEE 10/12/09

    Minutes of a meeting held at the Town Hall, Lowestoft

    on Thursday, 10 December 2009 at 7.00pm

Members present:

    J Shanahan (Chairman), A Barron, B Bee, P Flegg, D Law, F Mortimer, D Ritchie, P Widdowson and S Woods

    Councillor Elliott as a Co-optee in relation to Agenda Item 430 - Results of Tenant Consultation on Housing Asset Management Strategy and Feedback on Heat Pumps Trial in Council Housing

Other Members in attendance:

    Councillor Allen in relation to Agenda Item 430 - Results of Tenant Consultation on Housing Asset Management Strategy and Feedback on Heat Pumps Trial in Council Housing

    Councillor C Law in relation to and Agenda Item 428 - Access to Service Inspection Update and Agenda Item 429 Corporate Partnership Policy Update

Officers present:

    A Charvonia (Assistant Chief Executive), B Herring (Head of Customer Services), R Best (Principal Service Manager for Community Development & Performance), D Offord (Principal Service Manager for Democratic Services), J Brown (Principal Service Manager for Building and Housing) and J Appleby (Principal Committee Officer)

424 APOLOGIES FOR ABSENCE

    Apologies for absence were received from Councillors Baxter and Collecott. 425 DECLARATIONS OF INTEREST

    No declaration of interests were made.

    426 MINUTES

    It was reported that the list of Committee Members in attendance did not accurately

    reflect Councillors who attended meeting because the names listed appear to reflect

    those who were present at 8 October 2009 Overview & Scrutiny Committee meeting.

    RESOLVED

    That subject to the list of Councillors present being rectified to show the correct

    names, the Minutes of the meeting held on 5 November 2009 be approved as a

    correct record and signed by the Chairman.

    (The actual names of the Councillors present at the meeting of the Committee on 5

    November 2009 were: J Shanahan (Chairman), A Barron, G Baxter, B Bee, D Law, D

    Ritchie, M Ryland, P Widdowson and S Woods)

    427 RESPONSES OF THE CABINET TO ANY REPORT OF THE COMMITTEE OR

    REPORTS OF ANY DISCUSSIONS WITH THE CABINET

    The Chairman reported back on a number of issues that had been referred to Cabinet on

    19 November 2009, following consideration by the Overview & Scrutiny Committee at its

    meeting on 5 November 2009. The Overview and Scrutiny Committee had approved a

    number of recommendations to take the issue forward after having received a joint

    presentation from representatives from Suffolk County Council and officers from

    Woodfuel East who had provided baseline information for a scrutiny review on

    Renewable Energy. These recommendations had been reported verbally to the Cabinet

    at its meeting on 19 November 2009 when it was agreed that the Portfolio Holder for the

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    Environment produce a draft implementation based on the eight recommendations for consideration at a future meeting.

    The Cabinet had also considered a revised Benefits Verification Policy following prior consideration by the Housing Scrutiny Sub-Committee.

    The Cabinet had approved the adoption of the revised Car Parks Fees & Charges as recommended by the Environment & Regeneration Sub-Committee for implementation on 1 December 2009 following consideration of the feedback received from the Road Traffic Order consultation.

    Finally, the Cabinet had considered and concurred with the recommendations of the Overview and Scrutiny Committee including proposed amendments to the definition underpinning Accountability in the revised Values that the Overview and Scrutiny Committee had put forward. These recommendations had been adopted by the Council at its meeting on 26 November 2009.

    428 ACCESS TO SERVICES INSPECTION UPDATE

    The Chairman welcomed the Deputy Leader and Portfolio Holder for Customer Access to the meeting.

    The Deputy Leader and Portfolio Holder for Customer Access explained why an ‘Access to Services Self-Assessment’ report had been produced in preparation for a formal

    ‘Access to Services Inspection’ by the Audit Commission in January 2010, which the Committee duly considered. The Auditors had since revised their original thinking and would now conduct a separate Benefits Assessment to the same timeline and programme as the main Access to Services Assessment. The programme proposed by the Audit Commission had required the submission of documents, policies and strategies by 4 November 2009 including the Self Assessments and corresponding evidence. The External Auditors had presented their initial assessment and findings on 16 November 2009 and the approach taken was compliant with their intentions.

    It was reported that the Access to Services Group was currently working to provide additional information to the Auditors as requested in relation to issues raised within the RT1 in readiness for 25 January 2010 site inspection and assessment.

    The (Principal Service Manager (Community Development & Performance)) elaborated upon the mapping exercises being carried out by way of an example. This involved identifying Community Leaders with whom discussions could be held to understand the issues relevant to; for example, the Faith Community. He highlighted that it had become apparent that the Muslim community preference was to improve and extend their existing place of worship of a converted kebab house in London Road South, Lowestoft as opposed to an alternative premises that the Council had proposed to locate in partnership. The strategy that had been adopted reflected the available capacity to be able to deliver within the objectives set. It was reported that the Suffolk Coastal Peer Group would be challenging Officers and Members on 17 December 2009 as Suffolk Coastal District Council had also experienced the same assessment two years ago and their input represented a useful stage in the Council’s preparation for the assessment. Their

    feedback together with the observations of the Committee would ensure and promote completeness of information to drive continuous improvement and promote access to the Council’s services for all of the Council’s customers.

Questions/issues raised and the responses given shown in italics

    In response to a Member question, the Chairman stated that the specific questions about whether or not the Council continue the administration of subsidised Senior Rail cards would be considered at the Extraordinary meeting of the Overview & Scrutiny Committee on 21 December 2009 given that the matter was the subject of a call in.

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    The Assistant Chief Executive endeavoured to provide greater clarity to the issues already covered by the Deputy Leader and Portfolio Holder for Customer Access in order that the Committee might provide appropriate challenge to the draft report on access to services.

    ; Why had there been no feedback on the setting up of a Youth Council?

    A recently held Youth Takeover day had been a success and a newly formed Youth Cabinet would be debating the Council‟s budget in the New Year, so significant progress

    was made in terms of better engagement for young people.

    ; Method of Engagement with Older People

    It had transpired that some older people had not engaged with the events and feedback had suggested the term „workshop‟ was “off putting”. A softer approach to access older

    people groups had been taken. This had entailed a programme of „tea afternoons‟ in

    November 2009 with Age Concern within their own premises. The informal meetings would promote closer working and understanding of how the Council could design its services to promote improved access for older and vulnerable citizens and communities.

    ; How good is the service and how proud are you with it?

    Overall, it is felt to be good but not consistently so there were areas of improvement; for example, the Council‟s Customer Contact Centres need to be modelled on those at the Marina Centre and there was a move towards more collaborative working.

Complaints received are being handled less defensively.

    ; What are the three priority areas for improvement?

    The new structure for Local Strategic Partnership would become embedded. There would be a greater emphasis on focusing upon outcomes in relation to Access to services.

    There is a need for greater consistency in terms of people having access to all services.

    The aim would be for greater fairness and equality in service provision in rural areas. New approaches would be introduced to enable a broader range of customers to access services.

The Council‟s Engagement Forums and Community Group meetings would continue to

    be used to help identify the issues in order to improve access to services.

    ; How is the Council responding to the diversity issues facing the District?

    The mapping exercises help to pinpoint the issues considered by a varied and diverse range of groups to be important to them within the community. It has been found to be useful to work with Interactive Support Groups within the community as a form of

    engagement. Translation services were also provided.

    ; What access was being provided to learning opportunities in the context of one of

    the Council’s revised priorities that include ‘learning and skills for the future’ and

    how the Council was preparing to work with other partners to achieve this

    ambition especially against a background of rising youth unemployment ?

    The Council was working with a number of partners including Lowestoft College, the University Campus Suffolk and Waveney Community Cohesion Partnership to engage with people about the learning opportunities. The Crossing offered free training, IT and internet access. Collaborative working between the various support agencies help to ensure that those seeking assistance get the appropriate advice.

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    Learning & skills was recognised as being very important for the District and that was why it was included as one of the four new priority areas as part of its new Strategic Direction, which would be adopted with effect from April 2010.

    ; Have targets been set to measure how effectively improvements were being

    made?

    There would be better monitoring to evidence how effective improvements access to services had been. Various milestones were being set and an overall judgment as to how significant that improvements had been made would be measured over a longer period of time.

    RESOLVED

    That as part of the Access to Services Review, the Council establishes a specific

    forum to review the ease of access to learning and skills of all groups in the

    community and thus provide recommendations for service improvements.

    429 CORPORATE PARTNERSHIP POLICY UPDATE

    The Committee considered a revised and updated Corporate Partnership Policy to identify significant partnerships and ensure that there were appropriate governance arrangements and controls in place to improve value for money and Partnership effectiveness.

    At the invitation of the Chairman, the Deputy Leader and Portfolio Holder for Customer Access reminded the Committee that they had previously considered the Corporate Partnership Policy in January 2009.

    The Internal Audit Team had also reviewed the Corporate Partnership Policy this year and in consultation with the Performance Team had made twelve recommendations for inclusion and consideration during the refresh of the document, all of which had been addressed within this updated version.

    A review had also been completed of those Outside Bodies, which were supported by Councillors. As a result, some of those Outside Bodies had been added to the Partnership Register, the remainder were not considered to constitute Partnership status. The Partnership Summary Form was in the process of being simplified and would be used to assess the Outside Bodies with the appointed Councillor(s) represented on each Outside Body to promote completeness of the Register.

The Audit Commission had recommended the Council’s Corporate Partnership Policy to

    St Edmundsbury District Council as good practice. The policy had also informed the draft Suffolk Partnership Policy to be used by all of the Suffolk Districts, which was currently being finalised.

    Some concern was expressed about whether the more significant partnerships such as Waveney Norse, Norfolk Property Services and Waveney Local Strategic Partnership that the Council had recently entered into and potential partnerships that might be established in the future required an evaluation process tailored to the objectives of each individual partnership. It was suggested that a more bespoke partnership evaluation document would be needed to cover these partnerships.

    Members felt on balance that a six monthly review of the policy was still justified.

    It was also felt that some of the language should be revised to make the document easy to understand.

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    RESOLVED

    1. That subject to the inclusion of a twice yearly review and the adoption of ‘plain

    English’, the revised and updated Corporate Partnership Policy be approved.

    2. That the Cabinet investigate the need for a more comprehensive assessment for

    those larger partnerships that present significant risk.

    430 RESULTS OF TENANT CONSULTATION ON HOUSING ASSET MANAGEMENT

    STRATEGY AND FEEDBACK ON HEAT PUMPS TRIAL IN COUNCIL HOUSING

The Chairman welcomed the Portfolio Holder for Housing to the meeting.

    Members noted the findings of a tenant postal survey to establish what future maintenance tenants felt was important to their properties. The results of the survey had generally endorsed the current work programmes, with priority being given to modern facilities such as kitchen and bathroom replacement and energy efficiency work. Whilst these works assist tenants in areas were natural gas supplies exist, there remained a problem of affordable warmth for tenants who did not have access to natural gas, with the majority currently using a form of electrical heating. To assist these tenants and following on from the very successful trial of 8 Mitsubishi Ecodan air source heat pumps during 2008-09, the Council had installed a further 20 units this year.

    Installations fitted this year had also been enhanced by the use of solar thermal roof panels to assist with domestic hot water delivery. The external grant funding process remained very complicated and onerous, however the first application submitted in August 2009 had now been approved, two further applications had been submitted. It was the intention once issues with the grant funding applications were resolved to proactively offer these type of systems to tenants with electrical systems installed but on a prioritised basis as to need and age of existing heating appliances.

    Whilst it was noted that the majority of the housing stock had had their loft insulation fitted, Members’ attention was drawn to contractors reporting about the number of hard to access properties. This problem was currently being explored in the hope that the majority of dwelling could be accessed before 31 March 2010 in order to continue to maximise grant funding available. It was felt that one reason why there had not been any response from the tenants was due to the contractor having delivered the letters. Some tenants might have concluded that the enquiries about loft insulation had not originated from the Council. It was further felt that a more personal approach from the Council would resolve some of the issues.

    Councillor Elliott was encouraged that there had been a positive response to the installation of Ecodan air source heat pumps. He advised it was not a renewable energy but about improvements in energy efficiency usage. The Principal Service Manager for Housing Maintenance confirmed that any properties that become vacant would be inspected and would thereafter receive improved loft insulation where necessary.

Exterior over-cladding projects had been undertaken to the Council’s non-traditional

    housing stock in both Beccles and Brampton, with an ongoing project at Orchard Valley, Holton in progress to assist greatly in improving the thermal comfort for tenants and reduced energy costs.

    Proposals to replace an aged oil fired heating system at a scheme in Woodside, Brampton had not yet come to fruition due to a delay in determining the likely lifespan of the building work. This property had already been identified for the use of wood fuel as an alternative source of heating and was in accordance with the study for suitable wood source applications being undertaken by the Portfolio Holder for Regeneration.

    It was confirmed that when works to any property were undertaken, tenants were invited to complete a Customer Satisfaction Survey.

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    RESOLVED

    1. That the outstanding homes for loft insulation be visited to ensure that the option

    would be taken up.

    2. That the Housing team contact Woodfuel East to begin to review the option for wood

    fuel as a preferred option.

    431 RE-APPOINTMENTS TO EXTERNAL SCRUTINY BODIES

The Committee considered the appointment of a replacement to sit as a Member of the

    Suffolk County Council (SCC) Scrutiny Management Board’s Joint Scrutiny Working Party on Flooding and Flood Risk on account of Councillor Ryland being unable to do so as he was now a Member of the Cabinet. Similarly, the Committee considered any nominations from Members of the Committee to attend Suffolk County Council Roads & Transport Scrutiny Committee in place of Councillor Ryland who by virtue of his Cabinet position would not be able to attend.

    No nominations were received to fill the vacancy on the Suffolk County Council (SCC) Scrutiny Management Board’s Joint Scrutiny Working Party on Flooding and Flood Risk.

    RESOLVED

    1. That the vacancy on the Suffolk County Council Scrutiny Management Board’s Joint

    Scrutiny Working Party on Flooding and Flood Risk for the 2009/10 Municipal Year

    remain unfilled.

    2. That Councillor S Woods attend the Suffolk County Council Roads & Transport

    Scrutiny Committee with Councillor P Collecott on 22 February 2010 when the update

    report on improved liaison on works on the highway would be considered.

    The meeting was concluded at 9.25pm

    Chairman

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