Venue: Council Chamber, Town Hall, Bexhill-on-Sea
Contact: Louise Hollingsworth Email: firstname.lastname@example.org 01424 787815
To authorise the Chairman to sign the minutes of the meeting of the Overview and Scrutiny Committee held on 25 November 2019 as a correct record of proceedings.
The Chairman was authorised to sign the Minutes of the meeting of the Overview and Scrutiny Committee held on 25 November 2019 as a correct record of the proceedings.
Apologies and Substitutes
The Chairman to ask if any Member present is substituting for another Member and, if so, to declare his/her name as substitute Member and the name of the absent Member.
Apologies for absence were received from Councillors A.K. Jeeawon, M. Mooney, D.B. Oliver and G.F. Stevens (substitute).
Disclosure of Interests
To receive any disclosure by Members of personal and disclosable pecuniary interests in matters on the agenda, the nature of any interest and whether the Member regards the personal interest as prejudicial under the terms of the Code of Conduct. Members are reminded of the need to repeat their declaration immediately prior to the commencement of the item in question.
Declarations of interest were made by Councillors in the Minutes as indicated below:
J. Barnes Agenda Item 7 – Personal interest in so far as he was Vice-Chairman of Friends of Rye Harbour and Rye Harbour Management Committee, a member of the National Trust and an elected Member of East Sussex County Council.
C.A. Clark Agenda Item 7 – Personal interest in so far as he was and an elected Member of East Sussex County Council.
P.C. Courtel Agenda Item 7 – Personal interest in so far as he was a member of the Bexhill Environment Group.
S.J. Errington Agenda Item 7 – Personal interest in so far as she was a member of the Bexhill Environment Group.
K.M. Field Agenda Item 7 – Personal interest in so far as she was and an elected Member of East Sussex County Council.
P.J. Gray Agenda Item 7 – Personal interest in so far as she was a member of the Bexhill Environment Group.
L.M. Langlands Agenda Item 7 – Personal interest in so far as she was a member of the Bexhill Environment Group.
C.R. Maynard Agenda Item 7 – Personal interest in so far as he was and an elected Member of East Sussex County Council.
Members gave consideration to the report of the Executive Directors on the draft Revenue Budget, which outlined the likely financial position and key issues that Members needed to consider as part of the budget setting process. The Committee had been requested to consider the draft budget and make recommendations to Cabinet, to be considered at its meeting on 10 February 2020. To ensure that Members were provided with a clear identifiable core cost for each service, all budgets were shown on a departmental basis at “Net Operational Expenditure Levels”, excluding capital charges, central costs and support service recharges.
The Assistant Director Resources provided an updated outline of the budget and Members noted the main considerations, constraints and variations within the budget setting process.
For 2020/21, the Council would no longer receive the Revenue Support Grant and would be reliant solely on income from business rates, council tax, charges for services and income generation. As part of the settlement announced by the Government on 20 December 2019 indicative New Homes Bonus grant of £247,100 was expected, although no ongoing reliance of this income could be assumed as this was a one year grant.
The Council would revert to a 50% Business Rate pooling arrangement from April 2020 with the other East Sussex local authorities with a projected income for next year of nearly £3.5m.
The 2020/21 council tax base was calculated at 38,124.6 and showed an increase of 70 Band D equivalents over the equivalent December 2018 figures. The calculation made little allowance for potential growth during 2020/21 but for future years’ average growth of 2% per annum had been assumed.
The confirmed 2020/21 council tax referendum principles for Rother allowed an increase in council tax of £5 or 2% whichever was the highest. The draft Revenue Budget and forecast assumed that the Council would increase council tax by £5 to £184.45 for a Band D property which would result in an increase of income from council tax by £190,600 to an estimated total of £7,032,000.
The financial risks that may affect the Council’s finances were detailed in the report and these included increased costs for the Waste Collection and Street and Beach cleaning contract, which represented a significant proportion of the overall budget; homelessness demands; staffing costs and the provision for vacancies; non-pay inflation for contracts and unsecured projected income.
The section 151 Officer had made the following assumptions when calculating the draft budget:
a. Inflation – 2% for CPI had been applied to contracts.
b. Salaries – a 2% staff salary increase from September 2020.
c. Growth – as detailed at Appendix C to the report.
d. Transfers – the use of transfers between existing budgets had been encouraged to help enable funding to be re-directed into priority areas.
e. Income – where the Council had discretion, increases would be in line with the increase in costs.
The net Revenue Budget before Government grants, use of reserves and other funding was expected to be £15.5m; this was an increase ... view the full minutes text for item OSC19/45
The Committee considered the report of the Executive Director which gave details of the proposed Key Performance Targets for 2020/21.
Managing performance to deliver the best possible outcomes within the resources available was a core function for Rother District Council. The way in which the Council approached this task was to set a series of annual performance targets against the Council’s Corporate Plan (2014-2021) four Core Aims (an Efficient, Flexible and Effective Council; Sustainable Economic Prosperity; Stronger, Safer Communities; and A Quality Physical Environment).
Members had previously agreed that a small set of carefully selected corporate Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) would be reviewed each year by the Overview and Scrutiny Committee (OSC). 12 KPIs had been identified and were proposed for 2020/21. It had previously been proposed that targets should, where possible, be benchmarked against performance in other local authority areas so that Council performance could be ambitious while remaining achievable. It was proposed that the indicators for 2020/21 should be reported within four themed areas and a qualitative report on each of these areas would be provided. The themed areas were:
• Housing and Homelessness (5 indicators)
• Waste and Recycling (2 indicators)
• Asset Income (2 indicators)
• Other Income (3 indicators)
In reality, a number of other related indicators would be used to inform the qualitative information; this would give OSC Members a clear picture of performance in each of the themed areas as opposed to relying on narrow areas of performance. The provision of this additional information allowed OSC Members the ability to scrutinise more effectively and pass on any recommendations they had as a result of this to Cabinet.
Aside from the 12 KPIs to be reported quarterly, other indicators informing Heads of Service of performance would be reported by exception to the OSC where they were exceeding or significantly missing their target.
Members had the opportunity to ask questions and the following points were noted:
• Other Income, which had replaced Housing Benefit as a KPI, included; Planning: Development Management Income; Car Park Income; and Garden waste bins issued and income;
• Members were concerned that a 15 week target for the number of weeks in temporary accommodation (TA) was too high;
• the scheme to purchase properties for the purpose of TA was to provide self-catering accommodation rather than bed and breakfast, near to support networks, to therefore enable those individuals and families to be better equipped to access the private rented sector;
• Members were pleased to note early indications that the new Rother Tenancy Finder service was helping to reduce numbers in TA and the Head of Service Housing and Community agreed to provide updated information;
• the purchase of TA continued to progress; one property was close to completion and three properties were in the advanced stages of offers being agreed. The Head of Service Housing and Community was confident that the target of the purchase of six properties would be achieved by the end of March 2020;
• performance ... view the full minutes text for item OSC19/46
Members received the report of the Executive Director which gave details of the draft Rother Environment Strategy, Action Plan and Consultation Plan developed by the Climate Change Steering Group (CCSG) and the resource requirements. The document detailed the Council’s proposals for the vision and priorities and set out the actions required to deliver on these and the Council’s ambitious target to be carbon neutral by 2030.
The document set out eight action plan priorities for consultation: Smart Digital District; Green Economy; Air Quality; Waste; Energy; Biodiversity; Construction and Existing Buildings; and Environmentally Friendly Council. The CCSG also discussed the subject of ethical investments and noted that East Sussex County Council invested with fossil fuel providers for its pension fund. The CCSG requested that Cabinet recommend that East Sussex County Council Pension Advisers be requested to source alternative investments in non-fossil fuel providers for the pension fund.
The resolution passed by Council in December 2019 included a requirement for additional resource. The required capacity, skills, experience and expertise were not available within the Council and therefore a dedicated post was required to enable the delivery of the Environment Strategy, and ongoing development, delivery, monitoring and reporting to deliver on the Council’s commitment to be carbon neutral by 2030.
The draft Revenue Budget for 2020/21 contained a provision of £100,000 per annum of funding, subject to approval, for an additional member of staff and associated costs. As a consequence this had increased the funding gap for the next financial year which, in the short term, would require the amount of reserves used to balance the Revenue Budget to increase. It was possible that costs would be reduced through the actions of the Council to reduce its carbon footprint, in particular power and fuel, but at this stage these had not been quantified.
The Consultation Plan gave details of the groups to be consulted and the methodology, commencing from 25 February 2020. Consultation would take place via an online questionnaire, telephone and written responses and a minimum of three events to take place in Bexhill, Battle and Rye. Additionally, information points around the district to ensure the opportunity to engage was maximized. Feedback from the consultation would enable the development of a final document to be presented to Cabinet and then full Council in September 2020. Once adopted, the strategy would need to be kept under constant review as more knowledge and understanding on climate change emerged.
The consultation questionnaire set out a number of questions related to the draft Environment Strategy, in addition to questions which would enable the Council to understand the profile of the responders in order to ensure a diverse range of groups had been successfully targeted.
The CCSG also proposed to launch the consultation with a ‘tree cover’ initiative, including the setting up of an interactive web-page to allow residents, community groups, and businesses to pledge a commitment to planting a tree and to add their tree planting action to a thematic map. The objective was to increase ... view the full minutes text for item OSC19/47
Members considered the report of the Executive Director which set out draft Terms of Reference for the Anti-Poverty Task and Finish Group. The report proposed a set of aims and objectives for the group as well as a timetable in order to gather evidence and information, consolidate the evidence and agree recommendations and present a final report to the Overview and Scrutiny Committee (OSC).
The date in the timetable for the final report of the Task and Finish Group to be referred to the OSC for consideration and approval was amended to November 2020.
Members requested that a page be added to the Council’s website with links to organisations that could help with hardship.
Prior to the meeting, the Chairman of the OSC had requested names to be put forward to sit on the Task and Finish Group and Members agreed to increase the number to eight. The following Members were nominated: Councillors J. Barnes, Mrs M.L. Barnes, T. Byrne, J.J. Carroll, S.J. Coleman, Mrs V. Cook, P.J. Gray and H.L. Timpe.
1) the draft terms of reference for the proposed Anti-Poverty Task and Finish Group at Appendix A to the report be approved;
2) the draft timetable for the activity of the Anti-Poverty Task and Finish Group be added to the Work Programme; and
3) the number of Members appointed to the Anti-Poverty Task and Finish Group be increased to eight, comprising of: Councillors J. Barnes, Mrs M.L. Barnes, T. Byrne, J.J. Carroll, S.J. Coleman, Mrs V. Cook, P.J. Gray and H.L. Timpe.
Members considered the report of the Executive Director which outlined the results of the consultation on the Housing Allocations Policy.
The purpose of the policy review and consultation was to ensure that the draft Housing Allocations Policy continued to effectively support the Council to promote socially, economically and demographically balanced communities. A revised Allocations Policy also allowed the Council to ensure it was compliant with new legislation and guidance that had been introduced since the inception of the existing policy. Further, through the process of reassessment of existing households (against the proposed policy criteria) the Council would be able to ensure that its Housing Register was smaller and less resource intensive to administer over the longer-term.
The consultation started on 15 July 2019 and closed on 7 October 2019, focussing on the main two changes to the existing policy, which were reducing the assessment criteria from four bands to two bands and changing the order in which households were nominated for and allocated social housing.
145 responses had been received to the consultation, made up of 11 responses from local organisations and 134 responses from housing applicants and other residents. All the proposed changes were agreed by the majority of respondents. As a result, no substantial policy changes were made to the draft policy.
Independent legal advice had also been sought in order to ensure the policy was compliant with the Part VI of the Housing Act 1996 (as amended) and to mitigate the risk of legal challenges being made against future allocation decisions, if the policy was adopted.
In order to implement the new policy criteria outlined in the draft Allocations Policy, it would be necessary to reassess all existing households on the register before the new policy could be adopted for new applicants, which had resource implications. It was estimated that the reassessment process could take up to 12 months and the software used to manage the register would need to be updated to accommodate the new points system. The cost of this was estimated to be £2,700 and would be met from within existing budgets. This process would allow the removal of any applicants who no longer required a place on the register and reassess the needs of those remaining.
The benefits to the new policy also included more sensitive and responsive criteria and it incentivised clients to work with the Council to secure accommodation in the private rented sector as well as pursue social housing options.
The following points were noted during the discussion:
• support would be provided to assist with new applications for the Housing Register, in partnership with East Sussex County Council;
• it was clarified that applicants with a council or housing debt over £1,000 would be disqualified from making an application to join the register if the debt was also not being repaid; and
• military personnel with a housing need would be given high priority.
RESOLVED: That the new Housing Allocations Policy be recommended to Cabinet and full Council ... view the full minutes text for item OSC19/49
Members considered the report of the Executive Director which gave details of the proposed Empty Homes Action Plan, setting out a number of methods for bringing into use empty homes. The action plan was to be implemented in 2020 and detailed how action would be taken against at least five empty properties per year. In reality, this number was likely to be higher through a combination of the impact of the increase in Council Tax and publicity given to the action plan. The plan was required in accordance with the Council’s Homelessness and Rough Sleeping strategy.
There were 173 properties that had been empty for two years or more within the Rother District, the largest number of which were found in Bexhill-on-Sea, followed by Rye Foreign, Camber and Rye. This figure did not include the numbers of E Exemptions or Deleted Properties.
The overall aim of the Empty Homes Action Plan was to bring long term empty homes back into use, including: identifying long term empty homes; providing support for empty home owners; taking action against empty property owners; and raising awareness.
The action plan would concentrate on properties within areas of the district that had the greatest housing demand and properties with one to three bedrooms, as these had been identified as being highest in demand to meet the needs of the population. Prioritisation for any intervention and action would be directed to this size of property, but larger properties would not be excluded if there was development potential and this was beneficial for the local area.
In addition to the four areas identified there was also a need for temporary accommodation (TA) within Bexhill and Rye. Families displaced often wanted to remain in areas they had already established links with for the purpose of accessing employment, schools, family and relative support.
Action would therefore be focused on Bexhill and Rye, where there were a larger number of empty properties, housing need was greater and there was a demand for TA.
RESOLVED: That Cabinet be requested to agree the draft Empty Homes Action Plan 2020-24 attached at Appendix A to the report, subject to liaison with interested parties, such as letting agents and landlords, including social landlords.
Consideration was given to the Overview and Scrutiny Committee’s Work Programme. Anti-Poverty Task and Finish Group was added to ‘Items for Consideration’.
RESOLVED: That the Work Programme attached at Appendix A be agreed, as amended.