Venue: via Zoom (meeting ID and password to be circulated)
Contact: Helen Johnson
To confirm as a correct record the amended Minutes of the meeting held on 2 September 2020 (previously circulated).
To confirm as a correct record the Minutes of the meeting held on 13 January 2021 (previously circulated).
The amended minutes of the meeting held on 2 September 2020 were approved as a correct record and noted by the Chair.
A decision to approve the minutes of the meeting held on 13 January 2021 was put on hold until an action point concerning an item on the Forward Plan was resolved.
DECLARATIONS OF INTERESTS BY MEMBERS
To note declarations of Members’ disclosable pecuniary interests, non-disclosable pecuniary interests and non-pecuniary interests in respect of items on the Agenda.
Councillors L.Chesterman and P.Zukowskyj both declared a non-pecuniary
interest by virtue of them being Hertfordshire County Councillors.
To receive progress reports and/or recommendations from Scrutiny Task and Finish Panels (T&Ps), if any.
Members received the report and update from Councillor G.Hayes on the progress of the Budget Setting and Corporate Plan Task and Finish Panel which met on Monday 22 February 2021.
The following points were raised and noted:
- The chair of Task and Finish Panel was complimentary about the content and format of the new Corporate Plan
- The use of the term ‘customers’ in the Corporate Plan was discussed at the Panel, with the majority of the Panel deciding that it was an appropriate term which could be applied to all relevant stakeholders
- The provision of play spaces for adolescents and young children would seem to be relatively limited in the borough. There may be merit in including a commitment to address this in the corporate plan
- There is a need to ensure we keep town centres dynamic
- Does the Council have a strategy to ensure affordable housing is delivered as agreed with developers
- The Corporate Plan would be a good tool to hold the Executive and Officers to account on what they have committed to achieve
- The Corporate Plan itself captures much of the feedback provided by residents and other stakeholders in the Borough
Members received a verbal update from Councillor M.Holloway on the progress of the Housing Maintenance and Repairs Task and Finish Panel which met for the first time on Monday 22 February 2021.
The following points were raised and noted:
- The Panel would look at five particular areas; maintaining council housing assets, responsive repairs, complaints, managing the quality of works and improving the customer experience and repairs and maintenance service
- Panel meetings would be moved to avoid clashing with the pre-election period ahead of the May 2021 elections. However this would not prevent the Panel reporting back to this Committee at the meeting on 5 July 2021
- There was an option to hold the meetings in private but the Panel believed it was important that the public were able to see the scrutiny of the services they used
- The Panel would also be using the additional time to meet with the Tenant’s Panel and receive their insight
- There was a suggestion that an additional closed session could be arranged for Councillors to provide their insight and share specific casework they had received in this area
Report of the Corporate Director (Housing and Communities) on the work of the Welwyn Hatfield Community Safety Partnership over the past twelve months.
Members received an annual report and presentation of the Corporate Director (Housing and Communities) on the work of the Community Safety Partnership over the last 12 months. In particular the Committee were asked to:
- note that the risk of crime locally remained low – although the Community Safety Partnership would continue to work to both reduce further crime incidents and their impact on residents in the borough
- support the Community Safety Partnership’s ongoing commitment and work to reduce youth anti-social behaviour and emerging issues
- note the importance that the community has placed on ‘feeling safe’ through the recent resident’s survey undertake by the Council
The following points were raised and noted:
- areas of potential scrutiny for the Committee may include actions to combat drugs and county line issues and community engagement activities
- the fire service had been trailing four person crews on fire engines (as opposed to five persons) which was in response to resource constraints issues but may also allow the service to utilise assets more effectively
- the Partnership continued to work on measures to assist those who were vulnerable to scam telephone calls on their landline telephones, often engaging them through services they use, such as GP’s surgery, town centre, post offices, banks and carers. The Community Safety Partnership was also working on an article in the Welwyn Hatfield Times and Age UK’s befriending service. There was also scope involve Meals on Wheels services
- scams were also being instigated via post
- the No More project was able to deliver similar benefits to the previous SOS project but with reduced management costs
- community messaging important to help prevent burglaries taking place, especially at key times such as around Christmas, and with students during Freshers’ week
- there were concerns expressed about the staffing available out of hours for the 101 non-emergency service
- recognition that the Community Safety Partnership had done well to remain engaged with the community and support vulnerable people despite Covid-19 lockdown restrictions
- Officers confirmed that when closure orders and evictions are carried out, the needs of vulnerable residents are assessed and support provided. This can include partial closure orders which allows the residents to remain in the property but makes it a criminal offence for others to enter the property. In other cases, the vulnerable resident may be assisted to move away from individuals who may have preyed upon the resident and have used the property for antisocial and criminal activity. Officers confirmed that when enforcement action is considered a proportionality statement and a community impact statement is prepared which ensures powers are exercised appropriately
- during the Covid-19 lockdown Officers had sought to engage with vulnerable residents through partners, using a variety of communication channels and sharing of information through the Partnership
- the report and its recommendation were noted
The work programme enables forward planning of items to be considered. In addition, the Forward Plan and Key Decision List are attached for Members to consider. The Scrutiny Scoring Matrix is available to assist in determining the value of any potential scrutiny.
Members considered the Committee’s work programme. The work programme enabled forward planning of items to be considered to take place. In addition, the Forward Plan was attached to assist members in considering items for scrutiny.
The Committee agreed that separate reports would be prepared for the July Overview and Scrutiny Committee meeting to consider:
- scrutiny of the Council and Community Safety Partnership’s actions regarding county lines and drug issues
- scrutiny of the Community Safety Partnership’s community engagement activities
- arrangements for the next municipal year’s Budget and Corporate Plan Task and Finish Panel
Members commented that as the membership of the Overview and Scrutiny Committee may change in the next municipal year, it should not commit too many scrutiny topics on next year’s work programme as this should be decided by the Committee in its new form. It was noted that the Work Programme would remain a live document with Members able to identify items to be added throughout the year.
The Committee noted that it may wish to review the Council’s Asset Management Strategy in September. In addition Officers would meet with Members to discuss the recycling targets in the Borough.
Report of the Corporate Director (Public Protection, Planning and Governance) on the call-in of a decision taken by Cabinet on 9 February 2021. An exempt report relating to this item can be found under item 13.
Members discussed the Call-In of the Cabinet Decision taken on 9 February 2021, which considered the surrender of the lease of Friendship House.
Three reasons was given for the call in and the Committee was asked to:
1) ensure that all avenues had been explored, and that all values, including non-monetary value, should be considered when looking at options for this community facility
2) consider the Options Appraisal framework used
3) consider whether all of the relevant Cabinet report needed to be exempt and covered under Part II
Councillor G.Hayes introduced the item. The Council had the ability to agree for the current lease holder to reassign the lease to another charity but chose not to. Members asked whether this was in order to maximise the income for the Council as the current rent arrangement was below market rates.
In response to questions the Executive Member for Resources confirmed that it was not the Cabinet’s objective to maximise income in this situation, but instead sought to ensure a best value solution for the council (including non-monetary value) as a whole. Whilst there was an option for the tenant to reassign the lease, the Council concluded that this would not be the correct way to proceed for two reasons. Firstly while the rent for the lease was relatively low, the current tenant undertook all of the costs associated with the maintenance, meaning the council did not incur costs and maintained a break even position. The Council would need to assure itself that any new tenant would be in a position to cover the cost of maintaining the premises or else risk significant costs itself. Secondly, allowing the tenant to reassign the lease would lack transparency, may not produce the best value for the borough as a whole for this community asset and may be unfair on other organisations who may wish to have considered taking on the lease but were not invited to do so. The Executive Member for Resources confirmed that such value assessments were more than simply looking to maximise monetary value. The Executive Member confirmed that the Cabinet did want a community centre to remain, but there were a number of models that could achieve this.
Members noted that the rental charge seemed relatively low and below market rate and asked whether there was a particular reason for this.
The Committee noted that the annual rental charge was set at £130 in 1998. It is assumed that this would have been below the market rent. The Executive Member for Resources confirmed that if the tenant had decided to stay, the Council would not have sought to amend the lease arrangements currently in place. However given that the current tenant no longer wanted to continue at the premise, it was right for the Council to consider how best to use the asset for the borough as a whole. This could include replicating similar rental arrangements that were currently in place with new tenants.
Members asked whether the Council had ... view the full minutes text for item 37.