Venue: Rooms 5, 6 & 7 - 17th Floor, Westminster City Hall, 64 Victoria Street, London, SW1E 6 QP. View directions
Contact: Reuben Segal; Senior Committee and Governance Officer Tel: 020 7641 3160; email: firstname.lastname@example.org
The Head of Legal and Democratic Services to report any changes to the membership.
1.1 There were no changes to the membership.
Declarations of Interest
To receive declarations by Members and Officers of the existence and nature of any personal or prejudicial interests in matters on this agenda.
2.1 The known standing declarations as tabled at the meeting were as follows:
To sign the minutes of the meeting on 10 June 2015 as correct record of proceedings.
1. That the minutes of the meeting held on 10th June 2015 be signed by the Chairman as a correct record of proceedings.
3.2 ACTION: That the committee be provided with a response to the outstanding action set out at paragraph 5.4 (1) of the minutes. (Action for Anne Pollock, Scrutiny Officer)
Report of the Head of Cabinet Secretariat.
4.1 The Chairman explained that the Corporate Property Investment Strategy item that had been due to be considered at the meeting had been deferred to 18 November meeting due to capacity issues within the corporate property department which was in the process of developing next year’s business plans and contributing to medium term financial planning.
1. That the agenda items for the next meeting on the 18th November be agreed subject to the Corporate Property Investment Strategy including outline information on the redevelopment of City Hall.
2. That the responses to actions and recommendations as set out in the tracker be noted.
An update from the Cabinet Member for Housing, Regeneration, Business & Economic Development on key areas within his portfolio is attached.
A verbal update will be provided by the Cabinet Member for Finance and Corporate Services who will be in attendance to answer questions from the Committee.
5.1 The Committee received a verbal update from the Cabinet Member for Finance and Corporate Services on key areas of the portfolio. He informed Committee members about the extensive meetings that he holds with service areas within the portfolio on a weekly or bi-monthly basis. This included Finance, Revenue and Benefits, Corporate Property and Corporate Services which incorporated Legal Services, ICT, Managed Services and Procurement.
5.2 With regards to the Council’s finances, he advised that at the end of July the budget was in surplus. He was confident that there would be a balanced budget by the year’s end. He further advised that the Council was currently working on its medium term financial planning. The government’s spending review was due to take place in the autumn and an announcement on the Council’s financial settlement for 2016-17, and possibly beyond, would be announced in December or January. Alongside medium term financial planning individual departments were working on developing their business plans for the 2016-17 financial year. The Cabinet Member was asked whether the Government was likely to provide local authorities with a multi-year financial settlement. Steve Mair, City Treasurer, advised that that whilst there was an indication that there could be a 4 year settlement covering the remainder of this Parliament this was unlikely to be the case.
5.3 The Cabinet Member advised in respect of Revenue and Benefits that he was shortly due to take a decision on revising the criteria for Discretionary Housing Payments (DHP) to reflect changes in funding at government level. The proposed changes had been consulted upon including with constituency MPs. The Cabinet Member was asked about the government funding for DHP for 2016-17. Ben Denton, Executive Director for Growth, Planning & Housing, informed members that this was still unknown. The government had provided the Council with £2.7 million for 2015-16 and the Council had added a further £1 million of its own funding to this sum. The government had allocated £800 million nationally in the previous 5 years for DHP while this year it had provided only £125 million which signalled a downward trend in funding. 60 to 70% of the DHP awarded by the Council is to help support homeless households in temporary accommodation. This detail has been used by the Council in its lobbying of the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) regarding concerns about the reduction in DHP funding.
5.4 The Cabinet Member was asked in relation to revenue which Executive Member was responsible for lobbying on business rates retention. He explained that as the issue cuts across a number of Council service areas it is undertaken centrally by the Leader. He suggested that scrutiny of this issue was best undertaken by the Westminster Scrutiny Commission. Members were informed that the last re-evaluation of business rates occurred at a time when the market and land values were more buoyant. The Council, as a billing authority, has to pick up a percentage of the loss in business rates when a business is successful ... view the full minutes text for item 5.
Indicative Impact for Westminster and London of Government Manifesto Pledges in relation to Welfare Changes and Housing Reform
A PowerPoint presentation would be provided by the Executive Director for Growth, Planning & Housing.
6.1 The Committee received a PowerPoint presentation from the Executive Director for Growth, Planning & Housing on government housing and welfare policy changes and how these would directly impact on the activities of the Council’s housing service and indirectly impact on other services.
6.2 The presentation provided an opportunity for the Committee to gain an understanding of the changes and the potential impacts and to ask for further explanations/analysis to be provided. It also provided an opportunity to challenge officers to consider whether all reasonable actions are being taken to mitigate the adverse impacts of the changes.
6.3 It was noted that the Council’s new Housing Strategy was intended to be published in November but given:
· the impacts of these national policy changes on some of the key announcements and policies in the draft strategy,
· that there are still a lot of the details about how these changes will be implemented that the Council doesn’t have, and
· that a Housing Bill that will make many of the changes will be introduced into Parliament in October
The current draft strategy is no longer appropriate. Instead of producing a strategy at this stage the Council will publish a “Direction of Travel” statement which will highlight themes and general approaches that the Council will be taking until it is in a position to publish a strategy of the kind originally intended.
6.4 In response to questions Andrew Barry-Purssell, Head of Spatial Design and Environment, confirmed that until the full impacts of the legislative changes are known and a final strategy has been approved none of the planning policy proposals in the new draft strategy would be taken forward.
6.5 The Committee then discussed policy changes and the Council’s response to them including proposed actions to mitigate the adverse impacts and its lobbying approach.
6.6 The Committee noted that the benefit cap reduction and Local Housing Allowance freeze would likely result in additional homeless acceptances from 2016 or 2017 which would likely result in longer waits in increasingly expensive temporary accommodation. Officers were asked whether the Council could be more proactive to reduce the demand for temporary accommodation such as by encouraging residents at risk of homelessness to move to more affordable housing outside of London. Mr Denton advised that the Council had been cautious compared to other London local authorities in this respect. The Committee was informed that the London borough of Brent has a settlement officer based in Birmingham whose role is to help Brent residents move to the area. The duties involves offering a wide range of support including directing people to employment opportunities and helping enrol children in local schools. Barbara Brownlee, Director of Housing, explained that one of the consequences of remaining in temporary accommodation is that households can experience a number of moves as it is often difficult to retain such property. In Westminster those families that have moved out of borough have tended to have initiated the move. She advised that the Housing department does intervene ... view the full minutes text for item 6.
Report of the Director of Policy, Performance and Communications and the Executive Director of Growth, Planning and Housing.
7.1 The Committee considered a report that provided a summary of the consultation responses to Westminster’s draft new Housing Strategy that had been launched for consultation over the summer.
7.2 The report also provided answers to questions asked by the committee at its last meeting about how the targets for affordable housing in the draft strategy have been developed and why they are presented in the way they are.
7.3 Officers were asked for their views on how they felt the consultation had gone. Andrew Barry-Purssell, Head of Spatial and Environmental Planning, commented that the consultation had been difficult as the Government’s Welfare changes and Housing Reform were announced midway through the consultation period. It was difficult to know how that had affected the number of responses that the Council received. He stated that it was disappointing that the Council had not received more feedback from the private sector although officers did have a good idea about their views as they speak to a variety of organisations in the sector on a regular basis.
7.4 The Committee expressed disappointment that the response rate to the consultation had been low particularly given the high priority of housing to those living in London and the south-east. Members were also disappointed that of the 57 responses received there was an under-representation from the business sector including BIDS and the private rental sector.
7.5 Mr Barry-Purssell advised that the business and development sector tend to provide their views through representative organisations rather than individually.
7.6 Officers were informed that some residents had advised Councillors that they would have responded to the consultation but had not known about it. Cecily Herdman, Principal Policy Officer, advised that posters and summary documents had been made available in a variety of locations including CityWest Homes estate offices. Some had not been put on public display but once this had come to light was rectified.
7.7 It was suggested to Officers that it may be useful to seek the views of the Scrutiny Committee in future on the consultation strategy to help improve response rates.
7.8 RESOLVED: That the report be noted.
1. Make explicit in the Direction of Travel Statement that the Council will still accept comments on the Draft Housing Strategy (Action for: Andrew Barry-Purssell/Cecily Herdman)
2. That officers target those sectors that were underrepresented in the responses when consulting on a revised draft of their housing strategy (Action for: Andrew Barry-Purssell/Cecily Herdman)
3. Provide the Committee with the raw consultation data from those respondents that have commented on the strategy to date (Action for: Andrew Barry-Purssell/Cecily Herdman)