Agenda and minutes

Housing, Finance and Corporate Services Policy and Scrutiny Committee - Monday 11th September, 2017 7.00 pm

Venue: Grosvenor Hall Grosvenor Hall, Vincent St, Westminster, London SW1P 4HB

Contact: Reuben Segal; Senior Committee and Governance Officer  Tel: 020 7641 3160; email:

No. Item



The Head of Legal and Democratic Services to report any changes to the membership.


1.1       It was noted that Councillor Jason Williams had replaced Councillor Adam Hug.


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       Councillor Church declared that he is a board member of Westminster Community Homes.


Minutes pdf icon PDF 246 KB

To sign the minutes of the previous meeting as a correct record of proceedings.


3.1       RESOLVED: That the minutes of the meeting held on 12 June 2017 be signed by the Chairman as a correct record of proceedings.


Work Programme and Action Tracker pdf icon PDF 147 KB

Additional documents:


4.1       RESOLVED:


1.     That reports on WestCo and Treasury Performance Half Year Statutory Review be included on the agenda for the next meeting on the 6 November


2.     That the responses to actions and recommendations as set out in the tracker be noted.


4.2       ACTIONS: Provide the committee with a note on where the responsibilities for scrutinising rough sleeping lie. (Action for: Barbara Brownlee, Interim Executive Director for Growth, Planning & Housing)




Update from Cabinet Members pdf icon PDF 137 KB

An update from the Cabinet Members on key areas within their portfolios are attached.

The Cabinet Member will be in attendance to answer questions from the Committee.


Additional documents:


5.1       The Committee received written updates from the Cabinet Member for Housing and the Cabinet Member for Finance, Property & Corporate Services on the key issues within their portfolios. 


5.2       In the absence of the Cabinet Member for Housing CityWest Homes (CWH) officers responded to questions on the following issue:


5.2.1    The performance of the new CWH Multi Channel Service Centre (MCSC) - Mr Cowie was referred to the fact that a resident in William Blake House had phoned the CWH service centre to enquire about a maintenance issue but was unable to get through. Mr Cowie was asked about the alternative options in such circumstances. Mr Cowie advised that the MCSC was launched at the same time as the Grenfell Tower fire. CWH had anticipated receiving c. 4500 thousand calls per week. However, there were unprecedented call volumes following the Grenfell Tower fire and at its peak, call volumes reached c 7500 calls per week. Additional resources were put in place to deal with the increased call volumes. Mr Cowie advised that it would take between 3 to 6 months for the new MCSC to “bed in”. However, initial performance monitoring has revealed that there is a higher resolution of queries at the first point of contact than previously, although the aim is to improve upon this. Mr Cowie explained that residents who have an emergency can call the emergency phone number.  These calls are prioritised by the contact centre. Residents can also email the MCSC if phone lines are busy. CWH would in the next two weeks, be installing a call-back function so that if there is a wait to speak to a customer services operator residents can hang up but their place in the queue would be saved.


5.3       In the absence of the Cabinet Member for Finance, Property & Corporate Services, the Committee submitted questions to the City Treasurer on the following:


5.3.1    Business Rate Reform – the City Treasurer was asked when any significant changes were likely to take place. He advised that a London wide pilot could potentially begin in April 2018 for a two year period. This was due to be debated at a meeting of London Councils. Westminster does not currently benefit from the current Business Rate Retention System. Of the £1.8 billion collected the Council should retain £83 million according to its Baseline Funding Assessment, but in fact retains just £77 million, due to Business Rate Retention appeals forcing the authority to access the Safety Net. As a result, the Council has been at the Safety Net level every year, to date, that the localised NNDR system has operated, which has resulted in the Council losing £6m per annum. Therefore, any reform may benefit the Council.


5.3.2    Objections received in relation to the Council’s 2016/17 Accounts - Mr Mair explained that the two objections made during the public inspection period related to lender’s option borrower’s option (LOBO) transactions taken out many years previously. He explained that these are technical means of financing capital  ...  view the full minutes text for item 5.


City West Homes and Westminster City Council's response to Fire Safety within Council Housing Stock in light of the Grenfell Disaster pdf icon PDF 197 KB

Report of the Interim Executive Director of Growth Planning and Housing

Additional documents:


6.1       The Committee received a report on the work undertaken by CityWest Homes (CWH) and Westminster City Council (the Council) in light of the Grenfell Tower fire on 14/15 June 2017.  The paper focused on the work associated with maintaining and enhancing the safety of the Council’s housing stock, as opposed to the wider work undertaken by the Council and CWH supporting the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea (RBKC).

6.2       Prior to the meeting the committee had an opportunity to visit Hide Tower, a 22 Storey TMO managed residential block in Pimlico, to see first-hand some of the fire-safety related issues raised in the committee report.

6.3       The report was supplemented by a PowerPoint presentation from CWH that covered i) fire management pre-Grenfell, ii) the immediate response following the fire and iii) on-going fire safety response.

6.4       CWH and the Council had engaged fully with the Government in response to various requests for information and tests.  

6.5       Following the Grenfell Tower fire, significant engagement with residents by CWH and the Council had been undertaken.  Information regarding CWH’s regime for maintaining fire safety of the housing stock was shared with and explained to residents, to provide reassurance.  The tower blocks at Little Venice on the Warwick and Brindley estates have cladding similar to that at Grenfell Tower and a bespoke communications plan was put in place for those residents.  

6.6       All tower blocks over ten stories were visited within the first few days following the fire, to carry out visual checks and to ensure all fire related signs and guidance was up to date and appropriate. Independent and/or scheduled Fire Risk Assessments with London Fire Brigade (LFB) have been put into place.  CWH’ fire safety team are working closely with LFB to ensure the safety of the stock. 

6.7       CWH had identified 22 initial projects covering all aspects of fire safety.  Some of the resulting recommendations will be considered by CWH Executive and Board, whilst others will be referred to the Council for policy decisions.

6.8       The committee heard from Brian Robinson CBE, President of the Fire Sector Federation and Alan Brinson, Executive Director of the European Fire Sprinkler Network, who had been invited to the meeting as expert witnesses.


6.9       Brian Robinson addressed the committee. He explained that he had held the post of London Fire Commissioner for 12 years and was currently the Chairman of the Fire Sector Federation, which has 65 member organisations from across the whole of the fire sector. He advised that he had recently met with Dame Judith Hackitt, who is due to lead the independent review of building regulations and fire safety, to discuss the review’s Terms of Reference. He offered to share with the City Council two documents that he had submitted to the review.


6.10     Mr Robinson provided the following thoughts in response to the presentation:


·           That the Council may wish to consider adopting a policy on using non-combustible products within its housing stock until experts have come to an  ...  view the full minutes text for item 6.


Supply and Allocation of Social Housing 2017-18 pdf icon PDF 467 KB

Report of the Interim Executive Director for Growth Planning and Housing


7.1       The Committee received a report on the issues that will influence the allocation of social housing in 2017/18.


7.2       Members were informed that the social housing allocations during 2016/17 showed high levels of homeless re-housings reflecting the demand from this group.  Total social housing lettings for 2017/18 (including tenants’ transfers) are estimated to be 770 compared to 701 in 2016/17. 


7.3       The committee was further informed that the principal factor that is driving the high levels of homelessness continues to be the availability of private sector housing for households on benefits.  Homeless acceptances during 2017/18 are forecast to continue at the same level as 2016/17 at approximately 500 and the total requirement for TA will remain between 2300-2650 during the year.


7.4       The implementation of the TA commissioning strategy had succeeded in ending the use of Bed and Breakfast accommodation for families over 6 weeks, reduced unit costs and increased supply and made best use of Council resources.  However, the challenges of sourcing sufficient private sector accommodation suitable and affordable for households in housing need continue. 


7.5       The committee noted the steps taken to procure the necessary amount of housing to meet its statutory duty to support vulnerable households in housing need. In response to questions, Greg Roberts, Head of Supporting People and Temporary Accommodation, advised that the Council has developed a wide variety of housing related support services for people who experience severe and enduring mental health issues. The schemes and units are located across the Borough. The service are seeking to increase the range of high level support to best meet demand through investing in good quality accommodation as the alternative to out of Borough care.



Deputation from the 'Save Our Ebury' Group


8.1       The Committee agreed to receive a deputation from some residents of the Ebury Bridge Estate regarding their concerns over the regeneration of the estate.


8.2       ‘Save Our Ebury’ is a group comprising of some leaseholders, tenants and retailers on the Ebury Bridge Estate.  The council, including the Leader and Cabinet Member for Housing, met residents at the end of June to inform them that the planned renewal scheme for the estate was not commercially viable and could not be delivered.  They pledged to listen to the local community through the summer and then co-create with new, viable scheme options.


8.3      Rachel Reilly addressed the committee on behalf of the group. She stated that:


·           A poll of residents has revealed that a significant majority have no idea about the current position regarding the estate’s regeneration.


·           The information and engagement events held over the summer were inadequate and not well-publicised. Detailed information on the new proposals was lacking and questions submitted at events could not be answered. Some residents had come across a report online that set out options for the estate which had not been shared with them by the Council. Residents would like clarity and honesty regarding new options and for the consultation to be extended until the end of the year.


·           The Ebury Bridge Futures Group has been formed as a consultation vehicle with residents, however, no one has been able to tell residents how it will operate and when it is due to meet.


·           The decant of residents from the estate to facilitate the regeneration was due to be undertaken in a phased approach. Tenants living in blocks by the railway had recently received letters from the Council about bringing forward the decant. Residents questioned the haste to move people when no new, viable scheme options existed.


·           Residents are disappointed that there is no intention to hold a referendum on any new options.


·           Residents do not wish to see the estate redeveloped but would like a meaningful refurbishment.


8.4      ACTIONS: That a record of the deputation be forwarded to the Cabinet Member for Housing and the Interim Executive Director for Growth, Planning & Housing with a request that they provide an update to the committee on their plans to meet and engage with stakeholders. (Aaron Hardy, Scrutiny Officer)