Agenda and minutes
Venue: Meeting Room 1, Guildhall
Contact: Craig Stevens Scrutiny Facilitator
Apologies for absence
Apologies for absence were submitted on behalf of Councillors David A Bithell (Lead Member for Place – Environment and Transport), Paul Blackwell, David Maddocks, Paul Rogers and Barrie Warburton.
To sign as a correct record the Minutes of the Meeting held on 10 October 2018
AGREED – That the Minutes of the Meeting held on 10 October 2018 be signed as a correct record.
To consider the report of the Head of Finance
The Head of Finance submitted a report (HF/121/18s) to assist Members in agreeing a list of potential scrutiny topic areas for the next 12 months and possibly longer term.
During the discussion, the following proposals were put forward:-
· ‘Protocol for “A” Boards in the Town Centre’ - That a future report be submitted on this matter and the scope, as outlined in the report, be agreed subject to the amendment that the first point reference ‘A boards and encroachment’ and the second point refer to a ‘low-cost licensing scheme’.
· ‘Residents Parking Policy’ - That the Task and Finish Group scope (as noted in Appendix B to the report HF/121/18s) be accepted and that the following Members sit as the Task and Finish Group – Councillors R Alun Jenkins, Adrienne Jeorrett, Graham Rogers, Marc Jones and Michael Morris.
· ‘Sheltered Housing Refurbishment Programme’ - That the related topic request form (as noted in Appendix C to the report HF/121/18s) be accepted and that the matter be considered at the December meeting.
· ‘Right of Way Improvement Plan’ - That a report be scheduled for the January 2019 meeting.
· ‘Streetscene Service Standards’ - That a report be scheduled for the January 2019 meeting.
· ‘Council House Lettings’ - That a report be scheduled for the March 2019 meeting.
· ‘Highway Asset Management Plan’ - That a report be scheduled for the April 2019 meeting.
· No items had been identified for budget scrutiny so the provisional report in this would not be required at the December meeting.
AGREED – That, subject to the aforementioned amendments, the Work Programme, as outlined in report HF/121/18s, be agreed.
Variation in Agenda Order
AGREED – That Agenda Item 6 – Welfare Reform Update – be brought forward and taken at this time.
To consider the report of the Lead Member for Place - Housing
The Lead Member for Place – Housing, submitted a report (HHE/44/18) which provided Members with an update on the developments with the Government’s Welfare Reform Programme and outlined the work that had been undertaken by the Council since the last report dated 19 May 2018 (HHE/24/18) to mitigate the impact of Welfare Reform on Council housing tenants.
In introducing his report, the Lead Member referred in particular to those changes which would have the greatest effect on housing tenants including the further reduction of the Benefit Cap and the roll out of Universal Credit full service to all working age tenants in Wrexham.
During the ensuing debate, a number of points were raised including:-
· Concern at the number of tenants suffering as a result of the Welfare Reform Programme. Officers confirmed that the Local Authority was doing its utmost to minimise the negative impact on the residents of Wrexham.
· Support and advice was offered to all residents who were struggling and required assistance. However, officers stressed that a willingness to engage was paramount to the success of this intervention.
· Around 90% of Universal Credit claimants who were tenants had asked for direct payments for rents, to help them with their budgeting.
· It was acknowledged that each customer had their own set of circumstances and the support offered would be tailored, as much as possible, to meet their individual needs.
· The Citizens Advice Bureau (CAB) would assume responsibility for assisted digital and budgeting from 1st April 2019. There were concerns that disruption arising from any change in location or provision could lead to increased delays in payment with further knock on effects.
· A request was made for discussions to take place between the Local Authority and the CAB to ensure that essential expertise was not lost.
· A number of strategies to encourage engagement were followed before eviction from property which was only carried out as a last resort. No evictions had been carried out to claimants of Universal Credit due to arrears.
· Trusted Partner Status had been granted to Wrexham which allowed access to the landlord portal and ultimately enabled the Local Authority to be more proactive in terms of the action it took.
· Each Estate Office provided residents with the opportunity to access IT equipment and assistance was provided where necessary.
(i) The Committee conveyed their thanks to all the staff involved in working hard to ensure that the effects of Welfare Reform on residents in Wrexham were kept to a minimal.
(ii) Representations be made to the National Government outlining the Committees concerns that the 53 week year in 2019 and subsequent occurrences, will detrimentally affect recipients of Universal Credit and that measures should be taken to address this.
(iii) That the Committee receive a further 6 monthly update on Welfare Reform.
(iv) That representatives of DWP be invited to attend the Committee the next time this issue is discussed.
To consider the report of the Lead Member for Place – Environment and Transport
The Lead Member for Place – Environment and Transport submitted a report (HEP/88/18s) allowing the Committee to review service performance against agreed standards over the 2018 season in respect of grass cutting on highways, open spaces and Housing Revenue Account (HRA) land.
During discussion, the following points were noted, in particular:-
· Concern from one Member that the Service Level Agreement only catered for a once yearly cut of Council owned grass verges and shrubs and the suggestion that this should be increased to twice per year. Officers further stressed that highway verges were cut in order to adhere to safety regulations and not for aesthetic reasons.
· Officers stressed that, due to the limited resources, the Local Authority was required to prioritise its services according to need.
· The Streetscene Team were adapting their schedule in line with the recent changes in seasonal weather with grass cutting services still taking place in November and cuts scheduled to commence from March next year.
(i) The current Service Level Agreement between the Environment and Planning and Housing and Economy Departments provides the budget and stability to support a reasonable standard of grounds operations across HRA land.
(ii) The existing system of management of open spaces and highways by Streetscene provides a reasonable standard of grounds maintenance.
(iii) The Lead Member for Place – Housing be requested to investigate the option of increasing the number of hedge cuts currently undertaken via the HRA SLA.