Agenda and minutes

Venue: Boardrooms 3, 4 and 5 - Brent Civic Centre, Engineers Way, Wembley, HA9 0FJ

Contact: Toby Howes, Senior Democratic Services Officer  020 8937 1307, Email: toby.howes@brent.gov.uk

Items
No. Item

1.

Declarations of interests

Members are invited to declare at this stage of the meeting, any relevant financial or other interest in the items on this agenda.

Minutes:

None declared.

2.

Minutes of the previous meeting held on 1 October 2014 pdf icon PDF 111 KB

The minutes are attached.

Minutes:

RESOLVED:-

 

that the minutes of the previous meeting held on 1 October 2014 be approved as an accurate record of the meeting.

3.

Matters arising

Minutes:

None.

4.

Employment, Skills and Enterprise Strategy consultation pdf icon PDF 86 KB

The emerging Employment, Skills and Enterprise Strategy (2015 -2020) is a strategy for the borough, not just the council. This will be the first time a strategy for this area has been formed. The strategy is designed to be an active vision for the borough and will be accompanied by a live Action Plan, detailing how the vision and strategic objectives will be achieved.

Additional documents:

Minutes:

Jon Lloyd-Owen (Operational Director – Housing and Employment, Regeneration and Growth) delivered the first part of the presentation on the employment, skills and enterprise strategy consultation.  He began by referring to the consultation plan that involved specific dialogue with key stakeholders, including businesses, strategic stakeholders such as the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP), the College of North West London (CNWL), voluntary community services and with local residents through the Borough Plan.  Although the consultation had formally concluded, there were still opportunities to provide further feedback with regard to the strategy.  Jon Lloyd-Owen described the local demographics of the borough, which had experienced an 18% rise in working population since 2003, well above the 6.5% average nationally.  He referred members to the Job Seeker Allowance claims figures by ward and also adult qualification levels, which had seen significant improvements recently.  Jon Lloyd-Owen advised that both national and local research indicated that there was a mismatch between skills provision and market needs and it was estimated that over 50% of jobs would require a degree by 2036 and only 5% would require no formal qualifications.  Members noted job density and employment by sector comparisons between Brent and the London and national average and also the fact that Brent’s average gross median earnings were both below the London average and that of the neighbouring borough of Ealing, Harrow, Hillingdon and Hounslow.  Jon Lloyd-Owen concluded by advising that employment levels were below the London average and unemployment was particularly high in some wards and in some cases were double the borough average.  There was also a lower than average jobs per population and earnings compared to the London average, with the service sector providing a quarter of the borough’s employment.  Jon Lloyd-Owen added that although qualification levels were improving, there were still some significant qualification and skills issues in some wards.  In addition, although the overall picture was improving across the borough in terms of employment, skills and earnings, there were still pockets of inequality at both ward and neighbourhood level.

 

Shomsia Ali (Head of Employment and Enterprise, Regeneration and Growth) then described the draft strategy and its emerging objectives and outcomes.  She explained that a 20 year vision oversaw the strategy which addressed the next five years and contained five draft strategic objectives and associated desired outcomes, the objectives being:

 

·         To ensure skills provision is informed by employers and the labour market

·         To reduce inequality by reducing economic and social polarisation in the borough’s most deprived neighbourhoods and amongst residents most in need

·         To reduce poverty through employment and progression in work

·         The council to influence and shape national programmes and agendas delivered locally

·         To promote economic growth through regeneration and increasing opportunities for local businesses

 

Members noted the desired outcomes for each strategic objective and Shomsia Ali then referred to the consultation response outcomes to each strategic objective and as a result of the feedback received, a consultation response document was being produced. The next steps included developing the full strategy,  ...  view the full minutes text for item 4.

5.

Overall impact of the Benefit Cap in Brent after one year of implementation

This presentation will cover the overall impact of the Benefit Cap since its implementation in August 2013, including an overview of significant equalities impacts, and the mitigation of its effect on claimants via employment and housing solutions.

Minutes:

The Chair stated that as well as a presentation on the Overall Benefit Cap, Brent Citizens Advice Bureau had also been invited to the meeting to provide details of the typical issues they faced and how they dealt with them and the kind of customers that were visiting them.

 

David Oates (Head of Customer Service and Benefits, Regeneration and Growth) then gave a presentation on the impact of the Overall Benefit Cap (OBC) in Brent.  He advised members that the OBC had been introduced in the borough in August and September 2013 and that it limited the total amount of welfare benefits for most working age claimants, with only some limited exemptions in respect of the Disability Living Allowance (DLA), Personal Independence Payment (PIP) and Working Tax Credit.  Members noted that there had been 2,322 new OBC cases as of 31 August 2014, with just under 50% receiving a benefit cap of up to £50 per week.  Some 488 customers had advised that they were addressing the shortfall themselves, and a further 1,068 had fully resolved their situation, of which 48% were achieving this through employment, which was a positive outcome.  David Oates advised that temporary accommodation and rents were comparatively high in the borough and this significantly impacted on customers and some had re-housed or even moved out of the borough altogether to address the shortfall.  In respect of family status, members noted that the largest group of new OBC cases where caps were applied were single parents and these made up over 53% of new cases alone.  Single claimants were less likely to be capped as they were likely to be living in smaller properties and so entitled to less benefits.  Almost 50% of households meeting the shortfall themselves were lone parents, and of the cases resolved through employment, 57% were lone parents and 38% couples with dependents.  In terms of ethnicity, black ethnic groups were most affected with 38% constituting new OBC cases and 48% of those capped by £250 or more per week being from this group.  The committee heard that 42% of the black minority ethnic group resolved the shortfall through employment and 41% through relocation.

 

Jacqueline Carr (Chief Executive, Brent Citizens Advice Bureau) then addressed the committee.  She advised that the partnership between Brent Citizens Advice Bureau (CAB) and the council was working well.  Plans had been devised by the two organisations, and Brent CAB was able to make contact with customers who had been impacted upon as a result of the DWP monthly report.  However, an area that Brent CAB was struggling with was the additional demand placed on it as a result of the OBC as Brent CAB did not have sufficient resources to deal with the number of customers that were now approaching them for advice.  Jacqueline Carr advised that most enquiries concerned welfare reforms in general and their impact on subject areas such as housing.  Members heard that there had been a 70% increase in welfare benefit enquiries.

 

During members’  ...  view the full minutes text for item 5.

6.

Promoting electoral engagement (IER) task group pdf icon PDF 73 KB

This report brings to the Scrutiny Committee an interim report with findings and recommendations of the Scrutiny Committee’s task group investigation on how to promote electoral engagement in light of the change to Individual Electoral Registration (IER).

Additional documents:

Minutes:

The Chair invited Councillor Nerva, Chair of the promoting electoral engagement (IER) task group to present the interim report.  Councillor Nerva began by stating that the final report was due to go to the committee on 26 November and he thanked members of the task group and officers for the work done to date.  He stated that the task group had covered a lot of ground since it had been set up and had worked with a number of organisations, including Brent Housing Partnership and voluntary sector organisations and a meeting with health professionals was due to take place later in November in respect of the role GP registers could make in helping to ensure residents were on the electoral register.  Councillor Nerva emphasised the importance of voting, however he commented some residents were indifferent to the issue and Brent, along with a number of other London boroughs, had historically been underrepresented.  The task group’s role sought to address this issue, particularly in the light of the introduction of individual electoral registration (IER).  Furthermore, residents needed to be informed that failing to appear on the electoral register could affect them in a number of other ways, such as difficulty in obtaining credit.  Councillor Nerva advised that Scotland had achieved a registration rate of 97%, and this should be Brent’s too, however it would have to work in a very different way than previously to achieve this because of the challenges posed by IER.  Members heard that local voluntary organisations and CVS Brent had offered to work with Electoral Services to help the harder to reach in the community.  It was also recommended that new residents to the borough receive details of signing up to IER in a welcome pack, whilst local councillors could also play a role in highlighting the importance of registering.

 

Councillor Nerva advised that some of the findings of the task group had been surprising, including the fact that the group most likely to not be registered were the 20 to 30 year olds and efforts to encourage this group to register needed to be undertaken, such as informing them that they can register on-line and that they would need to know their national insurance number.  Councillor Nerva concluded by stating that the borough was one of the first local authorities to undertake scrutiny on electoral registration and IER and the findings could also prove helpful to other local authorities. The final report may also identify where electoral registration was low for a particular ward or polling district, or even within a polling district, with the help of geographic information system (GIS).

 

With the approval of the Chair, a member of the public addressed the committee. The member of the public stated that it was the public duty of residents to ensure that they were on the electoral register and that it should be made clear that they had the option to opt out of the edited public register if they were worried about being contacted  ...  view the full minutes text for item 6.

7.

Scrutiny Committee forward plan pdf icon PDF 47 KB

The current Scrutiny Committee forward plan is attached.

Minutes:

The Chair advised that Cathy Tyson would be circulating a revised Scrutiny Committee forward plan to members for comments.

8.

Any other urgent business

Notice of items to be raised under this heading must be given in writing to the Democratic Services Manager or his representative before the meeting in accordance with Standing Order 64.

Minutes:

None.